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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
Interviewee: Alfred Barton
Interviewer: Polly Redford
May 18, 1967
R: I am in the office of Alfred Barton at the Surf Club. Today
is May 18, 1967. All right, that was not the real Miami
B: In my mind.
R: Yes, to your mind.
B: To my mind, the social life of Miami Beach was relatively
unimportant. It was just the whipped cream on top of the cake
because the real Miami Beach, as I look back on it now over
the years, was certainly the theatrical, gangster, middle-
class New York and Chicago people without any position who
came here and really occupied it and made it. They made the
hotels and they created an atmosphere here that certainly was
quite different from that of any other town in Florida. Of
course, as you know, the gangster element, which has been
treated, I think probably in Jack Coco's books and others, was
so predominant here during the early years that 23rd Street
was the hangout for practically every known gangster in
R: That was one of my questions. Do you remember the Capone
B: Yes, very well.
R: Do you remember approximately what year it was?
B: No, but I think that could be checked very easily.
R: Not as easily as you think. I have been to the New York Times
to look into that.
B: Well, I can get it for you very simply. I could get that for
you very simply. It was extended over a period of several
years. He had a house, you know.
R: On Palm Island.
B: On Palm Island, and it was rather like a fortress. You could
not get into it. Quite a few people went there and were
entertained because they thought it was sort of amusing. [It
was] a sort of "in" thing to do. I never met Mr. Capone
myself. I had only one experience, and that was with a
fabulous gangster named Frank Mickey.
R: Oh, I know Frank Mickey.
B: He was called the Enforcer. At the time the town of Surfside
was formed, the mayor of the town who had some Chicago
connections through a very well-known judge there came to me
and said the judge wanted to know if I would receive a
gentleman named Mr. Brown. (I think that was his name.) Mr.
Brown came to see me and he had on (I remember it very well)
a blue suit with a wide pinstripe, a green shirt, a purple
necktie. This [man], I subsequently learned, was Mr. Frank
Mickey. He came to see me saying that he represented the
Combine in Chicago that would like to buy the whole of an
island that was in our territory here at the end of 88th
Street. He wanted to erect there a gambling casino. He
wondered what the attitude of the authorities would be. I
told him that was something I thought he would have to take
up with the sheriff. [I told him] we could not open or close
anything here; we kind of had to count on the sheriff. He
said: "Well, that can easily be arranged. I want to know what
you personally feel about it." I merely put him off at this
time, but my interview [with him] was very interesting then
because I had never been close to anybody like this before.
Particularly I was interested because his name in the gangster
circle was the Enforcer. He was the one who I think was
responsible for the Valentine's Day murders and all that sort
R: I lived only a few blocks away from the Valentine's Day
murders and all that sort of thing.
B: In the conversation I had with him, I said: "Well, suppose
you did come up here and establish a gambling casino. How
would you keep other people from starting this? We could not
possibly go on having a collection of casinos in this town.
This is a little town for middle-class people who want to have
homes here." He said, "Oh, we have methods of enforcing
that." He used that very word. I believe a few years later
he was .
B: He was enforced, yes.
R: Although he lasted quite a while.
B: He lasted quite a while, yes. He was a very fascinating
character. [He had] sleek black hair. He looked exactly like
the gangsters in the movies.
R: That is the way they are supposed to be. Cleveland Armory
always maintained that Flagler built a hotel, then a church,
and the gambling casino in his .
B: Well, he did at Palm Beach.
R: He did at Palm Beach; he did at St. Augustine. Was there a
gambling casino here?
B: There always was a gambling casino here from the earliest days
of the Royal Palm Hotel. It was called the Seminole Club and
it was in a small building, adjacent to and on the grounds of
the Royal Palm Hotel. But, of course, it had no actual
connection with the Royal Palm Hotel. Of course, you
understand that in those early days, there was a prohibition
in the state of Florida. This was long before national
prohibition. I am talking about before World War I. Liquor
could not be sold openly in Florida, but of course, you could
buy it practically anywhere. To get around this, people
brought their own bottles. If they lived in a hotel, they
bought a bottle and had it kept in a box.
So the Seminole Club was a place where the people of the Royal
Palm went to gamble when they felt so inclined. I do not
think it was ever opened or used by the natives.
R: They had their own places. How about later on?
B: Later on, we had the Embassy Club, which was the highest-class
club that was extremely well-run by McCloud and Meyer, who
later had the Book Club. They also, I think, were responsible
for the Headers' Club (I think that is the name of it) after
the fall of the Embassy Club. It was in the old Fisher house.
It ran for years and years. It was the most exclusive place
we ever had because it could only seat about ninety people.
George LaMaze did the cooking. I think every dinner cost them
about a fourth of what they charged for it. As it was limited
to ninety people, you can imagine that only the people with
money and position got in. Harry Richman performed there
every year. At that time, he was at his peak and was adored
by all these people. He really put on a great performance
when he was in his prime. He felt like nobody could touch him
as a singer. He was very amusing and sang beautifully.
R: It was sort of like Las Vegas clubs are now. You could go
for dinner and there was entertainment.
B: You went for dinner. It was only open late. You went for
dinner and probably about half past ten or eleven, Richman
went on for a half hour and that was it. I think that there
was dancing. There was always an orchestra, but the whole
thing was on a very small scale.
R: Then there was another room to gamble in.
B: My recollection is a little vague as to which room was which.
R: I do not care.
B: Anyway, this is the way it was done. After that, McCloud and
Meyer, who have always been the highest class, and who
represented the highest class gambling in the area, moved up
to Hollywood because of the heat being on here or some other
reason. I do not know what. They occupied an apartment house
or a hotel up there for a little while, but they were never
successful. It is pretty hard to move a clientele from Miami
all the way to Hollywood.
B: Eventually, they came back here and opened the Book Club,
which, under their management, was extremely successful and
very well done. At the door was their secretary. It was run
like a club and people who were not known really were not
R: I see. You had to be more or less members.
R: What finally happened to that?
B: It finally fizzled out because they sold their interests and
it got into gangster hands when it was sold.
R: Without mentioning any names as being libelous, what about
gambling now on the Beach?
B: So far as I know, there is not any and has not been for some
time. Jack Knight was really quite more responsible for it
than Mahoney or the [Miamil News. Both newspapers decided
that this gambling syndicate had to go.
R: Yes, indeed.
B: They were very much opposed to the type of gambling and what
was going on here and they felt it was ruining the community.
They decided to clamp down on it. They did, and no gambling-
-to my knowledge--of any character description, has been going
on ever since.
R: In other words .
B: I think what gambling there is is sort of hidden in houses or
hotel rooms where they might have a fast crap game and
something of that sort. The old style where people with money
went, where they produced a beautiful show and you did not
have to gamble if you did not want to, went out completely and
has never returned.
R: Now that went out before World War II.
B: Yes. Well, you see, a western syndicate opened up the
Colonial Inn, which was up in Hallandale--in Broward County.
That, of course, took the place of the old Royal Palm [Hotel],
which was down on the bayfront, where magnificent shows were
produced with the top stars of America.
R: In other words, when gambling stopped being upper class, it
kind of went into a decline and .
B: It has to be sort of surreptitious now. I think [that is] the
only kind of gambling that goes on today of any consequence.
R: But the Bradley type .
B: I think Bradley's was even more exclusive than any of these
in the sense that, in the first place, no local resident was
ever permitted inside Bradley's. You did have to be known,
present your card, and have some identification before you
went in. The food was superb. [It was] beautifully served
by French chefs and waiters and so forth who came down from
New York for the season. Everything was done in the most
luxurious style, or so it seemed luxurious for those days.
The gambling, of course, was very high stakes. Everybody was
paid off, presumably, so there was never any trouble.
R: Well, there was always that.
B: Mr. Bradley was also extremely generous in his charity
donations. His place was the only place that ran for the so-
called rich foreigners. There was never any objection by the
local population. But this was a very elegant thing. There
was no entertainment. You went for lunch or dinner, and you
gambled every day.
R: Cleveland Amory has quite a charming description of Bradley's.
R: Did you want to tell me a story about Queen Marie of Romania?
B: Yes, that is rather amusing. In 1920, possibly 1925 or 1926,
(I would have to check these dates), I had a telephone call
from a Romanian whom I knew. [He] was married to an American
girl that I was very friendly with in Philadelphia. He had
a proposition from the Romanian Embassy in Washington to the
effect that Queen Marie of Romania would by royally inclined
to accept a house in Coral Gables if it was sufficiently large
and elegant. She agreed to come and spend at least two or
three weeks there in the winter season if it was staffed at
no expense to her.
R: She was the biggest royal freeloader there was.
B: She was the biggest royal freeloader in the world. He had
called me first because of the connection [I just mentioned]
and also because I had two Romanian decorations that had been
given to me when I was in Paris. So he asked me if I could
negotiate something like this with the proper authorities.
Well, I did not know George Merrick [founder of Coral Gables].
I did not even know Tulker Knight, who was his assistant
So I went to see Jim Gilman, who, at that time, was
president of the Bank of Biscayne Bay (which subsequently
failed) and whom I think was doing quite a lot of business
with these boys. So he arranged for me to see Mr. Merrick.
I went out there, and after waiting some time, I was received
rather austerely by Mr. Knight. He said that Mr. Merrick
could not be disturbed by a matter of such little consequence
because he was writing poems up in his penthouse. [He said]
he would take the matter under advisement. I am pretty sure
this must have been 1926 because they were very interested in
the idea, it seems, because it would not have cost them too
much money and the publicity would have been terrific.
Marie, of course, would have gotten a house and her publicity,
you see. I understand she had the delightful habit of going
to shops and charging everything, including fur coats and
jewelry, to whomever she might be visiting at the moment. I
suppose she thought she would do the same thing here. Anyway,
it came to nought because at that moment, they were in great
financial difficulty and could not go through with the deal.
But I thought it was amusing in that it should have been
inspired from Washington, rather than from here.
R: As far as I can recall about Queen Marie, she just sort of
freeloaded all over the United States for years.
B: Oh, yes. Everywhere. I can remember one occasion that was
very interesting. When I was in Paris after the war, I was
aide to General W. W. Hartz, who commandeered the district of
Paris. He, in turn, was an aide to President Wilson before
the war and resumed this sort of head job. So I came along
for the ride. I was called upon to attend a ceremony. I
cannot remember now what it was, but we all met outside some
great building. Mrs. Wilson was on the left side of this door
and Queen Marie of Romania was on the right side. It was a
question of who was going to upstage the other. It was a very
R: You know, it was funny about Queen Marie because she just sort
of went as if [she was] like God visiting the natives.
B: She had great charm. I used to see her in Paris because
during the peace conference everybody came there. It was the
famous peace conference in Vienna, and the daughters were
there. I used to go to parties and dance with them. [I would
go to] the parties that the embassy gave for them because that
was my age at that time.
R: Last time we talked, you brought up something that I thought
was quite interesting. You divided Miami Beach more or less
into eras, which I subdivided. There was the era of the Royal
Palm, which would have gone from its opening in 1906 up until
R: And then [there was] the Addison Meisner type era of great
homes, which would run from about 1919 to 1929. Then, from
1930 to 1941, until the war, was a third era that you were
just beginning to speak of.
B: This was the era of the construction of hotels and the
gangster era. There was an influx of people with money (who
were] of no particular social importance and sometimes of
strange connections. But they flooded the hotels. This was
also the era of construction of very fine hotels where
extremely nice people came. I am thinking, for instance, of
the Whitman Hotel and the Shore Means and the Pancoast, which
was the precursor of all of them. [I am thinking of] hotels
of that character, where the most delightful people came to
stay. They did not want the frivolity of Palm Beach; they
wanted a quieter life because--believe it or not--the life of
Miami Beach in those days was rather like the life that you
would have at the hotel on Key Biscayne today. [It]
corresponded very accurately to it, I would think.
R: I have talked with Art Pancoast about the Pancoast, but Art
is not an articulate person and his memory is failing a bit.
Was it true that the Pancoast Hotel was the most exclusive
hotel in the United States?
B: No, I would not think so. I could not say that.
R: [But] it was the most exclusive hotel on Miami Beach, surely,
and there is the Whitman [Hotel] and the Shore Means [Hotel].
What about the Nautilus?
B: The Nautilus was very delightful. Fisher's hotels, as I think
I mentioned, began with the Lincoln on Lincoln Road. After
that came the Flamingo, which retained its character all
"- 7 -
during the time of the managership of Charlie Cromm, who was
very well-liked. People went back there even in the 1930s.
Then came the Nautilus and then the King Cole, which was
certainly the most charming of all of the Fisher hotels. It
was built specifically for the polo-playing crowd.
R: I see.
B: This attracted a group of quite rich and very sophisticated
people who lived there quietly and liked it very much. That
hotel is now the [Miami] Heart Institute, as you probably
R: How about the Nautilus?
B: The Nautilus had the same type of reputation as the Flamingo.
It was just further up and a little newer. It attracted the
same type of people. There was a beautiful marina. Both the
Flamingo and the Nautilus always had a great many private
yachts there. People came and kept their boats there and
sometimes lived in the hotel, and sometimes lived in the boat.
R: I took one of the little Grayline sightseeing tours.
R: Nautilus was pointed out as the place where the Duke and
Duchess of Windsor stayed or where they met. Is that true?
B: Absolutely untrue.
R: Another good story shot.
B: The only time the Duke and Duchess of Windsor ever stayed in
Miami or Miami Beach, so far as I know, was on the famous
occasion when the Duchess' tooth had to be treated. At that
time, he was the governor-general of Nassau.
R: And they flew over.
B: They flew over and spent two nights in St. Francis Hospital.
They were probably confusing St. Francis Hospital with the
Nautilus Hotel, which is now part of Mount Sinai Hospital.
R: I had thought the story was a good one. I am sorry that it
is not true. I thought they had stayed there.
B: Actually, there is a rather funny story about that. At that
time, I was the head of the British War Relief for Florida.
This was before our entry into the war, you see. I thought
it might be possible to get Windsor, who had not yet set foot
on American soil, to come over here as our principal guest for
the ball we were giving at the Surf Club for the British War
Relief. He liked the idea very much. Of course, this had to
be presented through aides and channels and so forth. He and
the Duchess were to come over, and plans were rather well-
progressed. I had also talked to some people in Hollywood
[and to] Nicky Skank. They were going to send down Clark
Gable and Heddy LaMarr and a couple of people to represent
that sort of thing. We were going to have a private cabaret
after the regular party where the Windsors could retire in a
small room and so forth. This was rather well worked out.
I even had a large private yacht that was going over to pick
them up and bring them over. However, the duke very adamantly
said he would not come unless the British ambassador came.
The British ambassador said he would not come if the Duke
came. So in the end, neither of them came.
B: Instead, I think we had Elsa Maxwell, the British consul
R: During the war, the hotels were all hospitals and barracks,
were they not?
B: Yes. Practically every hotel existing at that time in Miami
Beach was taken over. I think the Tatum-Waffers was possibly
the only good hotel that was open to civilians.
R: Was there any sort of season here during 1941-1942?
B: The Surf Club was taken over for two years by the Air Corps,
but people who had houses came just the same. And of course,
[many of] the mothers and fathers of the boys who were in
service here or going through training [came as well]. The
Officers Training School [OTS] for the Air Corps was here, so
every famous person who ever entered the Air Corps passed
through here. [That included] people like Clark Gable and all
R: This was the OCS, that was the Officers Training School?
B: Yes. It was the Officers Training School for the Air Corp
here in the Roney Plaza Hotel.
R: Well, at that point, the Army Air Corp?
R: Well, let us get back to the 1930s now. It was the era of the
building of hotels, and yet the great hotels, I mean the big
B: Had yet to come.
R: [They] did not come until after that.
B: Yes. That had yet to come. That was after the war.
R: How would you characterize the 1930s as opposed to the 1920s?
B: I think that is difficult to characterize because in the
1930s, I think Miami Beach was still more gentile than Jewish.
This gradually changed during the 1930s until after World War
II. The percentage [of Jewish residents] increased so that
it is now ninety-five percent [Jewish] of something of that
sort on Miami Beach.
But at that period, this was still a more social community.
There was far less private entertaining. All the entertaining
was done in clubs. We had the Indian Creek Club, the Surf
Club, and the Bath Club. Practically all the entertaining was
done at the regular club functions. It was very unusual for
someone to give a ball to bring out their daughter or had a
wedding or just gave a big dinner party. One of the men who
entertained greatly every year at a private party was DeWitt
Paige, who was the vice president of General Motors. He came
from Bristol, Connecticut, and he always gave a very elaborate
and very beautiful party here, which I designed for him. One
of them he gave in honor of my mother and me, and later he
gave one in honor of my wife and me. These were really very
handsome parties. They were sort of the event of the year
because there was not that much private entertainment.
R: That was in his home?
B: My mother and I gave the first large private dinner party in
our home. This was a party in 1927, I guess, that we gave for
Mr. and Mrs. Pierre Cartier, and I think we had forty people
for dinner. After dinner, we had a hundred in for dancing.
This was a big deal then. I had two orchestras and singers
during dinner and all this sort of thing. To do this in a
private home had not yet been done. It required quite a lot
of effort to get catering and all this sort of business. A
few people would entertain. Three or four affairs a year were
quite a lot. All the entertaining, socially speaking, was
done either at small dinners in homes (because people still
had adequate servants) or at the regular club functions like
our great Saturday Night Gallows or Thursday informal evenings
and that sort of thing. In other words, it was not nearly as
hectic as it is today.
R: What about stylish guests at the hotels? In 1934, for
instance, Doris Duke and others stayed at the Roney. You were
speaking of people who were coming down here to be in their
own homes, were you not?
B: Well, there were a great many interesting and well-known
people who came here to hotels in those days. I would say
that it corresponded, roughly speaking, to the people who now
go to the hotel on Key Biscayne. In other words, I think the
people who want a fairly quiet life and who have some
distinction or manner go there today. They certainly do not
come to Miami Beach.
R: I am not even sure they come to Miami. Do you not they might
go to the Caribbean?
B: I think now they go to the Caribbean.
B: You see, the airplane, which made Miami, also ruined it.
R: When they went on.
B: Yes, when the jets came along.
R: Were there many or any private railroad cars in Miami in the
great old days?
B: [There were] more private yachts than there were private
railroad cars, of course. But I would say that I knew several
people who were members of this club who always came down in
a private railroad car--I do not know whether they owned them;
I think they merely rented them for the occasion--but [they]
brought their families down in private cars. This was not
unusual. It only takes twenty tickets, you know.
R: You mean you can still do it?
B: Yes, you can still do it, if you want to. But I think more
people came in their yachts. Yachting was terribly important
in those days, and this was really a center for it. There
were very, very few boats in Palm Beach; they were all
centered here. The sight of the great yachts was absolutely
magnificent because there was never a time in the winter when
there were not eight or ten boats of 200 to 250 feet in length
There were very few socially prominent people who came out
there, although I remember [that] Dolly and Jay O'Brien used
to come out to spend weekends and that sort of thing. Mostly,
the New York people went to Southampton [Massachusetts]
because that was where the action was.
R: Do you think that if Montauk had not been started at such an
inauspicious time, if it could have been started ten years
before, do you think that it might have developed into another
B: Yes, I think it might have, although I think Fisher probably
misjudged the fact that there was not the same demand [for a
resort town] as there was in Florida. Florida's climate is
unique, and [thus] the climate of Miami Beach and Palm Beach
is unique. There is nothing north of those [cities] that are
comparable. There are hundreds of northern resorts that are
so well-established. Look at all the resorts along the Rhode
Island coast, for example, Newport. Connecticut and Maine all
have the same climate and are [home to many] well-established
[resorts]. So he was really up against it there; he was
fighting much more than he thought he was.
R: In your own personal guess, do you think that even if the
[stock market] crash had not come, he would have flopped at
B: I do not think it would have ever been a very great success.
R: Now this is just pure, private curiosity. You call the 1920s
the period of the great entertainment. With that in mind,
what was so terribly wrong socially about the entertainment
of the Great Gatsby in [F. Scott] Fitzgerald's book?
B: I have not read that in so long. I cannot remember.
R: OK. At one point you said that you believed that there had
been larger entertainments here on Miami Beach than anywhere
else in America. Can you elaborate on that?
B: Yes. By that I mean large private parties continuously being
given by individuals. I am talking about the period of now.
R: Can you elaborate a little on that?
B: I think that all of a sudden, people who have any money feel
that they would like to give a dinner-dance. For a little
period, people gave what you might call cocktail-buffets. You
were asked at six o'clock and then you had a buffet and went
home about nine. It cost just as much as giving a dinner-
dance. Finally it has now come back to the dinner-dance
feeling. I am excluding the debutante activities that we
started here some years ago. People apparently enjoy giving
a private dinner party. By that, I mean [a party for anywhere
from] 150 to 350 [people], complete with orchestras,
entertainment, dinner, and so forth. This means a lot of
drinking. You would be amazed to know how high the percentage
of drinks runs here. [There is] wine during dinner and
liqueurs and all the works. There are so many of these
parties being given here now that there was not a week this
year, I suppose, in which there was not two or three large
R: This is no longer being done?
B: I do not think it is being done anywhere else to that extent
in America. It certainly is not [being done] in Palm Beach.
R: So this is sort of the new Newport, so to speak, as far as the
B: I would hardly call it the new Newport, but it corresponds in
the sense of large private entertainment, yes. There was no
place comparable. It is a strange sort of thing. I think I
gave you one explanation for why this was being done in the
past and why it is being done today. We were talking about
the people who had always dreamed of entertaining and now have
the opportunity. But I think these things run in cycles, and
I also think it is a follow-the-leader sort of thing. If one
person does it, somebody else feels obliged to do it, too.
B: Sometimes people will give a party [together]. Two or three
people will join together in giving a dinner. This, of
course, is sometimes resented by others because they say they
only got invited themselves and yet they have to ask three
other people back. However, it is a nice way not to spend too
much money and still give a good party.
R: Yes. Perhaps you do not want to mention this. What is the
financial set-up of the Bath Club?
B: I cannot comment on it because I do not know anything about
it. I do not know exactly what you mean by the financial set-
R: I gathered from talking to Russ Pancoast that the Bath Club
is run as a for-profit organization or that it used to be.
B: Not to my knowledge.
R: All right. That is fine.
B: It would not make any difference because I do not think any
of these clubs make a profit after depreciation. When you
figure in depreciation, you have a very high figure. For
instance, the depreciation in the Surf Club runs something
like $90,000 or $95,000 a year. Offhand that is what I would
say. By the time you figure the profit, which is smaller
every year because of the vast increases in the cost of labor
and materials, you really do not have any profit. So it does
not matter whether you are a non-profit or for-profit
organization. I do not think it affects it one way or the
other. I think that at one time the Indian Creek Club was run
as a for-profit organization and is now non-profit, or vice
R: They could have switched over.
B: Somebody switched over, and I think it was Indian Creek, not
the Bath Club.
R: What part did Steve Hannegan play [in the development of Miami
B: I have great admiration for Steve and the way he operated
because he certainly put Miami Beach on the map. This was the
day of the bathing beauty and the day of cheesecake, and he
played it for all it was worth. I think he recognized the
value of trying to make Miami Beach social. I can tell you
how he used to do it because in those days we were the center
of everything that sort of happened that might get national
publicity. If anybody came to town, they were always
entertained here. So he made an arrangement with me that if
we had photographs taken, (or if we wanted them taken, he
would send his photographer) [and] immediately he would send
them to the papers [around the country] saying, "Lunch at the
Surf Club on Miami Beach, the exclusive," and so on.
R: Just like a fishing tournament.
B: He did this constantly, he and Joe Cox, and they cooperated
with me fully. Anytime anybody came to town that they thought
was the proper type to bring here, they would call and say,
"Can we bring so-and-so to luncheon?" I can remember very
well the first time Ed Sullivan ever came here. They brought
him to lunch with me because they wanted him to see another
side of Miami Beach.
Since they disappeared, we have had no connection with Miami
publicity bureaus here. In fact, we do not have any
publicity. But in those days, the Surf Club was anxious for
it and so was Hannegan because--you must remember--I was
trying to establish a national reputation for this club. I
think we did that because we finally got notices from all
over: from Hong Kong and Holland and from everywhere in the
R: Why did you want to establish a national reputation for this
B: For membership. I think it is essential that people think
that this was the best place to go and a very desirable place
to join. Remember that you are only as good as the number of
members that you have in an institution where the public is
not admitted. If you do not have a volume of business, you
cannot do a luxury business. The Surf Club was founded on the
idea that we would give the best of everything to our members
[and] by this, I mean a luxury of food, of service, and of
everything conceivable. If you are going to do a luxury
business of this character, somebody has to pay the bills and
you have to have a certain number of people to do this. Now,
where you have three clubs, a golf club and two beach clubs,
you are definitely in competition. And while this is private,
you cannot go out and hit people on the head and say, "Please
come in," nor [can you] advertise in the paper. You still
want the best type of membership; [prospective members] still
have to be proposed and seconded and they have to be passed
by an examining board and then approved by the board of
governors. Nevertheless, in order to get those, you must give
the feeling to people who come down here who know nothing
about it that this is the place to join. That is what I
deliberately set out to do. And I am glad to say I was very
R: How many members do you have now?
B: Approximately [somewhere] between five and six hundred.
R: And this provides enough [revenue]?
B: No, it does not. You still need more because every year the
cost of food and the cost of labor--particularly labor, which
has gone up ten percent this year--increases to the extent
that if you are going to maintain a luxury operation today,
you have to have a much greater volume of business than we
have. This is one of our problems. If we did not have
apartments and hotel rooms to rent to our members, we would
be in difficulties.
R: I do not know anything about how you operate.
B: The Surf Club has a very large apartment house here which was
built in 1951. It has thirty-two very beautiful and exclusive
well-furnished apartments. [They are] housekeeping
apartments. Then this last year, we just built twenty more
units [each with a] living room, bedroom, and adjoining
R: Where are they?
B: They are all to the north of here.
R: I see.
B: I will show them to you later.
R: Are they adjacent to the club?
B: They are all inside club property.
R: I see.
B: Of course, the great advantage of living here is [security].
For instance, we have many widows and [also] wives whose
husbands have to be elsewhere who feel perfectly secure here.
They are inside the walls of the club. They have protection
here. They can come down to dinner by themselves if they want
to. It is not like being in a hotel where they might feel as
if they were on display or anything. This offers something
that you cannot get anywhere else. The apartment are also the
finest in town.
R: The thing that interests me--and we have talked about it--is
the emulation and the setting of the style. My feeling about
Miami Beach is it all goes back to the Veblen idea, that the
upper class--what is considered [to be] or would like to think
of itself as the upper class--sets the style and the tone.
Then you get progressively different imitations of the same
thing. In other words, I think that the Fontainebleau [Hotel]
B: With a little different form, yes.
R: I think the Fontainebleau is trying to do for 5,000 people
what you do for 500.
R: That is my interest.
B: In the public way, I think that that is an interesting theory
that you could pursue very well.
R: Does it jell? Do you agree personally with it?
B: I do not think that the people who come here are aware of it,
but I think that is exactly what happened.
R: No, I do not believe that people come here with the idea that
they are setting [the style]. I do not mean that.
B: No, I mean that the people who go to a beachfront hotel are
aware that they are following a pattern.
R: I do not think it is conscious, but I think that you have
style centers and I think that has been .
R: As you were saying about how people who had grown up on
stories of Mrs. Fish and Mrs. Zar .
B: Yes, exactly.
R: At Newport.
B: [They] have that; it is in their minds.
R: That is in their minds. Now, you were doing something here
in a very small, select way that is also part of this same
pattern, I think. I am convinced of it.
B: Yes. I think so.
R: I am interested in the pattern to the extent that there is a
correspondence, and I think there is quite a great deal. I
mean, [let me compare] what you have been doing here at the
Surf Club with your entertainment, with your balls and
everything, [to the Fontainebleau]. You may not see that this
is a very flattering comparison, but I think that, for the
other people, the glitter of the Fontainebleau, Frank Sinatra
and all that, I think they are trying to do the same thing.
B: Yes, it follows a pattern. Yes, I agree with you.
R: So, whether you like the style or not, I think you have set
R: You are stuck with it.
B: I have never felt that the things we did here were in the most
perfect classic taste by any means. I think you have to do
things that are rather garish sometimes. Sometimes I have
felt that some of the things we were doing here were rather
blatant, but you must sort of attract the public fancy. You
have to try something new. You have to do something to hit
them, you know.
R: Well, that brings me to another thing that I wish you would
comment on. It has always seemed to me that from the very
beginning that what has made Miami Beach quite different from
other resorts. You mentioned gangsters, but I think it is the
B: Yes, very definitely. This is the winter show business
capital, you see.
R: You yourself have been interested in the theater. Of course,
Megill Warner of Warner Brothers was here at one point.
B: Does he still [live here or] is he dead?
R: I think he is dead. I am not sure. He was the rejected
brother, the one they did not want to have in the business,
so they sort of paid him off and kept him down here. Nick
Skank, of course, is another type of character who still lives
here. You know that they have the house that was originally
built by Mrs. Gold. They are still in it. They are
practically the last residents here on the oceanfront. The
house is sold, but I believe they have another couple of years
to live in it. I saw Pansy Skank the other day, and she said
they were still there, of course. Mr. Skank now is elderly,
extremely deaf, and not quite himself. He feels more at home
in these surroundings and she does not want to move him. But
he came here for years and years and years.
R: What about show business then?
B: What about show business?
R: Show business and the Beach, from the beginning.
B: This has never been a good theater town, but it has always
been a wonderful nightclub town. The shows here, before Las
Vegas, certainly were the best in America. Before the great
Las Vegas period, the gambling casinos could afford to produce
shows with showgirls and the greatest nightclub acts in
America. The Royal Palm started it and then carried on that
tradition to the Colonial Inn. The Royal Palm was run by one
group; the Colonial Inn is the Meyer Lansky group. Both were
supreme, I think. I do not think there is anything ever, even
in Las Vegas, to equal the quality of the shows and the
entertainment that they had. No expense was ever spared. The
gambling paid for the whole thing. Then, the other, lesser
nightclubs took this up. Now then, an interesting thing was
that in the early days, we had these great nightclubs where
you went and had dinner or you went late just to see the show.
They were all in individual buildings.
B: Then all of a sudden this picture changed, so now all of this
activity is in hotels. For instance, the Copa Cabana, or
whatever it is called down there on Dade Boulevard, has not
been able to be open successfully in six or eight years. It
has been closed. It is a magnificent building [but] they
cannot put anything in it because the era of the nightclub--
as such--is done. You see, they are all in connection with
hotels now. This is the amazing difference that there is in
the nightclub picture here.
Now, this has never been a good show town. In the early days,
we had a semi-amateur organization called the Civic Theater,
which I used to play with. Joe Cotton and a lot of people of
that sort did it. This was for amateur productions [but was]
very high class. Then, that sort of fell apart. Now there
are a number of amateur or semi-amateur organizations, all of
which are doing quite well. But theater as such first was
started here by a group down at the old Masonic Temple, and
that did not do very well. Then a man named Gaines, I think
his name was, built a very charming little theater (which is
now the Christian Science Church) here on Miami Beach. He
lost a fortune on that. It was quite a good theater, too;
people just did not seem to be interested in going to theater
here. Coconut Grove is at last paying off, after many years
of Mr. Engel losing money on it, very often because of ill-
advised, stupid plays. Now it is paying off under Buckman's
management and doing very well. But still Miami Beach is not
particularly interested in theater because of the fact that
they all see these shows in New York.
R: Yes. I was not so much thinking about theater as what is
thought of as "show biz" because it seems to me there has
almost been an atmosphere of theatrical quality, even about
B: Yes, definitely.
R: There has been a feeling that the whole town is in itself a
kind of stage.
B: It is; you are quite right. The whole thing is a front.
Everything in Miami Beach, to my mind, is a show-off [and] all
front. I think there is very little solid business behind it.
Everything is designed. It is just like Motel Row. If you
look at Motel Row from the street, you will see that every one
is completely different. They have these perfectly charming
facades, some of which are quite amusing and delightful.
R: Oh, they are hilarious.
B: I lived in Golden Beach, and I went back and forth every
night. These [motels] always interested and intrigued me.
If you take a boat and go down the oceanfront, [you will see
that] the fronts from the ocean are all absolutely identical.
They all are just nothing but boxes. I think the whole of
Miami is exactly the same way.
R: Yes. I think it is.
B: I think everyone here is more or less pretending. I think
they are all putting on an act, and in that category, I
include a great many of our so-called socialites.
R: Oh, yes, I think it is true of everyone. That is interesting
to me. Why should there be one place in the United States--
or maybe two, counting Las Vegas--which is entirely devoted
to an act?
B: Well, let us just say that this grew bigger than any of the
others. I think you [can] go to almost any town and find the
same sort of people. It just happens that this is a resort.
How many great resorts are there where this sort of thing can
go on? Atlantic City [was one]. Atlantic City has fallen;
it does not exist anymore. It really has lost its premier
position. But as a resort, [Miami Beach] is the greatest
aggregation of hotels and resort facilities that there is in
the world. There is absolutely no place else that can touch
it. We who live here, I think, forget that until we travel
elsewhere. Then we discover that any one of these beachfront
hotels would be highly acclaimed if they were in any other
city, a the top hotel. It is amazing to go into these hotels
and see what they have and the way they are operating. It is
all glitter and glamour; it is bawdy and tinsely.
R: That is not so terrible.
B: I think that is because there is more of it that we are more
conscious of this. This is the big aggregation; this is the
big spot. It is like what Broadway used to be. Broadway
today has fallen so low that it is pitiful.
R: My personal theory is that this has become industrialized, and
by the modern process, you get .
B: From the theatrical point of view, it is obvious that there
are more nightclub spots open to entertainers here than
anywhere else in the United States, including Las Vegas.
Remember that every little bar on Saturday night hires
R: That is true, of course. When we are down in Coconut Grove,
we tend to forget this.
B: Yes, you forget that. Just look in the papers on Saturdays
and see who is advertised to appear here and there. Now,
these are not men and women who work all the time. These are
people who take an engagement wherever they can get one. They
play three days here and two days somewhere else. They go up
to Palm Beach or over to Sarasota. But there are more places
open for theatrical people to get jobs here in this town than
there are anywhere else.
R: You mean, this is what finally happened to vaudeville.
B: Yes, exactly.
R: Where did all the vaudeville folks go?
B: This is where they are.