From The Florida Preservationist, Spring 2017
Since 2011, the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables — a nonprofit established in 1991 whose mission is to promote the understanding and importance of historic resources and their preservation—has been working with officials in Coral Gables to bring attention to the condition and need for maintenance, restoration and preservation of the few remaining historic street lights in the Riviera Section of Coral Gables.
The White Way Lights were designated as a City Historic Landmark Site in 1981 and included on the City Historic Landmark Inventory. Coral Gables’ White Way Lights corridor is a nod to New York City’s The Great White Way, a nickname for a section of Broadway lit in 1880 – one of the first in the nation.
Unfortunately, most of the original 500 lights have been lost. The remaining lights are endangered and in dire need of saving.
HPACG has been urging the untangling of a convoluted contractual relationship between the City of Coral Gables and the Florida Power & Light that does not allow the City to proceed with restoration. Hopefully, a satisfactory outcome will soon pave the way for the City of Coral Gables and HPACG to begin saving the remaining original streetlights.
Last year, one milestone accomplished by The Board of Directors of the HPACG was the dedication of the White Way Lights historical marker. Additional preservation work includes restoring and maintaining original lights and ultimately recreating the original lit corridor.
White Way Lights were functional works of art commissioned 90 years ago by Coral Gables founder George Merrick to light the fledgling city and beautify its newly built roads. The White Way Lights project place Merrick as an early advocate of art in public places. Less than ten percent of the original 500 historic lights still exist today.
This particular set of “White Way Lights”, designed in the early 1920s by Phineas Paist and Denman Fink, are located along University Drive from Granada Boulevard past Ponce de Leon Boulevard and along Riviera Drive from Granada to University Drive.
In 1926, 500 ornamental bases were commissioned for the White Way streetlights in Coral Gables. These unique streetlights were designed by historical figures Phineas Paist, as supervising architect, and Denman Fink, as art director. Paist and Fink, uncle of George Merrick, founder of Coral Gables, together also designed the Douglas Entrance (1924), the Venetian Pool (1925), and Coral Gables City Hall (1928)—all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Fink designed all of the original entrances to Coral Gables. He also designed the original water tower in the shape of a light house. Paist designed the Colonnade Building (1926), San Sebastian Apartment Hotel (1926) and the Coral Gables Police and Fire Station (1939).
At each of the four sides of the base, there is a head in relief symbolic of the life of Coral Gables. Each of these faces represents a different character. Art and Architecture and Horticultural Planting reliefs are of beautiful women with their appropriate symbolic implements. Labor and Industry reliefs are represented by men with strong features, also with symbolic implements and tools.
Alternating between the heads are the Spanish castle and rampant lion, both important symbols used often in Coral Gables designs. Encircling the top of the base, in raised letters are the words, “Coral Gables—The Miami Riviera, Fla.”. The posts are of cast iron construction and were originally painted verdigris green. Later, the posts and bases were painted silver.
The same theme motif is reflected in the Coral Gables City Hall dome murals and the relief sculptures on the DeSoto Fountain.
Karelia Martinez Carbonell is President of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables.
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