How Sweet It Was

Lido Spa's sale to a hip hotelier is not just the end of an era -- it's a death in the family

"I'd like you to sit up here so the performers can see your faces," she tells the crowd. "People ask how do you do it? and I say, you have to see my audience. I want you to know that this ... has been ... my calling."

Suddenly the whole lavender hulk that is Terry begins shaking. Her big brassy bass breaks up. She gulps, "It isn't easy."

The audience lets out a collective "Aaaaah."

"It's a bigger comfort for me to walk into a room like this than to walk into the front room of my house," Terry says, wiping her eyes and straightening up on her stool. "Even though I have lots of photographs on my wall, pictures can't take the place of flesh-and-blood people. You are the Lido Spa."


The last waltz

"The party's over!" yells Tommy to the rest of the boyes. "No more dancing," mutters sad-faced Simon. It's a few weeks later and the first show since the bad news broke about selling the Lido. The atmosphere is funereal.

The musicians are arguing on the bandstand as they wait until it's time to play.

"Are you telling me that Mr. Edelstein has a health problem?" Hy Siegel challenges his drummer, Danny Perez.

"No," says the drummer defensively, "I'm saying that Terry says Mr. Edelstein says he got tired."

"He got a good price is what he got," speculates Hy.

They're both right.

Chuck Edelstein looks much younger than he is, but that doesn't mean he doesn't feel the years wearing him down. "You don't have the same energy once you hit 63 or 64," he warns me, trying to explain why he let the Lido go. "Before I could work 'til nine o'clock and then take my wife out dancing. Not anymore."

So when Hotels AB comes along promising to maintain the property and offering him millions of dollars (neither party will disclose the amount, but a former real estate developer estimates the figure at "around $12 million," based on the $25.5 million Balazs spent for the better-located Raleigh Hotel on Collins), Edelstein says, "Why not now?"

By the time the letter went out on March 13, notifying staff of the sale, most of the snowbird regulars had already flown back to the north, hoping against hope they'd be back another year. Now the spa is packed with the South Florida condo dwellers on three- and five-day packages, who will be the Lido's "business" for the rest of the season. The staff can't afford to get weepy.

But the few remaining regulars are heartbroken. Mrs. Betty Grynwald and Mrs. Juci Horsky sit miserable by the front door on March 15, waiting for a ride to the airport at the end of what they now know is their last season at Lido. Juci is wearing two beaded necklaces she made in handicrafts; she will never make such a necklace again. In mourning, Betty wears a long black dress and long black jacket down to her ankles. An elaborate black bow pulls back her hair.

"They're going to cater to the young, not to us," Betty says stone-faced. "There is nothing, nothing that will ever replace the Lido Spa."

When she sees Mr. Edelstein come out of his office, Betty throws her ample arms around his skinny waist, trapping him in a hug. "I'm not going to let you go," she shrieks. "You're not selling this place."

"Let me go," Edelstein urges, wriggling free. "There are people stuck in the elevator!"

Mrs. Horsky says goodbye to Ernie Fernandez at breakfast, flagging him down as he dashes through the dining room to the condo dweller chorus of "Ernie! Ernie!"

"Ernie, I'll kill you," she yells as he passes her by again.

Finally he has a chance for a quick peck on the cheek. Asked what he will miss about the Lido Spa, a frazzled Ernie replies, "Having a job."

Mrs. Horsky shares a sweeter sorrow with Elizabeth Montes, who comes down from the shower room to say goodbye.

"Don't cry today," Elizabeth begs her, through her own tears.

Mrs. Horsky sobs, "Who will wash my boobies?"

Gerda Rosner and her husband rush through the lobby after chair aerobics class. As soon as Gerda saw the letter, she ran to Chuck's office and cried in his arms. Now she's off to an appointment at another hotel, hoping to negotiate a package to bring her ladies back to Miami Beach next year. "I will try to re-create exactly what we have here," says Gerda, unvanquished. "It will never be the same, but I will certainly try."

Terry Ross points to a line in the letter that says employees will receive a generous bonus commensurate with length of service. "After 35 years, short of giving me a wing of the hotel, I don't know how generous a bonus it can be," she says. She has already picked up a few condo gigs, assuming that Andre Balazs will not keep her on as social director.

But then you never know, says Terry the survivor. "If they called me back in a year or two ... I get along well with younger people." Why not? Balazs is famous for hiring performance artists to work in his lobbies. What better way to preserve the spirit of the Lido Spa than a weekly show or two by one of the world's last tumlers?

"Hell, if you have to go," says Terry Ross, "why not go out having a good time?" That reminds her of a Hebrew phrase: Echron-echron chaveen. The last, the last, is the sweetest.

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