As a 16-year-old boy, traveling alone, I first met Miami in 1942 as I stepped off the train at the railroad station just north of the Dade County Courthouse, on the way to visit my girlfriend in Santa Clara, Cuba.
Flying to Cuba during World War II required me to check in the day before at the Pan American ticket office at the corner of Flagler and Biscayne Boulevard. Passengers had to deposit their luggage there for the next day’s flight so it could be searched by the Army.
The next morning, we 19 passengers assembled in a Pan Am jitney bus, which drove us to Northwest 36th Street, then to the runway behind the small airport terminal to board the two-propeller plane, with one passenger on each side of the aisle that slanted down to the small tail wheel.
The night before boarding, I rented a room at the Royalton Hotel, on Southeast First Street, for $3 for the night. I began to explore fascinating Miami. I watched a professor giving free lectures on astrology and selling his horoscopes on Biscayne Boulevard and Southeast First Street. I smelled fresh doughnuts at the Mayfair doughnut shop and the hot dogs at Howard Johnson’s.
I heard a band playing at the Bayfront Park bandshell. Two blocks north on Biscayne Boulevard, I watched people dancing to the sounds of an orchestra playing on the roof of the Columbus Hotel. Hungrily, I continued north on the Boulevard to Eighth Street where Pan Am had told me Manning’s Seafood Grill had the best seafood dinner in Miami for $1.50. After dinner, the salty, sweet smell of fresh fish lured me across the Boulevard to watch the fishing vessels arrive at the municipal docks (now Bayside) and sell their day’s catch to the waiting public.
The next day, I was off to Cuba to visit my girlfriend, Emily Iznaga. Her father, a doctor in Santa Clara, Cuba, wanted his family to learn English by attending a typical American school in a town where no one spoke Spanish.
He chose Daytona Beach where my family had just moved. I met Emily in the registration line the first day in the ninth grade. I was smitten and the rest is history. When World War II started, fearing future difficulties in traveling, her father called the family back to Cuba. Thus, my trip to Cuba in 1942! Visits continued, but soon I was off to the Air Force.
In 1948, after the war, Emily and I were married in Santa Clara, Cuba, and moved to Miami. We moved into a brand-new apartment on Red Road at Southwest 77th Street, where four city blocks of apartments were being finished for returning war veterans.
I graduated from the University of Miami under the GI Bill in 1950.After graduating, I became deeply involved in Miami as a realtor-developer and federal trustee for major real-estate bankruptcies. In 1950, home prices were $25 per square foot.
To be closer to my office downtown, Emily and I moved to a 2/1 in the Roads section of Miami, and later to Natoma Street in Coconut Grove. When, in the 1970s, the first house in Miami was sold for $1 million, we toasted the event, but also thought who in their right mind would pay $1 million for a house!
Emily and I, with our three small children, Eric, Vicki and Ronald, would go to ride ponies downtown, where the Omni Hotel was later built. We went to childrens’ Saturday matinees, and in the evenings, to the Tropicare Drive-in Theater on Bird Road where the three children, brought in their pajamas, soon fell asleep and we parents had the short time alone we seldom had.
In the summer, we swam in the lagoon at Matheson Hammock, the Shenandoah public pool, Crandon Park with its zoo, Ferris wheel and roller skating rink, or in the freezing waters of the Venetian Pool, which had originally been built from a rock pit.
Emily died young and Geraldine Griffin, whom I later married, became the second mother of our three children, plus a new sister, Nadia. Gerry, a native Miamian, remembers, as a child, sleeping during hurricanes in the ice plant at the corner of Southwest 37th Avenue and U.S. 1- what a cool shelter!
In 1971 Gerry and I, the four children and “Mama,” their grandmother, moved to Rock Reef on South Bayshore Drive, opposite a mangrove thicket that was the shoreline of Biscayne Bay. Our family loves living in and being a part of Miami – a multilingual dynamo poised for the future.