Our family trifecta – July, August, September – is the celebration of three birthdays in a row; no betting involved! Last year was the first in many that we were all together. Daughter had returned home shortly before the start of the never-ending pandemic.
For my leg of this year’s celebration we enjoyed a long-awaited staycation and toured three of the interesting so-called Villages of Coral Gables (see 8-24-21 post). The timing was perfect for our second visit to see the rest of them for our final family outing.
First stop was the French Normandy Village. I’d guided a city tour bus around this intriguing block of two-storied, half-timbered homes a few years ago.
Constructed in 1926-1927, designed by architects John and Coulton Skinner, the attached dwellings are supposed to resemble a fifteenth century French village. It’s difficult to see much beyond the white stucco walls as you walk around the block. However, the profusion of flowers is amazing with wisteria and bougainvillea.
The connected houses were not always privately owned. In 1935, the French Normandy Village was sold to nearby University of Miami and served as homes to five fraternities. Next, during World War II like most of the iconic Art Deco hotels in South Beach, they were used to house soldiers here for training.
Next stop was the Italian Village. Unlike the others, this grouping of seventeen homes is spread out over several blocks. The architectural inspiration for them has been described as Italian farm houses and/or seventeenth century Italian villas with large walled gardens and exterior staircases, and even Venetian-style homes.
I think the few we recognized tended to be in the style of the villas. The architects include Robert Law Weed, Miami’s homegrown architect of renown.
Interestingly, it’s somewhat difficult to distinguish the houses in the Italian Village because they are in the overarching style of Coral Gables, Mediterranean Revival architecture. These houses have been characterized by their delicate archways, walled courtyards, and well-manicured gardens dotted with sculpture fountains.
Third and final stop was the so-called Florida Pioneer Village or more accurately, Colonial Village. I was expecting the single story vernacular houses with tin roofs common in the small towns of central Florida better known as “Cracker Houses.” But no, we stepped into a landscape of number of stately homes more reminiscent of the antebellum south, Gone with the Wind plantation homes backing on the expansive and green Riviera Golf Course. It had been part of the 1920s Biltmore Golf Course.
Promotional material attributes these graceful homes to a late 19th century New England streetscape. They feature two-story porches, symmetrical facades, and picket fences in the aristocratic Greek revival and Colonial Revival styles said to be based on Georgian architecture from England and France. It is also written elsewhere that their designs were copied and used for homes built in Cincinnati in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s.
The five residences in the Pioneer Village are among the earlier ones built before the destructive 1926 hurricane. The homes bisect to the private Riviera Golf Course, which in the 1920s was a part of the Biltmore Golf Course. In the years since their construction, the homes have undergone many renovations, but they are still impressive to behold. In addition, newer homes in the neighborhood were built following many of the elegant Colonial features, such as two-story porticos, verandas, slate roofs, and picket fences. Many have beautiful, manicured rose gardens.
From this late 1920’s historic photo, it appears that Santa Maria extends all the way to the Biltmore Hotel to the north and is centered along its north / south compass line.
Note that this photo was taken post 1926 hurricane and broken trees and shrubs can be seen.
Over the past 81 years, the homes have gone through numerous renovations. The renovations must keep the architectural integrity of the original design, and the City of Coral Gables Historic
Over two totally enjoyable visits, we enjoyed exploring architectural and historic treasures in our community. Other villages had been planned by George Merrick, the original developer of Coral Gables. There included Italian Country, Neapolitan Baroque, Mexican Hacienda, African Bazaar, Persian Canal, and Tangier. The 1929 crash put an end these fanciful plans.
In the meantime, the royal poinciana trees I so love are still blooming in September. such a delight to the eyes –