We moved to Miami by accident in 1953. We drove down from Chicago for a vacation and stayed in Miami Beach at the Tradewinds Hotel. One day my parents told my two older sisters and me they would be gone for a few hours, and we were to stay at the pool and not go to the beach. When they came back we were informed that we would not be going back to Chicago as they had rented an apartment in Coral Gables at 17 Majorca Avenue.
My older sisters cried as they would leave behind many friends. I was too young at 6 to care.
I practically grew up at the Venetian Pool, a great treasure that seems to be kept secret these days.
I went to Coral Gables Elementary for 1st, 2nd, and part of 3rd grade. Then we moved to 2390 Southwest 16th Terrace, and I attended Shenandoah Elementary, Shenandoah Junior High, and Miami High.
All my teachers at Shenandoah Elementary were great. In 3rd grade I had Mrs. Echeverria; 4th, Mrs. Gill; 5th, Mrs. Fowler, who taught me to love poetry and Greek mythology; and 6th, Mrs. Conroy. The principal was Mrs. Hatfield, the original Steel Magnolia. She was a sweet Southern belle that you would never want to cross. She regularly attended the Miami High games, which were always played in the Orange Bowl.
At Shenandoah Jr. High the dean, “Mr. K” (Kouchalakos), terrorized us all, though he was actually a pussycat with a gruff demeanor. We weren’t supposed to sit on the wall of the fish pond, and one day my friend Ellen sat there, and as he walked by shoved her into the pond.
My most important memory was when I was 7 and new to Miami. My mother took me shopping at Food Fair on Coral Way. At the back of the store by the meat section were two water fountains, one marked “white” and the other marked “colored.”
I thought wow, how great is Miami, they had colored water!
So I went up to the “colored” fountain and was very disappointed to see it looked like regular water. A lady nearby very nicely (!) told me that I had to drink only from the “white” fountain. Shortly after that, I had my first introduction to the white lines on the buses marking off the seating that blacks were forced to use.
I remember being deeply offended by segregation even at the age of 7, as it was nothing I had seen in Chicago. To Miami’s credit, that all ended by 1956, well before the Civil Rights turmoil of
the 1960s. South Florida was not the Deep South, and I used to joke that Miami was the southernmost part of The Bronx!
Food was an adventure. There was the Red Diamond Inn on LeJeune Road, Royal Castles everywhere, hamburgers for 15 cents and a frosty mug of birch beer for a nickel. Shorty’s Bar-B-Q on South Dixie Highway was a frequent treat: pork sandwiches for 50 cents and the best corn on the cob for 20 cents. You ate ranch style at long tables, and the log-cabin interior was festooned with saddles, spurs, bridles, horseshoes and other western gear.
The thatched-hut, open-air juice stands selling fresh orange juice, papaya juice and, my favorite, piña colada had all but disappeared by the mid-1950s. The Pilot House on Northwest 36th Street across from the old Miami International Airport terminal had stuffed Florida lobster tail on Fridays, all you could eat for $5.
Then there was Jahn’s ice cream parlor on Miracle Mile. One night a gang of us went in and ordered “The Kitchen Sink.” It was $12 and had perhaps 20 scoops of ice cream, toppings, and bananas, all in a large silver bowl. We got frisky and started a food fight, and were promptly thrown out. But the fun we had was worth it.
On Southwest 8th Street (Tamiami Trail) around 32nd Avenue was a two-story orange ball of a building where you could get fresh-squeezed orange juice. Later, it was painted white and was reborn as The Pizza Palace. Further west on 8th was the Tower Theater, and next door was the Trail Bowl, where they had human pin setters.
My friend Jerry B. (still great friends since 3rd grade) was the son of the owner of Tropicalite, a neon sign company. He was the designer of the famous Coppertone signs with the dog pulling down the little girl’s bathing suit, and for years he made every Burger King sign. The biggest Coppertone sign was on McLamore’s Restaurant on Brickell Avenue. Every evening a man in a white chef’s suit and toque stood outside the restaurant and rang a bell and waved to us kids as we drove by.
Shenandoah Park had a pool with a lower-level snack stand and jukebox. All the teens spent the day dancing (and romancing?). The park had a giant field house with ping-pong and knock hockey. After getting hot playing sports we would go to the air-conditioned library on the southwest corner of the park. I’d grab a cold drink of water and settle down with a book. After an hour or so it was back to the fields for some more baseball or football.
Back then, Miami had only two television stations, CBS on channel 4 and PBS (pretty yucky stuff for a young boy) on channel 2. We watched “The $64,000 Question,” but as we had no NBC affiliate I was unaware of the quiz show scandal of “Twenty-One.” And of course, there were local legends Ralph Rennick, Miami’s Walter Cronkite, and Chuck Zink, who entertained children
for years on “The Skipper Chuck Show.” The radio station of record was WQAM, with Charlie Murdock.
I belonged to Sigma Rho, a social fraternity affiliated with the JCC, and we had our own island. Sigma Rho Island is still there today, about 500 yards to the southwest of the first bridge on Rickenbacker Causeway. In 1959 one of the members died of Hodgkin’s disease, so we started a fund in his memory at the University of Miami. The fund provided up to $500 cash for medical students who had an emergency need. We worked like dogs to raise money for the fund: held picnics, dances, and sold Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Over the years we raised perhaps $10,000 for the fund.
Other wonderful memories include going to Matheson Hammock Park and the zoo at Crandon Park, Holy Joe preaching at the 14th Street Beach, Wolfie’s 21, Pier 5 downtown, learning to play tennis from “Slim” Harbett at Henderson Park (and sometimes hitting with tennis legend Gardnar Mulloy), and watching the Miami High Stingarees maul every team in sight, especially the classic Miami High – Edison game on Thanksgiving Day in 1963.
All in all, growing up in paradise.