Florida Developer George E. Merrick

by Alona Abbady Martinez

Coral Gables’ lush landscaping, wide avenues, and charming homes have captured the hearts of both locals and visitors since it was founded in the early 1900s. Nicknamed “The City Beautiful” it was carefully designed by George Merrick under the principles of the Mediterranean Revival architectural style, which aimed to create harmony with its environment, an ideology that has withstood the test of time. As the city of Miami continues to grow, Coral Gables still holds an idyllic beauty, making it one of South Florida’s most prized neighborhoods. Merrick’s visionary quest to create a “master suburb” that would also serve as a “gateway to Latin America” was far ahead of its time. Today, Coral Gables is home to over 20 consulates and foreign government offices and more than 140 multinational corporations.

Tucked away in plain sight is the boyhood home of George Merrick, which serves as the birthplace of the neighborhood. The home, purchased in 1899 by George’s father, Minister Solomon Merrick, was a modest structure upon the 3,000-acre grapefruit, avocado, and vegetable plantation, considered an expansive agricultural endeavor for its time. Solomon’s wife Althea planted oaks, gumbo limbos, and rubber trees, cut flower gardens and lined the keystone walkways with low coral walls, conch shells, and crepe myrtles. She would go on to expand the house to what it is today, using local limestone taken from a nearby quarry that would later become the landmark Venetian Pool. The home itself is a blend of New England architectural features with elements like an extensive wrap-around porch, which is a direct response to South Florida’s temperate climate. Upon its completion in 1910, the Merricks named it “Coral Gables” and the surrounding grove the “Coral Gables Plantation” paving the way for the Coral Gables neighborhood.

George Merrick moved to New York to study law but returned to Miami after the untimely death of his father in 1911 to run the plantation and help his mother with his younger siblings. He grew restless with the farming lifestyle and decided to pursue his real estate dreams by dividing the farm and running the main street through his new city right past the family house. Merrick continued expanding and developing the area, always keeping the house for his mother and sister Ethel to live in. When the 1926 real estate crash occurred, he lost everything except his mother’s house, which later became a boarding house run by his sister. In 1976 the 14-room estate was restored by the City of Coral Gables to its 1925 appearance, considered to be the year most representative of the Merrick family. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and open for tours on the weekend, where guests are privy to a pristine peek into the home and history of this neighborhood’s greatest advocate. 

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