It was 1918 when Ben and Bessie Diamond visited Miami on vacation from Elmira, N.Y.
They fell in love with the city and the people. In 1921, they moved to Miami, driving from Elmira with all five of their children. One of those children became my mother in 1930.
Ben opened an auto-wrecking and used-parts business on Southwest 12th Avenue and Eighth Street as Diamond Auto Parts. He sold that business and opened an oil-refining business on the Miami River and Southwest Sixth Street. That business was prospering when, in 1936, at age 44, Ben died.
Four of those five children graduated from Miami Senior High, at the new building on West Flagler Street and 25th Avenue. Lil Diamond was valedictorian of her class.
Two of the boys got jobs working at the dairy owned by Mr. Ernest (“Cap”) Graham, out in Pennsuco, Fla., in the western part of the county. Sidney Diamond stayed with the dairy for more than 25 years, and Harry Diamond stayed on until World War II interrupted.
I went to Miami Beach elementary and junior high schools, and watched the soldiers marching down the streets when the entire island of Miami Beach became a military base. All of the parks and golf courses became drill fields, the north end of the beach – where the Bal Harbour Shops now stands – became a prisoner-of-war camp, and on the ocean side there was a firing range.
At Miami Beach Senior High, I played and lettered in four sports: football, basketball, baseball and track. In 1948, I was given an award as the most outstanding athlete in the history of Miami Beach High. No one had ever done that before and, as of now, it hasn’t been repeated.
During the war years, food and gasoline were rationed, and it was good if you were personal friends with the butcher so you’d be able to get just a little more meat for your family. Since Uncle Sidney worked for Graham’s Dairy. He couldn’t be drafted because dairy businesses were considered an essential industry. The dairy trucks were entitled to extra gasoline; in that way, I got a little for my motorbike.
As a teenager, it was mandatory to head to the 14th Street beach on Saturday and Sunday. The girls were all in one-piece bathing suits that had short legs and went all the way up to the neck in front. We set down our blankets and turned on the battery radio to listen to the “Pepsi-Cola” all-day music on Saturday.
There was no trouble parking if you had a car, because very few people had a car. Most people took a bus wherever they needed to go. I remember bunches of us taking a bus over to Miami to the Greyhound bus station with all of our picnic stuff with us, and then taking the Greyhound all the way to Ojus, in North Miami, where we spent the day at Greynolds Park. There was no mosquito control then, so sometimes we came home all eaten up.
When it came time to go to college, most of us chose the University of Florida in Gainesville. How did we get there? Again, it was a Greyhound bus, for about $7, or you could take the Seaboard Railway from Miami to Waldo, Fla., and hitchhike into Gainesville. So many of us chose UF because the tuition was only $75 per semester for a Florida high school graduate, and a dorm room was just $50 per semester. The burger basket at the CI was $0.39 with fries and slaw. For those who had a car in Gainesville, gas was only $0.29 a gallon, but the Blue Sunoco station in downtown Gainesville had a special on Saturday mornings: seven gallons for $1.
If only Ben could have lived another 10 years. When he died it was necessary to sell off all of the land he had owned to support Bessie and five children and one grandchild. Forty acres on the corner of two unpaved dirt roads – one named Galloway and the other South Kendall Drive. The whole 40 acres sold for $400.
Back then, a whole city block on the ocean and 25th Street in Miami Beach sold for $10,000. Ben, you died too young, and too soon.