The Selling of Coral Gables

As impressive as the speed with which Coral Gables was built was the scope of the marketing effort organized by George Merrick to sell Coral Gables nationwide. The selling of Coral Gables began on a relatively small scale, with the auction of the first lot in 1921. This event, attended by more than 5,000 people, was run by Edward E. “Doc” Dammers, Merrick’s Sales Manager, who used free food, plane rides and gifts to entice lot buyers. But Merrick’s public department quickly grew to include sales offices in New York, Chicago, Boston, and other major cities. The sales staff consisted of more than 3,000 people nationwide. Clad in knickers, these salesmen were referred to as “binder boys.” Merrick also purchased a fleet of 86 coral pink buses to bring in prospective buyers from around the state.

In 1925 alone, Merrick spent $1 million in advertising. Through a nationwide campaign, he depicted Coral Gables as the Miami Riviera in ads appearing in popular magazines such as Vogue and Forbes. He also ran daily, full-page ads in all the Miami newspapers. In additional Merrick commissioned Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Rex Beach to write promotional brochures and hired attorney and orator William Jennings Bryan – at a cost of $100,000 a day – to endorse the project. Bryan delivered speeches throughout South Florida and spoke regularly at the Venetian Pool. He also spoke at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the rapid transit system, the electric railroad that connected Coral Gables to Miami, in 1925.

As part of his publicity campaign, Merrick imported gondolas and native gondoliers from Italy to travel along the Coral Gables waterways. He also hired Jan Garber’s orchestra and Paul Whiteman’s orchestra to play at the Venetian Pool and at the Coral Gables Golf and Country Club. One of his most ambitious projects was the creation of the Coral Gables Golden Galleon. Designed by Denman Fink, this 12-by-20-foot advertising emblem featured a full-rigged Spanish sailboat and miniature castles in Spain along with a golden arrow pointing in the direction of Coral Gables. In 1922, 100 had been completed and placed along the Tamiami Trail and South Dixie Highway. According to a Miami Herald article of the time, the emblems attracted national attention. The idea then was that they would be placed along South Dixie Highway, all the way to Tallahassee.

Merrick spent a total of about $3 million in advertising during a three to four year period. The expense paid off both in national recognition, and more importantly, in land sales.

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