WHAT IT IS: Still standing almost 95 years later, the Biltmore’s Gondola Building in Coral Gables is an original facet from the hotel company’s hotel structure from the 1920’s. The beloved building and its accompanying hotel were designed in a Mediterranean Revival style and were inspired by a tower in Spain. It represents the height of Florida architecture during the Coral Gables boom era.
Dona Spain is the Historical Resources and cultural Arts Director for Coral Gables. For Spain, the building is still something she calls “very cool.”
The building was named to Dade Heritage Trust’s 2019 list of the 12 most endangered sites in Miami-Dade County. The nonprofit’s advocacy program has assisted with the rescue and restoration of many historic venues throughout the county by working with partner organizations and governments.
“This is a structure in the middle of the Biltmore Golf Course that originally was the building that housed the Venetian Gondolas,” Spain said. She’s referring to the gondolas that the hotel would house for tours. At the time, the boats would travel down Anastasia Avenue, from the hotel through the Coral Gables Waterway, to Tahiti Beach.
MOST SURPRISING FACT: “The most surprising fact about the building for me is that it exists at all,” Spain said. “It’s amazing that it survived through the years.” The building still oozes in history, years later. According to the city, competitive swimmer Johnny Weissmuller broke his first world record there and from the 40’s through 1968, the hotel was used as a hospital by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
WHY IT IS IMPORTANT: “It represents the vision of the founder of the city, George Merrick,” Spain explained. “It’s a reminder of what was and what could have been. George Merrick was a visionary, and with his group of talented designers, accomplished many notable feats in the short time they were designing the city.” Merrick is described as the man who “made” Coral Gables, but his stint was short lived, when he was blamed for economic downturn during the Great Depression.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED: Spain shared with us that just last week the Coral Gables City Commission approved a $500,000 match for a Special Category Grant from the Florida Department of State Division of Historical Resources for the restoration of the building. “Once restored, I’m sure the Biltmore Hotel will have an appropriate use for the building,” Spain said.