Thursday, October 1, 2015

Hotel Havana Riviera: Meyer Lansky gambles on Cuba

By Jane Feehan 

Social and political pressure nearly shut down casino gambling in Dade and Broward counties during the late 1940s and early 50s. Organized crime figure Meyer Lansky ran the Colonial Inn, a posh casino in Hallandale Beach, for three short years until the government closed it in 1948. The
high-profile Kefauver Crime Committee hearings, which arose out of concern for the growth of syndicated crime after World War II, ramped up scrutiny of illegal gambling operations in Florida and around the country. It was time for Lansky and friends to look for a more hospitable environment.  

That place was Cuba, where exiled mobster and Lansky associate Lucky Luciano held court under the cooperative eye of Cuba dictator Fulgencio Batista, an old Lansky friend.  Gambling brought tourists, so the Batista regime granted state loans to cover 50 percent of a hotel/casino valued at least $1 million. Honors went to Meyer Lansky who built the lavish 19-story, 354-room Hotel Havana Riviera along the waterfront. Seventeen other casinos were also partially financed by Batista.

Lansky had gambling interests in Las Vegas, where state law prohibited operators of gambling concessions from simultaneously running another casino. That included Havana, so Lansky tapped others, including businessmen Harry and Ben Smith, as owners/stockholders. A cadre of individuals listed as operators of the Havana Riviera was surreptitiously headed by Lansky.

Valued between $12 and $15 million, Hotel Havana Riviera was the first large hotel and casino to be constructed since the Gran Casino Nacional 27 years prior. With gold-plated slot machines and other amenities, the hotel opened December 10, 1957 with a floor show that included Ginger Rogers and an audience comprised of American press, and television and Hollywood celebs.  On Jan. 19, 1958 TV personality Steve Allen broadcast (NBC) from the Riviera with transmission made possible with new technology, the “over-the-horizon microwave system.”

It wasn’t long before the Cuban tide of fortune changed for Lansky and his associates. A violent storm that shattered windows and flooded the lobby of Hotel Havana Riviera on Jan. 4, 1958 foreshadowed the downturn. The growing July 26 movement, launched by lawyer and rebel Fidel Castro in 1953, was gaining momentum. By 1958 U.S. support for Batista waned after his army was routed by rebels. The breakdown of Cuba’s air force soon followed as did Castro’s repatriation from Mexico, Jan. 1, 1959.  Batista, purse heavy with state money, left quickly for the Dominican Republic.

The casino at the Riviera, looted as others were during the coup, was closed by Castro within days. Lansky arrived in Miami from Cuba on Jan. 7, hopeful that the new leader would soon change his mind. He told reporters that hotel employees were about to ask the government to reopen the casinos to save their jobs. Lansky returned and Castro reopened casinos (only to non-Cubans) on Jan. 18, welcoming U.S. tourists to his “beautiful land of happy people.”

Summary trials and executions by firing squads were the order of the day with support of many. In late January, a group of mothers whose sons had reportedly been killed by Batista met with 300 members of the international press in the lobby of the Riviera. Trials and executions continued, people fled to Florida and relations with the U.S. deteriorated. In May, Lansky’s brother Jake and colleague Dino Cellino who also worked at the casino, were detained 25 days in the Tiscornia Emigration Station. They were released, according to the Cubans, when they had word the two were not wanted by the U.S. government.

Hotel Havana Riviera lost an estimated $7 million by the time Castro seized the hotel and outlawed all casinos in 1960. Cuba anticipated a U.S. invasion. A bomb went off at the Hotel Havana Riviera Oct. 31, 1960, destroying a room and furnishings on the 12th floor. The hotel was nationalized, the mob left, and gambling prospered in Las Vegas, the real land of happy people.

Today, Havana Riviera remains a popular, if not luxurious hotel, with rooms selling for less than $100. It is recommended to business travelers and honeymooners, an odd juxtaposition of guests.

Miami News, Jul. 21, 1957
Miami News, Dec. 1, 1957
Milwaukee Sentinel, Dec. 12, 1957
The New York Times, Jan. 4, 1958
The New York Times, Jan. 2, 1959
Ocala Star Banner, Jan. 8, 1959
The New York Times, Jan. 18, 1959
The New York Times, Jan. 25, 1959
The New York Times, May 31, 1959
The New York Times, Oct. 31, 1960

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fort Lauderdale's four "railroads" in 1967: Can you name them? Think tourists.

By Jane Feehan

Fort Lauderdale frequently made the pages of Sunday newspaper travel sections in the north after airlines began nonstop service here in the 1950s. Ads for and tips on what to see and do in the seaside town have peppered travel pages from January until April each year since.

With tongue in cheek, a reporter from The New York Times claimed in January 1967 that Fort Lauderdale was becoming a major railroad center. Why? There were four miniature “railroads” in the city that ran in circles for tourists. The little trains hardly made for a rail center but the premise did catch the attention of those heading south for a winter vacation. Some long time residents may have also availed themselves of the four sightseeing venues:   

"Magellan Railcar" by Alexf
at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons 
The Gold Coast Railroad Museum ran eight cars on tracks near U.S. Highway 1 (near today’s Snyder Park) and into Port Everglades so visitors could view cruise ships and freighters. The museum, originally based in Miami, was first known as the Miami Railroad Historical Society. The group had asked for and received from the federal government in 1959 the presidential Pullman car 
used by Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower. They moved the vehicle, known as Ferdinand Magellan and later as U.S. No. 1 Presidential Car, to Fort Lauderdale in 1967 and housed it along with other railroad cars in their new site near the port. (The museum has since moved back to Miami and the U.S. No. 1 was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1985. See for more information. This deserves an entire post.)

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park featured a small diesel-powered train that ran on a three-mile narrow gauge track.  Visitors rode the train along the Intracoastal, atop a trestle and over a fresh water lagoon in the 180-acre park. This was also a great source of amusement to some locals who wore masks and pretended to be raiders swooping down on unsuspecting visitors who rode the rails at little over 10 mph. I only heard laughter on these jaunts and never saw a fearful face. The popular ride ceased to operate in 1985.

Pioneer City operated a train 15 miles west of Fort Lauderdale in Davie. The train, known as the Jenny Lynn, was a replica of a steam locomotive used in 1890. It transported “dudes” to a sternwheeler headed for a mock-up of a 19th-century cow town featuring a saloon, shops, shoot outs and staged bank robberies. Visitors could take the train past an artificial mountain and a real buffalo grazing on a prairie sprinkled with whitened steer skulls. Pioneer City opened in 1966. It was closed and up for sale by 1968 due to poor ticket sales. The buffalo was also included in the property sale.

Not really a train, but a string of cars pulled by a rubber-tired vehicle, the Voyager Sightseeing Train took visitors on a 30-minute tour of the city landmarks. Based at 600 Seabreeze Blvd. and launched in 1962, the Voyager became a landmark itself. We knew tourist season had arrived when the cars were filled to capacity and the Voyager became a traffic nuisance. It no longer operates. 

Miami News, June 6, 1966
The New York Times, Jan. 8, 1967
Lakeland Ledger, Apr. 16, 1978
Evening Independent, Mar. 19, 1968

Tags: Fort Lauderdale tourism, Pioneer City, Hugh Taylor Birch Park, Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Voyager Sightseeing Train

Friday, September 11, 2015

Whaling off Fort Lauderdale ... a gruesome tale

By Jane Feehan

When most of us think about whale watching, Alaska and Cabo San Lucas in Baja California come to mind, not the waters off Fort Lauderdale and Southeast Florida.  

In 1935, The New York Times (Mar. 25) reported on a six-hour whale chase and its bloody outcome off Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood. Many today would consider it a gruesome tale.

Captain Frank Merritt, a fishing guide operating out of Port Everglades, spotted two whales a couple of miles off the coast one day at 9:30 a.m. In his tiny “cabin cruiser,” loaded with seven harpoons and 200 rounds of rifle bullets, Merritt set out to give chase and make a kill. His plan was to separate the two whales, which appeared to be a mother and her calf.

The fishing guide harpooned the eight-ton, 32-foot baby whale, which then dived into the blue and took Merritt’s 22-foot boat on a wild ride southward. The furious mother whale immediately attacked the vessel leaving several ribs of its bow slightly damaged.  Another fisherman, Captain Jack Weygant, came by to assess the smash up and his boat was also rammed.

The unfolding drama drew four more boats, including one from the U.S. Coast Guard. All performed maneuvers to chase off the 72-foot mother while her baby was being peppered with rifle shot and “stuck” with harpoons.  In all, three boats were rammed in the chase.

The hunt ended at 4 p.m. off Hollywood when the calf, bleeding profusely, died and the exhausted mother disappeared.  “It’s just a baby,” said Capt. Merritt, who described the chase as the most exciting and dangerous day of his long fishing career.
By the 1930s, more than 50 thousand whales were killed annually throughout the world. The whales in this story could have been grey whales or northern right (Balaenidae) whales, so-called as they
Southern right whale
 by Michaël CATANZARITI *
were the right kind to hunt: slow and large.  Because of their size, they don’t breach the water's surface often. Hunting of northern right whales was outlawed in 1937. Today they travel in shipping lanes, which may account for their near extinction.

Whales feed in cold waters and breed in warm waters during the spring. I asked legendary Fort Lauderdale angler and author Steve Kantner*, about his sighting of whales off South Florida.  He hasn’t seen them frequently but recalled one time that he did from a commercial airplane.

It was a few years back, but I still remember looking out the plane’s window as it started to bank. I’d say we were maybe five miles from shore and less than a mile from the surface.

I was scanning the water, like fisherman do, looking for weed lines—that sort of thing—when I first saw them. Frankly, I had trouble believing my eyes, although in those days my vision was perfect, yet here were two huge whales swimming in tandem. I made them out to be between 30 and 50 feet long. They kept tooling along and their flukes were visible. I watched the whales as we continued our turn and until our position changed. I’ve seen a whale shark before; this time was different.

Kantner also said whales of many species travel the globe; their presence near Florida during the 1930s or now would not be a rare occurrence. 

Commercial whaling is outlawed in many parts of the world with exceptions, one being for nine indigenous communities of Alaska that hunt with limits on the number they can kill.

Fort Lauderdale residents who don’t want to travel to Alaska or Cabo to see a whale may be as close to a sighting as a fishing boat ride off our coast.

The New York Times, Mar. 25, 1935

* Steve Kantner's most recent book ...

Tags: Steve Kantner, whales off Florida, Florida whales 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Plans before Fort Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse: What were they thinking?

Not theater patrons
By Jane Feehan

Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse lifted the curtain on its first production Feb. 6, 1967*.  The theater is located at the fringe of Holiday Park off Federal Highway near Sunrise Boulevard, but few remember another theater was planned in 1959 for a site off A1A near the Galt Ocean Mile.

The participants in the two projects were different – and so were the plans. George S. Engle, owner and producer of the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, teamed up with famed Florida architect, Alfred Browning Parker (no relation to donor Louis W. Parker of the Parker Playhouse), to draw up elaborate plans for the A1A location.

The $2 million project would include features “never before attempted in the entire country.” For starters, its marquee was to be so large that 30 automobiles could pull up at once to discharge passengers. A drive-in ticket window would be available where patrons could view available seating and purchase tickets before parking their cars. A restaurant and lounge seating 1,000 theatergoers would operate near another lounge with a soda fountain and dining area for teenagers.

There’s more. Much more.

The ambitious plans also included a library for playwrights, producers and directors, a private room for the press, an art gallery and exhibit hall for artists and students, and a theater memorabilia room featuring thespian history since Greek and Roman times.

A penthouse and club would operate late into the night for dining and dancing. Also, a model of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre would be constructed featuring manikins draped in clothes of that era. A drama and art school was to operate at this very busy facility. The entire complex and its offerings were to be run by a Society of Theatre Arts that would coordinate activities and performances at the Coconut Grove Playhouse … and a theater in Nassau, Bahamas (a tropical paradise teaming with theatergoers).

Engle proposed a 99-year lease on an 800-ft frontage property along A1A. A condition of the project would be a substantial advance subscription sale. That never happened. What were they thinking? People came to Fort Lauderdale (and still do) for surf, sun and fun, and depending on the age group, the fun might be boats, booze, and babesnot theater.

Theater sanity arrived with electrical engineer and inventor, Louis M. Parker, Ph.D., who tired of driving to Miami and Palm Beach to see plays.  In 1966 it was announced that Dr. Parker would
Parker Playhouse
donate $700,000 for construction of a theater on land near Holiday Park. The City of Fort Lauderdale would pay $300,000 for the property. Some papers reported that Parker donated up to $1.5 million.

The theater, run then by Zev Buffman, opened with about 2,000 seats, 48 shimmering chandeliers and two cocktail lounges, a much more realistic venture than the one proposed earlier.  Its architect, John Volk was the last of the early 1920s Palm Beach architects that included Addison Mizner. Volk  had also designed the Good Samaritan Hospital, parts of the Everglades Club, the Royal Poinciana Theater—all in Palm Beach—and a long list of other landmarks.

The Parker Playhouse is now run by the Performing Arts Center Authority, which includes the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

*The play that night was Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” starring E.G. Marshall and Dennis O’Keefe. It was directed by Danny Simon, the playwright’s brother.

New York Times, Nov. 15, 1959
Pittsburgh Press, Nov. 25, 1966
Palm Beach Daily News, Feb. 22, 1984

New York Times, Feb. 6, 1967

Tags: Fort Lauderdale theater, Parker Playhouse, Jane Feehan, film researcher, Alfred Browning Parker. Louis M. Parker, Fort Lauderdale in the 1950s, Fort Lauderdale in the 1960s

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A profitable alliance: Boxing and Frankie Carbo

By Jane Feehan

Miami Beach boxing promoter Chris Dundee denied doing business with mobster Frankie Carbo, but admitted he first met the “Czar of Boxing” in 1937 at Stillman’s gym in New York City.  There was probably more to that relationship than he let on.

Carbo, part of the New York-based Lucchese crime family, had ties with boxing managers and fighters as far back as 1936. He was always ready with the “long green,” paying the gym tabs, car notes and other expenses of fighters. He also lined the pockets of managers. They were in too deep by the time they realized favors led to obligations. 

It wasn’t easy doing business without getting involved with the mob. Carbo had the connections to make things happen. Money flowed to those who associated with the unofficial “commissioner” of boxing. Fighters and managers saw money that they may not have seen otherwise. In 1959, a New York Amsterdam News reporter suggested many boxers would have remained in obscurity had it not been for Carbo.

Fight doctor Ferdie Pacheco wrote that Chris Dundee “had to join the boxing union of Frankie Carbo.” The "membership" helped Dundee, brother of manager Angelo Dundee, to develop world champions at his 5th Street Gym. Without happy fighters and worthy matchups there was no business.

Some in the fight world would  turn over as much as 50 percent of the take to Carbo. Boxing champ Sugar Ray Robinson resisted. Though he was considered to be in Carbo’s circle of influence, he didn’t like taking orders. Famed fighter Jake La Motta admitted Carbo ordered him in 1947 to take a dive in a bout with Billy Fox. To his many boxing credits, Muhammad Ali was the first heavyweight champion to be totally free of mob ties.

Carbo, who used the alias “Mr. Gray” in arranging fights, chose the contenders; he was probably behind what was then thought to be a mismatched bout between Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) and Sonny Liston in February 1964 at the Miami Beach Auditorium. Throughout the years, however, Dundee maintained he hadn’t done business with Carbo. In 1960 he was quoted as saying boxing wasn’t “big enough any more to attract a real racketeer.” There was more money, he said, in horse racing, football and baseball.

Before that historic, if not pretty, 1964 fight, rumors flew about Chris Dundee using Carbo’s influence to obtain certain closed circuit television rights for another championship fight. But Dundee steadfastly denied connections ... and then there was the time Frankie Carbo, in the company of Chris Dundee, picked up the check of Miami News editor Howard Kleinberg and his wife at the Saxony Hotel restaurant. He asked Dundee who the friend was who waved when he attempted to pay the check. Dundee told a startled (and not entirely happy) Kleinberg it was Carbo. Wink wink.

Carbo illegally arranged a long roster of fights at Madison Square Garden and other venues, including Miami Beach, for more than two decades. In the 1940s he kept an apartment in New York City to conduct business with boxing managers. A few years later, the FBI knew he had a place at the 2000 block of Taft Street in Hollywood, FL. Carbo was seldom there, it was reported, but it was also used for business.

More on Carbo’s pedigree: He was born in New York’s Lower East Side in 1904 as Paolo Giovanni Carbo. By age 11, he was declared a juvenile delinquent. He went on to run a Bronx taxicab protection racket in the 1920s and was arrested and convicted in 1928 for murdering a driver who would not pay up. Carbo served 20 months in prison for a reduced charge of manslaughter. The conviction precluded his obtaining a license for boxing operations. An associate of mobsters Owney Madden and the “Lord High Executioner” Albert Anastasia, Carbo was suspected of being a trigger man for Murder, Inc., with possible involvement in several mob hits including that of Bugsy Siegel (yet unsolved) in 1947 . He was also thought active in bootlegging and bookmaking during his career.

In 1958, Carbo was indicted along with Frank “Blinky” Palermo with seven counts of undercover management and two counts of unlicensed matchmaking in fights. Charges included conspiring with Herman (Hymie the Mink) Waller, New York furrier and fight manager, to commit a crime of undercover management of boxer Don Jordan. While awaiting trial on Rikers Island in New York, he was brought before the Kefauver Committee in Washington, D.C. investigating organized crime. Carbo responded to each of the 25 questions he was asked by invoking the Fifth Amendment giving up no information.

The Czar of Boxing was convicted in July of 1961 with Attorney General Robert Kennedy as U.S. prosecutor and was sentenced to 25 years at McNeil Island Penitentiary in the state of Washington. Like many mobsters during jail time, he remained a powerful influence in his criminal domain. Kennedy long suspected him of continued involvement in the fight world and particularly with Sonny Liston. Carbo was released for health reasons 12 years into his sentence. He died in 1976, aged 72 at a Miami Beach hospital.

Dundee probably didn’t need Carbo’s help during the ensuing Muhammad Ali years, but he maintained  that the czar was a gentleman, if not a friend. The Dundees are gone now and so too the electrifying days of heavyweight stars, matchups at the Miami Beach Auditorium and the roof raisers at the Garden. And mob influence?

For more on the 5th Street Gym, see the labels for boxing or my post:

Pacheco, Ferdie. Tales from the 5th Street Gym. University Press (2010).
Raab, Selwyn. Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires. Thomas Dunne Books (2006).
Chicago Daily Defender, Jul. 24, 1958
New York Amsterdam News, Jul. 25, 1958
Chicago Daily Defender, Nov. 2, 1959
New York Amsterdam News, Nov. 7, 1959
Chicago Daily Defender Mar. 21, 1962
Miami News, Nov. 29, 1954

New York Times, Nov. 11, 1976

Tags: Boxing history, Chris Dundee, Mob history, 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Brothers Dundee, the 5th Street Gym, and boxing's best days in Miami Beach

New York Times, Nov. 19, 1998

By Jane Feehan

I was hooked on boxing as a kid after seeing World Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson running along River Road in Chatham, N.J., training for his matchup with Ingemar Johansson. In his early 20s then, Patterson exuded intensity and purpose, endurance and physical magnificence. I was awe struck when I learned it was all for professional fighting.

A few years later we moved to Fort Lauderdale, about 25 miles from the epicenter of boxing, the 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach. Looking back it may have been the one time I wished I were a man … to climb those creaky wood stairs to the dilapidated, termite-invested gym sitting above a drugstore and news stand. How else to authentically experience this fraternity of the "sweet science" whose members were punching, jabbing, left hooking and pivoting hours each day in hopes of reaching pugilistic fame and fortune? I could only read about it … and that was OK.

Born in Philadelphia, Chris Dundee (1907-1998) had managed the boxing career of brother and club fighter, Joe Dundee. The family name was Mirena but “Dundee” sounded Irish, loaning (they thought) street cred to their boxing finesse and promoting abilities. It stuck.

Chris first came to Miami Beach in 1938 to promote the Ken Overlin-Ben Brown fight at the jai alai fronton. The area was ripe for boxing events; Miami was the new land of opportunity. He returned to stay in 1950 and opened a gym at 5th Street and Washington Avenue. Younger brother Angelo Dundee (1921-2012), who gave the gym its name, came aboard as trainer and manager. The Miami Beach Auditorium often served as stage for official boxing events. Chris remained the consummate promoter, keeping seats filled. With complementing skills, they yin-yanged their way to success. .

New York Times, Jul. 25, 1971
Brothers Dundee kept the gym humming with hopefuls and Chris scored a few notable promotions, the first big one in 1956 with the lightweight World’s Championship fight between Wallace “Bud” Smith and Joe Brown. The most famous, of course, was the Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston matchup for the World Heavyweight title in 1964. It catapulted Clay, who had just taken the name Muhammad Ali, the 5th Street Gym, and the Dundees—especially Angelo—into world fame.

There was another among the gym’s notables who rode this rising tide.

Dr. Ferdie Pacheco (b. 1927) operated a free clinic in Miami’s poor Overtown neighborhood when he joined the cast of characters at the 5th Street Gym in 1962. He became known as the fight doctor, corner man and personal physician to Ali and other boxers. Pacheco left Ali’s camp after a controversial bout with Ernie Shavers in 1977. He went on to become a media personality as boxing analyst for NBC and Univision. Pacheco and Ali remain friends.

Pacheco’s book, Tales from the 5th Street Gym (University of Florida Press, 2010) captures both the history of the gym and essence of what it meant to fighters, including a troupe of talented Cuban pugs and their fellow exile fans, and other managers and trainers during the decades before its demolition in 1993. Several practitioners of the sweet science contributed to Pacheco’s compilation but he set the background and tone, providing context. His wife, Luisita Sevilla Pacheco, provided many of the photos.

To know the gym’s history is to understand why Ferdie Pacheco was “steamed” in 2006 when Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer ceremoniously installed a plaque at the site of the demolished gym dedicated to Angelo Dundee who was on hand for the occasion. Chris was gone by then but Angie remained in the collective conscience (he still does). Now 87, Pacheco is a treasure trove of good, bad and hilarious memories from this Golden Era of boxing. He’s a prolific writer, with 14 books to his credit, and painter of works that fetch thousands; his book features a few of them.

No, I never made it to that boxing mecca in South Beach, but reading the doctor’s tales was almost as good as climbing those stairs to boxing heaven. Sweet.

Tags: Ferdie Pacheco, Angelo Dundee, Chris Dundee, Muhammad Ali, Miami Beach, 5th Street Gym, film researcher

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Candy Store, sleazy ghost of Fort Lauderdale's Spring Break past

The Candy Store was adjacent to the Tradewinds Hotel

By Jane Feehan

A few years ago, someone suggested I write histories of restaurants and clubs in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. I pointed out that unless establishments made the news, there wouldn’t be much to write about; owners are/were too busy trying to keep the doors open to think about legacy. Most go out of business.

But a few spots did make the news. One of them was the infamous Candy Store at 1 North Atlantic Boulevard on Fort Lauderdale beach, adjacent to then-named Caribbean West Trade Winds Hotel.* Popular for its wet T-shirt, Teenie Weenie Bikini, belly flop, beer guzzling contests and a lineup of other slothful student activities of the Spring Break years, the Candy Store packed in 2,000 during the day and 3,000 patrons at night during the height of its popularity, which one manager deemed was 1986. That year, more than 325,000 young people swarmed the beach for the six-week bacchanal. (Some news stories indicate 380,000 Spring Breakers visited the city in 1985.)

Owner Bobby “Van” Vannuchi, opened the Candy Store in 1977 (its beloved beach predecessor, The Button Lounge opened in 1970). A friend of football great and party hearty guy Joe Namath, Van also had an interest in Namath’s Bachelor’s III, and owned Mr. Laffs and Mr. Pips, all in Fort Lauderdale.

According to Van, he employed as many as 350 at the Candy Store during Spring Break. That’s what he told Daytona Beach officials in 1989 where he was opening another Candy Store on Grandview Avenue (he also owned one in New York City.) He was getting nervous about things in Fort Lauderdale; the welcome mat for students coming to that city was about to be pulled.

The Spring Break business climate was changing in Fort Lauderdale. Commissioners had had enough of the city’s demeaning party image. It wasn’t attracting the development needed to expand its tax base. And, in 1987 as many as 12 students were killed in Florida during Spring Break in alcohol and drug-related incidents. The Candy Store was emblematic of all the city was trying to get rid of so it became a major target—and tactic—of dismantling the festivities that began in 1935 and increased in popularity with the 1960 release of the film Where the Boys Are.

The City of Fort Lauderdale cited the Candy Store for 52 code violations in April, 1989 that included plumbing, electrical and fire and safety infractions. Additionally, it was to lose its liquor license, which was predicated upon the club operating adjacent to a hotel with at least 50 rooms. That hotel, the Caribbean Tradewinds, entered bankruptcy in 1988 or 1989 and was to close.

Van also had problems in Daytona. He paid $375,000 for his new 15,000 square foot club and about $500,000 for renovations. City officials raised zoning concerns and tried to block the opening for six months; its pending moratorium on issuing building permits was overturned by the 5th Court of Appeals in March 1989. Van planned to go ahead and open before the end of that year’s Spring Break. The Candy Store in Daytona remained open until March, 1991. He retained part ownership rights on the building and leased it to another nightclub impresario. (The fate of the NYC club is unknown to this writer.)

Meanwhile, Fort Lauderdale could claim success in its re-imaging efforts: only 20,000 students flocked to its beaches in 1989. By 1990, business at the Candy Store was reportedly off 50 percent (at least). The club limped along until 1993 when it shut its doors. Bobby Van remained in the restaurant biz as late as 2005 when he owned Jilly’s Café at 2761 E. Oakland Park Boulevard; it has since closed.

The Candy Store still evokes fond memories. On one message board, a man asked recently if anyone knew the tall blonde bartender he went out with in 1986. He wanted to reconnect but lost her name and phone number (hilarious - she could be a grandmother now). Others remember Paul W. Lorenzo, managing partner in 1983 who dressed in shorts, tuxedo jacket and tie and one of his 700 zany hats. Anyone who gave him a hat earned a free lifetime membership to the Candy Store. Today, that membership is to a hall of memories of Spring Break madness. The only place still operating along the strip is the Elbo Room first opened in 1936 or 1938. No doubt people gather there on occasion to share stories about Bobby Van's place.

Note: The Ritz Carlton Hotel currently sits at the old site of the Candy Store.

*The original Trade Winds Oceanfront Hotel was built in 1940, one of the city's largest at the time.

Tags: Fort Lauderdale clubs, Fort Lauderdale in the 1980s, Fort Lauderdale Spring Break

Lakeland Star Ledger, April 3, 1983
Star News, Feb. 19, 1987
News-Journal, Feb. 4, 1989
News-Journal, Feb. 17, 1989
Ocala Star Banner, Nov. 25, 1990
News-Journal, Feb. 19, 1992
Sun-Sentinel, Nov. 15, 1996
NBC News, March 17, 2008