Now erased from the urban landscape, the Miami Coliseum was a massive Mediterranean-Revival building which was located at 1500 Douglas Road in Coral Gables, Florida. George Merrick called it the “Miami Coliseum in Coral Gables” and intended it to be a cultural center for the Greater Miami area, not just for Coral Gables. He solidified this intent by building on the very edge of city, barely straddling the line between Miami and Coral Gables. The space was intended to be used for public meetings, concerts, operas, sporting events, and large conventions. While it was indeed used for these purposes, one finds that the building was used for a larger variety of purposes than originally intended throughout its history and until its demolition in 1993.
On August 4, 1927, The Miami News published a photo of the building under construction. The photo portrayed the scaffolding surrounding the half-built structure and the giant steel beams defining the skeleton of the building as something much to be anticipated. The community was very much in need of something to look forward to. The Great Hurricane of 1926 had made landfall only the year before and Miami was not in good standing. South Florida was not only weathering the aftereffects of a devastating hurricane; it was also in the midst of the collapse of the real estate market.
Both of these factors contributed to the city’s local depression and led to a series of financing problems pertaining to the construction of the Miami Coliseum and other development projects led by George Merrick. In fact, it was because of Merrick’s overreach with large projects like this during those trying times that led to his financial ruin and his eventual disgraceful departure from the City Beautiful. Nonetheless, George pushed forward and the Miami Coliseum was completed by November of 1927.
When the Coliseum opened on November 10, 1927, congratulatory telegrams were sent from such luminaries Thomas Edison and Herbert Hoover. The building’s dedication on Thursday, November 10, 1927, was graced by the largest crowd under one roof in the city’s history. That Thursday night, there was a “line of traffic to the coliseum, crowded with cars…” The dedication was attended by prominent men and women, members of the Chamber of Commerce, and thousands of Miamians who overflowed from the filled boxes and rows lining the hall. There was standing room for those unable to find seating and hundreds upon hundreds were gathered outside with the hope of being able to hear the speeches made by the prominent orators within the confines of the newly erected structure.
The following day, The Miami News reported that the building “…is a stiring memorial to the faith, perseverance, and energy of a people who, in a time of depression, have reared a magnificent auditorium which would bring forth comment were it the largest city of the country.”
Despite the grand opening and high expectations, the Miami Coliseum proved to be what many would have considered a still-born project. While there were only a few conventions, concerts, and exhibitions that ended up gracing the Coliseum’s halls, such as the 1928 Greater Miami Food, Radio, and Better Homes Show, the bold ambition behind the construction of the building was never fully realized. The newly constructed building, which many saw as a flame of hope in the fog of a local depression, quickly burned out as the full brunt of the Great Depression was felt around the nation.
The Miami Coliseum was scarcely used during the 1930’s and was eventually used by the military in the 1940’s for aviation training. The building continued to repeatedly change hands over the following decades. After the war, in 1947, the building was deeded to the University of Miami and was turned into a sports arena for the school’s home games, roller derbies, and other similar sporting events. Three years later, the building’s ownership was once again transferred and it became an ice skating rink. In 1956, the building became a popular bowling alley and remained so for the next 22 years. In 1978, the structure was sold and became a gym up until it’s unfortunate demolition in 1993.
Things rarely go according to plan, and such was the case for George Merrick’s Miami Coliseum. Many local residents still have varied memories of the building. Some will remember it as a failed cultural center and others will remember it as a place they learned the ins and outs of military aviation. Some will remember football games and roller derbies while others will remember ice skating, bowling, and dumb-bells. But everybody will remember a proud, yet stubborn, building that adapted to the shifting needs of each generation.