George E. Merrick has become a rather famous historical figure in the real estate development community for his contributions to the field in the United States during the 1920’s. Merrick became responsible for the planning and construction of the entire city of Coral Gables, Florida in Miami-Dade County, a city that is recognized for becoming one of the first planned communities in the United States. Many of the city’s characteristics that had been considered unique during the time of its development and early existence, such as strict zoning regulations and remarkable aesthetic beauty are the result of Merrick’s planning. The strict zoning regulations were a fundamental aspect of Merrick’s planning of the city, as he was very clear in his desire to see an obvious division between the commercial, residential, and recreational parts of the city. Merrick had planned and developed Coral Gables during the 1920’s Florida land boom that had marked a significant trend towards real estate development in the state, and he had overseen the spending of over $100 million towards it. As such, the Mediterranean Revival style of the city’s architecture reflected upon this extravagant spending and attracted a great deal of affluent residents.
The affluence of Coral Gables resulting for meticulous planning and spending orchestrated by Merrick is thought to be one of the primary influences behind the later adoptions of gated communities within affluent neighborhoods throughout the U.S. Furthermore, the authoritarian and regulatory nature of homeowners associations as we know them today can very likely also be attributed to Coral Gables, as Merrick had utilized many of the same tactics in the city’s development. Of course, Merrick was one of several figures behind the actual development of Coral Gables, as he had assembled a team of prominent artists, architects, and landscape artists to assist him with the city’s actual development process. Still, the development of this planned city would simply not have occurred without his vision and without the resources at his disposal following his father’s passing and the inheritance subsequently left to him. Merrick also contributed even more to Coral Gables once its core development and construction stages had completed, primarily as a response to the criticism the city had received for its Mediterranean Revival style and lack of aesthetic variety. It was at this point that Merrick had branched out to designing the communities and villages that would comprise the residential areas within Coral Gables. He had taken influence from various international architectural styles in these communities in order to address the criticism of his initial designs and stylistic choices, further developing the city as it remains today. Unfortunately, that continued development finally met its end at the onset of the Great Depression, the financial consequences of which had impacted Merrick’s ability to continue investing financial resources and efforts into the city.
Aside from orchestrating the planning and development of the structural and aesthetic components of Coral Gables, Merrick also contributed to the city’s prosper in several other ways. For one, he is responsible for donating both land and money towards the construction of the University of Miami location within the city. He had also provided such resources to various other buildings—many of which remain intact today—including country clubs, community organizations, and houses. While his philanthropic nature in this regard was surely commendable, it is unfortunately also true that Merrick was notoriously regarded as a racist, who had envisioned Coral Gables and essentially all of Miami as a region that would eventually rid itself of African-Americans due to its affluent nature. Such an attitude did admittedly fall in line with mainstream American attitudes on race during the 1920’s, although still highlights one of the ugly motivations behind Coral Gables’ upper-class prospects. Regardless, though, George Merrick will undoubtedly continue to be remembered for creating Coral Gables to become among the first planned cities in the United States.