In 1904 my family moved to Miami in horse and buggies from Gillette on the west coast of Florida.
Gillette is my mother’s family name; her family owned citrus groves and cattle. I have a certificate from the Florida State Genealogical Society certifying that I am a Florida Pioneer Descendant of the Gillette Family, who settled in Florida before Florida became a state. The certificate is dated March 3, 1845, certificate No. 515.
My paternal grandfather, Felix Travis Janes, was known as one of the best managers of packinghouses in Florida. He managed the packinghouse located on what is now South Greenway Drive and Castile Avenue (a sign is on the corner). This packinghouse was for Merrick Farms, owned by the Rev. Solomon Merrick and his son George, the founder of Coral Gables.
During the summer my grandfather was in charge of security during the building of the Dade County Courthouse and Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.
My mother, born 1899, wrote two books about growing up during the beginning of the 20th century in Miami. On Jan. 1, 1918, she married a Marine lieutenant stationed in Miami during World War I. They had two sons, my brother who was born in 1919, and me, born in 1922.
We lived on Biscayne Boulevard and Northwest 54th Street across from the Cushman School, which my brother attended. In 1926 Miami was hit by a devastating hurricane that blew the roof from our home. The water from Biscayne Bay came up to our windows.
A huge German freighter, the Prinz Valdemar, was blown almost to Biscayne Boulevard. It could not be moved so it was converted to a huge aquarium, which I visited many times.
That hurricane in 1926 preceded the 1929 stock market crash and the country fell into the Great Depression of the 1930s. Miami suffered greatly because there were no industries, no air conditioning for hotels and office buildings.
Unemployment was at 30 percent. Foreclosures were more common than today. My mother used to say that she knew of millionaires one day who were paupers the next day.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the country began arming for an all-out World War, which put people to work in factories manufacturing airplanes and tanks for war. This helped the economy. I was discharged from the Navy in March 1946 after three years in the service.
When I returned to Miami, there was a shortage of housing and automobiles, so both of these industries did well for a few years. Many of the G.I.s who were stationed in Florida stayed after their discharge from the service.
The new Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables closed right after the hurricane and it was converted into a military hospital during World War II.
I am 89 years old and I have seen many changes. Coral Gables and Miami still attract many big investors who have confidence in future growth due to our strategic location with respect to South America and the Miami International Airport, the beaches and tourist attractions.
Editor’s note: The Coral Gables Museum has the Robert and Marian Fewell Wing named after the author.