Opinion: Hanging On To Life On The Greenways is Not Just About Nostalgia; It Has Economic Value Too

Karelia Martinez Carbonell

Martinez Carbonell is the president of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables


According to a study commissioned by the U.S Chamber of Commerce, American towns that make historic preservation a priority enjoy an economic dividend to the local economy. Additionally, heritage tourism has a greater impact on a local economy with heritage tourists spending 15% more than non-heritage tourists. Small and local businesses often show a preference for locating in historic commercial areas. In study after study, the rate of value increase in historic districts outperforms the market as a whole.  The U.S. Chamber study adds, “In cities large and small, consumers prefer living, shopping, visiting, and locating their businesses in historic neighborhoods. That built history in your community is not nostalgia – it is an economic asset.”

Hanging on to the nostalgia on the Coral Gables greenways has not only emotional value but economic value to boot.

The Club

It all started with the Coral Gables Golf and Country Club and the Granada Golf Course. The land was once the Merrick family’s vegetable field and part of the original 1921 city plan by George Merrick and landscape architect, Frank Button. The golf course, designed by the nationally known team of Langford and Moreau, opened in January of 1923. Three months later, the clubhouse, designed by Hampton and Reimert, became Coral Gables’ first public building. The six original coral rock arches still stand today and reflect the Coral Gables Mediterranean style that helped set the tone for the City’s architecture.

The Coral Gables Golf and Country Club quickly became the epicenter of the new community and played an important role in its development. Salesmen, including Merrick himself, entertained prospective buyers there and showed them home sites from its distinctive tower. The Country Club of Coral Gables, as it is known today, received its charter on October 9, 1935. A historical marker was erected in 2005 by the Florida Department of State.

Vintage postcard courtesy of KM CARBONELL

The Course

The Granada Golf Course is located across from the Country Club. George Merrick’s vision was to create a planned community he called “The City Beautiful” – and golf was part of the plan. Coral Gables began construction of its 9-hole golf course in 1922. The course was initially built for the residents of Coral Gables and designed under the personal supervision of William Langford of the golf architectural firm of Langford and Moreau.  Golf was so popular in Coral Gables that the golf professional at Granada, Charlie Thum, was giving lessons on part of the course before it was finished.  It opened in 1923 with great fanfare and media attention.  Granada is the oldest operating nine-hole course in Florida.

Image courtesy of KM CARBONELL

The Shelter

For 80 years, golfers on the Granada Golf Course have taken refuge in the several 1940s wooden rain shelters scattered along the historic greens. Today, these rain shelters are being replaced and will be lost to history.  However, in August 2020, the Historic Preservation Board unanimously passed a motion ‘to recommend that the City of Coral Gables consider preserving one of the existing c.1940 wooden rain shelters and to renovate, rehabilitate, or reconstruct as necessary in order to move it to an appropriate location on the Granada Golf Course.” Although a good gesture, the City should consider restoring and repurposing all the shelters, not just “one of the existing” rain shelters.  Instead plans suggest replacement of the historic shelters with modern ones. Neighbors oppose the change and cling to the nostalgia. As the Chamber study supports, not only do places matter emotionally but economically as well through that “nostalgia” effect.  Brooklyn’s Prospect Park understood this economic value and restored its similar historic shelters recently.  Why not Coral Gables?

One of the few remaining historical rain shelters adorns the Coral Gables Granada Golf Course. Photo credit: KM CARBONELL

The Place

More than a burger, Burger Bob’s is an institution. An institution embedded in situ on the Granada Golf Course. Part of the neighborhood fabric for close to 30 years. And just like the rain shelters, this place’s nostalgia is an “economic asset.” Keeping the “Burger Bob” concept is more about the familiar than about the food.  The simple dining concept with its comfort food complements its surroundings and blends in with the greens. It does not encroach on the historic golf course; it enhances it.   Sadly, an unsolicited bid to take over Burger Bob’s lease will forever change the original diner’s concept and its architectural footprint. The new dining will not only double the density, it will adversely affect the historical integrity of the golf course and erase the home-style experience neighbors and residents have come to value and love. Burger Bob’s is more than the burger. It is about a place that matters. A former city mayor observed, “The neighborhood loves Bob’s…it reminds us of the old days.” A 73-year resident has been going to Bob’s on a regular basis for over 20 years. She describes Burger Bob’s as “… an iconic place that there are not enough of.”

A recent watercolor of Burger Bob’s by local artist Carlos Barbon

Historical information cited in this article was courtesy of the Coral Gables Historic Preservation Office.

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14 thoughts on “Opinion: Hanging On To Life On The Greenways is Not Just About Nostalgia; It Has Economic Value Too

  1. No one could have said it any better Karelia. And you said it in a non confrontational manner.Thanks

  2. AN ADDENDUM TO THE ARTICLE: Aside from Burger Bobs, Liberty Cafe, inside the historic Country Club, is also in jeopardy of encroachment by the same firm. The firm is seeking to turn the quiet neighborhood into a busy restaurant row. The greenways are historic. They are idyllic. They are symbolic. Let’s keep them that way. Note there is a town hall meeting at the Country Club on September 23 from 7 to 8pm to discuss the fate of Liberty Cafe. Also a petition is circulating in support of keeping the essence of the historic club. It has garnered close to 2800 signatures to date. The petition can be accessed online at https://chng.it/Q7vpFJy4f2

  3. Bike Lane Suggestion. Take away a yard of grass & we could have a Safer Street. There have been numerous FATALITIES on the Green Ways. Now that Mayor Valdés moved away, maybe push for a jogging path inside the park or a speed bump/ hump. The roundabout at Segovia has encouraged more speeders to use N Greenway! Bike lane, speed bump, or jogging path? We need 1 or 2 of the 3 suggestions. Aesthetics is important, but so is SAFETY/ LIVES!

  4. I FULLY AGREE W BARBARA AND KANDACE ABOVE! THE CITY SHOULD PRESERVE AND MAINTAIN OUR LANDMARKS IN A SMART AND PROFESSIONAL MANNER! And not forget the landscaping, lighting and upkeep that are now missing from our beautiful historic sites!

  5. Well said Jack Thompson! The idea of closing the Country Club for 15 months to turn it into a commercial entity – a steak house – on city property with no property taxes – in a residential neighborhood is abominable. It will forever change the quality of life, the charm and the neighborhood on the Greenways.

  6. Great article. Thank you for your always right on perspectives! I would also like to add that Liberty Café is part of this area and that it is inconceivable that the city is ending their 30 year contract prematurely. And to add a steak house ?? Ridiculous. That kind of establishment belongs in the downtown area (if that, we already have like 3 at least) and not in a residential area such as the country club where a friendly, family establishment such as Liberty Cafe serves the community perfectly. I understand there is a petition going around to save Liberty Café (as there is also one for Burger Bobs) — may both petitions and CG residents continue to speak up and fight to keep this lovely, historic area (as is!) that you so eloquently described.

  7. Please save the ALL of the rain shelters and Burger Bob’s! These are things that bring the warmth, history and tradition which make our city special. Without them, we are just another suburb of Miami. Preserve our heritage. It will pay off much more than urbanization, development and cookie cutter restaurants. It takes a lot of time for a City to to acquire “character.” Coral Gables has character! Let’s not throw it away.

  8. Sorry, Burger Bob’s is awful – I haven’t been in years. I’m all for having a small local diner and not expanding the footprint too much but the food is awful, they only accept cash, and it’s dirty. This yearning for “nostalgia” and the “old days” comes from old, rich, entitled people who can’t accept that society changes. The “old days” weren’t great for everyone.

  9. My question is when are the rain shelters being renovated and/or replaced (some of them were practically in pieces and not providing much shelter)? I served on a City board and a presentation was made and voted upon regarding both the rain shelters and the renovation of the Clubhouse at least 5 years ago. Yet, nothing has been done. There is no need to replace Burger Bob’s or Liberty Caffe but it would be quite welcoming for the City to finally make the investments it was supposed make long ago and renovate these amenities for the enjoyment of its residents. It seems clear that most, if not all, residents oppose a 100+ seat restaurant to replace either Burger Bob’s or Liberty Caffe. Rather than unnecessary replacement, the City should do its part to enhance these amenities and strengthen relationships with long-time business partners and continue to attract residents to visit local businesses and help the City’s economic growth from within.

  10. The beauty of the existing rain shelters is that they seamlessly integrate with the landscape. For the most part you don’t know they are there. Their materiality and size continue the uninterrupted bucolic park aesthetics allowing the grand residences along North and South Greenway be the focal points…as it should be. The highly visible, historically inappropriate, proposed shelters will puncture the golf course’s park aesthetic with structures that hardly integrate with the landscape. The proposed shelters materiality and size are an unnecessary and inappropriate counterpoint/focal-point to the bucolic park aesthetic of the golf course that will diminish the importance of the historic Grande Dames that surround it.

  11. Preserve! Preserve! Preserve!
    A city can grow in wealth and population, but its unique heritage, both built and cultural, is what sets it apart from other urban centres and adds to its quality of life.

  12. Great analysis. All of this gutting of Gables’ historic sites is occurring because of a City Commission which “understands the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

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