CORAL GABLES CHARRETTE: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
One of the first buildings constructed of note was the Coral Gables Country Club. It became the first sales office. Notice the tower. George Merrick loved towers. Again, he was also practical. Salesmen would take prospective buy- ers up in the tower where they could look out and choose their lot. It was a high spot and, of course, it overlooked the Granada Golf Course-Merrick's former vegetable patch that still goes under water from time to time as it did then.
By 1923, Merrick had purchased the land east of Le Jeune Road and switched his plans for the business district to that area. This is actually the first commercial building. Some of you may remember it. Unfortunately, it is one that we no longer have with us. It was on the corner of Alhambra and Le Jeune, designed by Walter DeGarmo. Merrick announced that it would be a "modern shopping center." It had multiple stores surrounded by this wonderful arcade. For a while, the Esso Building, which is probably changed its name, sat behind it.
This view is of the same corner just a little bit later. You see the landscaping growing in. Isn't it a beautiful scene?
The two buildings on the corner of Salzedo and Alhambra are still there and the former Stowe-on the Wold remains as well. These were some of the first buildings on Alhambra and the last to still stand.
By 1923, Merrick built one of our greatest treasures and one of everybody's favorite buildings, Coral Gables Elementary School. Kiehnel and Elliott, the architects, came from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Merrick not only employed the best local architects, but he looked nationally for great architects as well.
That same year Merrick built Venetian Pool, another of our favorite landmarks. When he constructed all of those rock houses, the workers dug the rock from here and created a rock pit right in the middle of his planned community. Denman Fink turned the eyesore into what Merrick advertised as "the world's most beautiful swimming hole."
George Merrick also built an impressive group of small hotels. All but two are gone. This one, unfortunately, is one of the missing. The Coral Gables Inn was later the Coral Gables Music Club. It is now, and has been ever since it was torn down, a parking lot. If you have been to Spain's Alhambra, you will recognize this building. There are not too many "knockoffs" in Coral Gables but this one is very much like in the Generalife in the Alhambra.
The Antilla is another one of the beautiful small hotels. It was torn down for the Chateaubleu on Ponce. The Antilla had wonderful patios and arcades and places for people to eat outside. We should never have allowed the Antilla to be torn down. I hope we know better today.
Of course, we still have the Cla-Reina, now called the La Palma, that fortunately, has been beautifully restored.
The Casa Loma Hotel once stood in today's Biltmore Hotel parking lot. Unfortunately, the City of Coral Gables tore that one down after they acquired the Biltmore and before everybody in Coral Gables got smart enough to say, "Don't do it." It is one of those very unfortunate things that makes us realize how much we have changed our attitude about historic preservation.
As you can see, the Bank of Coral Gables and Post Office was a beautiful building. It stood on the site where the new Allen Morris building is going up. Morris' building is the closest thing to the original Mediterranean style built since the 1920s. The bank and post office later became the Presbyterian Church. Recently, when I wandered inside before it was torn down, I could still see some of the filled-in arches from the original building. There is a wonderful description of the special Coral Gables ambiance found there. "Only in Coral Gables can you get your mail and sit in a garden to read it." We should remember that as we re-consider downtown.
Downtown Main Street, Coral Gables-as you can see, there is real symmetry, scale and consistency of design. As far as I am concerned, this is George Merrick's downtown and his vision for the Coral Gables business district.