Frederick L. Washburn. Tahiti Beach, Coral Gables, 1926. Oil on canvas, 18 1/4 by 22 and 1/4 inches with 13th Annual Exhibit Minneapolis Institute of Arts exhibition label on back.
Frederick Washburn was a nationally known professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota. From 1895 to his retirement in 1926 his study of insects and their effect on crops helped farmers around the country. Washburn’s education as an entomologist required skill as an artist, a skill he needed in 1923 and again in 1925, when he spent months recording the insect life of the South Sea Island of Tahiti.
Washburn began visiting Miami in 1910. In 1914 the Miami Daily News (January 13, 1914) notes his arrival at the Halcyon Hotel and the Miami Herald (January 14, 1914), that he and Mrs. Washburn would stay for the season.
In 1923 George Merrick founded the Coral Gables Corporation, the beginning of his dream of, “The City Beautiful” the first planned community in the United States. Merrick began construction of the Biltmore Hotel, made plans for the founding of the University of Miami, and in December of 1925, blazed a trail linking Coral Gables to Biscayne Bay, filling in the waterfront to form what he called Tahiti Beach, transplanting “the colorful effects of a South Sea Pacific Isle with thatched bathing huts” to Miami.
Frederick Washburn had family in Miami. His daughter Alice married Phillip Byfield of Newton, Massachusetts in 1915. Learning of Merrick’s plans, the Byfield’s moved to Coral Gables where Phillip operated an insurance company, was a charter member and officer of the Kiwanis Club, and a member of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce. He, along with Richard Merrick and J. A. Wardlaw, was a principal in the Miami Mortgage and Guaranty Company.
Given Washburn’s experience in Tahiti and his son-in-law’s connections to George Merrick, it’s possible that his experiences there, and conversations with Merrick led to the renaming of the Cocoplum area of Coconut Grove to Tahiti Beach. His painting, Tahiti Beach, Coral Gables, defining what could be. The beach was officially opened on February 4, 1926.
In March of 1927 Professor Washburn gave a talk to the Kiwanis club at the Coral Gables Golf and Country club. Returning home to Minneapolis he died unexpectedly in October. His painting Tahiti Beach, Coral Gables was exhibited posthumously at the 13th annual exhibit of the Minneapolis Art Institute in December 1927. Born: April 12, 1860, Brookline, Massachusetts. Died: October 15, 1927, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Education: Harvard University. Membership: Minneapolis Institute of Art; Minneapolis Businessmen’s Art Club.