CORAL GABLES CHARRETTE: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
ed miles of grapefruit trees. His father used to say that things would get better "when the groves begin to bear." And bear they did. By 1910, the Merrick's Coral Gables Plantation sent the first carload of grapefruit out of South Florida.
Looking just west of today's Granada Boulevard, you can see that the whole area was full of grapefruit trees. As their economic position improved, the Merrick family built this beautiful rock house that is such a treasure in the midst of the city. They named it Coral Gables. You can see that the land around it was still rough and Coral Way was little more than a wagon trail.
About the same time the house was completed, 21-year-old George went off to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. At Rollins, he was the only freshman to ever win the oratory prize, after having not been in school since he was 13. In 1909, after two years at Rollins, he went to New York law school. When he was in law school, he lived with his uncle Denman Fink in Haworth, New Jersey. Denman Fink was only six years older than George and, by this time, was becoming a very famous, nationally known illustrator. As you can see, he was also very handsome, like George.
George's father died in 1911 and George left law school. He was glad to leave law school because he did not want to be a lawyer. While he was in law school, he won first prize in the New York Herald Tribune's short-story contest. He wanted to be a writer, but as a dutiful son, he came home to help take care of the family and manage the groves.
In 1916, he married beautiful Eunice Peacock, granddaughter of Charles and Isabella Peacock of Coconut Grove's Peacock Inn fame. From that time on, they began planning Coral Gables. He said later, however, that when he was living with Denman Fink, they began talking about the possibilities of doing some kind of a planned city. He and Denman had even toured some of the planned cities in the northeast.
This is the big four, as far as I am concerned. The four people who had the vision and created the plan for Coral Gables. Not to take anything away from Phineas Paist, but he did not join the team until more than a year after the first sale and the original plan was completed. The real hero of the plan is the man on the left-Frank Button-who some of you may not have heard of. Button was a registered landscape architect, the first in Miami. Next to him is Eunice Merrick, George's wife, who was very involved in all of the early plans. George, and of course, his uncle and chief artistic advisor, Denman Fink. George said he relied heavily on Denman Fink because he was an artist. George could see it and articulate it and Denman could draw it for him.
This, perhaps, is a new face for you. I'm elevating him to a new level because I have been doing more research on this early era. This is first cousin H. George Fink. He is the son of Romeo Fink, who was Althea Merrick's brother and Denman Fink's nephew. He too, was involved from the very beginning. Probably everybody sitting here knows and loves H. George Fink's office building just south of Coral Way on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. Like George Merrick, the King and Queen of Spain also honored H. George Fink. He was Coral Gables' most prolific architect and designed most of the early buildings on Coral Way. In fact, he designed over 400 houses between 1921-1924.
In November 1921, George sold the first lots right at the corner of Granada and Coral Way. "Follow the Golden Galleon," signs proclaimed. Coral Gables was going to be a Spanish-themed city built of "coral rock." George soon began to realize, however, that this one-type building material was too limiting. You can see his romantic side with the headline: "Where Your Castles in Spain are Made Real." At the bottom, however, you will notice his business- man/salesman side when he added: "Where Coral Gables Lies, Your Money Multiplies."
Merrick published the first plat of Coral Gables in November 1921. On the left you can see the first business district. Today it is Country Club Prado. At this time, he did not own the present site of the downtown area. If you look care- fully, you can see the notation: "library." Amazingly, he was thinking about cultural institutions from the very begin- ning. He was not a static person at all, so he constantly rearranged Frank Button's plans to conform to his next pur- chase or inspiration.
This image was taken on the first day of sales in Coral Gables. I love it because there is a man standing in the crowd in pantaloons-keeping the Spanish city theme.