Swim In South Florida History: Venetian Pool

Once a coral rock quarry, it was turned into an aquatic facility in 1924, and today it remains a staple of South Florida

By Alona Abbady Martinez

Ask most to define South Florida and they will readily name the splashy hotspots that draw in tourists every day. After all, there are plenty of innovative restaurants, a vibrant nightlife, and neighborhoods like art-centric Wynwood and its upscale counterpart, The Design District, taking up the 305’s limelight. And of course, one cannot forget the miles of turquoise beaches brimming with speedboats and bikini-clad sunbathers. However, for those wanting to (literally) dip their toes in history, Time Capsule recommends heading to the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, a wondrous oasis built in the early part of the century at a time when northerners flocked south to an untamed land lured by the promise of kinder weather and opportunity.

Built in 1924, the Venetian Pool was constructed out of a four-acre coral rock quarry abandoned in 1921. It was founded by George Merrick, credited for developing Coral Gables as well as building a vast network of major road systems throughout Dade County, thus allowing the population of Miami to quadruple from 1915 to 1921.

“Originally the Venetian Pool was named the Venetian Casino, the term ‘casino’ actually means outdoor dining and entertainment,” Carolina Vester, Coral Gables’ Assistant Parks & Recreation Director at City of Coral Gables explains. 

Fishbaugh Collection

Popular at the time, the pool was built in Mediterranean Revival style, an architectural trend in the 1920s and ‘30s inspired by seaside villas and palaces in Europe. While commonly used in hotels (Miami’s The Biltmore, also built by Merrick, and The Breakers Palm Beach are two well-known examples) Merrick wanted the pool to emulate the Italian city of Venice and hired architect Phineas Paist and artist Denman Fink to create such an ambiance. They did, replete with a Venetian-style bridge and, during one of its many phases, an additional island and classic mooring posts for the gondolas that floated within. The gondolas were later removed and a high diving platform was added above the impressive grand waterfall that remains a highlight of the pool today. Early on, the pool was frequently drained so as to allow a symphony to perform inside it, taking advantage of the natural acoustics of the space, something that was repeated in 2011 by the Miami Symphony in honor of the 75th anniversary of Coral Gables. 

The quarry is filled by 820,000 gallons of spring water from an underground aquifer, making it the largest freshwater pool in the United States. Ranging in depth from four feet to over eight feet, today the pool features a kiddy pool near the lifeguard station, a grotto with natural water-filled caves and a sandy sunning area and cafe. A walking path circles the entire space and there are two large historic lookout towers with a view of the city. 

The Venetian Pool has undergone several major renovations, the first taking place in 1989 which restored many of the pools original features, then later between September 8, 2008 and April 30, 2009 when it was closed to the public. Throughout all its changes and facelifts, one thing remains the same: it has always served as a tribute to Merrick’s resourcefulness, foresight, and business savvy in promoting the successful growth of South Florida.

“The rock pit which provided the limestone and coral rock for the development of the first entrances and homes of Coral Gables would have been an eyesore in the City Beautiful, had it not been for their vision of a swimming hole that would provide a gathering place to entertain and awe investors and developers in a then-remote and desolate area of South Florida,” Vester adds.

Today the Venetian Pool continues to awe and entertain. Those that visit during its operational months see it as a welcome and unique paradise embellishing South Florida with the natural beauty and architectural vision its founders dreamed of almost a century ago. 

“Almost 95 years later the Venetian Pool is still one of a kind,” Vester concludes. 

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