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Coral Gables: Historic Commercial District Tour

Led by Architect Albert Menendez, Chairman of the Coral Gables Historic Preservation Board

December 1 from 3.15 to 5:30 pm

December 2 from 3.45 to 5:45 pm

Bus departs The Biltmore Hotel 1200 Anastasia

Trip begins on Anastasia heading to the historic Granada Drive making a left to the De Soto Fountain roundabout toward Venetian Pool at 2701 De Soto Boulevard. Originally a rock quarry for the oolitic limestone used in many of Coral Gables’ earliest buildings, Denman Fink transformed it into the Venetian Pool -- what was dubbed “the world’s most beautiful swimming hole” in 1924. It resembles a Venetian lagoon featuring rock outcroppings and caves, a waterfall, Venetian posts, and a small island connected to the casino by a bridge. In the early days, Merrick used the pool as his sales center and hired renowned orator, William Jennings Bryan, to extol the virtues of Coral Gables to willing customers. The pool maybe one of only two pools included in the National Register of Historic Places.

After pool stop, move on to Biltmore Way passing the Junior League of Miami Headquarters—its home is a landmarked Mediterranean Revival “mini palazzo” –on toward City Hall [quick stop for photo op] 405 Biltmore Way. Phineas Paist, Denman Fink and Harold Steward designed Coral Gables City Hall in 1927 and 1928. It is constructed of oolitic limestone, commonly called “coral rock.”

Head toward “Miracle Mile” the four-block historic commercial district through its original coral rock entrance.

Turn on Ponce de Leon to admire the historic Colonnade building, today Hotel Colonnade designed by famed architect Phineas Paist in collaboration with Walter DeGarmo and Paul Chalfin, James Deering’s interior designer for Vizcaya, George Merrick built it in 1926 to house his growing sales operation. The structure is a mixture of Spanish Colonial and Baroque.

Follow along Ponce de Leon to Hotel St Michel 162 Alcazar Avenue. Originally constructed in 1926 as an office building, it was soon converted into the Hotel Seville, now called the Hotel St. Michel, the interiors have interesting 1920s-style broken tile on the floor and on the vaulted ceilings. The St. Michel is the last of four beautiful small hotels that once characterized tourist facilities in the Downtown Coral Gables area.

Head down toward the Coral Gables Elementary School 105 Minorca Avenue. Designed by Kiehnel & Elliott, this Mediterranean-style elementary school has classrooms with wide doors rimmed by arcaded loggias, two impressive central courtyards and a large auditorium.

Make way back to Aragon Avenue for a stop [there is a bus lane that can be used] at the reimagined Coral Gables Museum. This building was originally the police and fire station built in 1939 and designed by Phineas E. Paist and Harold D. Steward who also designed City Hall]

This is a perfect opportunity to admire the Stabile Building at 260 Aragon Avenue. One of the earliest commercial structures in Coral Gables, it is characteristic of the Mediterranean style with its elaborately framed entrance and balcony overlooking Salzedo Street. Constructed in 1924, it was originally an ornamental concrete block shop.

Next to the museum stands the original Weiland Clinic 265 Aragon Avenue. This building, now a bookstore, was built as the Coral Gables Medical Center in 1927 and housed the offices of local physicians. Designed by Lee Wade, with a 1936 addition by Phineas Paist and Harold Steward, it consists of two wings connected by an arcade supported by four simplified columns. There is a courtyard within.

For a finale, take Alhambra Circle toward Granada quick stop at the Country Club of Coral Gables Historic District. It is comprised of the Country Club Building, the Granada Golf Course and eighty-five adjacent residences. George Merrick built the Country Club in 1922 to serve an important role in entertaining prospective buyers for the germinating development. Designed by the nationally known firm of Langford and Moreau, the golf course opened on January 1, 1923.

Circle around the Alhambra Water Tower intersection of Alhambra Circle, Greenway Court and Ferdinand Street. In 1924 Merrick commissioned his cousin architect H. George Fink, to hide a necessary, albeit unsightly, four-story water tower by transforming it into a beautiful lighthouse. It remained in use as a water tower until 1931.

Head back to The Biltmore Hotel. The National Register of Historic Places designated The Biltmore a National Historic Landmark, an elite title offered to only 3 percent of all historic structures.