Work Title: Miami Beach Memories: A Nostalgic Chronicle of Days Gone
Work Author(s): Joann Biondi
Globe Pequot Press
50 b/w photographs, 192 pages, Hardcover $24.95
Reviewer: Morton Teicher
Long before South Beach became a famous international tourist destination, Miami Beach was a renowned entertainment center, filled with celebrities, gaudy hotels, gamblers, restrictions, prejudice, and racism. Decade by decade, from the 1920s through the 1960s, the story of Miami Beach's rise and fall is told in this book through the eyes of its residents and visitors. The author interviewed more than a hundred people, and her book is replete with well-chosen excerpts from those interviews. Her informants are listed in a "cast of characters" with biographical information about each one.
Miami Beach is "a tiny spit of sand barely fifteen miles long and a mile wide." Two "visionaries," John Collins and Carl Fisher, cleaned up the barrier island to turn it into a "self-contained playground for the rich." As the population grew from 600 to 15,000 in the 1920s, Miami Beach "was a WASP-controlled island where Old Money ruled" and anti-Semitism prevailed. Jews were barred from hotels and restricted to a tiny ghetto, now known as South Beach. Destruction caused by the hurricane of 1926 wreaked havoc on the real estate boom. During the Depression of the 1930s, developers built pastel-colored hotels that became known as the Art Deco architectural style. Jews, Irish Catholics, and Blacks experienced severe discrimination, although many of the investors were Jewish. Perhaps the best-known resident those days was notorious gangster Al Capone. Visitors included Amelia Earhart, Damon Runyon, Calvin Coolidge, Al Jolson, Charles Lindbergh, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
During the 1940s, Miami...