In today’s episode of This Day in Miami History, we discuss the current threat to the Clevelander Hotel on Miami Beach by looking back at its history in shaping America’s war effort during World War II.

When Miami Beach Went to War – LIFE

Photographs of WWII military in Miami Beach – Miami Design Preservation League (


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[00;00;01;03 – 00;00;27;21] Matthew Bunch: If you don’t already know, we here at This Day in Miami History like to tackle new subjects each month, and this month will be a new subject. But it does cover some territory that we’ve treaded pretty recently, and that is the subject of historical preservation and Miami Beach. So forgive the indulgence, but I do want to dive into this topic, focusing specifically on a local legend, the Clevelander Hotel.

[00;00;27;24 – 00;00;53;16] Matthew Bunch: The Clevelander opened in 1938, smack in the middle of Ocean Drive. It’s on the corner of 10th and Ocean, directly across from what is now the headquarters of the Miami Design Preservation League, but formerly the city’s first post office and a federal courthouse. But the new ownership of the Clevelander, the Jesta Group, has something else in mind for the property.

[00;00;53;18 – 00;00;59;00] Matthew Bunch: A 30-story tall tower featuring housing, both affordable and non.

[00;00;59;03 – 00;01;06;20] Jamie Guirola, WTVJ NBC6: It’ll be a 30-story housing development with 40 percent of units designated as affordable housing and a high-end restaurant on the first floor.

[00;01;06;25 – 00;01;17;03] Matthew Bunch: Anthony O’Brien is a representative of Jesta Group, based in Montreal. He spoke about the development to NBC6 and, as you can imagine, was pretty enthused.

[00;01;17;06 – 00;01;38;13] Anthony O’Brien, Jesta Group: It provides affordable housing in an area that is, you know, drastically underserved. And, you know, it creates a new, iconic architecture in a neighborhood that wants to transform, that wants to change use. So we feel that, you know, most people should be excited by the plan.

[00;01;38;15 – 00;01;41;09] Matthew Bunch: Not everyone is excited by the plan.

[00;01;41;11 – 00;01;54;08] Jamie Guirola, WTVJ NBC6: Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gilbert reacting tonight in the statement saying, quote, “This is the worst idea ever. The Jesta Group should be ashamed. Thirty-story buildings would simply destroy what is known throughout the world as iconic postcard of our city.”

[00;01;54;13 – 00;02;03;01] Matthew Bunch: So why is this happening? It’s largely thanks to a piece of legislation that came out of Tallahassee, known as the Live Local Act.

[00;02;03;03 – 00;02;21;18] Sheldon Fox, WSVN FOX: Passed earlier this year by state legislators, the Live Local Act centers around incentivizing new construction through tax breaks for affordable housing and, in theory, allows for developers to get around height and density restrictions like those in historic areas like Miami Beach’s Entertainment District.

[00;02;21;20 – 00;02;45;20] Matthew Bunch: I don’t want to take too much time talking about the importance of South Beach, the Art Deco history of Miami Beach. I encourage you to go back to check out our episode from April about the life of Barbara Baer Capitman. We spoke to Daniel Ciraldo of the Miami Design Preservation League for that episode, and he is really leading the fight in attempting to prevent this kind of development in South Beach.

[00;02;45;20 – 00;03;11;03] Matthew Bunch: But I do want to talk a little bit about the Clevelander itself and an important moment in its history that really indicates why it’s so much more than just a hotel on South Beach when there are so many. It has a unique place, and that’s what we’re going to explore today, This Day in Miami History: The day when South Beach’s Clevelander Hotel was made ready for the Army Air Force’s Technical Training Command.

[00;03;11;08 – 00;03;30;28] King Elizabeth: ♪ “Miami Sunrise” by King Elizabeth ♪

[00;03;30;28 – 00;04;02;25] Matthew Bunch: Miami Beach had entered its own kind of Great Depression before the rest of the country due in large part to the collapse of the real estate market in South Florida and the September 1926 Great Miami Hurricane. But, because of that, South Florida and specifically Miami Beach had started to rebound a little bit sooner than a lot of other parts of the world from the Great Depression. And by the time World War II began for the United States in December of 1941, Miami Beach was pretty well developed.

[00;04;02;28 – 00;05;04;06] Matthew Bunch: By entering into World War II and facing off against Japan, Germany and Italy, the military knew it needed to prepare its soldiers for a variety of different climates. And irrespective of adapting to climatology, just having somewhere where you could train soldiers pretty much every day of the year because of the pleasant weather was really helpful. And so between 1942 and 1945, approximately half a million soldiers at some point were stationed on Miami Beach. A significant number of these soldiers were part of the Army Air Force’s Technical Training Command. The goal of this command was to take Americans who had some sort of mechanical skill and train them in how to repair and maintain airplanes. This was essential. World War I was the war that really introduced aviation to the battlefield. World War II would be the war in which owning the skies was essential to victory.

[00;05;04;08 – 00;05;43;01] Matthew Bunch: The Clevelander began its role in this story on September 20, 1942, when it prepared to receive members of the Army Air Force Technical Training Command (AAF TTC). Major H.T. Plumb had just over two weeks to prepare the hotel to begin receiving men. But again, on time, the Clevelander began its role in helping to support the war effort. On Saturday the 20th, the doors flew open. On Sunday the 21st, every member of the squad moved in. And by Monday morning, training at the AAF TTC guard school had begun.

[00;05;43;03 – 00;06;03;18] Matthew Bunch: The school was one of the first of its type in the Army, according to the Miami Herald. The Clevelander outpost focused specifically on guard work. So instead of being forward soldiers, the men who went through the training here were designed to do things like guard outposts, guard important installations and other things that would help the war effort.

[00;06;03;20 – 00;06;41;17] Matthew Bunch: Now, it is important to note that the Clevelander was not the only hotel on Miami Beach helping in this pursuit. In fact, at its peak, the Army Air Force Technical Training Command had some 337 Miami Beach hotels under its control. A pretty significant number. Perhaps the most famous hotel of this era was just a few blocks away. It’s known as the Cadet Hotel, and it’s really known for the famous name that stayed there during his time training in Miami Beach.

[00;06;41;20 – 00;07;16;14] Narrator, United News: Clark Gable, Cinema idol of Millions, bronzed and tough is now an officer in the United States Army Air Corps. This is the graduating parade of his classmates. Enlisting as a private, working up from the ranks, Gable won his commissioned by hard work and with it the admiration of the entire nation. Congratulations from the general in command. Today, as Lieutenant Gable, he plays his greatest role of all time, an officer in the Air Force of his country.

[00;07;16;16 – 00;07;48;11] Matthew Bunch: Gable was invited to speak to his graduating class and took up the offer and eventually would go on to support the United States Army in its efforts to build morale by producing a number of propaganda films shot in Florida. By the time the United States reaches the back half of the war, there’s a realization that the number of pilots and guards is not going to be as high as originally anticipated; that winning the battle of machinery would almost be more important than winning the manpower battle.

[00;07;48;14 – 00;08;09;25] Matthew Bunch: And so eventually these operations are scaled back in ‘44 and ’45 in Miami Beach and, eventually, this command is transferred to Boca Raton to a proper Air Force base. But I think it’s really important for us to take a moment to realize the impact that Miami Beach had on the war and the impact that the war had on Miami Beach.

[00;08;09;27 – 00;08;34;14] Matthew Bunch: You can go in search and you can find this in our show notes, a link to a Life magazine spread about life in training on Miami Beach during World War II. And it’s inescapable to see how training on the sands of Miami Beach could — and did for some — lead to the beaches of Normandy. Miami prepared American soldiers to fight, and in some cases, it prepared them to die.

[00;08;34;16 – 00;08;55;04] Matthew Bunch: But those that survived truly impacted Miami Beach and our region immeasurably. It was our second boom, soldiers returning from the front lines, coming back to the United States and returning to the place that they called home, the sunny shores of Miami and the sunny isle of Miami Beach.

[00;08;55;06 – 00;09;34;11] Matthew Bunch: I usually take this time to thank the sources that I use in order to create this episode, and I will do that in just a second. But before that, I really commend you to seek out the Miami Design Preservation League for updates on this continuing issue of redevelopment and the threat to historical preservation on Miami Beach. Again, we spoke to Daniel Ciraldo in April and he’s doing a wonderful job. You can find the Miami Design Preservation League Online at or @MDPL1976, that’s MDPL1976 on pretty much every major social media platform.

[00;09;34;11 – 00;10;07;12] Matthew Bunch: I do want to give a shout out to NBC6 and Channel 7 WSVN for their coverage about this issue that I borrowed a little bit from for this episode. There’s also a wonderful repository of historical archival footage from Buyout Historical Footage Film Archive on YouTube, and that photo spread from Life magazine. Again, check out the description of the show and hopefully the link will be working, and you can find it there. And worst case, you’ll be able to see the title of the Life article and you’ll be able to search it out there.

[00;10;07;12 – 00;10;28;15] Matthew Bunch: So as always, thank you so much for listening to this month’s episode. Make sure to follow us on social media, Instagram, Facebook and X or Twitter or whatever you want to call it. You can always find shore updates and other fun stuff there. So with that being said, as always, thank you. And until next time I’ve been Matthew Bunch.

[00;10;28;15 – 00;10;43;20] King Elizabeth: ♪ “Miami Sunrise” by King Elizabeth ♪

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