Coconut Grove

Did Jim Morrison unzip here? A look back at the wild days of the Dinner Key Auditorium

Dinner Key Auditorium
Dinner Key Auditorium Miami Herald File

Miami’s cavernous Dinner Key Auditorium overlooking the marina was a famous location for concerts, including the 1969 performance by the Doors that led to Jim Morrison’s arrest for exposing himself.

The building, which was originally one of Pan Am’s airplane hangars, was later renamed the Coconut Grove Convention Center.

After decades of hosting exhibitions, graduations, parties, concerts and political rallies, the building was demolished in 2014.

Here is a look back at the auditorium in words and pictures through the archives of the Miami Herald.

FLASHBACK MIAMI: Photos of the Dinner Key Auditorium through the years

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Jim Morrison leaves courtroom. The lead singer of the Doors was on trial, accused of lewd and lascivious behavior, drunkenness, profanity and indecent exposure during a concert at Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami in 1969. Bill Sanders Miami Herald File / 1970

THE DOORS

Published March 1, 2006

The year: 1969. The place: Coconut Grove’s old Dinner Key Auditorium. The headliner: the legendary rock band The Doors and their outlandish lead singer Jim Morrison.

By all accounts, the performance 37 years ago today was forgettable - a lousy concert, some called it. Except for Morrison’s stage antics.

The long-haired and bearded Morrison, then 25, exposed himself, briefly rolling down his beltless leather pants and simulating masturbation before a raucous crowd of fans - or so the authorities alleged.

Morrison followers, along with fans at the infamous Miami concert, say the rock star did nothing illegal.

“Nowadays, we would call it a wardrobe malfunction,” said Donald Bierman, 65, one of Morrison’s two Miami attorneys, who assisted the singer’s Beverly Hills lawyer, Max Fink.

Bierman’s theory: “I think he feigned exposing himself.”

Miami police charged Morrison with indecent exposure and other related offenses, setting in motion a legal battle that pitted prosecutors from a then conservative Southern city with a hard-partying rock icon at the peak of his success.

Neither Morrison nor Miami would ever be the same.

The Doors concert on March 1, 1969, had been highly anticipated by local teens, but the Miami Herald mentioned it only in passing.

Tickets were $6 in advance, $7 at the door. The band expected to play for 6,000 people for a $25,000 fee. But promoter Kenneth Collier, who ran Thee Image concert hall in Miami Beach, oversold the event, Morrison’s camp claimed. Collier, who has since died, publicly blamed Morrison.

At showtime, 10,600 kids jammed the hall; thousands more milled about outside. Morrison was late after missing a Los Angeles-to-Miami flight. He began drinking, recalled the band’s then-manager William Siddons in a telephone interview from California.

“Jim was always drunk; that was nothing unusual,” said Siddons, who accompanied Morrison to Miami.

It was supposed to be a homecoming of sorts for Morrison. Born in Melbourne, the son of an admiral, he attended St. Petersburg Junior College and Florida State University before heading west to launch his poet-as-rock-star career.

Things unraveled quickly on stage. Morrison started and stopped in mid song. He peppered the crowd with questions, obscene requests and four-letter words. He called for a revolution among the spectators. The audience grew angry, hurling insults. Morrison finally asked: “Do you want to see my c--?”

Miami Beach teen David LeVine, now 56, was at the foot of the stage with his camera. “I had come expecting to shoot a baby-faced Morrison and was disappointed to find he had a bushy beard and you could hardly tell it was him,” he said.

One of LeVine’s pictures, later presented in court, showed Morrison with his hand near the crotch of his pants. “Never saw him expose himself, though,” LeVine said.

Not true, said Theodore Jendry, 59, one of 30 off-duty Miami officers at the concert. “He pulled out his business and started whirling it,” said the retired Jendry, of Deerfield Beach. “He should have been arrested right there.”

Siddons, the band’s manager, said Morrison knew he had gone too far. On the limo ride back to a Miami Beach hotel, Siddons remembered Morrison telling him: “’Uh, oh, I might have exposed myself out there.”

“He didn’t do it for prurient reasons. It was theater,” Siddons said. “But it happened in Florida, a real black and white state, and it was the South.”

Following the concert, Morrison and his band went on vacation to Jamaica. Meanwhile, the backlash against him in Miami picked up steam. Radio stations briefly stopped playing, Light My Fire, Hello, I Love You and Touch Me.

Then came the decency rally at the Orange Bowl. Backed by the Archdiocese of Miami, local teens organized the event and drew 30,000 people. Among them: singer and Florida native Anita Bryant. Even President Richard Nixon called to congratulate the organizers.

Four days after the concert, six warrants on obscenity charges were issued for Morrison, who eventually surrendered to the FBI in Los Angeles.

Morrison’s trial ran from mid-August to late September. The year: 1970. The place: the Metro Justice Building. Fans packed the courtroom.

Morrison was defended by Fink, who has since died, and local attorneys Robert Josefsberg and Bierman. The prosecution team, led by Assistant State Attorney Terry McWilliams, had three future judges: Ellen Morphonios, Alfonso Sepe and Leonard Rivkind.

Now retired, Rivkind, 79, recalled the state had a solid case. “We had a number of witnesses who testified they saw him do it,” he said.

But at least one concertgoer, a prosecution witness, has changed his story. Karl Huffstutlear, 56, then 19, was among a handful of witnesses who testified that Morrison exposed himself.

Reached by the Miami Herald at his Lake Placid, Fla., home, Huffstutlear said: “I didn’t see anything come out of his drawers. To me, it’s still a mystery what happened.” Huffstutlear, a retired Fort Lauderdale electrician, went to the concert with his then fiancée, now ex-wife, Colleen Clary, whose brother-in-law was one of the off-duty officers. Clary tearfully testified that Morrison exposed himself. She could not be reached for comment.

Morrison took the stand, but didn’t help his defense with his sassy attitude.

Witness the exchange between Morrison and prosecutor McWilliams.

McWilliams asked if the singer wore skintight, tailor-made “cowhide” pants to “give maximum exposure of your genital area? . . . Yes or no?”

Morrison: “No.”

McWilliams: “Isn’t it a fact you were bumping into your instruments [because you were drunk on stage]?”

Morrison: “I don’t play an instrument. I don’t even get near them.”

McWilliams: “Your singing that night, wasn’t it off?”

Morrison: “I’m sure that you are aware that that is just a matter of opinion.”

The jury convicted Morrison of only two misdemeanors: indecent exposure and open profanity, and acquitted him of a more serious felony charge and other misdemeanors.

“He wouldn’t be convicted today or even charged,” said attorney Josefsberg, now 67. “You hear worse language today in rap songs.”

At a sentencing hearing Oct. 30, 1970, Circuit Judge Murray Goodman told the singer his acts amounted to “utter contempt for our institutions and heritage.” The punishment: six months in jail and a $500 fine.

“Jail - that’s a bad place,” Morrison told reporters outside the courtroom.

Morrison appealed and was released on $50,000 bond.

But the conviction proved a fatal blow to Morrison and his band. Promoters shunned them, fearing more X-rated stage antics. The band stayed in the studio, performing just one last concert in New Orleans.

Morrison moved to Europe - to reinvent himself as a poet. On July 3, 1971 - less than a year after the Miami trial - he was found dead in a bathtub in a Paris apartment, the victim of an apparent heart attack. His Miami conviction was still under appeal.

For Siddons, who still manages rock bands, the Doors appearance in Miami represented a sad chapter in its storied rise to the top of the music industry.

“The Miami concert was pretty much the end of the Doors as we knew them,” he said.

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Demolition on the aging Coconut Grove Convention Center began, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. Peter Andrew Bosch Miami Herald File

THE END

Published Nov. 6, 2013

Demolition on the aging Coconut Grove Convention Center, site of a future park, began in earnest on Tuesday.

The center’s studio had been used for seven seasons by USA Network’s show ‘Burn Notice,’ which aired its series finale in September.

Miami has said it would offer $10 million to a developer willing to build and operate a new production studio on city-owned land near Overtown.

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Scott Grasso begins the bidding wars as Burn Notice began auctioning off the props from its spy series on Tuesday morning, Aug. 27, 2013 at the Coconut Grove Convention Center. EMILY MICHOT Miami Herald File

BURN NOTICE

Published Aug. 3, 2012

The producers of the cable television spy series Burn Notice and Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff have reached a tentative compromise that would enable the show to film a seventh season in Coconut Grove, the commissioner said Thursday.

Fittingly, it would involve a huge explosion.

Sarnoff has wanted to tear down the old Coconut Grove Convention Center, where Burn Notice has filmed for the past six years, to make room for a waterfront park.

But the producers begged to stay on the city-owned property, and even offered to spend more than their $240,000 annual rent to do so.

After a tense meeting at City Hall last week, Sarnoff made Burn Notice an offer: The show can stay at the convention center through October 2013 rent-free - but only if it demolishes the building at the end of the season and carts away the rubble. The demolition, which will cost about $500,000, would have otherwise eaten into the $1.8 million budgeted for the park, Sarnoff said.

Sarnoff said the proposal was “well received.” He envisions the explosion being written into the show.

“How cool would it be for them to blow up the convention center in the last episode?” he said.

The deal must go before the City Commission for final approval. It also needs a thumbs-up from the show’s parent company, Fox Television Studios.

Producer Terry Miller declined to comment Thursday.

Bob Lemchen, Fox’s head of production, said he was not aware of any deals, but that he was “optimistic” the show and the city would reach an agreement soon.

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Demolition on the aging Coconut Grove Convention Center began, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. Peter Andrew Bosch Miami Herald File

Burn Notice has yet to be picked up for a seventh season on the USA network, but the producers are hopeful. They reached out to city commissioners last month to begin negotiating an extra year on their lease.

The request met resistance from Sarnoff, who insisted he was ready to move forward with the park. Sarnoff pointed out that the $1.8 million for the project - from grant money and Burn Notice rent payments - had already been set aside, and that Grove residents have been asking for a park for years.

The green space is part of the Coconut Grove Master Plan, which was developed by residents, business owners and city planners from 2005 to 2008. It seeks to open up access to the waterfront with parks and public plazas.

Burn Notice moved into the convention center as the master plan was being created. The television show never planned to stay for seven years, but its producers sought lease extensions each year the show was renewed.

The annual debate between park supporters and Burn Notice supporters has been contentious.

Advocates for the show say Burn Notice has brought coveted film industry jobs to South Florida, and that the cast and crew pump money into Coconut Grove’s economy.

Supporters of the park are adamant that the convention center is an eyesore. They also resent the city for leasing prime waterfront property for so little rent.

Last week, city commissioners suggested Burn Notice relocate to a soundstage in the Wynwood neighborhood.

But Lemchen said the show was built around filming in Coconut Grove - and threatened to leave Miami-Dade County if the lease were not renewed.

Should the commission approve the compromise, Burn Notice could literally go out with a bang at the end of its seventh season.

“There no downside to keeping this show here for another year,” said Fabio Arber, a line producer for reality television shows who lives in South Florida. “It’s a no-brainer.”

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Gary Nader, the producer of Contemporanea, walked through resin sculptures that will eventually be cast in bronze by Mexican artist Javier Marin, on display at the Coconut Grove Convention Center in Coconut Grove on Friday, December 6, 2002. Nader owns the Gary Nader Fine Art gallery in Coral Gables. Miami Herald File / 2002

A BASH FOR BASHERS

Published Nov. 17, 1997

Even for Miami City Hall, it was a surreal scene.

A post-election, predawn Friday party took place in front of the well-guarded doors of Dinner Key Auditorium, while the loser in Thursday’s mayoral election -- Joe Carollo -- packed boxes to make way for new guy Xavier Suarez.

Most everyone had a grudge to bear against Carollo.

It was an eclectic list of taunters.

Huddled in a subgroup of the 40-some revelers was an embittered clique of staffers who came and went during Carollo’s 15-month tenure: ex-chief of staff Arlene DiBenigno, ex-scheduler Cesar Gonzalez and ex-administrative assistants Nora Agudo, Marie Bell, Aurora de Posada, Patricia Gonzalez and Teresa Gyori.

Making merry as she waved a Xavier-Suarez-for-Mayor sign:

Maria Antonieta Odio, who blames Carollo for the troubles befalling her hubby, ex-City Manager Cesar Odio. He was a no-show at the post-election gala, given his previous engagement with a federal prison cell for his guilty plea to obstructing last year’s Operation Greenpalm probe into city corruption.

Ex-City Hall lobbyist Jorge de Cardenas, however, was not one to let a guilty plea keep him from the party.

He arrived with his wife at what will be one of their last parties together for a while. On Oct. 24, a judge handed de Cardenas -- also pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in the Greenpalm case -- a one-year sentence. He said he’ll check into federal prison Dec. 1.

The impromptu party had it all.

It had drink: the ex-Carollo staffers cracked open champagne.

It had dance: dozens line-danced to a campaign-ad version of the Macarena .

It had song: “Ding dong, the witch is dead” and “Nah nah nah nah. . . Nah nah nah nah. . . hey-hey, goodbye,” were the lyrics of choice.

It also had celebrity Carollo-haters.

Cuban American National Foundation President Francisco “Pépe” Hernandez came. His bad blood with the ex-mayor goes back years, when Foundation chair Jorge Mas Canosa challenged the then-Commissioner Carollo to a duel.

Also arriving was WSCV-Channel 51 General Manager Jose Cancela.

Cancela has been warring with Carollo throughout the campaign. They even debated once on a Spanish-language radio station. Cancela arrived at about midnight Friday — all smiles — then left soon after a reporter asked him about his presence in the Carollo-taunting throng.

“I was around just because my (TV) crew was here and just left,” Cancela said, before making his exit.

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Cuban refugees are processed at Dinner Key Auditorium in Dec. of 1962 Ray Fisher Miami Herald File
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