Somehow I skipped the first episode of our 2021 family Trifecta. Last week’s focus was on number two, Constant Companion. My own birthday was celebrated a month earlier, with a day when I do not cook. Ours was an enjoyable dinner at one of the amazing Brazilian steakhouses in town, a delicious overload of meat with a tasty array of salads.
Our Trifecta celebration was the start of a long-awaited local adventure. It was not quite a staycation, but an exploration of local history and architecture, interests shared by the three of us.
When I started giving walking and driving tours I “discovered” the so-called Villages of Coral Gables, a community created out of an isolated wilderness by visionary George Merrick between 1922 and 1928. The town is characterized by winding boulevards, lush green treescapes, and predominantly Mediterranean revival architectural styles in keeping with the City Beautiful Movement that emerged in the late 19th, early 20th centuries. This concept of a planned city emphasized the importance of urban landscape. Other US cities that adopted the philosophy were Cleveland (1903), San Francisco (1905), and St. Paul, Minnesota (1906).
One part of the Coral Gables plan was the development of fourteen distinctive villages, the Villages Project. Only seven were finished before the national economy collapsed in 1929. They are the Chinese Village, the Dutch South African Village, the Florida Pioneer/Colonial Village, the French Provincial Village, the French Country Village, the French City Village, and the Italian Village.
Our day trip took us on walks around three of them. Constant Companion chose our route. Daughter and I gladly followed along …
A number of years ago, my long drive to work in the southern part of the county skirted the Gables, as we call it. I noticed a set of tall, connected buildings and wondered what they were. They are the Dutch South Africa Village, homes designed by Palm Beach architect Marion Sims Wyeth based on the farmhouses of wealthy Dutch colonists who settled in South Africa in the 17th century. The steeply pitched roofs are just one of the architectural characteristics.
Our next destination was the French Country Village where two distinct 18th century French building styles were drawn upon: rural farmsteads designed by architect Frank Forster and rustic chateaux designed by Edgar Albright and Phillip L Goodwin. Architectural elements of the twelve properties include French mansard roofs, rounded towers, wrought iron balconies and red brick.
Neighboring homes across the street from the Village were inspired a formal and classical style of 18th century French city architecture.
We ended our long, meandering morning at the incomparable Chinese Village. I’d been introduced to it on one of my early driving tours. On our adventure, we took lots of time to explore the intricacies from the outside.
The eight homes feature colorful roof tiles, decorative gates, and other Asian architectural elements hidden behind a common bamboo-studded wall that suggests a compound arrangement.
The Chinese Village, built between 1926 and 1927, was designed by Henry Killam Murphy, whose many trips to China as early as 1914 thoroughly introduced him to the details of its rich architectural style. The homes are designed to resemble Imperial buildings from the Ming dynasty.
One of my favorites, I’m not sure you well it shows, is a doorknob in the Chinese Village that is a curled up pangolin. It reminds me of our kitty Jinxie curled up in one of her baskets!
Florida vernacular architecture was alive and preserved across the street from the Dutch South African village. This is a characteristic oolitic limestone wall built by the early Bahamian master who settled in our community.
We are planning another day trip to finish our excursion in The Villages sometime soon.