New Exhibits Shed Life on Past Times
Since its opening 12 years ago, the Coral Gables Museum has featured an exhibit curated by a local historian – the late Arva Moore Parks – entitled ‘Creating the Dream.’ The four-gallery exhibit traced the creation of the city of Coral Gables by its visionary founder, George Edgar Merrick.
When the exhibit was decommissioned in October 2022, there was a lot of public concern that, under new management, the Museum was turning its back on its history, and that the legacy of George Merrick would soon be forgotten. This concern followed a movement, and a 2021 petition circulated by some University of Miami students, arguing that George Merrick was a racist whose name should be removed from the University and other public buildings. There was even talk of removing his statue from in front of City Hall.
But far from turning its back on the history of Coral Gables, the museum has sought to reinvigorate interest in our founding father and his vision for the City Beautiful.
The original ‘Creating the Dream’ exhibit is being preserved in a digital format to remain available for viewing at the Betty & L.D. Pankey Gallery and on the museum’s website. Additionally, a new and condensed version of the story, entitled ‘George Merrick’s Vision,’ is being offered by the Museum and the Visitor Center to the public for free. The new exhibit, in the Frank Lynn Gallery, emphasizes the importance of Merrick’s vision for not only the history of our city, but also its future development. Even more than Pierre L’Enfant in Washington D.C. or Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann in Paris, George Merrick imposed his vision and personality on the city, a vision which local developers and architects are now carrying into the 21st century.
Finally, the new exhibit illustrates the warm relationships that both George Merrick and his father Solomon maintained with the Black Bahamian community and how, despite Florida’s segregationist Jim Crow laws, Merrick ceaselessly fought to improve the living conditions of Miami’s Black citizens.
The history of Coral Gables is further celebrated in another current exhibit devoted to the city’s only female mayor, Dorothy Thompson. It was Thompson’s historic vote which saved the Biltmore Hotel, the jewel in the crown of George Merrick’s beautiful city. The current exhibit explores the life and times of this fascinating woman and her significant role in preserving Merrick’s legacy.
Another way the museum is focused on the city’s history is the Link & Learn lecture series focused on the Mediterranean Architecture of Coral Gables. From October 2022 to May 2023, in collaboration with ICAA Florida Chapter and the UM School of Architecture, the museum is presenting six lectures by distinguished local architects concerning the architectural and cultural patrimony of George Merrick, Mediterranean Architecture, and the City Beautiful movement.
A completely different exhibit is also on display, focused on more recent history: a selection of photographs by TV anchor and photographer Raúl de Molina during his time as a photo reporter and paparazzo in 1980s Miami. Simultaneous to capturing what was happening in real life, from riots to police corruption and drug dealing, Molina also documented the activity behind the scenes of NBC’s popular crime drama series “Miami Vice.” The dialogue between the fictional and the real images show how, in some cases, real life imitates art as much as art imitates real life. Far from rejecting South Florida’s history, the Coral Gables Museum is celebrating it with three current exhibits, a permanent digital exhibit, and a lecture series. Our history is not something old and dusty but something vibrant, relevant, and constantly being renewed.