Don’s Rambles: Soulful Streetlights

An adventure in which a former mayor continues to seek the “soul” of his hometown

For a city to have “soul,” it must have a “sense of place” — characteristics that distinguish it from the surrounding urban metroplex. Whether it is the 1920s Mediterranean Revival architecture, the profusion of vegetation, the close-knit neighborhood friendships, or just the overall look and feel, it has to say, “This is Coral Gables!” Thus far in my wanderings around town, I have visited historic sites, parks, houses of worship, a cemetery, and with citizens committed to preserving their beloved “City Beautiful.” For this installment, I am meandering through the historic center of our community to inspect an aspect of our environment which brands this area as “The Gables” — street lamps.

From its founding days, a portion of the Gables’ artistic appeal to potential residents was founder George Merrick’s installation of beautiful, distinctive White Way streetlights in the residential neighborhoods. Dignified silver-colored, fluted poles topped by beautiful glass globes emitted a golden glow as dark descended in the evening hours — in other words, “street jewelry” that created necklaces of light along our roadways to announce a person’s arrival to a very special place.

street lamps
Residents Maria and Frank Gonzalez embracing one of the White Way-style street lamps which adorn Granada Boulevard north of Bird Road

For many years, city officials gave new life to Merrick’s vision by making the thoughtful effort, and devoting the necessary resources, to light more streets with new “faux” White Way lights that continued the original theme — a theme which now embraces more than a dozen miles of our most historic streets. For the past half century, these reproductions of White Way lights have lined our impressive thoroughfares throughout the heart of our residential area north of US-1, including Granada Boulevard and Alhambra Circle.

A great example of their impact was found in the Greenway Drive historic district surrounding Granada Golf Course. Until recently, their stately presence framed idyllic views of the golf course both day and night as Mr. Merrick had envisioned.

Recently, however, the “white way styled” lampposts along North and South Greenway have been summarily removed by FPL without notice to or input from the neighbors. The replacement black stick posts and high-intensity lighting can be found in other less-distinguished parts of the county.

Neither permission nor permit was sought from the City’s Historic Preservation Department. In conversations with city officials and FPL executives, it seems that the same fate awaits similar street lights throughout the community. Encouragingly, after receiving a Historic Preservation Board resolution seeking a moratorium on such removals (until more public input can be obtained), the City Commission has agreed to take this issue under advisement while further study is undertaken.

Coral Gables is possibly the only city in South Florida where residents are desperately striving to maintain its founder’s grand vision (borrowed from Isiah’s Biblical reference to an ideal “heavenly city on a hill” that would shine like an example to the world) by abiding by his exceptional Mediterranean urban design. Our unique decorative street lighting is truly a feature that makes “this place” special. We should all rage against the dying of these lights.

RELATED: The Saving of the Streetlights


This column appears monthly by Don Slesnick, who served as mayor of Coral Gables from 2001 to 2011. If you wish to reach him with suggestions on where he should next meander in search of the city’s soul, email donslesnick@scllp.com.