Community Voices

Coral Gables founder commissioned these street lamps. Now, they're in dire need of repair.

The Historical Preservation Association of Coral Gables is on a mission to save the last few of the original 1926 city streetlights, commissioned by Coral Gables Founder George Merrick. Of the original 500, only 41 remain standing. On the base of an original 1926 Coral Gables streetlight there are relief images representing “Art and Architecture,” “Horticultural Planting,” “Labor” and “Industry.”
The Historical Preservation Association of Coral Gables is on a mission to save the last few of the original 1926 city streetlights, commissioned by Coral Gables Founder George Merrick. Of the original 500, only 41 remain standing. On the base of an original 1926 Coral Gables streetlight there are relief images representing “Art and Architecture,” “Horticultural Planting,” “Labor” and “Industry.” Diego Quiros

If you walk around Coral Gables, which many of us love to do, you might occasionally be surprised to see an old, chipped and rusted streetlight with some mystical-looking faces around the base.

What you’ve found is an original light of the city. In 1926, Coral Gables Founder George Merrick commissioned 500 of them.

Today, there are just 41 left standing and the Historical Preservation Association of Coral Gables is trying to save them.

“The City landmarks are disappearing before our eyes,” said Karelia Martinez Carbonell, president of HPACG, in an email.

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The Historical Preservation Association of Coral Gables is on a mission to save the last few of the original 1926 city streetlights. From left, HPACG president Karelia Martinez Carbonell, and former HPACG board member Connie Crowther hug one of the historic lamps commissioned by Coral Gables Founder George Merrick. Of the original 500, only 41 remain standing. Diego Quiros

“These lights were personally commissioned by Coral Gables Founder George Merrick. The remaining few are endangered due to neglect and bureaucracy and last September Hurricane Irma took down a few more.”

Since 2011, volunteers in the nonprofit group have been trying to bring attention to the condition of the lights with the hope of maintaining, restoring and preserving them.

“Drive along Riviera Drive and capture beauty,” Martinez Carbonell said. “The short Riviera corridor between Andalusia and Segovia may be the only remaining street in Coral Gables still lined with most of the original 1926 White Way Lights.”

She said Dade Heritage Trust added the streetlights to its 2018 Most Endangered List. They also were designated as a City Historic Landmark Site in 1981 and are included on the City Historic Landmark Inventory.

“A convoluted contractual relationship between the City of Coral Gables and Florida Power & Light has not allowed the City to proceed with restoration of the streetlight landmarks. Fortunately, the City of Coral Gables recently made a budgetary commitment that paves the way for the City to take ownership of the landmark lights from FPL,” Martinez Carbonell said. “This action will allow the City to proceed with preservation. Finally, some glimmer of light for the historic White Way decorative lamps.”

The streetlights were important to the fledgling City of Coral Gables when Merrick commissioned them. The historic lamps and their ornamental bases were designed by supervising architect Phineas Paist and art director Denman Fink, Martinez Carbonell said.

“Merrick’s White Way Lights project places him as an early advocate of the City Beautiful Movement and art in public places,” she said. “Back in the 1920s, the original Coral Gables’ ‘White Way Lights’ corridor made reference to New York City’s ‘The Great White Way’ that became one of the nicknames for Broadway in the late 1890s, back when the street was one of the first to be fully illuminated by electric light.”

The decorative Coral Gables streetlights were once located all along University Drive from Granada Boulevard past Ponce de Leon Boulevard, and along Riviera Drive from Granada to University Drive. Merrick wanted them to beautify the newly built roads.

As for their interesting designs, at each of the four sides of the light base there is a head carved in relief that is symbolic of the life of Coral Gables when it was designed.

Martinez Carbonell said each of the faces represents a different character. “The ‘Art and Architecture’ and ‘Horticultural Planting’ reliefs are of beautiful women with their appropriate symbolic implements. The ‘Labor’ and ‘Industry’ reliefs are represented by men with strong features, also with symbolic implements and tools,” she said.

Alternating between the heads are the Spanish castle and the rampant lion, both important symbols that are often seen in original Coral Gables designs, she said.

“The posts are of cast iron construction and were originally painted verdigris green. Later, the posts and bases were painted silver,” she said. “Encircling the top of the base, in raised letters are the words, ‘Coral Gables—The Miami Riviera, Fla.’”

The same theme is reflected in the Coral Gables City Hall dome murals and the relief sculptures on the De Soto Fountain.

“The remaining lights are endangered landmarks and are in dire need of saving,” Martinez Carbonell said.

HPACG was established in 1991 with a mission to “promote the understanding and importance of historic resources and their preservation.” For more information and to support the group, visit www.historiccoralgables.org or write to info@historiccoralgables.org.

How Miracle Games started

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In 2007, Jordan Rosen and his grandfather, Irving Zambrofsky, a kidney transplant recipient, celebrated the success of the first Miracle Games. In two years, Jordan raised over $11,000 for the Transplant Foundation. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

It’s a wonderful thing when students make the effort to start a tradition of charity fundraising. The 10th annual Miracle Games basketball tournament is a great example.

Jordan Rosen was 15 and in ninth grade at Palmetto Senior High School when he founded and organized the first annual Miracle Games in 2007. It took place at his family’s backyard basketball court in Pinecrest.

Jordan Rosen’s mother, Karen Rosen, said the original tournament was started to honor his grandfather, Irving Zambrofsky, who was a kidney transplant recipient. Proceeds from the event went to the Transplant Foundation in appreciation.

“My family's involvement with the Transplant Foundation and the Miracle Games bring back a lot of happy memories for me,” Karen Rosen said in an email. She said Zambrofsky, her father, died in 2009.

Jordan Rosen continued working on his project and organized the second annual Miracle Games. As of 2009, according to a letter from the Transplant Foundation, his efforts had raised more than $11,000 for the Patient Service Fund.

He recruited new students to take over the organization of the Miracle Games and it has been passed down to volunteering students ever since.

Jordan Rosen is now 26 and he is in his fourth year of medical school at the University of Miami. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Emory University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in neuroscience and behavioral biology.

Congratulations to Jordan Rosen for beginning the important mission of the Miracle Games basketball tournament. And to all the other youth who have organized and participated over the past 10 years, good work and well done.

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at christinammayo@gmail.com.

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