New York, New York
August 28, 2003
There’s more to Miami than South Beach, as this tony neighborhood certainly proves. And what a contrast it is to SoBe’s sun-baked streets. Coral Gables is dominated by leafy avenues, coral-hued haciendas, and elegant architecture--all of it the brainchild of George Merrick, the area’s founder and urban planner. In fact, this area is so distinct from the rest of the city that it actually constitutes its own town, with civic council and residential regulations to match.
Since we were there on a weekend in low-season (the summer) the neighborhood’s two main attractions, the Venetian Pools and the Coral Gables Merrick House, were closed. But that didn’t stop us from gazing contentedly at the soothing coral-hued haciendas that line the main drag, Coral Way. Just driving along this road is a treat in and of itself, as the boulevard is overhung with majestic trees dripping with Spanish moss. Cruising along, with the green canopy above us and the top down on our convertible, was positively luxurious when compared with the brick-and-mortar skyscraper cover I usually find myself below in New York City.
Even though the Merrick house, at 970 Coral Way, was closed (it was actually designed by George’s mother, Althea), we still stomped around the grounds, admiring the wonderful wrap-around verandah, and checking out Ms. Merrick’s grotto garden in the back, where a tiny goldfish pond is tucked behind a picturesque stone archway. Then we hopped back in the car to check out the digs at the Biltmore Hotel (1200 Anastasia Avenue; www.biltmorehotel.com), Merrick’s pièce de résistance, and onetime playground of Al Capone, Judy Garland, Ginger Rogers, and various European royalty.
In a word: wow.
Opened in 1926, with a central tower modeled after one in Seville, the Biltmore still--even after all this time and architectural adancement--makes one helluva statement. It lords over everything around it--including the grassy expanse of the neighboring 18-hole golf course. Its wing span is so vast, you’ll be hard-pressed to fit it in your camera viewfinder--I had to settle for a shot of the tower alone. Meanwhile, the façade is covered with all sorts of fanciful tricks, and hides an astounding inner courtyard, complete with soaring archways and tile mosaics, that could have been copied from a Mediterannean palazzo.
There’s even something for children to enjoy here, since the lobby houses two antique aviaries filled with chicks, who burrow their tiny bodies into nesting boxes on the sides. The scene is positively delightful.
And remember, just because you can''t afford to stay here (the rates are outrageous!), you can still pretend you''re a paying guest and walk around the place with your nose in the air. I certainly did!
From journal SoBe It