With the Passing of Arva Moore Parks, the Gables Loses a Champion of Historic Preservation and an Icon of the City
Arva Moore Parks, author, historian and fierce proponent for historic preservation in Coral Gables and beyond, has died after a prolonged illness. She was 81.
Parks was a driving force in the preservation of the Biltmore Hotel, the Venetian Pool and the home of Gables’ founding father George Merrick. Parks helped create Coral Gables’ historic preservation program in the 1970s and served as the first chair of the city’s historic preservation board. She was the author of Miami: The Magic City (1991), as well as the more recent George Merrick: Son of the South Wind (2015). And was instrumental in the commissioning of Merrick’s statue in front of Coral Gables City Hall and led Coral Gables Museum during its inception.
“She was a great lady, a passionate historian, as well as a mentor and cherished friend to so many of us,” said John Allen, executive director of Coral Gables Museum, who knew Parks as a friend for 20 years. “It’s unlikely Coral Gables and Miami will ever see the likes of her spirit, determination and passion again.”
When we first interviewed Parks two years ago, she had just acquired a trove of never-seen short stories by Merrick. She got these through her friendship with the late Mildred Merrick, a UM librarian and sister-in-law of the city’s founder.
“The stories are eyewitness accounts of the things [Merrick] experienced as a boy,” Parks told Coral Gables Magazine at the time. “They were written in longhand, and horrible to read. So, I had to get them typed up, and it was almost like translating a foreign language. Merrick was trying to get them published when he died [in 1942]. I feel like I owe it to him to see that happen.”
Though she passed away at her last home in Coconut Grove, Parks was a long-time Gables resident. She moved to the city in 1970 and bought a fixer-upper on Granada Boulevard. “Everybody thought I was crazy, because everything north of Coral Way was thought to be declining.” As she restored the 1923 home, Parks was asked to chair the first historic preservation board in South Florida. “The first thing we did was get the city to buy Merrick House, which was about to be torn down. And we saved it. Then we started looking around for other homes that could be preserved. Eventually, property values started to go up.”
We next interviewed Parks earlier this year, for a special feature on women who played vital roles in the life of Coral Gables. In that story, we also highlighted Parks’ successful preservation efforts outside of the city, including Ralph M. Munroe’s Coconut Grove home (“The Barnacle”), the Tower Theater (on Calle Ocho in Miami) and the original Miami High School building.
During that interview, we asked her what advice she had for the next generation of female leaders.
“You have to study and know what you’re talking about,” she said. “Then you have to not be afraid to stand up and let people know what you know and why it’s important that they know it.”
Parks was inducted into Florida’s Women’s Hall of Fame in 1986 and received the George E. Merrick Spirit of Excellence Award in 2008.