Jena Nassar is a first-generation freshman student at FIU’s Honors College pursuing a B.S. in Nutrition. Upon completion of her bachelor’s degree, she hopes to gain her M.S. in Physician Assistant Studies and work in neonatology. She enjoys traveling, experiencing new cultures, and learning about conservation. Alongside her professional aspirations, she hopes to one day combine her experience and passions to contribute to humanitarian relief efforts abroad.
Coral Gables is a city located on the eastern side of Miami-Dade County, Florida. The city has a total area of 37.2 square miles and is located southwest of Downtown Miami. Coral Gables neighbors Little Havana, Pinecrest, South Miami, and Coconut Grove. The city is a major employment center comprising of local and international businesses. This is partly due to the fact that Coral Gables is in close proximity to Miami International Airport, the Port of Miami, and downtown Miami. Coral Gables is also home to the University of Miami, which is the city’s largest employer.
Coral Gables is a grand-scale, cohesive community dubbed “The City Beautiful.” The affluent Miami suburb was founded and developed by George Merrick in the 1920s and hosts an intricate Mediterranean architectural aesthetic. With the help of his family and other visionaries who influenced him, George Merrick turned acres of undeveloped land into a South Floridian pearl with ivory mansions, tree-lined avenues and a legion of today’s historic landmarks.
George Merrick and his family moved to Miami from Duxbury, Massachusetts in 1899 to participate in the citrus industry. His father, Reverend Solomon Merrick, purchased 160 acres of farmland which the family operated as a plantation. As a young man, George Merrick envisioned the land transformed into an affordable, beautiful community with public infrastructure to benefit residents. By 1921, ten years after his father’s death, Merrick had accumulated 3,000 acres of land and began his massive real estate development project.
Merrick planned to construct a community called “Coral Gables,” named after his childhood home of coral rock walls and gables. As an exceptionally visual and artistic young man, he wanted his area to reflect the vision of artists and poets that harmonized well with the environment. While attending college in New York, he lived with his uncle, Denman Fink, an illustrator and artist, with whom he discussed the possibility of such a community. Upon returning to South Florida, he assembled a team that included his uncle, his architect cousin H. George Fink, fellow architect Phineas Paist, and Frank Button, a landscape architect who worked nearby for the Deering family.
Along with his team, Merrick designed an unrivaled beauty, featuring Mediterranean Revival style architecture and elements of the heavily influential “City Beautiful Movement.” The movement was a reform philosophy of North American architecture and urban planning, which favored beautification and ornamental splendor of cities in order to promote amicable social order among all the socio-economic classes. The movement encouraged the use of winding, tree-lined roadways, monumental buildings, ornate plazas, and elaborate fountains.
As a part of his great vision for Coral Gables, Merrick donated 240 acres of land for the University of Miami. Merrick believed that his great community would require a great university. With the Florida land boom at its peak, the development of a university garnered tremendous support. He also began to add themed villages to the community in an attempt to diversify and expand upon the Mediterranean style. He planned to create 14 villages, such as the Dutch, French Normandy, and Chinese villages. His plans were cut short as a result of the 1926 hurricane that struck the area. As a result, only 75 of the 1,000 planned residences were constructed.
As the supervising architect, Phineas Paist was largely responsible for overseeing the developmental progression of Coral Gables and created the Board of Architects Review Panel. The organization, still in existence today, oversees crucial details that reflect the true Mediterranean styles- everything from the paint selection, to terra cotta roofing tiles, to rounded arches and loggias resembling ancient Rome. Similarly, the Mediterranean Architectural Ordinance, which has been in effect since 1986, offers builders cash incentives to cooperate with the Mediterranean Revival architectural style.
By the time the City of Coral Gables was incorporated in 1925, over six hundred homes were built, sixty-five miles of roadway was constructed, more than eighty miles of sidewalks were added, and seven million dollars of property was sold. The City of Coral Gables was thus born. The hurricanes of the 1920s, as well as the looming Great Depression, was a great financial stressor for Merrick. Though he lived long enough to witness his dreams for Coral Gables come true.
According to the official 2017 estimates from the US Census Bureau, Coral Gables is the 59th largest city in the state of Florida with a population of 50,999. The city has a population density of 3943.79 people per square mile. According to the most recent American Community Survey (ACS), the largest Coral Gables racial/ethnic group was White (91.31%), followed by Black or African American (3.44%) and Asian (2.59%). The population is 51.52% female and 48.48% male. The overall median age is 39.8. As of 2018, Coral Gables residents’ median income was $59,218.
As Coral Gables is home to the University of Miami, a significant portion of its population is made up of college students. I had the pleasure of speaking with a University of Miami student, 19-year-old Maria Piral, as she shared with me her thoughts and experience living within the city.
Me: “So tell me a little bit about yourself.”
Maria: “I’m Maria, I am 19 years-old, and I attend UM, majoring in business.”
Me: “You dorm on campus right? How long have you been dorming?”
Maria: “This is my second semester, so almost a year now.”
Me: “Where did you live before?”
Maria: “I lived up in Weston, about an hour drive from here.”
Me: “What would you say is the biggest contrast from where you used to live and here in Coral Gables?”
Maria: “Definitely the driving because at home I was a really confident driver. The roads were wide and simple and I feel calmer driving there. I don’t have my own car at school so I don’t have to drive that much, but when I go out with my friends and I’m sitting in the passenger seat, there’s a sense of tightness on the roads and the roads are so narrow. I’ve noticed roads here turn at strange angles and people love to honk. Living here is pretty nice but I would say that is the main thing I don’t like.”
Me: “What’s the best part about living here?”
Maria: “For people like me who don’t have their own car down here, there’s a metrorail that can get you to pretty much anywhere near here.”
Me: “Do you use the metrorail often?”
Maria: “I honestly don’t have the chance to leave campus that often, but when I do I go with one of my friends in their car. But it’s nice knowing that I can take [the metrorail] whenever I need to. Another good thing about living here is that the neighborhoods are quite safe and everyone’s pretty friendly. On Halloween when I went around the suburb area I saw tons of little kids out walking with their parents and playing outside.”
Me: “When you’re in the area but off campus, where are your favorite places to go? What can you do in the area?”
Maria: “Nearby there is this place called Miracle Mile. It’s like this outdoor mall on a long street and has a lot of different restaurants and places to shop. What I like is that the shops are unique too- they’re not your typical stores. There are little jewelry shops and art galleries. It’s especially beautiful at night- last time I was there it was at night and there were lights strung above- palm tree to palm tree. It’s what I imagine Los Angeles to be like.”
Me: “Overall, would you recommend people to live in Coral Gables?”
For people who like to live in historic places, even living here not even a year yet, I’ve learned so much about why this city is the way it is. Nearly everywhere you go, there is a story behind the building or the street or the garden, so that’s what’s enjoyable about living here. From where I live there are also a lot of closeby amenities like Publix and it is a really safe area.
Me: “Coral Gables was rated one of the safest places to live in Florida.”
Maria: “Yeah exactly! So as long as you don’t mind the driving and the intense rush hour then I think people would enjoy living here. I’m really not sure of the costs of living here though, but the homes near UM are really nice. They have beautiful homes here.”
Me: “After college, can you imagine yourself living in Coral Gables?”
Maria: “I don’t see why I wouldn’t. I really enjoy living here at school already. The homes remind me a little bit of where I live in Weston- I think the style of the homes are Spanish. The only difference is I’ve seen the homes in the suburbs here more spread out whereas the homes where I live are very close together. Everyone has small backyards there.”
Described as the most glamorous municipal pool in the world, the Venetian Pool is a historically famous U.S. public swimming pool completed in 1924. As a part of George Merrick’s design for Coral Gables, he planned it to be the local hangout spot for residents to gather and mingle. Architects Phineas Paist and Denman Fink transformed what was once a former rock quarry into a pool large enough to hold 820,000 gallons of fresh water, supplied from an underground aquifer. In the summertime, it draws water from artesian wells. The pool is ornamented with whimsical waterfalls, coral rock formations, and caves for guests to explore. The Venetian Pool has even earned its spot as the only swimming pool in the nation on the National Register of Historic Places.
THE Biltmore Hotel
Modeled after the Giralda Tower of Seville in Spain, the Biltmore is a luxury hotel built in 1926 by John McEntee Bowman and, none other than, George Merrick. Upon completion, it stood as “the tallest building south of Atlanta” at 315 feet. Its pool was also for a time recognized as the largest pool in the continental United States. Many notable visitors, such as Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor stayed at the highly luxurious establishment. Cuban-American actor Desi Arnaz even made his performance debut at the hotel.
Despite its “historic luxury” the Biltmore has a reputation of misfortune. While the Biltmore hosted many reputable millionaires, it at one point hosted gangsters; most notably, Al Capone. During a gambling dispute, bodyguard Thomas Walsh was shot dead on the 13th floor, which today is reported to be haunted by his ghost. The hotel suffered more during World War II, as it served as a hospital, and also as a VA Hospital and campus of the University of Miami medical school until 1968. It again endured times of closure and abandonment before finally reopening, aided by new federal tax breaks for the preservation of historic buildings. In 1996, the Biltmore Hotel was awarded the highest recognition that can be given by the federal government and was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Today, the Biltmore Hotel operates once again with its historic luxury. The 271-room resort spans over 150 acres of tropical landscape. It is glamored with Mediterranean architecture with Italian, Moorish and Spanish influences.
Merrick House and Gardens
The Coral Gables Merrick House and Gardens is the boyhood home of George Merrick, founder and developer of The City Beautiful. Built in 1899 by Reverend Solomon Merrick, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The residence has been restored to its 1920s appearance and features the Merrick family’s original furnishings, period architectural details, and the family’s artwork. Tours of the Merrick House offer insight to its 14 rooms and the gardens to view the heritage garden, lily pond, and koi grotto.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is an 83 acre-wide treasure trove of rare tropical plants including palms, cycads, orchids, flowering trees, and vines. The botanic garden features trails to its numerous exhibits, such as its lush butterfly garden, sunken garden, and rainforest. Visitors can view over 3,400 species of plants on display spanning over its two Uplands and Lowlands ecosystems. The extensive collection serves as a great venue for intimate concerts, weddings, and photoshoots. In fact, the garden even offers photography and art classes, often exhibiting art installations throughout the lush gardens.
Matheson Hammock Park
Matheson Hammock Park began as beachfront property donation by William J. Matheson to Dade County. Upon expanding to over 600 acres, William Lyman Phillips was hired as the park’s designer. Phillips planned a park designed for the protection of its natural resources, particularly its undeveloped forests. The park features Florida’s only atoll. While it may be man-made, its authenticity lies in its native coral rock. The park is also notable for its thick hammock which adjoins the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Visitors can follow a nature trail into the dense heart of the hammock full of tropical trees and rugged, hole-ridden limestone oolite.
Coral Gables Trolley
The Coral Gables Trolley is a free transportation option for the city’s residents and visitors. The Trolley program was created in 2003 as a way to relieve traffic congestion, reduce parking demand, and connect the downtown of the city to its neighboring areas in an accessible and convenient way. Each day, approximately 5,000 commuters enjoy the trolley’s affordability and accessibility. It has also proven to be the greener option as it reduces pollution and lessens commuter dependency on foreign oil and car trips. The Coral Gables Trolley connects from the Douglas Metrorail Station to the City of Miami Trolley on Flagler Street, Coral Way, and Grand Avenue.
Coral Gables also participates in the Metrorail system. The metrorail is a 25-mile elevated transportation system that operates two lines departing from Dadeland South station, taking riders to destinations throughout Miami-Dade. There are numerous stops on the way such as Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, Brickell, the Lyric Theater, and more. Each stop is about a mile apart. The Metrorail can also take commuters directly to Miami International Airport and the University of Miami.
Bicycling and Pedestrian Master Plan
In 2014, the Coral Gables City Commission proposed The City of Coral Gables’ Bicycling and Pedestrian Master Plan. The plan offers over 27 miles of protected bikeways, sidewalks, and crosswalks for cyclists and pedestrians. As the city shifts toward bicycling as a mode of transportation for errands, work, and recreational commutes, the vehicular traffic and gas emissions are reduced. The city’s expansion of bike infrastructure suitable for people of all ages and abilities encourage a more liveable Coral Gables.
Ortanique on the Mile
Ortanique on the Mile was opened in 1999 by owner and chef Cindy Huston. Despite having opened over 20 years ago, visitors never seem to grow old of her caribbean-influenced cuisine. Her restaurant is highly credited for bringing island cuisine to Miami. The menu offers ceviches made of mango, hearts of Palm, and fresh citrus and delights such as curried jumbo lump crab cakes and pan-sauteed grouper.
The Cafe at Books & Books
Whether you crave a simple coffee and pastry in the morning or a bistro-style sandwich for dinner, the Cafe at Books & Books serves it alongside its book-lined shelves! This independent bookstore has a Spanish-style courtyard with wrought iron tables and chairs. Chef Allen Susser offers a menu crafted to highlight local, seasonal ingredients in fresh sandwiches, soups, salads and decadent pastries. For the bookworms who want to enjoy a coffee with their read or who work up a hunger while browsing bookshelves, the Cafe at Books & Books is your fix!
Italian native Nino Pernetti opened the opulent Caffe Abbracci over 30 years ago on Aragon Avenue. The dining scene continues to offer a luxurious dining experience with low-ceilinged rooms adorned with dazzling crystal chandeliers and walls lined with acoustic panels to keep conversations intimate. Behind its closed doors, Pernitti himself greets guests by first name and offers a northern Italian menu consisting of classics like veal porcini and snapper en pappillote. Pernitti and his powerhouse of a restaurant experience are the reasons why the elite, including three U.S. presidents, continue to return to the lavish Caffe Abracci.
Alhambra Antiques is a high-end antiques shop specializing in French and European pieces from the 18th-20th centuries. Their collection features lighting, jewelry, furniture, and art. The shop prides itself on every item’s originality- their antiques are never from outsourced buyers or wholesalers. Each piece has been hand-selected by the gallery owners on their travels throughout Europe, bringing with it its own individuality and story.
With over 17 years in the bridal industry, Allesa’s Bridal is a bridal store located at 73 Merrick Way. They pride themselves on providing customers with only the finest quality bridal gowns with extraordinary customer service. They were even awarded the Couples’ Choice Awards in 2016!
Actors’ Playhouse At The Miracle Theatre
The Miracle Theatre opened back in 1948 as a neighborhood movie house with 1,600 seats. The theatre was purchased in 1990 by the City of Coral Gables and began a $6.5 million renovation. Thus, the Actor’s Playhouse was created. Its restored 600 seat main-stage auditorium was completed in 1995. Their productions include everything from intense dramas, to comedies, all the way to musical theatre. The community’s performing arts center truly reflects the beauty of its history and a lineup that is sure to please!
While there are many “successful” cities in South Florida, Coral Gables is different in that it surprises you with its ambiance. Many would land at Miami International Airport and travel the short way expecting to find towering skyscrapers and modern architecture. Instead, they may feel as if they had just landed in the middle of some faraway European city. They’d come to find long, tree-lined avenues, courtyards, and an emphasis on Mediterranean aesthetic. Coral Gables’ luxurious yet laidback aura completely breaks the Miami mold.
Despite innumerable obstacles, George Merrick lived long enough to see his dreams for Coral Gables come true. The community leaders have continued to do right by him by protecting the city with its strict architectural and zoning regulations, keeping it true to its original design. Therefore, the neighborhood’s history still stands front and center.
Coral Gables stands especially attractive to those looking for a safe neighborhood in which to raise a family. The city has one of the lowest crime rates in Miami-Dade County. The suburban area’s traffic circles make it nearly impossible to speed through and has many high-rated public schools. This in conjunction with the Coral Gables Waterway, pocket-parks, beach proximity, and booming downtown business district make the perfect urban/suburban mix.
Although, the convenience of the city’s location comes at a price. Homes average at a price of $400 per square foot for a non-water front, single family home. The high property values make it difficult for average first time home-buyers to live in Coral Gables. A home in the neighborhood is often out of their budget. Another slight drawback of living in Coral Gables are its confusing residential area street signs. Personally, I find it difficult to spot the concrete blocks etched with street names when they’re placed low on the ground.
Despite its limitations, Coral Gables boasts a luxurious quality of life fit for those who can afford it. Its aesthetic design can make people forget they are in the center of Florida’s largest metropolis. Coral Gables offers everything a person could desire from a Miami area without the constant traffic nuisances and urban-city disorder.
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