Video: Merrick House: A Problem in Preservation

They didn’t call W. L. Philbrick “the fighting funeral director” for nothing. Philbrick wasn’t shy about letting people know what he thought and putting his thoughts into action. He complained about Miami-Dade County’s government and tried to get the documentary film Woodstock banned from Coral Gables. Miami Dade College’s W. L. Philbrick School of Funeral Sciences bears his name and benefits from scholarships he established. In 1966 Philbrick bought the Merrick family home on Coral Way and before long discovered that he had a problem.

As Philbrick explains to reporter Martha Teichner in this WTVJ news clip, the State of Florida did not exempt historic sites from taxation, and Philbrick wanted to maintain the house, known as Merrick Manor since the Merricks turned it into a boarding house after the Great Depression, as a historic site.

In 1976 the City of Coral Gables bought the Merrick House from Philbrick, restoring it and re-naming it “Coral Gables House.” Philbrick didn’t care for that, and tried to change the name back to Merrick Manor. Preservationists, led by historian Arva Moore Parks, argued that the house as restored represented its time as the Merrick family home, not as a boarding house, and when the Merricks lived there they called it “Coral Gables.”

These days the house is a revered site in historic Coral Gables and host to a burgeoning community garden. It’s called the Coral Gables Merrick House now, and most everybody seems OK with that.

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