The Silver Meteor and the Champion were the two sleek trains that came to Miami from the Northeast in the early 1940s.
My first trip to Miami was with my parents, Harry and Jeanette Levine, and my younger brother, Yale. Leaving Metuchen, N.J., on a drizzly morning in February, we traveled all night, through the Carolinas and Georgia. The next morning we arrived in “God’s Country.”
It sure was a big change: Palm trees and the pink sidewalks that Miami Beach was known for in those early Art Deco days. The rainbow of colors — turquoise, pink, mandarin orange, chartreuse — were beyond belief.
We rolled out of bed and were at the beach in just minutes. On the way back home we would stop at Lee’s Health Bar for a cold piña colada fruit drink or a frosty chocolate malt or milkshake.
My younger brother and I enrolled at Miami Beach High School. My two older brothers were away in the service, one in the Army Air Corps and the other in the Navy. The first few weeks our family stayed at the La Flora Hotel on Collins Avenue. Shortly after we moved to Normandy Isle.
In 1946, our family bought The Neron Hotel at 1110 Drexel Ave. across from the old City Hall, where the cannon still sits as a memorial to our veterans. Now the Miami Beach Police Department and other city offices take up the block. When I pass that area, I think, “What a shame that the Neron did not survive to take its place among the other Art Deco hotels.”
Beach High was great in those days. We were one big family. Carl Wagoner was our principal. Our teachers did a pretty good job of putting a lot of knowledge into these impressionable kids. Most of us went on to become quite successful, including a movie director, state Supreme Court justice, U.S. Treasurer and Army general.
Among the teachers I remember was Helen Davis. Margaret and Anne Gilky (the Gilky sisters), Margaret Roberge and Harold Ruby were a few of the other fine teachers we had at Beach.
On September 1947, on the 14th Street beach, after one of our hurricanes, I met my mermaid and my life changed forever. Eleanor Lieberman (Ellie) was 16 and I was 17. We fell in love and were married in 1952 by Rabbi Irving Lehrman at Temple Emanuel. Ellie lived in Miami and went to Miami High. This was the beginning of our “MacArthur Causeway romance.”
Among my many wonderful memories: My mother used to go to Pier 5 in Miami where Bayside is now to buy fresh fish every day. Ralph Renick, the first TV voice in Miami at Channel 4, would sign off the news every day: “And may the good news be yours.”
Other memories include the Miami News building, Grand Union, Kwick Check, Food Fair, Tropicaire Drive Inn, Jordan Marsh, Riviera Theatre, the Miracle Theatre.
There was the Howard Johnson’s with fried clams and ice cream. The Jackie Gleason show with the June Taylor dancers. Royal Castle hamburgers at 15 cents, birch beer at 5 cents. License tags that had numbers for county size: Dade 1. Liberty 67. And UM football games Friday nights in the Orange Bowl.
In Miami Beach, we had the Cinema Theatre, which is now Mansion. At the Cinema, I was an usher, a doorman and finally an assistant manager during my later years at Beach High and my early years at the University of Miami. I also worked at the Lincoln and Sheridan theaters. The Sheridan was on 41st Street.
I delivered telegrams by bicycle to all the hotels and guests. Because there was no Internet, this was the alternative to snail mail. Yale and I were cabana beach boys at the Delano and National hotels.
This was our Miami Beach: a small town of the 1950s Art Deco area, where life was simple, where you knew most of the people personally and our biggest decisions were over where to go to college.
Some of this dream was shattered temporarily on Sept. 28, 1954, after I received greetings from Uncle Sam: “We Want You.”
I was a graduate of UM, married with one child, at that time, and was in our family’s furniture manufacturing business. This did put a crimp in my future plans for the next 24 months.
But I’m happy to report that I did survive this temporary interruption in my growing family’s plans.