Sunday, July 22, 2007

Jimbo's Place- A Genuine, Original Florida Establishment

Jimbo's Place is one of the few old fish shacks left in Miami. It is located on Virginia Key at the entrance to Key Biscayne. James "Jimbo" Luznar opened his bait shop there in 1954 and is still going strong. Jimbo started selling beer and delicious smoked fish shortly thereafter and has been a preferred stop for boaters and beachgoers alike. As a kid, we would go to the beach on the little stretch of beach on the west side of the bridge and then cross over to the Virginia Key side to enjoy Jimbo's smoked fish for lunch. The Virginia Key side was the only beach set aside for the black community in the era of segregation. There were many old fish shacks like Jimbo's in those days, usually located near a popular beach location catering to hungry boaters and beachgoers, but today they are all gone and a distant memory to most old Miamians. Jimbo's is unique in that he offers a great old bocce ball court where visitors can engage in a game while sippin beer and munching on awesome smoked fish fillets! I always worry that sites like Virginia Key will eventually be "gentrified" out of existence. Fortunately, the black community is actively involved in preserving the area's history through the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust to oversee the development of the historic Park property. The Trust has been working diligently to restore and preserve this historical treasure. In August 2002, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and given a Florida Historical Marker. You can visit the Jimbo's PLace website at Better yet, get in your car an take a trip there. There is nothing better on a hot sultry weekend day than a visit to Jimbo's!

Friday, July 20, 2007

The New State Bird- The Miami Crane

Miami Condo Glut Pushes Florida's Economy to Brink of Recession2007-07-20 00:10 (New York)
By Bob Ivry July 20 (Bloomberg) -- In the middle of the biggest glut of condominiums in more than 30 years, Miami developers keep on building. The oversupply will force prices down as much as 30percent, the worst decline since the 1970s, and help push Florida's economy into recession as early as October, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at West Chester, Pennsylvania-based Moody's, who owns a home in Vero Beach, Florida. ``Florida is the epicenter for all the problems that exist in the housing industry,'' said Lewis Goodkin, president of Goodkin Consulting Corp. and a property adviser in Miami for the past 30 years, who also foresees a recession. ``The problems we have now are unprecedented and a lot of people will get burnt.'' Thirty-seven new high-rise condos and 20,000 new units are being built in Miami's 1,040-acre downtown, where sales fell almost 50 percent in May, according to the Florida Association of Realtors. The new units will join the 22,924 existing condos in Miami-Dade County that were for sale in April, according to Jack McCabe, chief executive officer of McCabe Research &Consulting LLC in Deerfield Beach, Florida. That's the most unsold units since McCabe began tracking sales in 2002. ``Have you been to Miami lately?'' Florida Governor Charlie Crist said at a home builders' conference last week in Orlando.``It's like we have a new state bird: the building crane.''

Why is this a Miami Memory? Easy, because we lived a much smaller version of this in the 1970's that took a bunch of banks down with it. However, as one pundit noted in this story, the difference is that in the 70's affordable condos were built that no one wanted to buy while in this version Unaffordable condos are being built that no one wants to buy!

Last Minute Notice-Miami Stadium Documentary

What is there to save?
Friday, July 20th, 2007
7:00 – 9:00 PM
City Hall Chambers, 3500 Pan American Drive, Coconut Grove
Admission is free and open to the public.
White Elephant tells the remarkable story of Miami / Bobby Maduro Stadium - one of South
Florida's most unforgettable architectural icons. The film is a testament to the unyielding common ground that exists in this diverse community. The story of Miami Stadium leads from its pristine field to the jungles of Cuba's Sierra Maestra Mountains; from the hallowed halls of the U.S.Congress to the tumultuous streets of Miami. It is a story that links these seemingly disparate places in a fascinating web of social, political and personal intrigue. It is also a story about a building destined for greatness yet doomed to a future of unrealized potential; of a group of visionaries fueled by the magic of a city where fantasies have always been the common currency; and it is about a teenage boy prematurely thrust into the limelight's uncomfortable glow in a town on theverge of history. "The KIE team, along with Llanes' production company, CANTILEVER Productions, has taken a sprawling and complex story about the intersection of the Old Miami Stadium, the Cuban Revolution, Minor League Baseball, Urban Renewal, Civil Rights and one family's personal tragedies and turned them into a fascinating and curious story. Spanning roughly the entire second half of the 20th Century, "White Elephant" manages to tie all these disparate pieces together." --- Neil Hecker WPBT Channel 2 in Miami
Q & A following the film with Producers and Directors of White Elephant. Arrive early…Limited
seating available in Chambers!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Stone Age Antiques- Nautical Bliss

When I was a teenager, one of the most fun things to do was to drop in to this shop. Back then it was on NW 27th Avenue just before the Miami River bridge. Milton Stone, the owner, was quite a character..a total curmudgeon! His son that now runs the store says he looked like Humpty Dumpty which is pretty accurate. He would always be grousing when we walked in to wander through aisles filled with every form of nautical paraphernalia. He had everything from ship's wheels and anchors in every imaginable size to sponge diving suits, nautical bells, lanterns, portholes, cannons and every other part of a boat you can imagine! We would spend hours picking through all the clutter. One thing Mr. Stone was truly an expert on where Japanese swords that hung over the back of his counter. People would come from all over the world to check his swords out and seek his advice. I remember hearing his very knowledgeable comments as he exhibited them to shoppers. I assumed it had closed long ago! But recently I discovered a blog entry that featured Stone Age now located on the Miami river and run by his son Gary. Go take a look at that has a link to the shop's website. If you can, take a little trip to the shop. You will be impressed!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Old Miami Stadium

Many of you will remember the Old Miami Stadium in Allapatah where we got to watch the Miami Marlins, not the Florida Marlins, and the Baltimore Orioles play in spring training. The Urban Paradise blog has a wonderful entry you should all go see. Like most good things in our memories it was torn down in 2001. A shame really since it had such a nice human scale. You could sit right at field level up close and see how hard the players worked at their game. I have a lot of fond memories going to games there with my Uncle the baseball fanatic and enjoying a glorious summer day or evening watching the great american pastime. Check it out at

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Lewis Vandercar-Miami's Andy Warhol

Many who grew up in Miami in the 50s, 60s and 70s will remember that we had our share of kookie artists and bohemians. One of the best known was Lewis Vandercar who just referred to himself only as Vandercar. Vandercar lived in the Morningside area at 331 NW 18th St., with his wife and two kids son David and daughter Muggins, where he had his studio and home. His home was run like a salon where anyone could come at anytime and visit. Many of the neighborhood kids loved to come and play in the sculptor garden. As an artist, Vandercar painted and sculpted in cement, his garden filled with his statues and his home with his paintings. Vandercar was a mysterious figure that liked to say he was a warlock and a clairvoyant. He called himself "Magus Supreme, pro tem of the Supreme Order of Magi" and someone with mysterious powers, specifically ESP and the power to levitate. He hinted about incarnations and said an alien entered his body as a young man.

However, Vandercar's most interesting quirk was his very funny pranks. He would take out ads in the local newspaper which were very funny. He said he had a pet poltergeist, and then tried to sell it through a classified ad. His classified ads in the Miami Herald were frequent: “Sale: Swamp colored UFO. Must qualify.” “Free Cruise to Bahamas, Bring oar.” “Electric car. $25,000. Extension cord extra.” He sold "roc eggs" in one ad. He said he rediscovered the ancient secret formula to make and impregnate the eggs of rocs, mythological birds. A woman bought the eggs and had them shipped to her Chicago home. Later, Vandercar admitted the eggs were really made of garbage piling up in back of his home. He didn’t want to haul it away, so he covered it in plaster. He didn’t tell the lady, but sent her a check for the shipping costs. VanDercar later explained: “There is some sense of the ridiculous that can be carried to such an extreme that it becomes beautiful. Take the time I predicted that a great extinct primitive bird was going to appear at midnight in the park. The newspapers exposed it as a hoax. Even so, at midnight, 150 people showed up in the park to see the bird. That was beauty.”

Born in Detroit, Vandercar never got beyond 8th grade and entered the Navy during the Depression to help support his family. In the late 1930s, he became an animator, drawing Popeye cartoons from his Miami studio. He entered the Merchant Marine in World War II and later worked as an aircraft engineer. He returned to Miami, where he worked construction jobs and ran a plumbing shop. Then he learned he could make a living from his hobby, painting and sculpting. He decorated an exterior wall of his house with faces of every age and culture, Greek gods, sea monsters, heroines, gargoyles, Moses, faces from Egypt and India and China, and many other places. He also created mountains for resorts and amusement parks, and built a gorilla’s lair for Monkey Jungle in South Dade’s Redlands. In 1971 he built "Annie", a giant dragon, 65 feet long and 35 feet high for a Merritt Island Park. Twenty tons of concrete and steel were brought in to ‘Dragon Point’ by wheelbarrow, as the only access was a wooden boardwalk. He left Miami in 1973 and bought an 14 acre parcel of land in Zephyrhills where he built a dome house of his own design and continued to sculpt and paint In 1984, he returned to Miami for a short while to repaint a reconstructed limestone bridge at Arch Creek Park. He painted the concrete and iron used to rebuild the bridge so it would look like limestone. He was still painting days before his death in 1988.

“He spent 30 years and died doing what he liked,” his son said. “Not many people are able to do that.” Vandercar once said: “Many people think what I do is ridiculous, but not intelligent people. Most people are fearful and they don’t enjoy life because they’re afraid to take a change and do what they want. So intelligent people admire your courage.” It's a shame Miami no longer attracts the Vandercars of this world.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Robert King High- The last decent man in Miami politics

This being the 4th of July weekend, my thoughts wandered to the abysmal state of politics in Dade County and the one reformist Miami Mayor we have had in all my years of living here. The curious thing is that if you google him, you find almost nothing about him. One crummy park in Miami and not a single photo of him other than the one here that has him cut off in the left corner when Kennedy came to address the survivors of the Bay of Pigs in 1962! Amazing, since this was the only politician in local politics in the last 100 years that actually ran on a reformist platform and moved Miami from the neanderthal state of old dixie politics in the 50's to a more normal mainstream view. In 1957, Abe Aronovitz, who had been Mayor of Miami in 1953-55, asked High to run for mayor. With Aronovitz's backing, High ran on a a platform of promising nothing but honest government. Once in office, High began tackling corruption. With most of the City Commissioners opposing him, he could do little as Mayor, but he began pushing to publicize problems. High won re-election in 1959, and was joined by new, reform-minded city commissioners

Now here is where it gets interesting. Tell me if this sounds like something we could use today. High and the new commissioners put all the city's insurance out to competitive bid (previously insurance on county buildings was the individual "pork barrel" of each commisioner). High also led a state-wide campaign to force Florida Power & Light to lower its rates. After the City of Miami started a study of Southern Bell telephone rates, the Florida Public Service Commission ordered major reductions in those rates. High also led a fight to force the Florida East Coast Railway to pay the arrears in its assessed property taxes. While High was Mayor, Miami adopted a $10,000 spending limit for city elections. High spoke Spanish well, and made a number of goodwill trips to Latin America. He exchanged visits with several heads of state of Latin American countries. Working with City Manager Melvin Reese, High established the Torch of Friendship in downtown Miami as a symbol of relations between Miami and Latin America. As Castro's revolution proceeded, Cuban refugees flooded into Miami and High worked hard to accomodate them. High was a strong supporter of civil rights. As Mayor he set up a panel to hear job grievances from blacks. High was involved in the successful effort to integrate lunch counters in Miami. He publicly backed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 while campaigning for governor. Although he had received threats that he would be killed if he spoke in Pensacola, High told a crowd there that, "Segregation is wrong. It is evil and un-American."

So what happened to this paradigm of political enlightenment? You guessed it, the powers that be destroyed him. High's mistake was to take on the political machine when running for Governor in 1964. He announced that he would refuse to accept large campaign donations. The Miami News (not the Herald) was the only newspaper in the state to endorse High. High came in second out of five contenders in the Democratic primary, but lost the run-off to Jacksonville mayor Haydon Burns, who became Governor. Undaunted, High tried again in 1966. During the 1966 primary campaign, a seat became vacant on the Miami city commission. High appointed M. Athalie Range, a black woman, to the seat. Range had led in the primary for a seat on the commission in the 1965 election, but lost to a white man in the run-off by a small margin after her race was made an issue in the election. Range was the first black person to serve on the Miami city commission. As in the 1964 campaign, attempts were made to arouse segregationist white sentiments against High as the 'black' candidate. Handouts with no attributed source, were circulated. One showed a pregnant black woman in a rocker, with the caption, "I went all the way with Robert King High". Another had pictures of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Robert King High, and was labeled, "A poker hand one joker and a pair of Kings." A photograph of High playing pickup football with some black newsboys was widely circulated.

Surprisingly, High won the Democratic primary in 1966 anyway! Burns made the mistake of accusing another conservative candidate Scott Kelly of being bought out by High and that turned Kelly against him and in favor of High. But here is the irony of the story. Democrats that had held the office since Reconstruction refused to support High and the racist Republican candidate for Governor Claude Kirk was actually helped by the defeated Burns to defeat High. Kirk mounted an all out racist campaign against High accusing him of being an "ultra liberal" . High lost the race and the first Republican in over 100 years was elected Governor. Sadly, High died less than one year later of heart attack.

And that dear friends was the end of any semblance of honest and decent politics in this City

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Wayne Cochran- Miami's own White Knight of Soul!

Anyone that remembers the lounge scene of the mid to late 80's will remember Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders. Wayne was the standing act at the famous Peppermint Lounge on the 79th Street Causeway where many of us hung out to pick up girls and listen to the blues. In the sixties, every town had at least one large R&B band (in the tradition of the fictional Otis Day & the Knights from the movie "Animal House") to bring some excitement at frat parties. Wayne was our own "Otis Day" and a true oddity in Miami at that time. He was a tall white Georgia boy with a platinum bouffant hairdo who tended to get so involved in his music that he threw bottles tables and chairs around. Yet he was a fine blues vocalist that had a steady following and did manage to claim some national success in the late 60s and early 70's with a b-rated biker movie and ascendancy to the Vegas Lounge scene. He also surrounded himself with fine musicians like bassist Jaco Pastorius that later backed Joni Mitchell for many years and taught for a short period at UM. His musical legacy is a bit checkered since he oscillated between true blues music and commercially oriented papa pushed on him by his sponsors. Still, he was deeply respected by some of the top singers of his day like Otis Redding, James Brown and Elvis Presley. In fact, many called him the white James Brown. His first single was "Last Kiss," a song he wrote, but was beaten to the music charts when Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers who rushed to record and release it before he could. Nonetheless, his version is still the greatest. Interestingly, Wayne's big break came from Jackie Gleason, who saw Wayne's act and promptly arranged for him to appear on Gleason's national broadcast show from Miami Beach. Wayne is immortalized in the "Blues Brothers" movie in a reference to him by Jake and Elwood's manager, telling them to ditch the black suits and wear jumpsuits like Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders. Wayne abandoned the lounge singer scene in 1981 when he became a born again christian. Today, Wayne and his wife Monica have a christian ministry in North Miami, but as you can see from the pictures above, Wayne still loves Miami and his Harleys!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Hialeah Park- Save the last gem of the roaring twenties!

Hialeah Park has earmed a dubious distinction- it is now on the National Trust of Historic Preservation's 2007 list of Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places. Hialeah Park is fourth on the list. Hialeah Park is one of the most beautiful architectural achievements still left in South Florida from the 1920's. No one seems to care that it is falling into disrepair and is seriously in danger of being lost forever. We have already lost all the great monuments to beautiful architecture from that era, such as the Roney Plaza Hotel and so many others. It's history is long and glorious, built in 1925 and visited by all the great dignataries of the 20th Century such as Winston Churchill and President Harry Truman. My Father fought long and hard to preserve the Truman bungalow that was on the south tip of Miami Beach, but no one cared and it was demolished in the 1980's. This should not be allowed to happen to Hialeah Park. We waste so many millions on ridiculous studies and projects in this country every year. Can we not do something to preserve this grand old facility that could not be recreated today for less than many millions? The City of Hialeah would love to have the park become just that-- a park, but they lack the funds to do so. Can't the federal or state government make this possible? Barring any other solution, can't the federal or state government declare it a park? Time is short and it's beauty and future is fading. Please help sponsor a solution for this archtectural gem! Write your federal or state congressman or senator now.You will be gratefully remembered in posterity for doing so.

Our Bicycles- A kid's best friend!

Back in the 50's and 60's we didnt have computers, nintendos, playstations or other high tech gear. The most treasured posession was our bikes ( and our well-oiled Rawlings baseball glove)! Every Saturday morning we performed the ritual of flipping it over and oiling the chain with trusy old 3-1 oil and giving it a good cleaning. Our bikes transported us to the sand lot for a game of baseball or football with our neighborhood friends, over to the public library for a cool afternoon read through the stacks and down to Biscayne Bay or one of the many nearby canals to snag mullet and fish all day. We loved our bikes and it was our ally to establish our freedom in an age when our parents didn't worry if we were gone all day as long as we were back home before the street lamps came on. Here you see my first grown up bike, a 1959 Schwinn Panther with the faux "gas tank" that housed an electric horn and twin headlights! Heady stuff in the low tech days of the late 50's. I got this bike for Christmas that year and it was the greatest day of my young life. I fawned over it for many years thereafter. I see now it cost a eye popping $39.95 in 1959 dollars! Wow! My allowance was 25 cents a week and I had to raise any additional money I needed by returning empty soda bottles to the local Food Fair for 1 cent a piece or mow the neigbors' lawns for 50 cents! That was a King's ransom in those days. Other kids had Huffys, Montgomery Wards and Sears models, but Schwinns were the Rolls Royces of their day. I am sure a kid today wouldn't trade their playstations for a bike, but my generation wouldn't have traded our bikes for all the high tech gizmos in the world!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Lums- Steamed hot dogs and ollie burgers!

While Lums were not born in Miami, from the mid-60's through the mid-70's they seemed to sprout up all over the city. People loved them and the hippest one was in Coconut Grove right next to the Public Library and across from Peacock Park. The big hook was that the franks were steamed in beer, the fries were delicious and the ollie burgers were made with special spices. Some people also swore the fried clams were delicious. While it was not your typical fast food dive, the food was good and reasonably priced. The restarants were done up in a "Gay 90's" motif with tiffany lamps over the booths. It was a big hang out for College Kids and had good large mugs of domestic beer as well as many imported brands. Like Royal Castle, Lum's have all but disappeared from the scene and there is only one left up in Davie at 4125 SW 64th Ave. (pictured here). If you get thre chance and want to be transported back to the late 60's scene, take a little trip north and sample their hot dogs before they are gone forever!

Burger King- The flame broiled wonder!

Like Royal Castle, Burger King was a miami born institution. The first Burger King hamburger stand opened at 3090 NW 36th Street in an old area of Miami known as Allapatah. Burgers and shakes were 18 cents each. The Whopper, which appeared in 1957, sold for 37 cents. However, I remember that the founders actually invented the Whopper at their diner on Brickell Avenue a few blocks south of the current Brickell Avenue Bridge. I found this information on a tribute to Jim Mclamore, who with Dave Edgerton founded Burger King. It confirms my memory that he had a diner on Brickell that sold the first "whoppers".
"McLamore, during his early months in Florida's warm climate, learned an expensive lesson about the seasonality of business in the Sunshine State. Captivated by the overflow crowds at the Brickell Bridge restaurant, he immediately proceeded to buy the operation, only to discover that the logjam of customers during the winter months literally slowed to a trickle in the summer. Just a few blocks from Brickell Bridge, Edgerton was managing a restaurant at the Howard Johnson hotel. The two struck up a friendship and decided to take a chance on a franchise concept begun in Jacksonville. Called "Insta-Burger King," it featured hamburgers cooked via a piece of equipment called the Insta-Burger Broiler -- a revolutionary system that used twin heating elements along a conveyor line and was capable of cooking more than 400 hamburgers and buns per hour. However, problems developed with the Insta-Broiler when burger juices began dripping onto the heating elements, causing them to corrode. Edgerton and McLamore redesigned the system in such a way that it transported the burgers horizontally over gas flames, giving the customer a flame-broiled product. The pair subsequently arranged for the Sani-Serv company of Indianapolis to manufacture the new prototype for them. Shortly thereafter they dropped the "Insta" prefix from the name and began promoting Burger King as the "Home of The Whopper."

Royal Castle- Miami's Belly Bomber Palace

If you grew up in Miami in the 50's, 60's or 70's, Royal Castle was the place to go for a Birch Beer and tiny little burgers grilled with tons of onions. At one time there were 100s of these diners throughout Miami and Dade County. Most looked just like this last survivor on NW 79th Street and 27 Avenue. Royal Castles were unique to Miami and resembled the White Castles from up north. How they died out remains a mystery as most people have fond memories of them. I suspect that the other competing chain of Burger King, also from Miami, and the other fast food franchises of today just proved to be too much competition. Also, I think the fact that they were independently owned and operated had something to do with it. The creator of the chain apparently went out of business making it harder to stay in business. Its a shame as most old miamians would tell you they would die to taste that birch beer and belly bombers today. Most don't even know there is still one alive and well. If you get down to Miami you should try it! The 2007 Miami New Times still rates it the best hamburger in Miami!