Miami Stories

Since teen years, endless ‘fun in the sun’


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Special to the Miami Herald

I became enamored with Miami in my early teens. Hearing that it was the “in” place to vacation and, as a 15 year old, wanting desperately to be “in,” I persuaded my parents to take our family on a much-needed vacation, at least according to me.

My mom, dad, two younger sisters and my roly-poly grandma (known as Bubs) all left for our vacation in our ‘50s Chevy sedan, driving from Michigan to Miami Beach for the Christmas holidays. Daddy knew everything, or so he said, and of course we didn’t need any hotel reservations. We’d just “play it by ear.”

After three and a half days of a grueling drive (no freeways then), we arrived in Miami and spent an entire day going from hotel to hotel, stuffed like sardines in a hot car (no air conditioning, either), with my baby sister crying all the way. In spite of a frantic start, our stay was heavenly: the weather, the palm trees and the Miami colors, all eye candy to me, a Midwestern teen-ager.

A few years later, I visited Miami Beach for the second time, this time accompanied by my handsome husband, both of us in our late teens. We honeymooned at the Nautilus Hotel and, upon checking in, were given the Presidential Suite. The hotel was oversold and wanted to make amends because our requested room, the least expensive in the hotel, was not available. Being young, inexperienced “adults,” we demanded our tiny room, frightened that the hotel would make us pay for the upgrade. The management agreed and gave another couple the thrill of a lifetime.

While at the Nautilus (referred to in the Midwest as “Honeymoon Heaven”) we made lifelong friends, saw the stars: Carmen Cavallaro and his orchestra at the Fontainebleau Hotel and also the very funny “Professor” Irwin Corey; ate stuffed cabbage at Wolfie’s and had fun in the sun, me wearing what became known as the “Siren” swimsuit by day and my “merry widow” corset and plastic Spring-o-Lator shoes in the evening.

Some years and four babies later, we visited Miami for our third time with our very young children. The occasion was the American Trial Lawyers convention. We stayed at the Beau Rivage in Bal Harbour, headquarters for lawyers with families.

The convention was nearby at the Americana and featured superstar lawyers . One evening we joined other lawyers and their wives (female attorneys were a scarcity in those days) at our first taste of Little Havana.

Years later, Barbara Capitman invited me to speak to her Art Deco Preservation League, comparing Deco architecture to the fashions of the period, which by this time had become a subject of my expertise. When my husband joined me later that week, Capitman’s son and his business associates talked us into investing in some of the original Deco hotels, such as the Cardozo and the Leslie. We saw my favorite side of Miami, the Deco district, and later partied with Eartha Kitt at the Hotel Victor. I took lots of pictures in the nearby Amsterdam Palace, later to become Casa Casuarina, home of my good friend, the late designer Gianni Versace. We held our “hotel” meetings at “The Pink House,” where the TV show “Miami Vice,” starring Don Johnson, was being filmed.

Yes, Miami Beach was in our blood and, after staying at various places on the beach, we bought our present home near the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotels – almost 30 years ago. Getting away from the Midwestern winters with frigid temperatures and snow, spending Sundays on Lincoln Road, early December at Art Basel Miami, and midwinter antique shows have added to my fun times.

The boardwalk and the clay courts have been a big draw to my tennis playing, jogging husband. The wide choice of restaurants with their famous and soon-to-be-famous chefs have also added another element of good times/good eats (and good diets) over the years…but the broadening culture base in the area, with its Design District, Arsht Center, Bass Museum of Art, the stunning and educational Wolfsonian and, of course, the gorgeous New World Center, designed by Frank Gehry, together with the always heavenly Books & Books, have given us more than just “fun in the sun.” Miami has given us a home away from home, and then some.

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