Mott Schmidt Biography

Townhouses and Apartments
by Mark Alan Hewitt

Another multiple-unit project, quite different from Schmidt's other works, was his design of a set of houses within the suburb of Coral Gables, Florida. Coral Gables was planned by George Merrick beginning in 1921-- an offshoot of the resort land boom that had begun in South Florida following World War I. A decade earlier Merrick inherited his father's 1600-acre farm south of Miami and later nicknamed his development after the color and shape of the farmhouse roof. He envisioned a stylistically integrated community of houses and public buildings all in "Mediterranean" idioms. Assembling a team of architects, artists and landscape architects, Merrick laid out a network of streets and broad avenues, punctuated by Spanish or Italian-inspired gates, fountains and public buildings. Coral Gables was incorporated as a city in 1925. In November of that year, Merrick relinquished some control over the suburb by deeding over 100 lots to a group of investors calling themselves the American Building Corporation, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. This group intended to construct a series of twenty period-revival theme villages, using many of the prevailing stylistic idioms favored by eclectic architects. Only six were realized, including Marion Syms Wyeth's Dutch South African Village, Henry Killam Murphy's Chinese Village, Phillip Lippincott Goodwin's French Provincial Village, and Schmidt's French City Village, all built between 1925 and 1926.

Begun in 1925 for New Jersey client Anderson Fowler who was a participant in the Cincinnati consortium, and whose New York townhouse Schmidt designed in 1921 (Figure 20), Schmidt's French City Village occupies half a block of the 1000 block on Hardie Road in the Riviera section of Coral Gables (Figure 21). It measures approximately 100 X 250 feet. Stucco walls screen twenty semi-detached, compactly planned cottages of about three bedrooms each. Each house has a different orientation, relating both to its twin and to its private walled garden.

Loosely following the conventions used in the other developments -small villa-like houses with walled yards penetrated by garage entrances from the street-Schmidt designed a semi-urban enclave with a hybrid of town and country elements which an­ticipated the "townhouse" developments of the 1970s. By follow­ing a vaguely eighteenth-century French style and varying the plan types, orientations and garden layouts the architect achieved both unity and diversity. Many of the motifs used in the houses appear to derive from plates in Phillip Goodwin and Henry Milliken's 1924 book French Provincial Architecture, a popular source for suburban houses. The plans recall those of 19th century French villas, such as were illustrated in Cesar Daly's famous tome Architecture Privèe aux 19eme Siècle. However, the site planning and massing are Schmidt's alone, and the quality and originality of this design places it among his best work. The houses are sought after landmarks in Coral Gables and have been augmented by additional "French" residences on the remaining part of the block.

FIGURE 20. Anderson A. Fowler Townhouse, East 71st Street, New York City, 1921
American Architect, June 7, 1922
FIGURE 21. French City Village, construction photo of Hardie Road, Block 145, Circa 1926
City of Coral Gables, Historic Preservation Department