Florida City's Main Man

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While working construction jobs, he met G.R. Runken, an immigrant who owned a construction company in Homestead. "Old man Runken was German, didn't have much schooling," Albury recalls. "He saw I had an interest, and he took me by the hand and taught me everything. At that time the average white man would look at you and spit on you. Today you can give me the plans to a house, and I'll give you the keys. I wouldn't take nothing for old man Runken. I'll never forget, we were over there in Leisure City. The first set of houses they built in Leisure City were all concrete, and they kept the hot-water heater outside. Old man Runken was trying to teach me how to lay blocks, and this [employee] came up and yelled at him, 'You letting that nigger lay blocks? Then we'll have another nigger knowing how to lay blocks!' At that time all they wanted you to learn was how to dig a ditch. Old man Runken fired him. Yes he did."

After Runken died in 1961, his son Fred, a career military man, took over operations. By several accounts it wasn't the best business move. After the Runkens fell more than a year behind in completing a funeral home in 1975, the home's owner sued the company for tens of thousands of dollars in business lost and money borrowed. Lydia Walker of Goulds, a long-time funeral director who hired Runken on Albury's recommendation, won a $25,000 judgment. "I never collected a penny of it," she acknowledges. Walker was a close friend of Albury's wife at the time. After Runken was called into the National Guard his firm fell apart.

Albury claims to be one of the first black people in South Dade to buy land. He had gone to a few banks for loans but was promptly turned down, so he went to the only two men around who would sell land to blacks and finance it. "Julius Finkel and Mr. Free, they were Jewish, they sold most of what black people had, and they were honest about it, too. After you paid off your loan, they'd give you the title to the land," he explains. He built a house in 1955 on a lot at Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street in Florida City. "My nearest neighbor was two blocks away. I had a '47 Buick, and I had to weave between pines to get to my place. I bought several pieces from Sixth Avenue to Fifth Avenue."

But in the early Sixties, Albury says, construction work was scarce, and he needed to find something more. "So I saw an ad in the Miami Herald that they needed a houseboy in Key Largo, the Anglers Club," he starts out. "So I put in for the job. They check your background and fingerprint you. Well, I got hired." He leans back slightly, cocks his head, and goes on with the story. "You want a clue about what I did? The name is Herbert W. Hoover. I worked for him. Every morning at 5:00 or 5:30 I had to get up and make a fire in his fireplace. He had seven or eight pipes and I had to clean every one of them. I had to pull out his chair. I'd say, 'Good morning, chief,' and he'd sort of make a noise. He was hard of hearing."

Hoover, an avid fisherman and frequenter of the Keys, stayed at the Anglers Club during the Fifties and early Sixties. The exclusive resort even had a "Hoover cottage" until the former president died in 1964. "He put that pipe in his mouth and started writing," Albury continues. "He'd sit there sometimes four hours writing. There'd be two guards there with him all the time. I'd leave and come back around 12:00. Bring his food over from the dining room. Then at 5:00 I'd have to go back and clean up."

Albury worked at the Anglers Club for two seasons, then found out about a construction job on Ramrod Key. It was on the set of PT 109, a movie-in-the-making about President John F. Kennedy's World War II experiences. Albury remembers building seven pieces of the PT boat for use in different shots and having to position some of them in the water for hours while the director and cameraman searched for the right shot. "I'd be submerged in the water, and I'd go to the stern and hold it exactly where they wanted it," he recalls. "It would make me so angry. One shot would take three or four days. Sometimes it would be a week. And then they blew the boat up anyway."

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Kathy Glasgow
Contact: Kathy Glasgow

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