It is hard to believe that I have called Miami home for over 35 years. Actually I am just another transplanted Ohioan who landed in South Florida. Yet each time I cross over any of the causeways to Miami Beach, I tend to believe that this was all part of a master plan.
My story begins about 60 years ago when I spent my first summer on Miami Beach. My mother, Belle Cohen of Pittsburgh, had married my father, Donald Maslov of Cincinnati, in 1946. He had just returned from his tour of duty in Europe.
They lived in Cincinnati, where dad owned a grocery store. My sister Cheri was born in 1947, I was born in 1949, and my baby sister Gayle was born in 1957. Dad worked long hours and each summer mom would pack us up for our yearly visit to our grandmother’s apartment on Miami Beach.
My grandmother, Dora Cohen, was a widower who lived with her two unmarried sons, my uncles Joe and Mickey. They had left the harsh winters of Pittsburgh in 1946 and settled in Miami Beach, where they lived in a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor at The El Amigo Apartments, 1138 Euclid Ave.
When we arrived for our summer visit, our uncles would move to the Blackstone and Tides hotels so there was enough room in the tiny apartment for us. My mother taught me to swim and dive off the diving boards at the Blackstone pool. In the mornings after breakfast, Grandma Cohen would don her “schmata” dress, rolled up stockings and orthopedic shoes and off we would head for the beach. First we stopped to visit the firemen at the Washington Avenue fire station and then off to the Fifth Street beach.
A special day was spent shopping on Lincoln Road where Grandma Cohen would treat us to a new summer party dress and party shoes to match. I remember the time when, as little girls dressed up in our finest dresses, we were taken to the opening of the Fontainebleau Hotel in 1954. We rode the bus up Collins Avenue to the Fontainebleau. I can clearly recall the blistering foot pain caused by my new party shoes and how I threw up chocolate pudding in the lobby of this swanky hotel!
Uncle Joe was a pharmacist at Roberts Drug Store on West Flagler Street. Roberts Drugs was owned by the Stern Family and was open 24 hours a day. At night we would visit Uncle Joe, where he treated us to soda, candy and comic books from the store. As the Cuban population moved in, Uncle Joe would delight us with his version of “Spanglish” and treated us to the sweet smelling lavender soap bars.
Uncle Joe and Uncle Mickey took us to all of the tourist attractions -Flamingo Park, Monkey Jungle, the Seaquarium, and our favorite, Tropical Hobbyland on Northwest 27th Avenue, where we were thrilled by the alligator wrestling shows, the Indian Village, and the monkey colony.
Uncle Mickey’s day job was as a commercial sign painter. His signs could be seen in the storefronts up and down Washington Avenue and all over the Beach.
But his real love was his work as an entertainer. As the Amazing Maurice, Marc Owen, Dr. Maurice and so many other aliases, he was a birthday party clown, a cartoonist, a magician and later a self-taught hypnotist. Every clown and magician act needed a good assistant so during the summers, Cheri and I were trained to be his helpers with the rabbits, birds, scarves and other magic tricks. Uncle Mickey regularly charmed the children at Variety Children’s Hospital. He loved seeing their smiles with his clown and magician acts.
Uncle Mickey performed as the opening act for the top entertainers at the Miami Beach hotel nightclubs in the 1950s and 60s. He always managed to have his picture taken with the entertainers. He would then sketch a quick caricature of the performer and mail the picture to him or her. Our memory boxes are stuffed with black-and-white photos of Jack Benny, George Jessel, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason, Jayne Mansfield, Ed Sullivan, Nat King Cole, Eddie Fisher, Red Skelton and Bob Hope. We have a signed photo of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco, along with an autographed cloth dinner napkin from the Creek Club also signed by the princess. When Uncle Mickey sent her the photo, she replied with a handwritten note of thanks.
In 1961, Grandma Cohen returned to Pittsburgh for her final days, and the uncles moved “uptown” to a two-bedroom apartment at 1030 Venetian Way on the Venetian Causeway. When Cheri and I would come to Miami during spring break , we would kiss the uncles hello, put down our luggage and run off to see our friends and their families, who were vacationing at the Castaways, The Newport Beach and Colonial Hotels in Sunny Isles Beach.
The uncles made sure we always ate right – Corkys, The Famous, Wolfies 21, Rascal House, Pumperniks, Biscayne Cafeteria , The Red Coach Grill and the Roney Plaza Pub, where the soup, salad and roast beef was the big hit. With change coming to Miami Beach, they put a deposit down on a condo unit at the Belle Towers, a new building under construction on the Venetian Causeway. Unfortunately, Uncle Mickey died of a heart attack and Uncle Joe died shortly later of leukemia. The family sold off the condominium and so ended the Miami Beach visits.
As fate will have it, my sister Cheri, her husband Ron and 2-month old son, Michael, left Cleveland in 1974 to relocate in sunny Hollywood. A year later, I ended up on their couch when I moved to sunny South Florida. A friend fixed me up with a Miamian, Allan Lipp. We were married in North Miami in 1978. We still live in Palmetto Bay, where we raised our three children, Jeff, David and Ally.
In 1980, my parents moved to Delray Beach, where they enjoyed their final days. Although I began in Cincinnati, I have lived most of my life in South Florida. So with sand in my shoes, this is my home and I have come full circle!