Nineteen twenty-six was a notable year in the history of the city by the bay. A sense of giddiness prevailed, with real-estate sales booming and people arriving in record numbers to make their fortunes. The Biltmore Hotel was completed and became the centerpiece of Coral Gables.
Burt Bolton, a World War I veteran who lived in Atlanta after his discharge, decided to try his luck by moving to Miami. (he called it “Miamuh”) He was a born salesman and would drive his Model T down the streets of Miami with an oilcloth cover over the spare tire. On that oilcloth cover was painted, “They all call me Slim.” He would call out to everyone he saw, “How ya doin’?” And after a short while, everyone who saw him in his familiar Model T would shout back, “How ya doin’, Slim.”
Jessie Isabel Unruh, a native of Mobile, Ala., came to Miami in the same year. Her boss was interested in making some real-estate investments in Fulford By-the-Sea, a community that is now known as Ojus in Northeast Dade County. And then it happened. As everyone knows, that year Miami was hit by one of the most devastating hurricanes ever recorded. That all but ended the real-estate boom, and many of the newcomers returned to their places of origin.
Jessie met Slim. She decided not to return to Mobile and married Slim in 1928. This union produced their only child, Burt Bolton Jr. My dad was a big fan of Al Jolson, and gave his son the nickname of Sonny after he heard Jolson’s rendition of the song Sonny Boy. Sonny was born at Victoria Hospital on Northwest Third Street between Ninth and 10th avenues.
My growing up in Miami back in the ’30s was a truly wonderful experience. In 1933, the Disney Studios were trying to promote their popular Mickey Mouse character and sponsored a contest that would involve the election of one child who would be known as the Head Mickey Mouse. We lived near the Tower Theater on Southwest Eighth Street, where the contest was held. According to the rules, everyone got to vote for their favorite child by writing his name on the lid of a Mickey Mouse Ice Cream cup and turning it in at the theater. In addition, the Miami Daily News agreed to co-sponsor the contest, and you could also cast votes by taking a two-week subscription. My dad was a great salesman. As it turned out, I was elected Head Mickey Mouse and was presented with a silver loving cup and the keys to a brand new Austin Roadster Convertible on the stage of the Tower Theater.
I can remember the trips down to Dinner Key with my parents, where we watched the big Pan American clipper planes land in Biscayne Bay and saw the divers go down to attach the wheels on the planes so they could be towed up onto land. I still have fond memories of the events that my parents and I attended at the Harvey Seeds American Legion Post on the Bay at Northeast 66th Street. My dad was a member of the Championship Drum and Bugle Corp., and I was a member of the Sons of the Legion Corp. In later years, my wife and I, along with our married friends, would celebrate New Year’s Eve by attending the dances held at the open-air patio near the Bay at the Legion Home.
My first job after graduating from Gesu High School in downtown Miami was as a runner at Florida National Bank, which was headquartered in the Alfred I. DuPont Building. One of my duties was to raise the flag at the top of the building, and I was always in awe when I stood on the tallest spot in Florida at that time.
Geraldine “Gerry” Cappelleto and her parents used to make trips every few years to Miami, and Gerry would sometimes spend the weekends at her grandfather’s fish camp on Tamiami Trail. In the late 1930s, the Fish Camp was known as the Blue Shanty. Later, the building burned down and was replaced by a tourist attraction that is now known as Everglades Safari.
I met Gerry while she was a senior at Miami High and took her snake hunting in the Everglades on our very first date. In the ’40s most of my guy friends would go out on weekend snake-hunting expeditions, so I was delighted to hear that Gerry was not afraid to handle snakes, a knack she learned at her grandfather’s fish camp when she was only 8. Ya gotta love a girl who can handle snakes. We were married in 1949 and have shared over 60 wonderful years together.