A Gables Historic Black Neighborhood is Recognized
It was 1925, and Flora MacFarlane – the area’s first female homesteader – sold 19.61 acres to Coral Gables founder George Merrick’s development firm. The area was later annexed to the city as the MacFarlane Homestead Subdivision.
Today there are fewer than 32 homes left in the district, many of them being lost to neglect and developers. So, Gables historic activist Karelia Carbonell brought the area to the attention of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, which included it in its 2020 “Florida’s 11 to Save,” a list of the most threatened historic properties in the state.
The MacFarlane subdivision had received attention previously. The city designated it a historic area in 1989, and in 1994 it received national historic designation. Earlier this year, Sanctuary of the Arts – a Gables-based nonprofit co-founded by preservationist and arts patron Mike Eidson – bought the district’s St. Mary First Missionary Baptist Church to convert into a performing arts space.
The current focus on the area, bounded by U.S. 1, Oak Avenue, Brooker Street and Grand Avenue, is important for several reasons, say local preservationists. “This is where the Bahamian laborers first moved to when they came here to work,” says Carbonell, president of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables. “Merrick credits them with helping him build Coral Gables because they were artisans who knew how to work with the local materials, like the coral rock.” Many years later, Merrick would honor these black Bahamians in a series of stories he entitled, “Men of the Magical Isles.”
The area has survived as a neighborhood of black families, some still living in the original homes built by parents or relatives who settled in the area in the late 1800s, says Carbonell. “Now developers are buying them and replacing them with white boxes or ignoring them until they get demolished.”