OPINION: Then And Now: The Crab Orchard Stone Demonstration House

By: Brett Gillis, Vice President, Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables (HPACG)

Recent photograph of 1220 S Alhambra (2019 photograph)

1220 South Alhambra Circle is a structure located in the Coral Waterway Sub-Division of the Riviera Section of Coral Gables. It was built in 1949 as per the Dade County Property Appraiser and real estate listings from 1949. Having been taken over 50 years ago by Kerdyk Realty, the historic photograph and real estate listing on file at the City also date the structure to over 50 years of age. A recent photograph shows the structure as markedly unaltered. (Note: Historic designations of single family homes in Coral Gables typically do not consider the interior of the home.) 
This structure was designed in the Ranch style and highlights the beauty and utility of Crab Orchard stone as the primary building material (a distinctive method of construction). Its construction with natural, or “organic,” building materials (stone and wood) distinguishes it from most other ranches in Coral Gables as they were built of concrete block and stucco. 1220 S Alhambra is described as one of the very few (and possibly only) “organic ranches” in Coral Gables. Newspaper clippings from 1949 also corroborate the age and distinction of this structure’s architecture as “unusual,” “unique,” and “different.”

Criteria for historic designation (Note: only one criterion is required for designation)

As a certified local government, the City of Coral Gables and its Historic Preservation Board are tasked with preserving the entire story of Coral Gables–not just the Old Spanish and Mediterranean architecture of the 1920’s. As such, at least three other Ranch structures have been designated as historic (1101 Alhambra Cr, 915 Bayamo Ave, 625 Candia Ave), at least three other Minimal Traditional structures have been designated as historic (501 Aragon Ave, 312 Sarto Ave, 434 Minorca Ave), and, of course, numerous other stone structures have also been designated. At least three other structures built of Crab Orchard Stone have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1220 S Alhambra Cr demonstrates Crab Orchard stone’s adaptation to the South Florida climate. Distinct from other American sandstones, Crab Orchard stone is an especially hard, weather resistant variety (its high silica content resits the harshness of heat and acid). Also, the stone’s “exclusive buff, tan, blue-gray and pink colors” mirror the wonderful hues of the great Floridian sunsets. Natural yellow and brown swirls give the stone a one-of-a-kind naturally weathered appearance at the time of construction. Thus, homes built of Crab Orchard stone do not necessitate the repainting that concrete block homes generally require over time.
Crab Orchard stone as referenced in the MiMo style of the University of Miami in Coral Gables: From the hotels on Miami Beach to the campus of the University of Miami, Crab Orchard stone is a character-defining feature of the MiMo style. Use of natural stone in the House of the Future at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair strengthened its association with leisure, informality, and the good life.

Summary Statement of Significance: The structure located at 1220 S Alhambra Cr was designed in the Ranch style and was constructed primarily of the distinctive building material called Crab Orchard stone. While the ranch typology is common, this home’s unique architecture and method of construction are distinctive in their reference to Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic modernism. Most other ranches are built of concrete block and stucco. This residence is one of the finest “organic ranches” in Coral Gables and remains markedly unaltered since mid-century. 1220 S Alhambra Cr is a house of distinction.
Based on the findings above and criteria B1, B2, and/or B4 of the Coral Gables Historic Preservation Ordinance, residents and preservationists are requesting that this matter be brought before the Historic Preservation Board for review and consideration of designation as a local historic landmark.

Clippings from 1949 from the Miami Herald (corroborating material)

A stone of distinction:  Found only in deposits known to occur in the region between Crab Orchard and Crossville, Tennessee, noted Southern architect Henry Hibbs is credited with both naming and popularizing Crab Orchard stone with his design of the Gothic Revival chapel at Scarritt College in Nashville. Since then, Crab Orchard stone has found its place as a prominent design feature of the Vice President’s mansion, other government buildings, Franklin Roosevelt’s Hyde Park pool, and even Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion.

Note: A letter from City of Coral Gables issued on October 27, 2017 (valid for only 18 months) states that this home does NOT meet the minimum eligibility criteria for designation. 

Attachments:

References:

  • National Register of Historic Places Designation Reports
  • Microfiche, Miami Herald Archives, MDPLS 
  • MiMo on the Beach Glossary, as adapted, from “Mimo: Miami Modern Revealed”
  • Rocky Ridge Stone Company History
  • Stock Photographs and Listings, Kerdyk Realty Mid-Century Collection
Share:

3 thoughts on “OPINION: Then And Now: The Crab Orchard Stone Demonstration House

  1. Thank you, Brett, for bringing this distinctive stone and construction method to our attention. I agree that the home should be preserved.

  2. I live a block from this house, and it is beautiful!! Thanks for giving us more information about it!

  3. Brett, this is a wonderful article showing your passion for historic research and meticulous attention to detail. I applaud you and your efforts to ensure Gables’ architectural history is preserved. I live a few blocks from this home and always marveled at the uniqueness of the footprint of this house (curved) versus the typical rectangular ranch-style. I had no idea the stone was so unique. This home is truly a treasure and should be preserved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.