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George Merrick and the Spirit of Coral Gables

The transcript of a talk by the historian Arva Moore Parks given at the Coral Gables Youth Center for the opening of the Coral Gables Charrette, January 10, 2002

It is a real pleasure to be here tonight with so many friends. There is nothing better than talking about Coral Gables when you know just about everybody in the audience.

I want to say a few words first and then I have some slides.

"The future of Coral Gables is at a crossroad. The decision is whether to follow the road that leads to a highly urban- ized community with multiple dwellings and a big-city atmosphere or to continue on the road, which will keep the quiet residential atmosphere in which all of us are proud. Coral Gables has been faced with this dilemma, but has never come to grips with it. The future cannot be put off. It must be plotted now. Too much of Coral Gables planning has been after the fact, instead of before it. The fairest way to determine the future of Coral Gables is to go to the people who live here." Coral Gables Times editorial, December 15, 1960.

This 1960 editorial was prompted by the city's first two high rise buildings, other than the Biltmore-the apartment building in Sunrise Harbor and the David Williams Hotel. In response, a group of citizens organized the "Committee for the Preservation of the Present Zoning Ordinance." This early effort goes to show that one of the wonderful things about Coral Gables is that people have not just cared about quality of life recently, they have always cared about it. They have always tried to have input into the city's decisions. That time, however, the Commission did not listen. On February 7, 1961, by a three to two vote, the commissioners refused to change the charter to outlaw high- rise buildings, but they said they were going to institute many safeguards to control future development.

Well, with that as a background, I am thrilled to see this many people here tonight and I am thrilled you have come for a community charrette. I am so pleased that George Merrick is back where he belongs-in a position of high esteem. There was a time in Coral Gables' history, particularly from about the 1950s to the 1970s, when he was lost. I remember looking at Coral Gables' 50th Anniversary reports and documents and realizing that he was hardly even mentioned. Amazing, when we think of how it is today. Now we hear that "he would roll over in his grave or he would be happy . . . or he would like this or he wouldn't like that." What I try to do is not to say what I believe he would think today, but share what he did think, what he wrote, what he planned, what he accomplished and what he failed to accomplish but wished to. I have a big file entitled "In His Own Words" and I have collected a massive amount of information in his own words because, fortunately, he made a lot of speeches and was quoted in a lot of newspaper articles. In the old days, it was not unusual to print his whole speech in the paper. So by focusing on his own words, I can really understand him.


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