The Alhambra Water Tower, built in the 1920s as part of Coral Gables’ water supply system, was designed to make a hulking, ugly thing appear charming to residents and visitors traveling along Alhambra Circle.
“The inner steel tank, purely utilitarian in looks and purpose, was enclosed in a reinforced concrete and wood frame structure designed to resemble a lighthouse,” reads a sign designating the tower a Florida Heritage Site. “This concealed the less attractive water tank inside with an aesthetically pleasing and architecturally playful facade.”
Like the water tower, The City Beautiful has some ugliness beneath its celebrated Mediterranean-style architecture — and someone wants people to know about it.
Yesterday, Coral Gables police said they’re investigating an incident of vandalism at the tower, on which someone spray-painted the phrases “WHITE COMFORT < BLACK LIVES,” “how do you engage in Anti-Blackness,” and “CORAL GABLES IS COMPLICIT.”
Coral Gables police are investigating two recent incidents of vandalism.
Courtesy of the Coral Gables Police Department
The blog Gables Insider reports this is the second incident of vandalism in the city in the last week. On July 22, police found writing on two park benches at Fewell Park. The messages read, “CORAL GABLES PRIORITIZES WHITE COMFORT OVER BLACK LIVES” and “THIS PARK IS A PRODUCT OF SETTLER COLONIAL GUILT THAT ‘PRESERVES’ WHITE SUPREMACY NOT NATURE.” (Gables Insider has photos of the vandalized park benches.)
A spokesperson for the Coral Gables Police Department said reports related to the incidents were not yet available for release.
It’s not clear why the tower was targeted, but the historical marker sign could provide a clue. The sign reads, in part, that the tower “serves as a testament to George Merrick’s vision for the City of Coral Gables, and a time when everyday things could be turned into works of art.”
Merrick, the founder of Coral Gables, is celebrated as a visionary who created one of the first planned communities in the nation — a Mediterranean-style paradise where you can have your stunning Spanish castle-lookalike and live in it, too. He was also a segregationist who supported racial zoning policies in the 1930s that still impact where Black people live and don’t live in Miami-Dade County today.
In the 1930s, most of Miami’s Black population was concentrated in “Colored Town,” which is today known as Overtown. According to historian Raymond A. Mohl, white business leaders wanted to push the Black community out of Overtown and north into Liberty City to expand downtown businesses.
In the mid-1930s, while the Dade County Planning Board floated the idea of a “negro resettlement plan” that would push Black residents to the county’s agricultural fringes, with only a bus line linking them to the City of Miami, Merrick proposed “a complete slum clearance… effectively removing every negro family from the present city limits,” according to Mohl’s research.
At a time when Confederate statues are coming down and institutions are removing names of racists from their buildings, Coral Gables might also start having its own reckoning.
The Shops at Merrick Park and Merrick’s former home still bear the founder’s last name, and he is credited with founding the University of Miami. Several campus landmarks, including the Merrick Garage and George E. Merrick Street, are a reminder of his legacy.
As first reported by UM’s student newspaper, The Miami Hurricane, nearly 2,000 students have signed an online petition demanding that the university rename a building named after George Merrick’s father, Solomon Merrick, and “immediately remove the Merrick name and likeness from all University buildings, structures, streets, and properties.”