Marjorie Klein is the author of a novel Test Pattern published by Wm Morrrow in 2000 (hardcover) and Perennial/HarperCollins in 2001 (trade paperback). For 25 years, she worked as a freelance writer for various publications including Tropic, the Miami Herald's Sunday magazine, as well as the Washington Post, St. Petersburg Times, Hispanic Magazine and others. She presently teaches creative writing at the University of Miami, and has taught at Miami-Dade College and Florida International University, where she received her MFA in creative writing. She is working on another novel. She teaches creative writing at the University of Miami and is the recipient of a 2007 Florida Individual Artist fellowship....and of course, attended Beach High but graduated a few years later than us and most likely considers herself a social activist.
They were the Beach kids: the kids from Miami Beach High. I had never known anyone like them.
They were sharp. They were funny. They had an attitude before it was spelled with a capital "A".
And when they spoke of their hometown, it was with an intensity and love that transcended the
standard homesickness of college freshmen.
When I first met them in 1958, I had never been to Miami Beach. With movies and television as
my only references, I visualized it as a Technicolor city an upscale Oz with palm trees starring
Arthur Godfrey as the Wizard. It was not a real place where real people lived.
But real kids did live there. I met them during my freshman year at the University of Florida in
Gainesville. With the exception of the Beach kids, most of my classmates were typical of that
Eisenhower generation: naive, unhip kids from Miami, Jacksonville or obscure parts of Florida not
found on most maps.
I was different. I was sophisticate. I was from Washington D.C.
Until I met the Beach kids. I thought Washington was Bright Lights, Big City. I lived where the
President lived; my friends were the children of politics and embassies. My high school was
named after Woodrow Wilson, not some movie-set-resort. I knew what style was. It was
But Beach kids wore madras and reeked of Canoe. They even spoke a different language.
Neat to me was cool to them. I was uncool. Sex, gambling, drinking jai-alai, cabanas, abortions,
nightclubs, wild fraternity weekends in Havana-all foreign concepts to me--were within the
vocabularies of most Beach kids.
Their high school days had been touched by characters straight out of Damon Runyun: showgirls
bookies, hookers, tourists, and Silver Dollar Jake.
Silver Dollar Jake was this old guy who tooled by Beach High in a Cadillac convertible,
accompanied by two mannequins dressed as a sailor and a girl. As he passed the guys, he
would toss them his trademarks: silver dollars and condoms.
All we had in Washington was the Good Humor man.
So when Susie, my roommate, invited me home with her for spring break, I accepted with all the
zeal of an earthling invited to a weekend on Mars. I had to see what these exotic beings called
Home was a movie set. But it wasn't so much the ocean or the palms, the concentrated wealth
or the cha cha nightlife, all within the incongruous atmosphere of a small town. It was the Beach
kids themselves who were the stars in my living fantasy.
The Miami Beach of the fifties was an anomaly in a Beaver Cleaver world, a rhinestone pin on a
gray flannel suit. Even its crime seemed Damon-Runyuneque, a make-believe malice based more
on flash than fear. This insular atmosphere bred a generation of kids that was at once wordly
and innnocent: the Beach kids of the fifties.
In 1960, Beach High moved from its original location on Drexel Avenue to it present site on
Prairie Avenue. By 1967, integration, busing and the beginning influx of various ethnic groups--
Latin, Russian, Haitian--had irrevocably altered the demographics of Miami Beach's only public
high school, once a homogeneous entity whose population was for the most part, white, middle-
to-upper class, and Jewish.
Those who attended the old Beach High were the first and the last of their kind. Few were born
on Miami Beach. Their parents brought them there. Many of the parents were connected in some
way with the tourist industry, finding success in Miami after escaping from up North. They then
celebrated their good fortune by spending it and passed this trait on to their children.
The sophisticated veneer of both parents and kids was born of exposure to and competition
with the tourists whose personas they assumed: sophisticated, free spending good-timers, the
exotica of American culture. Beach kids rushed into an immature maturity, often crashing head-
on-with their parents who were speeding in the opposite direction.
Not everyone lived this way, Lincoln Road was the dividing line between the classes, a Mason-
Dixon line that separated the "haves" from the "have-mores." The kids who lived in South Beach
weren't poor; they were comfortable. But compared with the kids who lived in the villas that
lined North Bay Road or other exclusive areas north of Lincoln Road, they felt poor.
Beach High proved to be a great leveler, despite the cliques, the competition for clothes and
cars, the nouveau riche mentality fostered by a community whose power base was luxury and
extravagance. The often-derisive term "Beach Kid" was used by the Beach kids themselves in a
kind of love-hate acknowledgment of their privileged lives. (Even today, they will use the term in
the present tense- "He's a Beach Kid"-to define someone's past.) Yet beneath the brash
materialistic facade was a loving camaraderie, a soft underbelly to the cynicism so many affected.
It was that dichotomy that drew me to the Beach kids.
And so I came home with Susie for spring break. We did all the things that Beach kids did: flirted
at 48th Street Beach, hung out at Fun Fair, faked I.D.'s to get into Copa City, and shopped on
the then-chic Lincoln Road. It was there, in a chance encounter in the parking lot, that Susie
introduced me to a guy she knew from high school.
Three years later, I married him. And I became, by osmosis, a Beach kid myself.
I hear a click like the turn of a key in a Studebaker. The Miami Beach High '58 Reunion Machine is
cracking into gear once more.
There was a 10th, a 20th, a 25th reunion. Now there is talk of a 30th , to take place a year from
now. Someone has discovered a cache of old Beachcombers-the school paper-and will copy
and send them to class members monthly until the reunion takes place. The reunion committee
is firing up; the meetings are almost as mush fun as the reunion itself.
But the reunions are more than mere celebrations of joy; they have become wakes for what
used to be.
The nostalgia is for a school that exist only in their memories, in a city that most tof them have
abandoned -even as a place to hold their reunion.
The 25th was held on Key Biscayne a weekend at the Sonesta. There was some discussion
about holding it on Miami Beach- the site of the 10th and 20th--but the committee vetoed the
proposal to hold it in the deco hotel district. Others were eliminated as "too Miami Beach," as if
final were a curse.
.....Not everyone feels this way. There are those who return for the nightlife and the beaches;
others have returned for good, buying homes and getting involved in development. A few never
left at all. But there is unanimous agreement on one fact: Miami Beach has changed. It will
never be the same...
...Mark Medoff, author of"Children of a Lesser God." is now at work on a novel about growing up on the Beach. "I remember eighth grade parties in oceanfront mansions," he recalls. "Then they began tearing them down to build hotels. You could see those properties disappearing. We were moved off the Beach to the other side of Indian Creek. We felt this resentment, that the tourists were interlopers. "In a way, this feeling was another bond that solidified the cohesiveness that marked the kids of Beach High until it moved in 1960...
"It was a hell of a high school, "agrees Mark Medoff. "You had wonderful teachers, and there was a prevalence of respect for academics." It proved to be a fertile breeding ground for the next generation of Miami's leaders, producing a disproportionate number of professionals: doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians, developers, publishers, and several people prominent in the arts.
...Mid-October, 1987, A high noon sun illuminates Espanola Way, crisply defining its newly painted pinkness against an enamel-blue sky. "This was it, "says Bobby Bishop, "928." We peer through the windows of what seems to be an office under construction. Thirty years ago it was Dolly's.
Mention Dolly's to a Beach kid and watch his eyes focus inward. This is what he's seeing: a tiny luncheonette, open to the street, right around the corner from the old Beach High. Jukebox to the left, counter to the right. Inside, the guys punching nickels for Buddy Holly or Elvis, consuming great quantities of burgers and 15-cent Jumbo Coolers. Making lewd comments at crinolined girls who pointedly cross the street on their way to Ding Ho or Dairy Queen, elaborate ignoring the guys...
....Bobby Bishop's parents owned Dolly's...
...The aroma of roast chicken floats by as we walk. Beach Poultry is one of the few reminders of the Espanola of the fifties...
...We walk over to the old Beach High...It was used as the setting for the movie "Porkey's." ...The fountain and the fish pond are no longer there. Once, it was lushly landscaped; its breeze-swept rooms opened onto a flower-filled patio...
Bobby and I walk to Penn Way Drugs, another lunch spot for the girls...Bobby's face breaks into a smile as I point out the round black circles marching up the aisle to the right, where the stools would have been if there were still a counter. For just a moment, we can almost see a line of saddle shoes hugging the pedestals, almost smell the tuna sandwiches and french fries, almost hear the giggles of girls who may be grandmothers by now...
...Most Beach kids...come back to visit out of curiosity or hope. They slowly circle familiar streets, following the mobius strip of nostalgia. If they come back to live, they usually return to the suburban safety of the islands or the residential areas north of Lincoln Road. Often, the prospect of living on the water is the magnet...
While some have acquired an appreciation of art deco, many are mystified by its appeal. They find it both amazing and amusing that the old buildings of their youth are now considered historic...
...Judy Kossoff Schoenbrun: "We recently went to Lincoln Road...I wanted to look in the Lillie Rubin window because I had so many memories; it was so elegant. You would sit in front of the salon and gowns would be bought to you. The dressing rooms were plush and they would bring you cokes and you would sit there like a princess...
...Jim Steig: "We used to go to Al's pool hall on Third Street any time of the day or night. We took buses everywhere. We never thought about being in any danger. I still thank God that I was lucky enough to grow up in a place like this."
...Time has skimmed the memories of the Beach kids saving only the best lime coolers at Dolly's, a cabana at the Fontainebleau, Saturdays at 14th Street beach. The bad stuff sinks like sediment in the murky waters of nostalgia.
Old Miami Beach, to them, may be more a feeling than a place, a spiritual landmark for the events and emotions of growing up. Their longing for the city of their youth may be just a longing for lost youth itself.
"Miami Beach was a utopia, but not representative of the world kind of community," says Sandy Friedland. "Now it reflects society as it truly is. I was privileged for having been bought up there, but as exquisite as the past was, you have to grow up."