Miami Stories — Anthony Abraham

Lebanese family finds success here

 

My dad, Anthony Abraham, just turned 99 and lives in the same Coral Gables house he bought in 1952.

I wasn’t even born yet, but my mom, dad and my three siblings -- George (7), Marion (5) and Judy (3) left Chicago and arrived in Miami in 1950 along with my cousin Dorothy, who was 16 and planning to attend the University of Miami.

Rumor was that my oldest brother George had asthma and it was advised that he should live in a tropical climate. My dad wasn’t going to move to the Caribbean, so Miami was the best solution.

When my family first arrived, they stayed at The Casablanca Hotel on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Driving up to the hotel, there was an Arabian Nights-themed porte cochere featuring four giant genies (originally nude but eventually draped due to controversy).

The fun times for the kids was going to the movies at the Miracle Theatre on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables or swimming at the beach in Crandon Park.

Later, my family rented a house across from the hotel for one season. They used to go to Wolfie’s, the landmark restaurant at 21st Street and Collins Avenue. It was the family hangout; the place was always crowded and opened 24 hours. Sadly, the restaurant closed in 2002.

Meanwhile, while house-hunting in 1952, my mom found a house in Coral Gables, perfect for the whole family. There was a fireplace in the middle of the living room, which is no longer there, nor the terrazzo floors.

My mom loved to cook Lebanese food and have the family over for Sunday dinners. I loved to help my aunts in the kitchen rolling up grape leaves. It would take two days to prepare our feasts -- kibbee, tabouli, grape leaves and cabbage leaves stuffed with Lebanese style rice and lamb.

On Aug. 24, 1956, a wonderful life began for my brother Tommy, who was 4, and me, age 5.

My mother and dad came to Beirut, Lebanon, to visit our orphanage, The Creche. They came to visit the children and brought toys. Tommy, who went by the name Ghattas, elbowed my dad while I tugged on my mom’s skirt. Without any hesitation or spoken words, they adopted both of us.

My other siblings were all adopted at birth. George came from Kansas City, Mo., Marion was from New York City, and Judy was from St. Louis, Minn.

When we arrived in the summer of 1956 on National Airlines, we were greeted by Ralph Renick, the legendary Channel 4 anchorman. We could only speak French or Arabic, except the words, ’Thank you, ’ which my dad had taught us on the plane. When we arrived at our new home, we saw the pool and our reflection in the pool. This was the happiest moment of our lives.

My dad owned what became the largest Chevrolet dealership in South Florida on the corner of LeJeune Road and Southwest Eighth Street.

Eventually, he bought the land across the street for used cars, then haggled with the fruit market owner to buy another piece of land on the other side for the truck department. At one point, he owned every corner of LeJeune and Eighth Street.

My parents had become part of the social circle in the ’60s and ’70s. They were a part of a new organization, ALSAC (American Syrian Lebanese Associated Charities), which still exists today. The entertainer Danny Thomas, also of Lebanese descent, founded St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital with a group of Lebanese businessmen, including my father. They created a board in 1957. Today, second and third generations of the original families, including my brother, Tommy, sit on the board.

In the late 1950s, my parents started a local fundraising event for the hospital, called The Miracle Ball. Danny Thomas would bring a different celebrity to the event each year. Robert Goulet, Perry Como, Sammy Davis Jr., and even Frank Sinatra performed at the last ball in 1984, which was dedicated to my mom.

We used to host the pre-cocktail party at our home, but eventually started having the party at the Eden Roc hotel. The gala was held at the Fontainebleau hotel, when Ben Novack owned it.

Mr. Novack had bought our house while we were in college, but when my brother and I returned to Miami, my brother insisted my parents buy it back, which they did in the 1970s.

My brother and I went away to college but returned to Miami. I have followed in my mother’s footsteps, fundraising and hosting parties in my home. My brother Tommy has taken over the family foundation and runs our dad’s office. My father eventually sold the dealership, then repurchased it in the early ’80s. He sold in again in the late ’80s.

My dad finally retired after my mom was taken away from us in 1984. He has dedicated the rest of his life to helping schools, hospitals and churches.

I have been so blessed to have been chosen by two remarkable, loving and generous parents. My father’s motto for our family foundation is: "Always help those less fortunate, no matter what race, color or creed they were."

Read more Miami Stories stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">Miami Beach landmark:</span> The Wolfie’s Sandwich Shop at Lincoln Road and Collins Avenue.

    Miami Stories

    My dreams came true in Miami Beach

    You can probably imagine my reaction as a 9-year-old from Winston-Salem, N.C. after seeing Miami Beach for the first time in 1947. My parents brought my younger brother and me down from North Carolina to escape a polio epidemic running through the South that summer. Miami Beach was the first big city I had ever seen. I was mesmerized.

  •  
The author with her parents in front of Louber Villa.

    Miami Stories

    Fond 1960s memories of Louber Villa, a Jewish-owned hotel in Palm Beach

    My formative childhood years were spent in an Irish-Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">B-17 DUTY:</span> Stuart G. Newman, now 91, manipulates a target locator aboard a vintage B-17. His last mission on a B-17 was in 1945 over Europe.

    Miami Stories

    For 89 years, a charmed life in Miami

    In 1925, my parents and I disembarked in Miami after a three-day train trip from Chicago, and went to stay at a cottage surrounded by a grapefruit grove that belonged to my mother’s aunt. I was three years old, and it marked the beginning of my nearly nine-decade-long adventure in South Florida.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category