Think Miami Beach. Think bronze-sculpted bodies, basking in the sun. Think gyms, personal trainers and plant-based diets.
It was 1935; the year Bernard McFadden signed a 33-year lease on the Oceanfront Deauville Beach Hotel at Collins Avenue and 67th Street. His Physical Culture Hotel in Dansville, N.Y. was so successful that he decided to expand, which is what brought our family to Miami Beach in 1936.
It seemed everyone in our family worked for McFadden at the Physical Culture training school in New York. Our grandfather, John Bruce Esplin, traveled from Scotland, graduated from Kent College of Law in Chicago, then became one of the managers. His wife, our grandmother Mazie McIntyre Esplin, supervised the spa, while great-grandmother Lillian McIntyre worked in the diet kitchen. Uncle Paul and Uncle Junior also worked for McFadden.
Aunt Lainey – Elaine Esplin David – talks of the early days arriving in the capital of sun and fun. She attended Ida M. Fisher Junior High, graduated from Miami Beach High, and attained a business degree at the University of Miami.
Our father, Lainey’s older brother, Bruce M. Esplin, would visit his family at the hotel, whenever possible, while attending medical school at Cornell. He fell in love with the sand, surf and climate. He worked part time for McFadden on his breaks in the health clinic, and enjoyed his days off swimming in the world’s largest saltwater pool.
Bruce served as a major in the Army, returning to New York after the war to specialize in dermatology. He dreamed of returning to set up practice one day in Florida. Miami had won his heart, as had his new bride, Beatrice Lavina Wheat Esplin, a nurse he met during his residency.
Upon moving to Miami, Daddy set up practice in downtown Miami. We had a bird’s eye view from his office windows, watching many an Orange Bowl Parade weave its way through the streets of downtown.
Daddy immersed himself into his new community. He was a founding member of the University Of Miami School of Medicine, where he later became a clinical professor of dermatology, honored for over 30 years of service.
Our first home was on Blue Road in Coral Gables. We lunched in Burdines Hibiscus Tea Room (where a beverage was 10 cents and a clown or snow princess sundae could be had for a quarter!) Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor on Miracle Mile was the place to go for the “Kitchen Sink” and Allen’s drug store for a “Cherry Smash” and a nickel candy bar. The Miracle Theater hosted the Summer Movie Club, where admission was 6 RC bottle Caps. Coral Gables Methodist was our place for worship, choir, Sunday school lessons, and later our weddings!
All four of us daughters were Girl Scouts; our mother Beatrice was the Troop Leader. Our meetings were at the Girl Scout Little House in South Miami; we swatted many a mosquito at Camp Mahatchee.
Birthdays were at Crandon Park Zoo, the Seaquarium, and Popeye Playhouse with Skipper Chuck! We were Coral G Rangers, members of the Museum of Science, took ceramic lessons at the Miami Art Museum, bowling lessons at the Bowl O Mat and riding lessons at the Coral Gable Riding Academy.
Chattering teeth at the Venetian Pool. Sailing lessons at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club. Picnics at Matheson Hammock and Cape Florida.
Shedding my ugly saddle shoes for pumps to attend Madame Butterfly at the Coconut Grove Playhouse. My sister and cousin in dresses and high heels seeing the Beatles in concert at the Jackie Gleason Theater! The Serpentarium. Tropicare and Dixie Drive-Ins.
We moved to Kendall, when Kendall Drive was a dirt road. We watched as Dadeland Mall was built. We played by the Dragon Fountain, ate French fries at Kresge’s 5 & 10, Venetian ices at Ferris Groves and smelled the expensive leather purses at Ronna’s.
I graduated from Jackson Memorial Hospital School of Nursing, became a pediatric nurse at Variety Children’s Hospital (my dream job), and married my boyfriend from Killian High, Ike Wehking.
Much of our family has moved, but we have carried on enjoying everything Miami. Our sons, Jonathan and Jason Wehking , took sailing lessons at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, went to summer camp at MetroZoo and baseball camp with Fred Burnside. They joined the Boy Scouts as cubs, and later achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, with Boy Scout Troop 457, meeting at Kendall Church in Pinecrest.
Graduating from Palmetto High, then the University of Central Florida, they continue to call Florida their homes, only now they live in Avalon Park near Orlando. Jonathan married Rebekah Cope in March, and we hope will continue our family’s tradition of a life full of family, community and enjoying the beauty that is South Florida.