Opinion: Keeping The Story Alive

Joanne S. Meagher

Joanne is a longtime Coral Gables resident and is presently a Member of the Coral Gables Merrick House Governing Board

At the September 13 city commission meeting, I represented the Coral Gables Merrick House Governing Board while commenting on the presentation given by Coral Gables Museum board member Chip Withers. My statement appears below. Having subsequently met at the museum with Director Elvis Fuentes, Curator Yuneikys Villalonga and Director of Education and Public Programs Gianna Riccardi, I am confident that the museum is committed to its mission of “fostering an appreciation for the history, vision, and cultural landscape of Coral Gables.” My understanding is that revamping the “Creating the Dream” exhibit will allow for much needed repairs to the museum interior as well as the introduction of more original artifacts related to the City’s founding (many of the photographs, paintings and drawings in the current exhibit are copies). Additionally, in preparation for the City’s 2025 centennial exhibit, the museum has plans to tell more of the story with specific shows related to the villages, the Merrick House, Architect Phineas Paist and more. Mr. Fuentes also confirmed Mr. Wither’s assertion that the wooden walls that suggest the original Merrick home and feature a life-sized rendering of the interior drawn by Richard Merrick (exhibit room 2) will remain in the space. The museum is also investigating the possibility of creating a traveling exhibit for area schools using the current display boards. Such a “waste-not; want-not” initiative is music to my ears. We look forward to strengthening the partnership between the Coral Gables Museum and the Merrick House to help keep the Merrick legacy vibrant, engaging and relevant.   

Statement to the Coral Gables City Commission

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

I stand before you as a member of The Villagers, a Coral Gables resident who is enamored of her 1925 Old Spanish home with a George Merrick poem adorning the living room rafters, and, most importantly for today’s topic, a docent and member of the Board of Governors of the Coral Gables Merrick House.

In October 2021, the Merrick House Board brought to this City a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first land sales. Doc Dammers Day took guests on trolleys to visit Venetian Pool, The Biltmore Hotel, and the Merrick House. But the entire event began and ended at the Coral Gables Museum, which, with its “Creating the Dream” exhibit, was entirely appropriate. We arranged to have on the exhibit screen, a video narrated by Mayor Dorothy Thompson about the popular auctioneer and City’s first mayor.

Nearly 1000 people have crossed the Merrick House threshold this year for tours lead by volunteer docents. During each tour, I and my fellow docents encourage our patrons to visit the museum for more of the story, as we can’t possibly cover all in a 50-minute tour. And we often discover that people find their way to our door by first visiting the museum. We value this partnership.

I am encouraged by what I have heard in today’s presentation, and, on behalf of the Merrick House Board of Governors, I invite Mr. Fuentes and the Museum Board to visit the Merrick House and engage with our Board and docents to discuss ways in which the refreshed exhibit at the museum can be as robust as possible. We welcome the opportunity to share our perspectives on what in the current exhibit we feel is most compelling (Richard Merrick’s life-size rendering of the shack and the story of the Wayshowers come immediately to my mind) and how these might be re-interpreted and expanded upon. This isn’t about telling the museum professionals how to do their jobs, rather it is an opportunity for dialogue that will educate and enrich the visitor experience at both the House and the Museum.

And now, as I put on my hat of green, may I suggest that careful consideration be given to the exhibit materials as they are being dismantled. I’m speaking of the display boards that adorn the walls. Perhaps they can find homes in other Coral Gables buildings rather than being disposed of. I’m thinking the Library, City Hall corridors, or even the Merrick House (as rotating easel displays).

As we near the City’s centennial, the Merrick House is partnering with the City to offer a StoryCorps-type experience we are calling 100 Voices: Yesteryear Stories of Coral Gables, the first of which will be told by long-time Museum and Merrick House docent Juan Riera, who will be talking about the Merricks and the postal service. Our November offering will feature residents waxing nostalgic about their days at Coral Gables Elementary, Ponce Middle, and Coral Gables High School. We anticipate that these monthly gatherings will become very popular and outgrow the Merrick House space. Perhaps a gathering at the museum is in the future.

We can all appreciate the fact that, without careful attention, important stories can be lost. In fact, Arva Moore Parks McCabe, in the preface to her book George Merrick: Son of the South Wind stated that when she moved to the Gables in 1970, “the city had lost much of its historic ambience and George Merrick was largely forgotten.” We have Arva to thank for keeping the story alive, and we trust that the Coral Gables Museum will remain true to its core mission and recognize and promote the legacies of both George Merrick and Arva Moore Parks as remarkable visionary and community treasures. 


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