My family was among some of the original pioneers of South Florida. My grandfather, Anthony Longo Sr., came to South Florida from New York in 1923.
In 1935, he purchased 350 acres of farmland — now the site of Kings Creek Condominiums — which was the original proposed site of Dadeland Mall. Back then, it was simply a potato farm.
Many years later my grandfather traded a part of that land for a piece of prime real estate in Coral Gables owned by Arthur Vining Davis, the late Alcoa chairman and Arvida founder. On that land, my grandfather built and owned the Riviera Theatre on U.S. 1.
In 1941, South Florida came abuzz with the U.S. Army taking over the hotels on Miami Beach. The threat from German submarines was prevalent and black-out restrictions were enforced on Miami Beach. On the corner of U.S. 1 and North Kendall Drive was a German prisoner of war camp. Up close, the prisoners didn’t look as ominous as depicted in the movies.
I came to Miami when I was 13 months old. My first childhood home was located where Sunset Place now stands. Back then it was a cow pasture with only two homes on it. Later, it became the site of the Holsum Bakery. I can still smell the aroma of the fresh baked bread that permeated throughout the city.
After that, we lived in an apartment above Mr. Fosters Clothing store, before my father bought a home on Lawrence (Southwest 64th Court) in South Miami.
Originally called Larkins, South Miami was a very small city. It had only one policeman (George Weigand) and one fireman (Arthur Melton).
We never locked our doors. If a family was going out for the evening the police were notified and they would cruise the area with a searchlight. Crime was virtually nonexistent.
It was a simpler time when people came together at the community center to enjoy potluck dinners, street barbecues and sandlot ball. Looking back, it is still hard to imagine that we would close off U.S. 1 on Friday nights for the community Fish Fry.
Some of my fondest memories were the lighting of the giant Christmas tree at the community center and the Holsum Bakery Christmas display. Some other favorite hangouts included: The Red Diamond Inn, The Dixie Pig, Smitty’s, The Holsum Restaurant, The Whipp Inn, Jimmy’s Hurricane Drive-In and, last but not least, Eddy’s Varsity Grill, a regular haunt for the UM football team.
My father, Edward Longo Sr., owned the restaurant. I remember a special Christmas Eve dinner at Eddy’s when my mom and dad cooked for the entire UM football team. That was the year the University of Miami received a bid for the Orange Bowl game against South Carolina. The out-of-town players couldn’t go home for the Christmas holidays, as they had to practice.
It was a special night for the players and a special night for my family and me. Some of the names of the players who come to mind are: Chickillo, Martin, Hackett, the Smith brothers, Lutes, Dooley, Mariutto, Fieler, Delbello and Harry C. Mallios.
Prior to my attending the University of Miami, I went to South Miami Elementary, Coconut Grove Elementary and attended Ponce de Leon High School. It was then converted to a junior high and the students were relocated to the new and luxurious Coral Gables Senior High, from which I graduated (without honors).
Now back to the Riviera Theatre. I can still remember the lavish grand opening for the premiere of the film Picnic in 1956, starring William Holden and Kim Novack. I was only 21 but I stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the most recognized names in Hollywood: Cyd Charisse, Morey Amsterdam and Red Buttons. Not bad for a skinny kid with rather large ears.
Eventually, I grew up and was selected for training and service herein — in the United States Army. That’s how the letter read that arrived at my door in 1956.
I served two years in active duty in Germany and six years reserve. It was one of the best times in my life. I also met my lovely bride, Antoinette Latronica, and fortunately convinced her to marry me and move from Yonkers to South Florida. We recently celebrated our 48th wedding anniversary and still live in Miami.
For many years, I owned and operated a printing company in South Florida named South Miami Letter Service Inc./Kwik Print. Coincidentally, one of the store locations was in the Riviera Theatre building, the original site of my family’s legacy.