Ranch House Rediscovered

Taking a closer look at the Ranch-style houses of Coral Gables 

Between Neo-Classical and Contemporary, there’s an overlooked South Florida house style that’s been gaining attention (and respect) as an exemplar of America’s optimistic Post-WWII suburban lifestyle. And it’s been hiding in plain sight in Coral Gables for over 75 years.

We’ve all driven, jogged, walked, or bicycled past these modest one-story houses in and around the City Beautiful. They blend seamlessly — indeed, almost imperceptibly — into the fabric of 21st century life, quietly co-existing in today’s residential environment: the Ranch House.

In the early 20th century, South Florida’s visionaries tapped into a wealth of architectural styles they readily adapted to suit the exigencies of our subtropical climate: Italian Renaissance, Mediterranean, American Colonial, Mission, and Arts & Crafts, followed in due course by Art Deco, Art Moderne, Mid-Century Modern… and Ranch House. The mix was always the message.

Ranch House Rediscovered
Palmarito Street house designed in 1948 by Gerard Pitt.

In the 1920s, George Merrick became the real estate impresario who inspired a supremely gifted team of creators in the development of thematic “villages” based on Italian, Chinese, French, Dutch South African, and Florida Pioneer design precedents (see story on page 62). No doubt attracted by the artistic possibilities inherent in Merrick’s groundbreaking master plan, our first “starchitects” truly let it rip, in the process embedding their names and accomplishments in the city’s emerging sociocultural identity. A brand was born.

Our design pantheon includes traditionalists like Phineas Paist, Denman Fink, Kiehnel & Elliott (designers of the Coral Gables Congregational Church and Coral Gables Elementary School), Schultze & Weaver (designers of The Biltmore Hotel), and John & Coulton Skinner. Then came the transitional modernists like H. George Fink, Russell Pancoast, Marion Manley (South Florida’s first registered female architect), William Merriam, and Alfred Browning Parker — among the many who made Coral Gables… well, more beautiful.

Historically designated Bayamo Avenue house designed in 1954 by Alfred Browning Parker.

In the aftermath of WWII, a more simplistic design aesthetic took root across the country, finding its apotheosis in suburban developments where the desire to connect indoor and outdoor living spaces resulted in single-level, affordable homes with then-innovative features like sliding glass doors opening to spacious backyards. “America created a consumer product that people wanted to buy,” says Alan Hess, author of “The Ranch House.” Clifford Edward Clark, Jr. (author of “The American Home”) estimates that over a million such houses were built by the mid-1950s, all designed to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of a new generation of home-buyers.

Fast-forward to 2023, and it appears that the Coral Gables Ranch House is emerging from obscurity. Is history repeating itself? Or is the next wave of Coral Gables residents seeking a lifestyle that’s “informal yet gracious” — as Sunset Magazine described suburban living in 1946? Once again, the Ranch House seems to embody this ideal — reimagined, reinvigorated, and just waiting to be rediscovered.

Ranch House.
Historically designated Candia Avenue house designed in 1950 by H. George Fink.

Story written by Karelia Martinez Carbonell & Bruce Fitzgerald