Leigh Kerdyk’s family has a long history of political and social involvement in Coral Gables. Her father was a city commissioner and vice mayor and her grandfather also served on the commission.
So it’s only fitting that her project for her Girl Scout Gold Award had its roots in Coral Gables history. The project was called “Rediscovering George Merrick’s Venetian Pillars.”
“These pillars were in the Coral Gables Waterways in the 1920s,” she says.
Kerdyk says George Merrick was trying to market Coral Gables as a Venice of the south.
To get her project going, Kerdyk contacted Miami historian Arva Moore Parks.
“Originally we were trying to find out if there were any pillars left,” Kerdyk says.
The idea was to find the pillars, extract them and renovate them to their former glory. But the pillars were made of wood and didn’t survive the passage of time. That led to the plan to install two new fiberglass pillars in the style of the original ones.
“We are having two put in in the Coral Gables Waterway,” she says. “In the waterway by the Coco Plum circle.”
Kerdyk, who has finished her senior year at Gulliver Prep, says she started looking for ideas for her Gold Project in her junior year.
“I did all the paperwork and starting searching for the pillars,” she says. “We searched from the bay to the Biltmore.”
She searched with her father, navigating the waters in kayaks. They had some ideas where the pillars should be but they couldn’t find any.
“We talked to a specialist,” she says. “He said the last one was taken out in the ‘90s during the LeJeune Road bridge construction. They all decomposed. With Hurricanes Andrew or Irene, the ones that had been standing either fell or were removed for construction.”
Her research showed that the Coral Gables code at one time mandated that all the pilings had to be in the Venetian style. That section of the code was later removed because it was never followed.
“We are paying an expert on it to put them in,” she says. “The plan right now is to have the art students paint them the way they are at Vizcaya.”
The expert, Glen Larson, is donating his time to the cause.
“The pillars themselves cost around $1,500 each,” Kerdyk says. “We got the money from the Coral Gables Historic Preservation Board.”
The project is dear to her heart because Kerdyk is passionate about local history.
“It has been a labor of love,” she says. “I got to meet the most amazing people. People have been so kind.”
Kerdyk says she was thrilled to work with Parks and Donna Spain was a great help.
“Both of them have been so kind, warm and accepting,” she says. “To me as a young woman, it is great to see them in such positions. So receptive and so willing to help out.”
Next year, Kerdyk will be enrolled in Tulane and majoring in communications and public relations. She says she is not sure what her future holds, but she would like to work in Japan as a media correspondent for the Toyota World Junior Golf Tournament, which was started by her father.
“I want to get into some aspect of marketing and communications that has something to do with other cultures,” she says.
Kerdyk was involved in extracurricular activities at Gulliver. She was vice president of the drama club and was in many of their shows, including the role of Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest.
By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld