Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Macabre Monument

Until well after WWII, Miami Beach was strongly segregationist. Known as the home of Good Millionaires as opposed to Palm Beach, the rallying point for Bad Millionaires, Miami Beach, in the '20s and '30s, attracted the likes of Harvey Firestone and J. C. Penney. WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) credentials were implicit prerequisites for acceptance anywhere above Fifth Street in addition to well established and massive wealth. Well-to-do also-rans, seemingly, had to be satisfied with the relative rigors of life in Palm Beach. As late as 1949, "No Dogs, No Jews" signs were to be seen in hotels lobbies and other pseudo-public areas while real estate advertising included memorable phrase such as "All views, No Jews". In the case of black visitors to the city, up through the early '50s, a pass showing proof of employment was required, even to cross the bridge. Mysterious then, that this should be the site chosen for a major Holocaust Memorial. WWII was instrumental in initiating changes in Miami Beach. With a massive influx of military personnel, plant and equipment, along with attendant support systems, a blurring of established social boundaries began, culminating in a more cosmopolitan landscape by the mid-fifties. Since then, South Beach has endured several other near-death experiences but survived them all. Vanishing vacationers in the 1960s and '70s led to rapid decay and significant slumming down of the area. A group of worthy citizens successfully halted this disaster by forming the Art Deco District preservation effort and revitalized visitor enthusiasm. This effort, in turn, was almost nullified by the Mariel Boat Lift in the early '80s which resulted in 125,000 criminals, mental defectives, hookers and other assorted undesirables being imported into the area from Cuba. Nice one, Fidel. The TV show Miami Vice is credited by some to have helped lift the area's image again in the mid '80s, as South Beach became a hot area for edgy advertising shoots, music-videos and other Hollywood fare. Meanwhile, the Jewish community had flourished mightily. Dade County was now home to 11% of the nationwide American Jewish population who, in turn, made up 12% of the entire county population. Thus it was, that a group of Holocaust survivors formed a committee in 1985 leading to the opening of the Memorial in 1990. The Memorial itself, has a curved walkway with a reflecting pool and a black granite wall from which a passage leads to a circular, walled plaza. The centerpiece of the plaze is a 42-foot bronze arm reaching up out of the ground and decorated with about a hundred life-sized bronze figures, some climbing the arm, some scattered about the plaza. A touch too bizarre, for my simple mind, to evoke much response beyond "Huh?" But then, each to his own.

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