Take a Dive into Miami Beach’s Roman Pools

Roman Pools 1926Roman Pools Bathing Casino, 1926. Photo Courtesy: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

The next stop on the historic Florida summer getaway tour is Miami Beach. Before the days of luxury oceanfront hotels and pastel-painted Art Deco buildings, people flocked to the famous Miami Beach Bathing Pavilion and Swimming Pool. Originally located between 22nd and 23rd Streets on Collins Avenue, the pavilion is now best remembered as the Miami Beach Casino and Roman Pools.

The realized dream of pioneer developer John Collins and his son-in-law Thomas J. Pancoast, the swimming pool opened on January 11, 1914. The salt water pool was designed by J.W. King and was three to six feet deep. The pavilion had a large number of dressing rooms, showers, and everyday conveniences for visitors. The pool was one of five casinos on Miami Beach. The others were Smith’s Casino at Biscayne Street and Ocean Drive; Hardie’s at First Street; Cook’s at Fifth Street and Ocean Drive; and the Surfside Casino in North Miami Beach. According to historian Seth Bramson, the four grand casinos located on Miami Beach’s oceanfront from Twenty-third Street were strictly used as public swimming pools and no gaming occurred at either one. However, the Sunny Isles Casino offered both swimming and games of chance. 

Miami Beach Pavilion 1913Miami Beach Bathing Pavilion under construction, 1913. Photo Courtesy: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory 

Roman Pools AerialAerial of the Roman Pools Bathing Casino, not after 1925.Photo Courtesy: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

In 1917, Miami Beach entrepreneur Carl Fisher purchased the pavilion and spent $350,000 for improvements and expansion. In Billion Dollar Sandbar: A Biography of Miami Beach (1970), Polly Redford notes, “With a second pool and a Dutch windmill to pump in seawater, a restaurant, ballroom, and shopping arcade topped with rococo towers, the old Collins pavilion was transformed into the Roman pools.” The pavilion was renamed the Casino St. John’s, then became the Roman Pools, followed by Everglades Cabana Club, and lastly the Riviera Cabana Club. In 1925, N.B.T. Roney purchased the pools and casino for $1 million and incorporated the property into his plan for his grand Roney Plaza Hotel, which opened a year later. 

In the 1950s, the lounge Murray Franklin’s was located at the Riviera Cabana Club. The lounge was a popular venue for leading American entertainers such as comedian Don Rickles and singer Roberta Sherwood. Despite its early success, the facility would be torn down after a fire destroyed most of the property on June 8, 1959. 

For more information on the history of Miami Beach casinos, refer to Seth Bramson’s Sunshine, Stone Crabs and Cheesecake: The Story of Miami Beach (2009). 

-Marvin Aguilar 

 

 

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