Early Days in Miami

Where is the city of Coral Gables? How many of you have ever lived in Coral Gables? How many have been to Coral Gables? Today I am going to give you a history lesson on this famous suburb of Miami.
In l898, Solomon Merrick, A Congregational minister on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, retired and moved his family to Florida seeking a better climate for his ailing wife. He p urchased a homestead of l60 acres of land, high pine land, rich in good soil. Sol Merrick and his family moved into a frame house but in time they built a home of native rock with a gabled roof and named it "Coral Gables." The inspiration for this name came from the name "Grey Gables," the home of President Grover Cleveland on Cape Cod. This home from which the city of Coral Gables got its name has been restored and is now on the National Registry of Historical Buildings.
The real builder of this dream city was George Merrick who took over the family property when his father Solomon Merrick died in l9ll. From l9ll to l92l, George Merrick dreamed of a beautiful city and began to plan toward this end. He gradually acquired more land to add to the original family holdings. Then he began to develop his grand dream-a perfect city. His uncle, pioneer architect Denman Fink, designed the complete plans for the ci ty with l75 fountains, gateways, plazas, parks, open spaces, and canals.
His plans completed, George Merrick headed to New York to seek financial backing. He got $500,000 from New York banks and with some of this money added 3000 acres of land to his holdings and formed the Coral Gables Corporation. The first l00 homes built in Coral Gables sold for $2000. This was in the early l920's. The large homes with what George Merrick called Mediterranean style of architecture-a blend of Spanish and Italian-came later in l924 and l925 when the land boom turned South Florida into a bedlam of real estate promotions from West Palm Beach to Miami.
As the land boom flourished and grew, George Merrick used a lot of "hoopla" to promote Coral Gables. It was like an old fashioned medicine show. Merrick had 3000 salesmen across the country and a fleet of 86 buses to bring prospective buyers from all over the country. When the buses arrived in Coral Gables, they were welcomed by none other than th e great William Jennings Bryan who welcomed the visitors with his oratorical skill. Paul Whiteman and his band and Jan Garber with his band added glamour to the scene.
On Flagler Street all of the big developers including Coral Gables had great halls where music and lectures ran from early morning until late at night. Nothing like the South Florida boom has ever been seen in this country. Transportation was blocked, trains of boxcars were backed up as far as Cincinnati and the rail lines had to declare an embargo. Boats loaded with building materials could not get into the harbor to unload and had to anchor outside for days.
In this boom time, Coral Gables prospered and grew into a beautiful suburb of Miami. Coral Gables was incorporated in l925 and a rapid transit line was built by the City of Coral Gables to connect it more closely to Miami. In l926, the Biltmore Hotel and Country Club was built but never was much of a success because soon after it was finished, a hurricane hit in September of l926 and created devastation and destruction from Pompano Beach to Homestead. When the storm passed, there were 246 dead and over 76 million dollars in property damage. The winds were clocked at l50 miles an hour. When the clean up crews were finished, George Merrick tried to keep his dream alive but it was an impossible job. He used up all of his personal fortune in an effort to keep his dream from folding up. Dead broke with no one to help him, he left his beloved Cora l Gables and settled down on the Florida Keys in a little fishing cabin that his wife owned and from l928 until l935 he eked out a meager living as a fishing guide.
In l935, a wealthy oilman bought the Biltmore Hotel and made other investments in Coral Gables. One day he asked someone what had become of George Merrick and he was told the situation. The oil man had someone bring Merrick to see him and he arranged to set him up in business as a real estate broker with a big office in Coral Gables a nd Miami. And so George was back in business again in his beloved city of Coral Gables. In l939, the position of Postmaster in the city of Miami came open and President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed George Merrick the Postmaster where he served until his death in l942.
We have lived in Coral Gables for the past thirteen years, and we agree with the statement made some years ago by George Merrick that Coral Gables was a combination of romance, beauty, and inspiration. We love its tree -lined streets and green lawns and its quiet friendly community. George Merrick said it best when referring to Coral Gables and all of South Florida when he said, "The Miami area and on down to Cape Sable comprises the only American tropics and in that fact Miami will forever hold a priceless monopoly and will always be a grand place to live."

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