Jackie Soffer Recalls a Life in North Beach
by jon warech
Before success in Aventura, Turnberry Associates’ Jackie Soffer recalls a life in North Beach.
Jackie Soffer at the iconic Fontainebleau Miami Beach, which her family now owns.
Turnberry Associates founder Don Soffer helped build Aventura—he’s the billionaire developer behind many of its landmarks such as the Aventura Mall and Turnberry Isle Miami. He raised his family next door to Jimmy Connors, hosted Pro-Am tennis tournaments with Brooke Shields, and sent his high school aged daughter Jackie backstage at a Van Halen concert with tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis. (“I was in shell shock from that,” she recalls.)
Before there was Aventura, for Jackie Soffer, today the cochair and CEO of Turnberry Associates, there was Miami Beach.
Miami Beach in the 1970s was a far cry from today’s Miami Beach that attracts visitors from around the world. South Beach—as it is currently geographically defined—was, as Soffer calls it, “God’s waiting room” with elderly residents sitting on porches as far as the eye could see. Her Miami Beach—which ran mainly from 41st Street to 79th Street—had more of a neighborhood vibe. It was a place where kids could ride bikes or roller-skate, as she did every Friday night in North Shore Open Space Park.
The beach at North Shore Open Space Park.
“I lived basically off of 50th and Pine Tree Drive—it was a great neighborhood. I have such positive memories,” says Soffer, who attended North Beach Elementary School (notable alumni include Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg) and Nautilus Middle School. “I remember walking home from school sometimes. When I drive that route now, I remember walking it. I had full freedom. My parents were probably a lot more lenient than I am as a parent.”
However, the neighborhood wasn’t short on glitz and media attention with residents like the Gibb family and the controversial singer Anita Bryant turning heads in the area. “We used to trick or treat on North Bay Road, but even in those times, our parents would take us to homes of people I knew,” she says. “Anita Bryant was a big deal in Miami Beach at the time, and she lived right next door to one of my friends.”
On the south side of town, 41st Street was a bustling shopping destination with a beloved old-fashioned pharmacy and, of course, The Forge, a Miami Beach institution that was at the heart of Soffer’s early nightlife experience. “The Forge was always very opulent,” she recalls. “It’s a very unique experience, and it was a fun place as a child—you would go and sit in chairs that were double your size. It’s a little bit fantasy-like, and I think it always was.”
North Shore Open Space Park runs along Collins Avenue from 79th to 87th Streets.
In the 1970s, Miami “club life” meant going to country clubs for tennis or swimming during the day and evening social hour. “There was the Palm Bay Club, then there was the Jockey Club, then the Cricket Club, and then eventually there was Turnberry,” she says. “The nightclub action at the time was in these different clubs. We used to go during the day to go to the pool; the pool at the Jockey Club was a very social atmosphere.”
In those days, most places were kid-friendly, and Soffer would go with her family to Benihana and swing by a neighboring trampoline park, where she’d spend hours bouncing around, or walk around Fun Fair, a child’s paradise with food and games. She’d watch the swimmers at the Eden Roc through the glass walls and even ice-skate at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, a hotel Turnberry Associates now owns. “They had a small ice-skating rink but it was cool,” she says. “Fontainebleau was a fun place to go because they had a bowling alley and they had shops and the pool and the beach. You could do a bunch of things.”
For some healthy nostalgia, Soffer heads to Athens Juice Bar, a landmark since 1942.
Soffer’s grandmother lived at the Harbour House for some time, which meant trips to Jewish delis like Pumpernicks, Rascal House, and Wolfie’s. Those are all gone today, but when in need of a trip down memory lane, Soffer will swing by Athens Juice Bar—a landmark since 1942. “If you want to go somewhere nostalgic, you should go there,” she says. “It’s an old-fashioned Miami Beach juice bar, nothing like this coldpressed modern stuff.”
Today, Soffer sees Miami Beach as more international, more sophisticated than it was during her childhood. However, when she wants it, there are still hidden pockets with that classic neighborhood feel. “There are little local places you can go, like Purdy Avenue with Fresh Market, Lucali, and Panther Coffee, where it feels like a community,” she says. “That to me is great.”
photography by gary james