Hard to imagine by looking at it now, but Kendall Drive — home of Dadeland Mall, countless retail establishments, homes and gated communities, Baptist Hospital, and miles of asphalt ribbons — once was the “Road to Nowhere.”
Snakes and other critters lay claim to the grounds, which, even into the mid-1970s, crunched under foot since they were surrounded by the Everglades.
Developer Clifford Suchman, who died Feb. 6 at 83, envisioned a flurry of activity here — the future.
The road, of course, is now here.
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“He used to drive us out in his Cadillac and hit 100 miles-per-hour and we thought it was the greatest thing,” his son Lawrence Suchman said, remembering the days when Dad would whisk the family west along the roads, passing strawberry fields (some of which still exist, like on 136th and Kendall.) Once out on the edge of civilization, young Suchman, who is now president of his father’s company, Suchman Retail Group, would ask his pop if they were way out in the sticks, say around 154th Avenue or some high number.
“‘No, that was 117th,’” his father would reply, “where Town & Country [mall] is, before the turnpike was built.”
Suchman soon envisioned a “Downtown Dadeland” neighborhood, which, in October 1962, originated with the opening of Dadeland Mall and, years later, the addition of a series of towering mixed use buildings across the street.
Suchman was born in the Bronx on Dec. 30, 1931, and at 15 moved to Miami and was graduated from Miami Senior High School. After earning his degree in real estate in 1954 at the University of Florida, he won a scholarship award presented by the Keyes Co.
That’s when Kendall spoke to him — but why, only he really knew.
“I know it started right off the bat,” his son said. Keyes asked Suchman to pick the office he would like to work out of, suggesting two openings, one in the Homestead office, the other in Miami Beach. Suchman asked for the Kendall branch. No opening.
‘“I’ll take Homestead, it’s closer to Kendall,’ he said. For some reason, I don’t know why, he just saw the potential growth west. He had a vision right out of college, that early, that was just innate to him. He went on to prove that innate sense in so many ways,” his son said.
Lawrence Suchman chuckles over what happened soon after.
“Cute story. He told me one day they called him and said there was an opening in Kendall and did he want to go? He whistled all the way home. He just saw it. He knew.”
In the early 1960s, Suchman joined the Toast Masters of Miami where he met Jack Pyms and the two started Pyms-Suchman Real Estate Co. to focus on brokerage, investment, development including land, warehouses, apartments and shopping centers.
For a while Suchman, a sports fan, owned two Biscayne Bay islands, #4 and #5 in the Ragged Keys, a group of islands in the upper Florida Keys, and ran a yachting club for a time there. “He did things for fun and profit. If he was not having fun, he didn’t do it,” his son said.
Other business endeavors included the Shane-Suchman Real Estate Co. and Suchman Retail Group in Coral Gables where he lived. Along with his partners, Suchman donated 23 acres of land where the Dave and Mary Alper Jewish Commmunity Center of Kendall now sits. He was chairman of the building committee that oversaw the construction of the library and gym at Temple Beth Am and was a supporter of the Miami Jewish Federation.
“He was really one of those your-word-is-your-bond kind of guys. He really had his eye on what was important, which was family, enjoying life. He loved real estate but it had to be smooth. He was the KISS method: ‘Keep it simple, stupid.’”
Suchman is survived by his wife of 57 years, Elizabeth; children Daniel, Lawrence, Steven and Pamela; grandchildren Michael, Hanna, Sam and Ruby and sister Elaine Shane. Services were held.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.