Elements of Urbanism: Coral Gables

December 17, 2010 9 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville explores a city famous for its strict zoning regulations: Coral Gables.

Coral Gables Population 2009: 44,425 (City); 5,547,051 (Miami Metro) - (incorporated in 1925)

Jacksonville Pop. 2009: 813,518 (City); 1,328,144 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2009)

Coral Gables (Miami): +10.77%
Jacksonville: +18.29%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Coral Gables (Miami): 4,919,036 (ranked 5 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Coral Gables (Miami): 4,407.4
Jacksonville: 2,149.2

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2009

Coral Gables: +2,176
Jacksonville: +72,312

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Coral Gables: N/A
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to Convention Center:

Coral Gables: N/A
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Coral Gables: Biltmore Hotel - 315 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2010 (City limits only):

Coral Gables: N/A  
Jacksonville: CSX (259), Winn-Dixie (306), Fidelity National Financial (366)


Urban infill obstacles:

Coral Gables: Florida's real estate industry.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Coral Gables: Miracle Mile
Jacksonville: East Bay Street


Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Coral Gables: 91 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

City Land Area

Coral Gables: 24.10 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Visual Information

Green = Jacksonville's city limits (current urban core) before consolidation in 1968
Red = Jacksonville's current consolidated city-county limits

Jacksonville's current (Red) and original (Green) city limit boundaries over Coral Gables land area (Orange).

About Coral Gables

Coral Gables is a city in Miami-Dade County, Florida, southwest of Downtown Miami. The city is home to the University of Miami.
The population was 42,249 at the 2000 census. According to U.S Census estimates in 2005, the city had a population of 42,871.

Coral Gables was one of the first planned communities, and prefigured the development of the gated community and the homeowners association. It is famous for its strict zoning regulations. The city was developed by George Edgar Merrick during the Florida land boom of the 1920s. The city's architecture is almost entirely Mediterranean Revival Style. By 1926, the city covered 10,000 acres, had netted $150 million in sales with over $100 million spent on development.

Merrick designed the downtown commercial district to be only four blocks wide and more than two miles long. The main artery bisected the business district. Merrick could boast that every business in Coral Gables was less than a two-block walk. The city used to have an old electric trolley system which was replaced by the popularity of modern automobiles, but now a new free circulator trolley system, initiated in November, 2003, runs down Ponce de León Boulevard.

In 1925, roughly simultaneous to the founding of Coral Gables, the city was selected as the home to the University of Miami, which was constructed that year on 240 acres of land just west of U.S. Route 1, approximately two miles south of downtown Coral Gables.

Coral Gables is currently known as a pedestrian-friendly destination. Located four miles from Miami International Airport, the "City Beautiful" has around 140 dining establishments and gourmet shops, and many notable international retailers. Among the landmarks in Coral Gables are the Venetian Pool, Douglas Entrance, the Biltmore Hotel, and many fine residences.

Downtown Coral Gables

Ponce de León Boulevard

Downtown Coral Gables straddles Ponce de León Boulevard for more than two miles.  Ponce de Merrick designed the downtown commercial district to be only four blocks wide and more than two miles long. The main artery bisected the business district. Merrick could boast that every business in Coral Gables was less than a two-block walk. The city used to have an old electric trolley system which was replaced by the popularity of modern automobiles, but now a new free circulator trolley system, initiated in November, 2003, runs down Ponce de León Boulevard.

Alhambra Circle is Coral Gables' primary financial street with numerous high-rise office buildings.

Coral Gables City Hall

Douglas Road

Miracle Mile Shopping District

The Miracle Mile shopping district in Coral Gables offers visitors and residents an exciting lineup of upscale retail stores and restaurants. The area is a section of Coral Way (SW 22nd Street) between Douglas Road (SW 37th Avenue) and LeJeune Road (SW 42nd Avenue) in Coral Gables.  The Coral Way Corridor was built in 1922, connecting the city of Miami to Coral Gables with citrus lined streets. A few years later streetcar tracks were laid down the middle. In 1929, a roadside beautification program was started and 1,200 non-native banyan trees were planted along it.

Notable Residents

Dave Barry, Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist.

Hélio Castroneves, race car driver.

Maxine Clark, the founder of Build-a-Bear Workshop.

Colleen Corby, model.

LeBron James, professional basketball player, Miami Heat.

José José, pop singer.

Soia Mentschikoff, law professor.

Marilyn Milian, judge, The People's Court.

Jonathan Vilma, professional football player, New Orleans Saints.

Biltmore Hotel

As the creator of Coral Gables, land developer George E. Merrick also founded the University of Miami, and developed the suburbs with strict building codes to ensure the beautiful surroundings. Coral Gables is a largely residential, affluent area graced with broad, planted boulevards, golf courses, and country clubs. Stately Mediterranean homes, Banyan trees, and tropical foliage line its quiet streets. The thriving business district is also home to over 150 multinational companies and multinational headquarters.

In 1925, young Merrick joined forces with Biltmore hotel magnate John McEntee Bowman at the height of the Florida land boom to build "a great hotel...which would not only serve as a hostelry to the crowds which were thronging to Coral Gables but also would serve as a center of sports and fashion." In January 1926, ten months and $10 million dollars later, The Biltmore debuted with a magnificent inaugural that brought people down from northern cities on trains marked "Miami Biltmore Specials." The Giralda-inspired Tower was lit for the first time and the champagne corks popped as the guests fox-trotted to the sounds of jazz, all in celebration of the birth of The Biltmore.

In its heyday, The Biltmore played host to royalty, both Europe's and Hollywood's. The hotel counted the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Al Capone and assorted Roosevelts and Vanderbilts as frequent guests. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a temporary White House office set up at the Hotel for when he vacationed on his fishing trips from Miami. There were many gala balls, aquatic shows by the grand pool and weddings were de rigueur as were world class golf tournaments. A product of the Jazz Age, big bands entertained wealthy, well-traveled visitors to this American Riviera resort.

The Biltmore made it through the nation's economic lulls in the late 1920s and early 1930s by hosting aquatic galas that kept the hotel in the spotlight and drew the crowds. As many as three thousand would come out on a Sunday afternoon to watch the synchronized swimmers, bathing beauties, alligator wrestling and the young Jackie Ott, the boy wonder who would dive from an eighty-five foot platform. Johnny Weissmuller, prior to his tree-swinging days in Hollywood, broke the world record at the Biltmore pool and was a swimming instructor. Families would attend the shows and many would dress up and go tea dancing afterwards on the hotel's grand terrace to the sounds of swinging orchestras.

But with the onset of World War II, the War Department converted The Biltmore to a hospital. It served the wounded as the Army Air Forces Regional Hospital. Many of the windows were sealed with concrete, and the marble floors covered with Government Issue linoleum. Also the early site of The University of Miami's School of Medicine, The Biltmore remained a VA hospital until 1968.

In 1973, through the Historic Monuments Act and Legacy of Parks program, the City of Coral Gables was granted ownership control of The Biltmore. Undecided as to the structure's future, The Biltmore remained unoccupied for almost 10 years. Then in 1983, the City oversaw its full restoration to be opened as a grand hotel. Almost four years and $55 million later, The Biltmore opened on December 31, 1987 as a first class hotel and resort. Over 600 guests turned out to honor the historic Biltmore at a black tie affair.

In June 1992, a multinational consortium led by Seaway Hotels Corporation, a Florida hotel management company, officially became the new operators of the Biltmore under a long term management lease with the City of Coral Gables, and again made significant refurbishments to the property.
Seaway invested in new lighting and telephone systems, computer systems throughout, repairs to the pool, furnishings, a complete guestroom renovation program and also remodeled a space into a state-of-the-art health club and spa. At the 1926 gala opening of the Miami Biltmore Country Club, Dr. Frank Crane predicted that "many people will come and go, but this structure will remain a thing of lasting beauty." He was right and in 1996, the hotel celebrated yet another milestone in its illustrious history—the 70th anniversary of this grand South Florida monument and an official designation by the Federal Government as a National Historic Landmark, an elite title offered to only 3% of all historic structures on the National Register of Historic Places.

In February 2009 the Biltmore opened its very own Culinary Academy. The Biltmore Culinary Academy is a recreational hands-on cooking school with classes for adults and children taught by the hotel’s chefs. The 3-hour signature hands-on class holds up to eight students and finishes with a meal made up of recipes made in class.[5]

Villages of Merrick

The Village of Merrick Park is an upscale lifestyle center that anchors the south end of downtown Coral Gables. Opened in 2002, the outdoor mall is operated by General Growth Properties and features over 100 tenant stores, including restaurants.  The Village of Merrick Park is served by the Miami Metrorail at the Douglas Road Station.

Article and photos by Ennis Davis