Dateline: South Miami Beach, 1930. “Paul’s Safari Into Miami History”
The Miami Beach Kennel Club and its Environs,” 1930. It fronted Ocean Drive, at First Street.
From 1926 until its final demise in 1980, the Miami Beach Kennel Club, situated at the very southern tip of South Beach on 1st and Ocean Drive, brought to the beach side resort as a whole that exciting, somewhat cosmopolitan and seedy, edgy spark that “old fashioned” gambling lent to an area to which people flocked every glorious winter to live a little larger for a time, maybe even get a taste of what ‘carefree’ might feel like.
Entrance to the joint, back when it was hoppin’. Ca. 1940’s. Courtesy of Wolfsonian Archives, FIU. Below, page from a 1948 Miami Beach tourist brochure touting recent improvements.
The glowing palace of potential burned hot for decades, offering within its warm nighttime glow the irresistible lure of that singular point between heady euphoria and abject despair, The general decline of the area saw its lights finally go out with the arrival of the 1980’s. Shortly thereafter the old building was razed to the ground.
Here is a view similar in pesrepctive to that from 1930 above, as of day before yesterday:
I never visited the dog track, but did have an amazing experience in its shadow around 1971, as an 11 year-old Cub Scout. There was a fairly compact, but not cramped, camping area shaded by tall old palms and other green trees. In their shade sat a handful of very simple but quite-comfortable old cabins, that housed the dozen or so in our Scout group with great comfort. Only steps away from the crashing surf, their windows were screened but wide open, and the breeze, steady and easy, kept the temperature nice. Which is a wonderful thing, generally, but a special Godsend when the fact of our sun-burned condition is taken into consideration.
Aerial shot of the area, 1964. The jetty stretches out to sea in the foreground, and the pier is the next structure visible.
The place is now indistinct in my memory, but sweet. Like a nice dream, that touches me inside with a smile because it was real, even on this personally dark day after election night in November of 2014. I have been especially fascinated by the history of my hometown Miami, lately. Yet I would like it known that I turn to the past to remember, not to forget. I seek inspiration for meaningful action in the challenging “here and now,” not the momentary relief of escapist indulgence.
My engagement with the history of my hometown, I hope that you might understand, involves a walk of faith. It is in many of my fellow Miamians, and those now living elsewhere who have loved and still do love the place, of several generations and every season of life, that I find reason for hope here.
The pier, as it remained largely unchanged, for its construction in 1926 until 1984.
But quickly, back to 1971: my father Jerry Crockett, God bless him, was volunteering at the time as a Scout Leader, which made the enchanting weekend only that much more special. It allowed even for that most rare of opportunities: for father and son to experience real adventure together. Which we did, along with a few of my equally “devil may care” compatriots, navigating our treacherous path along the way of the stone jetty jutting forever out into the sea, encountering its barnacles, unbelievably slippery moss, the occasional unexpected fissure and sharp edge on the monumental stone. The spray from the turbulent waves arising from the green sea and slamming wildly against the huge boulders on either side flew about as if it had someplace to go.
The swirling mist only upped the ante for the great adventure, especially as the shoreline appeared to recede in the far distance, and, to my young eyes, the distant horizon seemed our closer neighbor. With the big blue sky above, we found ourselves between the shore and the deep blue green sea. It was a moment when time stopped, and when that happens, one never forgets.
“Taking a Happy Plunge,” indeed! Photograph from the Miami News, April 21, 1980. A favorite local pastime: the thrill of jumping, the adrenaline of impact, the gladness of once again breaking the water’s surface, where there was all that sweet air!
To successfully gain the victory of conquest so bold, a few minor cuts and scrapes seemed but small price to pay. What would one do to avoid them, forsake the entire experience? Upon my life, never! Dad carefully assessed the wounds and scratches and pronounced them “red badges of courage,” which kept the tears away from my eyes. And even made me feel a little proud.