Home » Sun-Wrinkled Retirees On The Streets Of 1970s Miami Beach Are Captured By Photographer David Godlis

Sun-Wrinkled Retirees On The Streets Of 1970s Miami Beach Are Captured By Photographer David Godlis

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Before he gained fame photographing New York City’s legendary punk rock scene, David Godlis trained his camera on a secluded Miami Beach enclave of elderly immigrants who came to the United States from Eastern Europe and built a life for themselves in a ‘Jewish Disneyland’ that has since faded from memory.

Godlis was there to capture photos of retirees playing cards under the sunshine and palm trees, or getting a tan on lounges and lawn chairs as they stared out beyond the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean.

His new book, a 159-page project called Godlis: Miami, chronicles his trip to South Florida as a 22-year-old in 1974. He spent ten days in Miami Beach visiting his grandparents – Russian emigres who found a new life in America.

During his 10-day trip, he shot 50 rolls of black-and-white film.

In hindsight, he discovered that it was where he honed his craft and perfected the ‘street photography’ style that became his trademark while capturing images of the Bowery, CBGB, and the hectic nightlife of Greenwich Village and Lower Manhattan in the mid-1970s.

Godlis found a thriving, bustling environment that seems like a distant memory – one where a carton of cigarettes cost just $3.99 and arrivals from the old country saw Yiddish-language vaudeville shows at one of the historic art deco theatres.

At the time, Godlis had no clue that he was witness to the end of an era. The second-generation immigrants would abandon Yiddish in favor of their native tongue, English.

His grandparents, like other immigrants in the community, were snowbirds who retired to South Florida after back-breaking work in the hustle-and-bustle atmosphere of New York City.

A far cry from New York’s harsh winters, these retirees were savoring the respite from the frost of the Northeast.

‘Goodbye snow, hello coconuts,’ Godlis writes in his book.

In 1949, Florida’s state Legislature repealed the discriminatory law that barred Jews from owning real estate. Since then, Miami Beach became a magnet for the community, earning nicknames like ‘Little Jerusalem’ and ‘Shtetl by the Sea.’

‘Shtetl’ is the Yiddish word for ‘small Jewish town or village.’

Today, Miami Beach is unrecognizable. The Yiddish vaudeville theater is today the legendary nightclub Mansion, where performers like Rick Ross and Deadmau5 entertain large crowds of partygoers.

Wolfie’s, the famous Jewish deli, is no more. In its place is a Walgreen’s situated inside a Ritz-Carlton South Beach hotel.

As South Florida has changed, so has its demographics. In 1982, there were an estimated 60,000 Jewish households in Miami Beach – before the art deco revival led to higher costs of living.

Recent surveys now put the number at less than 16,000 as second-generation immigrants moved to nearby Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

Before wealthy tourists flocked to the area and high-rise condos and four- and five-star hotels started dotting the landscape, Miami Beach had its own flavor and character – forever memorialized by Godlis’ camera.

Street photographer David Godlis captured the idiosyncratic world of the elderly Jewish immigrant community of Miami Beach in the 1970s, where snowbirds from New York left behind the big city life for an idyllic setting filled with palm trees, sunshine, and leisure

This black-and-white photograph shows two women ordering at the Jewish deli Wolfie’s on Collins Avenue. A Walgreens located inside a Ritz-Carlton hotel on South Beach today stands on the site of Wolfie’s

Two ladies and a gentleman are pictured enjoying the sun and tanning in Lummus Park. The 1970s hairdos and Jackie O-style sunglasses were a common fashion statement among members of the community

Two women relax on Miami Beach as the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean appears in the background. Godlis visited an enclave of emigres from Eastern Europe, including his own grandparents who came to the United States from Russia 20 years earlier

Godlis pictured a man waiting by the beach with a shopping bag (left). The image on the right shows a retiree holding up an ‘Impeach Nixon’ poster at Lincoln Road Mall. The Jewish community of Miami Beach – much like in the rest of the country – has and always been mostly liberal in its political outlook

A group of pensioners line up to cross the road by Miami Beach, a bustling area that included theatres, kosher bakeries, restaurants, and diners. The area used to be predominantly inhabited by retirees and Cuban refugees. Since then, however, it has become one of the fastest growing regions in the country over the course of the last four decades – attracting large numbers of internal migrants from different parts of the US

Pensioners stand outside the Cinema Theatre, the oldest and largest art deco theatres on Miami Beach. This theatre production featured vaudeville which became one of the most popular forms of entertainment both in Western Europe and America. The theatre at 1239 Washington Avenue later became the famous Mansion nightclub, which featured performers like Rick Ross and Deadmau5

A fisherman tries to haul in a fish at the pier on Lower Ocean Drive in Miami Beach. Godlis said his 10 days of shooting photos in Miami Beach taught him how to be in the right place at the right time

A man stands with a hand on his hip and a lit cigarette in his mouth as he holds a little boy. Meanwhile, a woman is seen taking a picture on her camera as a girl watches on. Second-generation immigrants thrived in America – realizing the dream of their parents who built lives in the new country through sweat and tears

Two women are pictured enjoying the sun. One is laying back with her eyes shut on a sun lounger, wearing what appears to be a swimming outfit, while the other is wearing a below-the-knee dress and white-framed sunglasses

A woman is pictured sanding next to a Chevrolet Chevy II Nova convertible whilst walking her dog. She is pictured wearing a leopard print ensemble with large white sunglasses. Chevrolet discontinued production of the Nova in 1989

A group of women pose in front of the camera, with one holding her dog. The ladies are pictures sitting in the sun, with one enjoying an ice cream cone (pictured far right). Godlis shot a total of 50 rolls of black-and-white photographs during his 10-day trip to South Florida

A man lies back on a sun lounger with an attached umbrella to give him some shade. He is pictured holding a newspaper wearing thick black-framed glasses. As South Florida has changed, so has its demographics. In 1982, there were an estimated 60,000 Jewish households in Miami Beach – before the art deco revival led to higher costs of living. Recent surveys now put the number at less than 16,000 as second-generation immigrants moved to nearby Broward and Palm Beach counties

Godlis Miami is published by Reel Art Press RRP £29.95 / $39.99 / €33.12 For further information and full list of stockists visit Reel Art Press.