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H. George Fink Studio, Coral Gables, FL, published in Journal of Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism
March 15, 2023

The H. George Fink Studio, built in 1925 in the city of Coral Gables, Florida, with an area of 4,500 sq. ft. (42 0 m2), is seen as a hallmark example of Mediterranean Revival architecture. Originally the office of the eponymous architect, it has Historic Landmark designation and reflects a great range of architectural styles, with Spanish, Moorish, Gothic, Italian, French, and Byzantine influences. Today the Fink Studio stands in the heart of downtown Coral Gables, where it can be appreciated by the public at large. Though almost 100 years old, most of its significant original building elements and finishes were intact when Martinez A lvarez A rchitects was approached by the City of Coral Gables Economic Development Services Department about a preservation and adaptive reuse project. As the consulting architecture firm providing preservation services to Coral Gables, Martinez Alvarez Architects and partners performed a thorough on-site assessment, documented the building and studied contemporary examples of architecture in order to arrive at strategies for preservation and adaptive reuse, prepared construction documents for permitting, and provided construction administration services for the final project.

Coral Gables is a garden city located in Greater Miami and also known as the “City Beautiful”. The Washington Post once called Coral Gables “a touch of dignity in the midst of Miami” (Lerner 1988). Often referred to simply as “the Gables”, the town is an idealization of its founder George Merrick ’s vision: to transform his family’s orange grove into a planned city with Mediterranean-style buildings, along with recreational facilities such as the Venetian Pool and the Biltmore Hotel.

H George Fink Studio Architecture, Coral Gables

In Coral Gables: An American Garden City, historian Vincent Scully describes Merrick ’s Coral Gables as a “large airy city with many trees, remarkable from outside because of its gates; it is a place where people travel by car, tramway, and bus, train and boat, gondola and bicycle. A ll these means of transportation balance out, with no special weight allotted to the automobile. Once the specific destination is reached: the center city, the main shopping artery, the artisan center, the golf course, the beach, the parks…the rest of the promenade is made on foot. Everyone recognizes the convenient layout and the efficiency of the urban complex. But this is only, after all, the work of an excellent cook with good assistants.”

Merrick assembled his “culinary” team in the early 1920s: his art professor uncle Denman Fink, his architect cousin H. George Fink, master architect Phineas Paist, and landscape architect Frank Button (the latter two already working nearby for the Deering family) all came together to develop the city Master Plan (Brotemarkle 2016 and Paist 2015).

The team modified the traditional grid into a garden-city layout with “streets that have broad rights of way, richly planted with indestructible grasses and with great trees of the tropics… Dade County pines… fruit trees… live oak and red-limbed gumbo limbo… palms of every kind… the miraculous poinciana. Nevertheless, Coral Gables has never allowed the planting of hedges or the erection of garden walls high enough to screen the houses from the street. It holds to a tenacious A merican tradition: Coral Gables must remain a democratic town, with everything visible from the public way, and the individual houses must complement each other in shaping a communal town space” (Behar and Culot 1997). They also gave the city monumental gateways of great beauty – “they are true gates, like the city gates of antiquity and the middle ages, each has its special character” (Behar and Culot 1997).W hen H. George Fink joined Merrick ’s team, he was already a practicing architect in Miami. Fink was born in Springdale, Pennsylvania on April 18, 1890, but moved with his family to Miami in 1904, where he attended Miami High School before going to Philadelphia to take a degree in Constructive Drawing at the Drexel Institute. A fter his graduation he worked with the well-known Miami architects August Geiger and H. H. Mundy before opening his own office in 1919 (Parks and Merrick 2015). Merrick approached Fink about his plans for Coral Gables before acquiring more property, asking him to serve as his lead architect and also to keep his plans secret until they were ready to begin (Parks and Merrick 2015). In the meantime Fink designed many notable South Florida buildings including the Miami Beach Public School, which the Miami Herald-Record would characterize as the “handsomest building in the south” (Parks and Merrick 2015).From about 1920 to 1928, Fink designed most of the town’s early homes in the Crafts and Granada districts, houses along the major boulevards (Coral Way and Greenway Drive), plans for five water towers, Merrick ’s home and real estate offices, and his own architectural studio (Rupp 2021).Fink and Merrick traveled to Spain in 1924 to study the architecture informing their work in Coral Gables, having previously relied on published works and scholars’ interpretations. K ing A lfonso XIII of Spain later honored Fink for his “interesting, outstanding, and extremely artistic interpretation and reproduction of the Spanish A rts in A merica.” Merrick promised free plans for coral rock homes by H. George Fink for all lot buyers in his early years of marketing the neighborhood (Parks and Merrick 2015). Fink would go on to describe his style as distinctly Coral Gables – “a modified and A mericanized Spanish with daring exterior development” utilizing “Miami rock ” (oolitic limestone) for foundations and decoration, courtyards, screened loggias, old-style variegated tile roofs, and the use of strong color, such as tinted stucco, bright balustrades, and colorful doors, window frames, and awnings (Parks and Merrick 2015).

Works | Obras- 83 -From 1928 to 1937 Fink stepped away from his work on Coral Gables to serve as designing architect for the J.C. Penney Company of New York and then as supervising architect for the state of Maine (through the Works Project Administration). A fterwards he was able to return to private practice from his office in downtown Coral Gables. During World War II he was called upon to contribute to various naval bases, such as at R ichmond or Chamblee, and to the Bell Bomber Plant.

Fink was a member of the American Institute of Architects, secretary of its South Florida Chapter, and president of the Coral Gables Optimist Club (known for its community service). He also chaired the South Miami Planning and Zoning Board and was a member of the Coral Gables Board of Architects.The city of Coral Gables awarded H. George Fink ’s office Local Historic Landmark Designation in 1984, and purchased the building in 2016.

H George Fink Studio Architecture, Coral Gables

Prior to this purchase the building had been subdivided into a maze of micro-offices, occupying the two gardens originally flanking Fink ’s long drafting room. But the acquisition now presented a unique opportunity to preserve this significant building. The Studio reflects Fink ’s playful use of eclectic composition and building elements. Indeed, when it was built, Mediterranean Revival in South Florida was a novel approach, in which Fink ’s appreciation of history and the precedents of Spanish, Moorish, Gothic, Italian, French, and Byzantine architecture gave rise to a new style for Coral Gables’s tropical climate.

The building has survived hurricanes and other harsh weather, material deterioration, sundry uses over the years, and also its setting, exposed to wear and tear in a vibrant downtown.We understood that the building had been modified to its existing plan with the micro-offices and that portions of it were in disrepair. We were given the program of (1) making the building accessible by the public for access to its historic interiors, (2) providing new offices with modern conveniences, and (3) incorporating a lecture space for the building’s tenants as well as for guests and the broader community. The Studio needed to comply with contemporary hurricane and accessibility codes.

To accomplish this we needed a team with engineers, contractors, craftspersons, and conservators in order to restore the historically significant features, including the wrought-iron front balcony, the leaded glass Venetian window with tracery in cast stone, the cast-stone surround on the facade (facing the front courtyard), a gargoyle, grotesques in the arched pediment, and the building eave with its ornamental brackets. Interior elements to be preserved included painted and coffered ceilings, a cast-stone fireplace, terracotta tile floors, and the ornamental tiled staircase. The Project Conservators were Rosa Lowinger and Associates (Caroline Dickensheets and Rosa Lowinger). Evergreene A rchitectural A rts (Mark Rabinowitz and Mary Slater) acted as consulting conservators and did the paint study and condition assessment. Critical Path Construction was the contractor.Over seven months spanning late 2018 and early 2019 the existing building was extensively documented, including color studies for understanding the original color schemes, and some explorative demolitions were done to check the building’s structure. At the same time we studied other contemporary buildings.

Next came the construction documents. We matched the program of providing a large lecture space with the building’s original plan, opting to remove the micro-offices so as to create a large lecture venue roughly where Fink ’s original long drafting room had been. This stage involved dealing with multiple wall sections, all with different structural conditions, ceiling heights, and finishes. The architectural team had to decide what to conserve and what to reconstruct.

H George Fink Studio Architecture, Coral Gables

Journal of Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism – 3 – 2022- 92 -Accessibility codes required the building to have two accessible entries. We provided accessibility in the east section containing historic interiors and a public observation space, and in the west section we created a space with new finishes, also accessible. The west section houses the lecture hall and offices of the Coral Gables’ Economic Development Services Department.

Reference Journal of Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism.

Journal of Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism web site