Bathing pools were once the epitome of beach luxury in a young but bustling Miami Beach.
The Roman Pools Bathing Casino in Miami Beach, seen here in 1926, featured saltwater pools and a working Dutch windmill to pump in seawater.
A full-size Dutch windmill may seem incongruous next to bushy palm trees, but that was hardly the only odd juxtaposition at Miami Beach’s famed Roman Pools Bathing Casino. After all: a bathing casino?
The venue, built by developer John Collins and his son-in-law Thomas Pancoast, was the newest and most elaborate casino on Miami Beach when it opened in 1914. (It was Collins who actually coined the term “Miami Beach”; before then, others called the neighborhood Ocean Beach or Alton Beach.) Just three years later, another developer, Carl Fisher, bought the property and invested $350,000 into improvements, such as a second pool, restaurant, ballroom, shopping arcade, and the aforementioned windmill, which was used to pump in seawater for bathers. The pools themselves were saltwater and were split by a runway that was especially handy for showing off the latest in wool bathing suit styles—yes, wool, even on 90-degree summer afternoons.
Far from being just a redoubt to escape the Florida heat, the pools soon became as popular as any nightclub, attracting many of the area’s top swimmers as well. The Marconi wireless station (two wireless towers, installed in 1914 as part of the government’s attempts to increase communication, radio, and telegraph services) was a big draw, too, as was the beautiful pavilion itself, which was painted dark red and set among tall coconut palms. The bathing casino’s location on Collins Avenue also brought in pedestrian traffic, as people could gamble or relax at the coffee shop inside if they didn’t feel like going for a dip.
By 1936, a day pass cost would-be bathers a whopping $1.50 for adults and 75 cents for children. But as The Miami News reported, this included towels and umbrellas as well as “special luncheons and dinners for bathers at moderate prices.” It may not have been as lavish as, say, the Setai, but then again, what hotel today can claim a runway on its pool?
PHOTOGRAPHY BY STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA, FLORIDA MEMORY