James "Jimbo" Luznar has made a special trip to his squatting spot on Virginia Key. The 84-year-old leans against a chopper while bikers, drifters, and bikini-clad University of Miami students crawl all over each other to get a picture with him.
Sporting his signature trucker hat and Dominican cigar, Luznar takes a loving approach to his island kingdom, noting, "It's like a family thing. That's why I'm always so happy about it." His son Bobby and daughter-in-law Jennie are now in charge of running his legendary hangout, Jimbo's Place, while Luznar, an animal lover, spends his days feeding squirrels in North Miami with his devoted wife Ruby.
Before the onslaught of ever-expanding condos and McMansions, Luznar secured his little corner of the earth on Virginia Key decades ago. Jimbo's offers any and all visitors cheap beer, smoked fish — his father's secret recipe — and a game of bocce ball, at which Luznar happens to be preternaturally talented.
The space has been the setting for dozens of photo shoots, films, and television shows, including Flipper, Luznar's favorite. Jimbo's Place nowadays consists of two rows of colorful dilapidated shacks and a dock. The family has plans to spruce it up with artist-designed tables and tiki huts.
Of Yugoslavian descent from a western Maryland coal mining family, former Merchant Marine Luznar fondly recalls, "During World War II and Vietnam, I sailed by here. There were only like 450,000 people in the whole of Dade County."
When he set up his shrimping business in South Florida, he had one boat. The city let him squat where the Miami Herald building sits, eventually sending him to Virginia Key, an island known for the town's African-American beach during the Jim Crow era and, more recently, a sewage plant. Back then, it smelled terrible and there was no electricity. "It was rough," he says, but now "it's actually a historical place and it wouldn't have been if I wasn't here."
He had presidential perks along the way. Richard Nixon's billionaire confidant, the late local banking magnate Charles "Bebe" Rebozo, was Luznar's friend. The shrimper even once stopped thieves from robbing him. Rebozo often hosted Luznar's kids on Fisher Island, and Luznar hosted his presidential pal at Jimbo's Place.
These days, two prosthetic knees don't keep this Miami legend from dancing at his birthday bashes, doing all of his own yard work, composting, and recycling. One of Bobby's childhood friends stops by to verify that Luznar "knows every single fish in the ocean."
There's not a person out on this sunny day who isn't clamoring for Luznar's attention. Out here on Virginia Key, so close but so far from Miami, everyone is part of Jimbo's family.