As we noted in this column previously, there were a total of five bathing casinos, only one of which—the Harvey Baker Graves owned Sunny Isles Casino—had gaming.
The first of the bathing casinos was the Avery Smith and James C. Warr owned Ocean Beach later Smith’s Casino, located just north of Biscayne Street on the oceanfront. Between Second and Third Streets Dan Hardie, later the Dade County sheriff, built Hardie’s Casinos, which was a huge (for the times) building. North of Hardie’s, at Fifth Street and the Ocean, was Cook’s Casino, similar to the other two but definitely smaller in size. It would be Cook’s that would long outlast the other four and years after they had been closed, burned down or demolished, Cook’s continued to operate until sometime in the early 1960s.
Although the four on Miami Beach did include changing rooms and sundry shops, it appears that only Cook’s did not offer some form of food service; other than perhaps the selling of candies and perhaps bottled soft drinks there is no evidence that Cook’s competed for the snack or meal trade.
The fourth of the casinos lasted until the early 1950s but as the Everglades Cabana Club, rather than as a casino, which it had been when it was built by Carl Fisher and the Collins—Pancoast group. In fact, it started life on the block between 22nd and 23rd Streets and Collins Avenue, just south of the Roney Plaza, as Fisher’s St. Johns Casino, made into a true Miami Beach landmark by virtue of the large windmill that stood almost until the building’s demolition in the mid 1960s to be replaced by the 22nd Street Holiday Inn, that edifice also now demolished.
Perhaps the greatest of the glory days of the Fisher/St. Johns Casino was when it was bought and taken over by new operators, who changed the name to Roman Pools and made the site a major entertainment venue, with show rooms, night clubs, fine dining, a coffee shop and stores fronting both Collins Avenue and 23rd Street, attracting well-heeled patrons from both Miami Beach and the Roney Plaza Hotel, which included the first Burdine’s store outside of Miami proper, same operating in the Roney during the winter season only.
The Roman Pools would, as previously noted, become the Everglades Cabana Club and for some years offered swimming and diving lessons, water shows, shopping and dining mostly to locals, who enjoyed the near luxury of a cabana in the pre-Fontainebleau Hotel days, by which time some of the cabanas featured their own restrooms, sinks and separate and enclosed changing areas.
The memories of those great and wonderful pleasure palaces is fading fast, but the stories of the buildings and their aficianados can be found in both “Miami Beach,” published by Arcadia Publishing and “Sunshine, Stone Crabs and Cheesecake: The Story of Miami Beach,” published by The History Press, both in Charleston.
Seth H. Bramson is Adjunct Professor of History at both Barry University and Nova Southeastern University. The Company Historian of the Florida East Coast Railway, he is America’s single most published Florida history book author, with 17 of his 22 books dealing directly with the villages, towns, cities, counties, businesses and people of the South Florida Gold Coast. Seth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org