Written By Isabel Rivera
September 28, 2023 at 8:16 PM

The Coral Gables City Hall features a 12-foot bronze statue of George E. Merrick that was erected in May of 2006 and sculpted by William Beckwith in memory of his legacy. (Photo courtesy of

With a population of over 2.5 million residents from numerous cultural backgrounds, Miami-Dade County is rich in local history, yet sometimes misses the mark in sharing it.

Though the city dates back nearly 200 years, many of its residents are hard-pressed to tell you the rich histories of the neighborhoods they grew up in.

Director and playwright Phillip M. Church aims to chip away at this issue with his latest project, “The Placemaker-Poet,” a dramatic curation detailing the life of Coral Gables real-estate developer George E. Merrick.

The 90-minute production first evolved from Church’s own struggle to connect with the city he’d inhabited for the past 40 years of his life.

“This thing of suddenly realizing that the community was something that I didn’t really understand or know factually was a stark reminder that maybe we’re living through and in history, and not knowing anything about it,” said Church.

Remedying this disconnect, Church came across Arva Moore Parks’ biography “George E. Merrick: Son of the South Wind” and was captivated not just by the abundance of community history, but also by Merrick’s own narrative.

“It seems that we need to find ways of putting good people out there, reminding the world that good does exist . . . I just felt that George Merrick was a good person,” shared Church when asked what drew him most to Merrick’s story.

An expert developer, Merrick’s greatest strength in planning out Coral Gables was often his least attributed – an affinity for aesthetics and a love for the arts.

In “The Placemaker-Poet,” Merrick, played by Charles Sothers, is portrayed as the creative he was. From his intentional design of Coral Gables to publishing a book of poetry, the production sheds new light on the lesser-known aspects of the forefather of Coral Gables.

Most notably, Merrick’s devotion to the community of Coral Gables is highlighted in the production. His appreciation of the Black Bahamian labor community and dedication to creating housing for the middle class creates a holistic picture of both Merrick and the history of Coral Gables, Church’s ultimate goal for his project.

“This is a very rich history that Coral Gables has got. How many neighboring communities – Doral, Westchester, Homestead, or Hialeah – actually know about each other’s rich history?” commented Church.

In the spirit of preserving and sharing this history, “The Placemaker-Poet” will be showcased at several local theaters across South Florida. Proceeds will go towards scholarships for first-year history majors.

WHAT: The Placemaker-Poet
WHERE: Seminole Theatre; Coral Gables Museum; Westchester Cultural Arts Center
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 23, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. (Seminole Theatre); Tuesday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Sept. 27, 8 p.m. (Coral Gables Museum); Wednesday, Oct. 18, 8 p.m. (Westchester Cultural Arts Center)
TICKETS: $15 for general admission; $10 for students, veterans and seniors
INFORMATION: What If Works is a nonprofit source of dance, visual arts, music and performing arts news. Sign up for our newsletter and never miss a story.

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