Historical Museum of Southern Florida

Coral Gables : The City Beautiful

The Coral Gables Plantation

The Merricks named their thriving citrus and vegetable business, Coral Gables Plantation. After Reverend Merrick’s death in 1911, under the management of eldest son George, the family acquired additional land until, by the l921, they owned about 3,000 acres. The Merricks were ably assisted by a large number of black Bahamians, who were experts at cultivating crops in familiar surroundings so much like their homeland. The firm’s packing house sat near today’s South Greenway Drive across from the Granada golf course. The Merricks sold their fruit in Miami or shipped it from that young city on Biscayne Bay to markets elsewhere. According to some accounts, the Merricks operated the largest grapefruit export business in south Florida and were the first to ship carloads of grapefruit up north by train. The plantation prospered.

George Edgar Merrick, Developer

George Merrick was a dreamer as well as a man with a deep practical streak. His father had had the idea to sell lots to retired clergy; George Merrick expanded that idea into a dream for the development of a planned community on and beyond the family’s property.

Merrick "eased" his way into this project, serving as a member of the Dade County Commission in 1914, and entering, around the same time, the real estate business. Merrick became a highly successful real estate salesman, selling land at the western edge of Miami, such as at Twelfth Street Manors.

He married Eunice Isabella Peacock, the granddaughter of two of Cocoanut Grove’s most prominent pioneers, in 1916. Merrick built a home his bride, called Poinciana Place, just west of the Coral Gables Merrick House, and began to plan his dream city.

Merrick studied the architectural styles of Spain and other Mediterranean countries. He recruited talented architects, such as Phineas Paist and H. George Fink (his cousin); talented

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artist Denman Fink (his uncle); and landscape architect Frank Button, who had a national reputation for his work. Together, they planned a Mediterranean-inspired city that would be distinctive for its beauty, appealing architecture, and amenities.

The City Beautiful Movement

Coral Gables’ planners and dreamers were influenced by the City Beautiful movement of the early 1900s. Coral Gables would offer residents tree -shaded streets radiating from ornate plazas, grand entranceways, plenty of green space, and careful zoning restrictions relegating distinct elements of the community to their own, separate quarters.

The City Beautiful Movement grew out of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead’s graceful designs in the late nineteenth century, for example, New York’s Central Park. It was also a reaction to the pell-mell, unplanned growth of American cities. The movement reached its peak in the first decade of the 20th century. Its impact was felt throughout urban America.

Its major elements included wide, tree-lined boulevards; emerald parks; monumental buildings; winding roadways; attractive lampposts; well paved streets; and, in some cities, dazzling civic centers. Neoclassical or the flamboyant Beaux Arts architecture was the preferred style for buildings of the City Beautiful Movement.

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From an exhibition at the
Historical Museum of Southern Florida
February 19 - May 30, 1999

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