South Miami Beach is a tiny gem of Art Deco architecture, warm sun and cool breezes. It was also the winter destination for many seniors throughout the 70s and 80s. During its golden age, upwards of 20,000 “snowbirds” (those who fly south for the winter to escape the cold north east) would migrate to the two and a half mile stretch of beachfront Shangri-La. After years of working hard, surviving the depression, the war and concentration camps, Jewish senior citizens made the pilgrimage south. A depressed economy and cheap rents in the crumbling Art Deco hotels made it an ideal choice for the retiree on a fixed income. The beach boardwalk overflowed with seniors, the sound of Yiddish filled the air as people spoke in their mammen loshen (mother tongue).
The Haddon Hall Hotel was the last option available to those seniors who wished to remain in South Beach. The dilapidated hotel offered the resettled seniors a place to live at a relatively reasonable price.
“I moved into Haddon Hall to embed myself with the hotel’s residents becoming their surrogate granddaughter. Equipped with a 35-mm camera and slide film, I photographed my surrogate bubbehs and zaidehs lounging by the pool, doing exercises and kibitzing on the veranda. I joined them for bingo, took them grocery shopping and to the beauty parlors; these people were my friends.”
- Naomi Harris
Started in 1999, the project ended after two and a half years when most of the hotel guests either passed away, moved into nursing homes or became too frail to make the trip down to Florida.
Today Miami Beach is synonymous with luxury having become the playground for the rich and famous. And Haddon Hall itself has had yet another transformation; it's an adult-only hotel focusing on the LGBTIQ+ community.
Now, some twenty years later these images serve not only as documentation of the hotel’s last days as a place where seniors could happily live out their golden years, but mark the end of an era as there are no longer any pensioners wintering in South Beach.