Dade Heritage Trust recognizes Alhambra Water Tower project

Dade Heritage Trust recognizes Alhambra Water Tower project

Alhambra Water Tower

A grassroots effort in 2010 raised $70,000 to supplement City of Coral Gables’ funding to repair the Alhambra Water Tower. Renovated last year, the Alhambra Water Tower has received the Outstanding Achievement in the restoration of a Historic Resource by the Dade Heritage Trust.

The Alhambra Water Tower was built in 1924 as one of two water towers to serve the developing City of Coral Gables. It stands today as a lasting testament to city founder George Merrick’s vision. The Miami Metropolis newspaper described it as “a splendid example of the architectural beauty that typifies Miami’s Master Suburb.”

The water tower was designed playfully to resemble a Moorish lighthouse — complete with a lantern at its cupola to enhance the illusion. Concealed behind a concrete and wood frame was the more utilitarian 25,000-gallon water tank. The tower was designed by H. George Fink, George Merrick’s cousin and one of the most prolific architects during Coral Gables’ early history. Fink also was influential in designing and laying out the original plan for Coral Gables. Modern engineering replaced the need for this water supply, but the structure itself has become a beloved landmark to residents and those who drive or walk along Alhambra Circle.

Unfortunately, the passage of time, numerous hurricanes, and haphazard maintenance took a toll on the tower, leaving it in a vulnerable state. Prior to restoration, the tower’s stucco was riddled with cracks and mildew, the lower balcony wooden railing had been destroyed due to storm damage, large sections of the upper balcony wooden railing were damaged or missing, portions of the decorative stucco work had fallen off, the wood doors and keyhole windows had been damaged, previous repairs to the stucco panels were failing, and the colorful, painted decoration was weathered and failing.

Although it had been repaired previously, this project was the most comprehensive stabilization and restoration effort to date. With the goal of restoring the Alhambra Water Tower to its original splendor, the work performed included:
• Replacement of existing deteriorated interior wood stairs with new galvanized steel stairs;
• Repair and/or replacement of wood mullions and glass panes at the ground floor windows;
• Upgrading of the interior wood decks/landings;
• Installation of new decorative wood railing on lower balcony to replicate the original railing design and color;
• Repair of the upper balcony decorative wood railing to match the original railing design and color;
• Replacement of the damaged (nonoriginal) ground-floor double doors to replicate the original design and details;
• Replacement of the keyhole windows;
• Restoration and repair of exterior stucco and stucco details;
• Exterior painting with lime-based paint and refurbishing of the murals and the sundial on the upper tower;
• Electrical upgrades — interior and exterior;
• Mechanical upgrades — interior climate- controlled ventilation system. And
• Landscaping.

The success of this project is due, in large part, to the unique collaboration between the City of Coral Gables and a Coral Gables’ citizens group called the “Save the Alhambra Water Tower Committee.”

This grassroots effort spearheaded by Kendell Turner was formed in December 2010 with the goal of raising $70,000 to supplement City funding (sourced from FEMA reimbursement and City Capital Improvement funds) that was targeted to repair the Alhambra Water Tower.

The Committee worked tirelessly to promote the restoration of the Tower.With 100 percent of the proceeds going to the cause, the committee raised money through such efforts as lectures, selling note cards depicting the tower, operating the “Alhambra Water Tower Art

Gallery” (a pop-up gallery that sold original art depicting the water tower), providing educational preservation information at the Coral Gables Farmers’ Market and seeking private donations.

The PARKnership initiative at the Coral Gables Community Foundation served as the vehicle through which moneys were collected and disbursed to the city. Former Vice Mayor Bill Kerdyk Jr., through the PARKnership, offered the first donation to the committee — $20,000 — to start off the fundraising.

Residents of Coral Gables rallied around the tower and generously gave of their time and resources to contribute to the success of the committee and the restoration project. Additional funding assistance was provided by The Villagers Inc., Dade Heritage Trust, and the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables.

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