J. Edgar and growing up in paradise

 

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Special to the Miami Herald

I was born in 1946 in Greenwich, Conn. Every winter we would take the train to Miami and stay at the Gulfstream Hotel in Miami Beach.

One could look down the beach and not see another hotel nearby. There were a lot of “snowbirds” (although that term had not been coined yet) who stayed there, among them some of the rich and famous, as well as the infamous.

I had my picture taken with J. Edgar Hoover when I was 4. Sorry to say I lost the newspaper clipping of that photo in my many moves. I had no idea who this pudgy man was or why the photographer was making a fuss over us. There were other children around my age. There was Sherman Billingsley, whose father owned the famous Stork Club in New York. There were the Kresge children, Cary and Kitty. Their family owned Kresge’s 5 & 10 cent stores. The name may not sound familiar now but the K in Kmart stands for Kresge.

My family eventually bought a home in Miami Beach and we moved there full time when I was 6. Growing up in Miami Beach in the 1950s and ’60s was wonderful. I don’t think we realized then what a paradise we lived in. There was the dog track at the end of South Beach. The Art Deco hotels were filled with vacationers from New York and New Jersey. There were the Orthodox Jewish diamond dealers who would come in the long heavy black coats, even in the heat. There were the retired people in their orthopedic shoes schlepping their lounge chairs. Frank Sinatra was singing in the Poodle Room of the Fontainebleau, and once I passed Sammy Davis Jr. on Arthur Godfrey Road. He was this tiny man with two enormous bodyguards.

I went to St. Patrick’s School and then to Carrollton in Coconut Grove. Many of our classmates had fled from Cuba. They taught us the meaning of freedom and added spice to our city. I remember driving to school during the Cuban Missile Crisis, never realizing that we were in such danger. We were just excited to see all the cute sailors and soldiers all over Miami.

I have returned to Miami Beach a few times over the past years. It is not the place I grew up. The small motels vibrate with the beat of Latin music and “the beautiful people” come from all over to lie on the beach. If it weren’t for Joe’s Stone Crabs, I would think I was in the wrong place. I am glad this amazing city has been revitalized. In the 1970s, the hotels showed their age. The shops on Lincoln Road were all closing and parts of it looked like a ghost town.

The people who walk the beach and sidewalks now don’t know what the Stork Club was or that there were such things as 5 & 10 cent stores way before the dollar stores came into vogue. The young ones won’t know who Hoover was, nor will they have heard of Sinatra or Sammy Davis Jr., except through old black-and-white photos or a song they hear in an elevator. I don’t know if 41st Street is still called Arthur Godfrey Road or if people remember that Jackie Gleason did his TV variety show from the Miami Beach Convention Hall.

I do know that I was blessed to have grown up in paradise. I hope those who reside there know how lucky they are and make wonderful memories that will come back to them when they are old and living in New Jersey.

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