a Deco Dowager"
led to a
WWII Miami Beach
Dr. Judith S.
many newcomers to Miami Beach, I knew very little of its history. Although
a resident for 25 years, I had grown up in New Jersey and what I knew about
my new hometown was limited to the depiction of Charles Grodin's honeymoon
at the Fontainebleau Hilton in "The Heartbreak Kid." During the 1980s,
while a major revival of the Art Deco District was going on, my attention
was elsewhere. All that changed when my husband and I became partners
in the Hotel Edison and I decided to write a book about the hotel's history.
My original intent was to gather a few interesting facts and print little
pamphlets for the hotel guestrooms. Thus, I began the research phase
of my project.
Internet provided a wealth of information and leads, including Miami Herald
archives where I searched for any articles that mentioned the Edison. I
quickly found that the hotel's architect was Henry Hohauser, one of the
most prolific of the South Beach architects of the Art Deco era, and I
learned the names of a few of the hotel's previous owners. In this way
I began to piece together a bit of the history of our Deco dowager.
visiting local branches of the Miami-Dade Public Library, I continued my
research at the main branch where there is an extensive archive on microfilm
and the Romer Collection of historic photographs. My visit there
yielded articles from early newspapers and copies of original photos of
the Hotel Edison in the 1930s that I immediately purchased to include in
my publication and display in the hotel.
A Herald article
by Allison Klein recalled the World War II years when most of the South
Beach hotels and apartment buildings were taken over by the military for
housing and training headquarters. Thousands of men, including matinee-idol
Clark Gable, invaded
and took over 70,000 hotel rooms.
By the time
the war ended, one-fourth of all Army Air Corps officers and one-fifth
of the enlisted men had been trained at Miami Beach. Klein described
a millenium reunion being planned by a group of the vets who had been stationed
in South Beach. Forrest Clark was quoted in the article as saying
he remembered drinking rum and Cokes at the Hotel Edison.
I was able
to locate Clark and learned that he had actually been stationed in the
Hotel Edison before being shipped overseas. In 1998 he and his wife
had returned to celebrate their wedding
and stayed in the same room that had served as his "barracks" more than
50 years earlier. In an email message Clark shared the following
my final night of WWII training in Miami Beach I walked down to stand in
front of the Edison Hotel and to say a farewell to the beach.
There as I stood before the hotel on Ocean Drive I could look out over
the beach at the moonlit water of the ocean beyond. I thought of
soft gentle things as I knew we were about to go into a hellish war that
would carry me many miles away around the world into battle.
Our ensuing correspondence reminded me that my own
also been stationed in Miami Beach, although my mother could not recall
the name of his hotel/barracks. When she died last year my nephew
Jordan inherited the family photo collection. On a recent visit to
New Jersey, we searched through hundreds of photographs
until we hit pay dirt. In a well-worn photo album we
a carefully prepared chronicle of my father's army days in Florida.
My mother had lovingly collected photos of their early lives attaching
each photo with photo corners (so we could still read the inscriptions
on the backs). There, in my mother's beautiful penmanship,
she had inscribed in white ink on the black pages the following humorous
caption "And so they were married, and honeymooned in Gainesville, Las
Vegas [NM], and Miami courtesy of the U.S. Army Air Corps."
This was how
I discovered that the hotel that had served as my late father's "barracks"
in May of 1943 was the Sheldon, located only a few blocks from the Edison
on the corner of Washington Avenue and 7th Street. He had sent home
one photo of troops marching in formation in front of his "barracks," one
in front of the old stores and restaurants on the 600 block of Washington
In 1935 the entrance to the beach was directly across from the Hotel Edison
of the Romer Collection)
another of him in uniform posing on a bridge over Collins Canal.
According to Carolyn Klepser, a research assistant for the City of Miami
Beach Planning Department, 300 hotels and apartment buildings were used
by the military. Klepser estimates that nearly 200 are still in existence.
I was searching for Hotel Edison anecdotes, I learned that the WWII reunion
committee was in desperate need of local support and a headquarter hotel.
Their wish was immediately a reality. I offered discounted rooms
at the Edison, agreed to help them arrange a welcome reception, told them
I would assist in contacting city officials, and asked
nephew to compile a tape of the music of the period to be piped into the
lobby during the reunion. Thanks to assistance from Bruce Singer
of the Miami Beach
Chamber of Commerce and a long list of willing committee members, we
are now planning a major event for December 3-7, 1999, to honor the WWII
Vets and the City that opened its doors during those bleak years.
The Chamber has created a website for the reunion, participating WWII hotels
and buildings will display banners to welcome the returning vets, and ceremonies
followed by a parade are planned for Pearl Harbor Day.
on the beach in front of the
Edison in 1937
(Photo courtesy of the Romer Collection)
Clark, a retired journalist, and the driving force behind the reunion,
eloquently describes its significance:
Miami Beach is the place where we left youth and
behind and departed on the bloodiest greatest war of history. Miami Beach
is the place where sunshine and ocean left a bright spot in our minds as
we carried on the battle in the blood and sand of the South Pacific, in
the deadly skies over Europe and Japan, in the arctic cold of the Aleutian
Islands and on the beaches of Normandy.
The meaning of all this is that never again should youth be asked to give
up its life of dreams and ambition to fight in wars. The meaning
is that men and women of peace must triumph or we will forever be in the
cycle of war and death.
Beach is a symbol of this hope, this dream for 1000 years of peace. That
is what Miami Beach means to us. It does not mean merely bright sunlight,
pastel colored buildings, art deco designs, warm ocean water and tropical
breezes. It does not mean only Collins Avenue, Lincoln Road and Ocean
Drive, the models and the discos.
It means we return to pledge our faith in the triumph of youth over death.
It should be a place of renewal, rebirth and rededication to the ideals
of peace, harmony and compassion.
I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to my father's memory than for this
daughter of a WWII Miami Beach Vet to help organize the return of the
for the pre-millenium reunion they have been hoping for and the
following year as well. Had my father lived longer than his 46 brief years,
he would be celebrating his 80th
birthday this year. It is still hard for me
to believe that the young men who "got sand in their boots" during that
dreadful period of our nation's history are now
elderly men in their 70s, 80s
and 90s. The reunions were outstanding successes and the vets have asked
that it become an annual event. The Edison Hotel is in all its
glory as the
reunion headquarter hotel, filled with returning veterans and their families
who receive special VIV (Very Important Vet) rates.