Coming to Miami Beach had been my dream since childhood. I was in my early 20s and had saved enough money to take my vacation there. So in the middle of October 1941, I took a bus from New Jersey. It took three days, and I was dirty and exhausted upon arrival. Even so, going over the MacArthur Causeway to Miami Beach was thrilling.
The bus turned left at Ocean Drive, and I was let out in front of the Miami Beach Hotel, 505 Ocean Dr. I got a room for $5 a week (summer rates). I went swimming every day, and dancing every night. They had speakers on the beach that played beautiful music. I was so enthralled with my surroundings that I quit my job in Jersey and said, “This is where I want to live.”
At night after a date, I would walk barefoot along the shoreline from Fifth to 14th streets and back. I would smell the sweet scent of jasmine, watch the palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze, listen to soft music drifting from the hotels and some nights the moon would rise out of the sea. These are my most precious memories.
The loud speakers on the beach interrupted the music for President Roosevelt to announce that war was declared. This was Dec. 7, 1941. Shortly after, the beach hotels became filled with Army Air Corp soldiers.
The summer season was over and rates had gone way up. Winter season was Dec. 20 to the middle of April. I found a permanent efficiency with a balcony at the Florence Villas for a yearly lease of $50 a month. It had a lovely yard in front, was only three blocks south of Lincoln Road and four blocks west of the beach. I loved it!
My first jobs were waitressing at the Vanderbilt Cabana Club and Pickin Chicken. Then I sang at the Paddock Club. This was before it became what it is today and it had a great live band.
I met and married John Bonanno, staff sergeant and baker for all the soldiers on the beach. We had our first child at The Biltmore in Coral Gables, which the Army had taken over.
After the war, we returned to John’s hometown in Pennsylvania, bought a small bakery, and had three more children. We both missed Miami Beach so much. So we sold the bakery and returned to Miami on March 15, 1959.
John couldn’t find his kind of work that paid enough on the beach, so we settled in South Miami. He worked for various bakeries. We bought our own bakery with another John on Bird Road in Olympia Heights called, The Two J’s Bakeshop. We both worked hard, John baked, and I did all the cake decorating.
John died in January 1993. Although I still miss him, we had almost 50 years together and some of our best times together were in Miami Beach. I recently turned 92. I live in Homestead now with one of my daughters, and I’m so happy to still be living in South Florida.