When driving through many areas that are loosely referred to as Greater Miami, a visitor can easily wander in and out of small pockets and not even know they’ve crossed through different towns. Until they arrive in Coral Gables. Instantly recognizable as a history-infused, architecturally meaningful city, Coral Gables is unique in the South Florida landscape.
This was no accident. Instead it was the meticulous planning and all-encompassing vision of city developer, George Merrick. According to the Coral Gables’ city website, in 1925 Merrick drew from the Garden City and City Beautiful movements of the 19th and early 20th century to create one of the nation’s first fully-planned communities. Incorporating secluded residential enclaves and commercial areas inspired by the architectural style of the Mediterranean Revival Style, Merrick envisioned a city that would offer every amenity to its residents and at the same time would become a center for international business. His advertisements sometimes read, “Mediterranean Homes in the American Tropics.”
To sustain the booming suburb, Merrick designed the downtown commercial district to be only four blocks wide and more than two miles long. The main artery bisected the business district. Merrick could boast that every business in Coral Gables was less than a two-block walk. The city used to have an old electric trolley system which was replaced by the popularity of modern automobiles, but now a new free circulator trolley system, initiated in November, 2003, runs down Ponce de León Boulevard.
In 1925, roughly simultaneous to the founding of Coral Gables, the city was selected as the home to the University of Miami, which was constructed that year on 240 acres of land just west of U.S. Route 1, approximately two miles south of downtown Coral Gables.
Through economic downturns and fluctuations in progress Coral Gables remained a viable city and the crowning jewel of South Florida. In 1973, Coral Gables was one of the first cities in Florida to adopt a Historical Resources Ordinance, creating a Historical Resources Board and establishing a procedure for local landmark designations. Since then, the past has also been preserved in the form of buildings — significant either because of their architecture or because of the historic events or important figures associated with them.
Today, Coral Gables boasts one of only three National Landmarks in Miami-Dade County: The Biltmore Hotel, designated in 1996. There are also nine properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including Coral Gables Merrick House, Venetian Pool and Coral Gables City Hall, as well as 600 locally designated properties.
The same principles that made Coral Gables a success at its inception guide the City’s current policies.