A Very Special Moment in Time: THE CASINOS

A Very Special Moment in Time: THE CASINOSGambling?
There’s gambling going on here?
Close this place immediately!
Your winnings Captain Reynaud.
Thank you!

That was one of the great scenes from Casablanca, where, of course, a kiss was but a kiss, and a sigh was but a sigh, but this is Miami Beach, where, indeed, “times go by” including the marvelous days spent at Miami Beach’s four casinos and Sunny Isles’ one casino (although only the Harvey Baker Graves owned Sunny Isles Casino actually had games of chance as one of its attractions) and in so doing those times leave glorious and rich memories for so many who loved and lived during those wonderfully happy days in what for many years was known as “The World’s Playground.”

Our readers should understand, first and foremost, that the casinos, with the exception of the Harvey Baker Graves built and owned Sunny Isles Casino, were bathing, not gaming casinos, and it was only the Sunny Isles Casino that offered games of chance. People flocked to East Miami or Ocean Beach (predecessor names of Miami Beach) in order to avail themselves of a day in the surf and to enjoy the entertainments offered by the five casinos, with each of them proffering various and different offerings to their guests.

It should be noted that the first of the casinos was a two story building built by Connecticut coastal steamboat captain Richard M. Smith, who, according to Jerry Fisher, a distant relative of Miami Beach’s founder, Carl Fisher, leased the land for the building to one Avery Smith in 1908. Although Smith and his friend, James C. Warr formed the Biscayne Bay Navigation Company to develop a beach resort with suitable transportation to and from Ocean Beach, with Smith rebuilding the facility with docks and piers on either side of the bay and adding a boardwalk as he gave the new destination the name “Fairy Land,” James Warr seems to have disappeared from Miami Beach’s history and is not heard from or mentioned thereafter in any of the Miami Beach histories or books of the era while Smith (Avery) remains a potent and important personage in Miami Beach lore.

Next issue, then, we will delve further into the histories of the five casinos and help you to learn about not only them but how and when a couple by the name of Jenny and Joe Weiss came to Miami and then Miami Beach and went to work for Avery Smith at his and Warr’s casino.

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 Greater Miami history book author, with seventeen of his twentytwo books dealing directly with the villages, towns, cities and people of Miami- Dade County and two and one-half of them centered on and including Miami Beach in the titles.

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