From Snow Princesses at Burdines to riding horses down Miami Avenue
12/13/2012 5:52 PM
12/13/2012 5:53 PM
My parents were young Norwegian immigrants who had met and married in Chicago.
My father was a skilled carpenter, but there were no jobs available. The Great Depression had caused the banks to fail, and they lost all their savings, so they accepted a job in Miami.
They became the caretakers of the Warren Wright estate, which was located at 5255 Collins Ave. The Wrights only came to Miami when their horses were running at Hialeah Park, so most of the year my parents had the estate to themselves. Looking back on this, coming to an unknown tropical city after growing up in Norway was quite an adventurous thing for them to do.
I was born at St Francis Hospital on Miami Beach and just vaguely remember our home, which was a large apartment over an even larger garage. It looked out over Indian Creek on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
During World War II, soldiers were housed in Miami Beach hotels. They marched and trained up and down Collins Avenue outside our driveway, and filled their canteens from our hose. We often saw oil slicks and wreckage on the beach from ships sunk off shore by German warships and, because of the threat from enemy fire, we had blackout curtains on our windows and my father was an air-raid warden. My parents were both worried about their families back in Norway, which had been occupied by the Nazis.
When I was 7, my father began working on the construction of the Homestead Air Force base and we moved to Jefferson Avenue and Third Street in Miami Beach , where I met my friend Joan Mooney. We ran wild all over the southern end of Miami Beach, starting at what is now called South Pointe, where we swam in the public pool and went to the movies. I think it cost us about a dime or less. We fished in the bay, played at Flamingo Park or went to Lincoln Road to look at beautiful clothes in the windows of expensive stores.
We spent our summer vacations at the beach where we went almost daily after slathering ourselves with pancake makeup. It was before sunscreens and that was supposed to keep us from burning, but we loved it because we thought it made us look grown-up.
When we were 9 or 10, we often took the bus or the jitney to downtown Miami and went to the movies. We fed the pigeons in Bayfront Park, or rode the ponies which were located where the Omni Mall was built later. If we went to town with one of our mothers, we had lunch at the Seven Seas or Burdines Tea Room, where the big deal was a dessert called a Snow Princess, which I think every old-time Miamian remembers. If we were on our own for lunch, it was the Polly Davis Cafeteria, or a drugstore on Flagler Street across from the Olympia Theatre (now Gusman), where we used to see a movie and a live show.
We were big movie fans, and in those days there were a half a dozen movie theaters in and around downtown Miami, so there was always plenty to do.
In the late 40’s, my parents bought an acre of land in Biscayne Gardens, which was pretty open and uninhabited, and in the early 1950s my dad built our house. It was very different from the close-knit neighborhood I had come from on South Beach — barely five or six houses had been built at that time — but because of that openness, I did get to ride a neighbor’s horse. He was a retired police horse, looking forward to some rest, but he put up with me, and we regularly raced the few cars that ventured along Miami Avenue.
I went to Miami Shores Elementary School, where in later years my three sons also went to school, and even later, several grandchildren. After several years at Horace Mann Junior High, I ended up at the brand-new and barely finished North Miami Senior High. I was a cheerleader and our high school years were right out of “Happy Days.” Football and basketball games were major events for the North Miami community, and for pizza and awesome garlic rolls, a place called Marcella’s was our hangout. We seemed oblivious to the outside world, even though we had regular A-bomb drills, and a few older boys had joined the Army and been sent to Korea.
In my senior year, I had begun to model, and occasionally did some work on some of the early local television shows. I had won a scholarship to the University of Miami, but shortly before graduation my father was killed in a construction accident, so instead of going to college I went to work for the Goodyear Tire Co., down on Biscayne Boulevard, and continued to model.
I met and married my husband, Pete Davis, in Miami Shores, where we later built a home and raised our three sons, who all still live in the South Florida area with their children. During our early years in our home we lived through the Cuban missile crisis, and again, there were troop convoys and equipment in Miami. In the 1970s, my husband and I became antique dealers and we did shows for years at Dinner Key Auditorium in Coconut Grove, where I remembered going to watch the Pan American seaplanes land as a very small child.
Slowly Miami began changing from the Miami I grew up in, which was a pretty sleepy area from April until December. It has become a much more diverse, culturally rich city, with so much more to offer than just sun and surf. I have been fortunate enough to travel and see other places, but always love coming back here. There is nowhere else quite like it.
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