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But how did we get here? How did Miracle Mile, George Merrick's vision of a romantic Mediterranean Village, end up with pouffy white wedding gowns in the windows of its main thoroughfare?
It Begins With a Love Story
The history of Coral Gables is inextricably intertwined with a story about love and, ultimately, a wedding. In 1916 George Merrick, founder of Coral Gables, married Eunice Isabella Peacock, of Coconut Grove's founding Peacock Family. Merrick built her a home out of stone quarried from the Venetian Pool's construction– which is basically the most romantic thing to have been done in the history of Coral Gables.
To take it one step further, the wedding crazy folks in Coral Gables threw a party in 2014 recreating the Merrick Peacock wedding at The Merrick House, the historically recognized plantation where Mr. Merrick grew up, complete with harp music, a selection of vintage wedding dresses from Leigh Anne Brown, a Tampa-based wedding gown collector, and artisans teaching calligraphy, doily making and more.
Tropical Weddings at The Biltmore Hotel
In November 1924, about 6 months before Coral Gables was formally established, The Miami Tribune wrote:
"The bridal industry is also making its stamp in the new suburb inspired by the Garden City Movement. A "Flower Fashion Show" at the new Venetian Pool features the latest wedding fashions from Burdine and Sons - from bride's maid hats and corsages to bride's bunch valley lilies and orchids."
That hints that Coral Gables was wedding crazy before there even was a Coral Gables! Merrick's grand plans for the Gables included built-in venues with historical charm that would only get better with time.
As local historian Ava Moore Parks puts it, "The Congregational Church certainly was a beautiful church and still is a beautiful place to be married and of course when the Biltmore opened it was a beautiful place as well."
In ten short months between 1925 and 1926 the Biltmore Hotel was built and opened. The grand hotel was immediately the crown jewel of local wedding spots. George Merrick joined forces with hotel magnate John McEntee Bowman and the two birthed this $10 million, 400-room hotel, country club and golf course with polo fields, tennis courts and a world-class swimming pool.
All the makings of the perfect wedding backdrop were set from the beginning– dramatic arches, fountains, a lavish entrance, ballrooms and a celeb clientele perfect for name dropping like Judy Garland, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Al Capone. No doubt about it, The Biltmore played an early role in the Gables's wedding panache, and it continues to do so today.
By 1933 the tropical, lavish Coral Gables wedding aesthetic was so established that it was mimicked in a fundraising event held at the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom in New York.
By 1933 the tropical, lavish Coral Gables wedding aesthetic was so established that it was mimicked in a fundraising event held at the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom in New York. The fundraiser for the New York Cancer Institute was called the "Miami-Biltmore Fashion Show and Supper Dance" and attracted 1,500 guests from New York's upper crust.
"The elaborate fashion show to be presented earlier in the evening will be climaxed by a simulated military wedding in a tropical scene representing Coral Gables," reported The New York Times. The night included an alligator race with real Florida alligators flown in for the event, and it doesn't get much more Florida than that.
Miracle Mile: A Street for Brides
It's hard to pin down the very first bridal store in Coral Gables, but by 1946 stores selling the accoutrements of a wedding, not just dresses, were popping up to supplement the wedding-crazed economy. Carroll's Jewelers opened in 1946 and was the spot for registering for china and flatware. The store made it all the way through the first decade of the 2000s and shuttered its doors in Coral Gables in 2009.
Miracle Mile as we know it today, as Coral Gables's central boulevard for shopping and eating, didn't develop until the 50s, post-war. At the time, the bridal market was defined by Tefts, a white glove bridal store with an in-store butler and the kind of old-world flair that was old worldly even back then.
"In my generation everyone bought their dress there, there wasn't anything else," explains Moore Parks. The store was located, not on Miracle Mile, but near it. Moore's best guess is that Tefts made it a bridal destination, which brought increased demand as the city grew. As we know in retail, one good destination store in the perfect locationcan change a neighborhood for years, and it seems like Tefts was the place to do just that. "You just felt like you were going into a shrine," she remembers.
The Merchants Association ran ads in prominent wedding magazines advertising Miracle Mile as "The Street For Brides.
You probably know of David's Bridal because, well, everyone knows of David's Bridal. It has over 300 stores nationwide and is one of only two chain bridal stores on the Mile (the other is Alfred Angelo). It's a name synonymous with budget wedding dress shopping, although it's trying to change that, and has long been one of the first storefronts you see when driving into Downtown Coral Gables. The brand started in Fort Lauderdale in the 1950s and soon after expanded into Coral Gables. Right next to Denny's, it's not the most glamorous entrance into The City Beautiful, but this David's Bridal location was one of the company's first.
One of Coral Gables oldest stores, Chic Parisien, was founded in 1969 and is still one of the area's most upscale wedding boutique. Founders Frances and Emilio Fox started the store as a side business while at the University of Miami and it now run by their very stylish daughter Catherine. The iconic store has serviced generations of brides in a few locations around Coral Gables, however its current location takes a cue from Tefts, it's on Ponce de Leon Boulevard, which is a bit closer to Merrick Park than it is to Miracle Mile.
The Fox family played a role in branding Coral Gables and Miracle Mile as "The Street For Brides." Frances Fox served on the Miracle Mile Merchants Association and went to far as taking a group trip to Paris in the name of research for the area's bridal industry, of course. The Merchants Association ran ads in prominent wedding magazines advertising Miracle Mile as "The Street For Brides." Chic Parisien has outlasted all those who have come and gone in its 46 years. Throughout the 70s and 80s the store set the standard for the local bridal market by hosting monthly fashion shows at the most upscale nearby hotels.
Higher Slits, More Sparkle
Not unlike our local real estate market, money in the bridal market is coming from Brazilians, Russians, South Americans and international buyers looking to wed. This clientele brings a particular sensibility and style, and you'll find gowns in Coral Gables that don't look like their New York counterparts. The V-necks are a little deeper, the sparkle is more eye catching, and the slits run a bit higher.
While they may not be attending "Flower Fashion Shows" at the Venetian Pool anymore, brides, both locally and internationally, still see the Gables as the upper echelon of South Florida's bridal scene. The scene is growing and changing, and along with international buyers comes an interest in more international designers, which is why many couture designers have set up their sole showrooms on Miracle Mile and on the streets surrounding it. Rosa Clara, a Spanish designer, has her only U.S.outpost on Miracle Mile, and the influence of a few Isreali designers has brought an entirely new aesthetic to the mostly traditional gowns that were once found here.
We can expect the bridal shops in Coral Gables to continue to change and adapt, like
they always have, but we're betting the romantic George Merrick, would be totally cool with the influence these stores have had on "The City Beautiful."