CORAL GABLES CHARRETTE: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
became especially popular because there was an enormous amount of vacant land all over the city.
At that time, a group of architects began a movement to get rid of the Mediterranean-style architecture. It was con- sidered old fashioned. It was a sign of depression-of failure. They tore down the administration building, the one with the patio-George's patio.
In January 1950, this newspaper comment sums up what was happening to the original spirit of Coral Gables.
"Landmark To Go! Gables completes its break with the past. A none-too-pleasant reminder of the City's humble beginnings. Few tears will be shed when demolition of the landmark is begun."
That was the era in which Coral Gables began to boom again, but in a very different way than George had envi- sioned. Eunice Merrick, George's widow, commented that she had seen his city become a reality, but "many of the castles have gone a little too modern to have pleased him."
This is the beginning of Miracle Mile, which is a post-World War II development. It has its own place in history and its own viability today but it is certainly not part of the original vision of George Merrick. His Main Street centered on Ponce and Alhambra. He would have developed Coral Way too if he had had time. The Colonnade and the Administration Building were only just the beginning of his plans for Coral Way.
In 1965, a group of people fought to keep the Douglas Entrance from being torn down to become a Food Fair super- market. It seems pretty hard to believe today. I think this whole room would make a roadblock in front of a bulldozer if somebody started to go after the Douglas Entrance. In 1965, a handful of women worked to save the Douglas Entrance. They formed a group called the Villagers-our earliest preservation group that still strives to save our his- toric built environment.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the citizens of Coral Gables came together to save the Biltmore. The first vote I ever cast in Coral Gables was for this bond issue. I had just moved in, qualified to vote and voted for the Biltmore bond. Little did I know how involved I would be in later years. In 1973, Coral Gables had the first preservation ordinance of any Dade County municipality, although the current preservation ordinance, in my opinion, is very, very weak and still needs a more teeth.
In 1976, we were able to save Coral Gables House. It came this close to being lost. We didn't even have three votes to accept Mr. Philbrick's gift. It is always amazing when you think of that. We didn't have three votes to save the Biltmore either until Dorothy Thomson changed her vote. We forget this today, but we need to remember. You need to remember. We have come a long way.
After the 1960 zoning change, we had a 13-story height limit. As a result, Coral Gables sprouted a lot of flat-roofed, thirteen story less-than wonderful buildings in the downtown area. The first one was the Texaco Building. Then came the buildings on Alhambra. The Davidson Building next to Publix was "the straw that broke the camel's back." It spurred the Coral Gables Commission to create the Mediterranean Revival Committee in 1983. We worked together for three years to come up with a way to try to save the soul of Coral Gables' downtown. It was reviewed again in 1990 and, of course, it is being reviewed again right now.
The last thing the city has accomplished to try to save the soul of Coral Gables was the transfer of development rights. This ordinance helps protect the last remaining historic buildings like the Bank of Coral Gables, and the old Dream Theater seen here. I know Dean Colson is here tonight. His building, the classic three-story building saved the beautiful Weiland Clinic that is now Books & Books. It is the best example we have so far of how this ordinance can work for everyone's benefit. I hope as a long-time viewer of the scene, that we will figure out a way to encourage more of these mid-range buildings, like three stories, four stories, five stories, that we seemed to have forgotten how to build.