Way Back When

See Miami Beach before the sex, drugs, and reggaeton.

Miami Beach: Blueprint of an Eden is a magnificent new coffee table book by locals Michele Oka Doner and Mitchell Wolfson Jr., saturated with stunning historical images and luminous prose. And according to Oka Doner, it all started with a song. “Micky [Wolfson] and I were crossing the Suwannee River, and we wound up singing the ‘Orange Blossom Song,’” she recalls. The ditty about songbirds and sunshine is a quintessential Old Florida tune once sung in schools, and preservationist/museum owner Wolfson and internationally famed artist Oka Doner both wondered how the other knew it. Turns out their parallel childhood experiences growing up in midcentury Miami Beach gave them greater commonalities than they’d realized. Oka Doner and Wolfson come from founding families. Their fathers were once mayors of the city – Wolfson in the Forties, and Oka in the Fifties and early Sixties. Both of them had exhaustive family archives of letters, news clippings, maps, blueprints, and, most notably, stunning photographs that capture the charmed purity of the era. Twelve years ago, they decided to pool their ancestral resources and make a book.

The bathing-beauty photos of Michele’s mother -- former Miami Beach first lady Gertrude Oka sunbathes seductively on the book’s cover -- weren’t meant for children’s eyes. “She kept them hidden in an envelope,” says Oka Doner. “Photos like that make the Beach seem so innocent. Now the women all look like Barbie dolls with these homogenous bosoms.” For nostalgic visions of Miami Beach before it was corrupted by cocaine, clubs, and collagen, head to Books & Books tonight at 8. An additional event will take place at the Bal Harbour store February 27 at 7:30 p.m.
Tue., Jan. 15, 8 p.m.; Wed., Feb. 27, 7:30 p.m., 2008

 
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