The Sabra Hotel Story
My mother’s adventure on Miami Beach
Written 2010 and rewritten 05/13/2016 unedited
In 1961, my father unexpectedly passed away, and my mother felt that she needed to do something to change her life.
My mother Betty was a registered nurse, sometimes working as the head floor nurse at Grace New Haven hospital, but for the last few years, mom had been working as a private duty nurse. So upon my father’s death, she was very depressed and she felt that perhaps a trip overseas was what she needed. She had read that there was a nursing shortage in Israel and thought that it might be a good idea to go to Israel and apply for a job there. Mom felt that with her nursing background she could always find work. So the next thing I knew, she said that she had booked passage to Israel on a ship leaving from New York City.
New York City was about a 70 mile trip from our house in Westville Connecticut so I decided to drive her there, and we invited her sister Lillian to join us for the trip. Once we were at the New York harbor, we all boarded the ship together, and went with my mother to see her cabin. We were very surprised to see that the cabin was really very small, and it had bunk beds, one on top of another, and my mom had the upper birth. I knew my mother wanted to try new things, but I never thought she would book a passage on an upper bunk. She was 50 years old had never done anything like that before.
Once my mother arrived in Israel, she applied for work at a hospital but was very surprised to find out, that there was no possibility of working in Israel if you didn’t speak Hebrew. This became a big disappointment to her as she had been planning on making a new life and career there.
So now my mother had to make a difficult decision, either to stay there in Israel and learn a new language, or just stay for a short time, and then return back to her home in Connecticut, so she had a decision to make.
On her passage over to Israel Mom had made a lot of new friends on the ship, so while she was staying in Israel one of t her new friends introduced her to a fellow who was the publisher of the French newspaper in Tel Aviv. Mom told me that he was a real nice guy that wanted to take her everywhere, he wanted to go to night clubs and dances and all the best restaurants. But mom said it was so soon after the death of my father, she quickly became very uncomfortable with his constant attention. So after a few weeks, it became so uncomfortable for her, that she booked passage on a return ship to the United States.
Now, while mom was on her return voyage, she was befriended by a women who was a real estate broker living on Miami Beach, Florida, and they became good friends. The broker told my mother about a small 24 room hotel that was available for lease on Miami Beach. She said that the hotel was located right on Collins Avenue, near 70th Street. She told my mother that it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
The broker told my mother all about the hotel’s location, she said it was right on Collins Avenue, the main Avenue, and across the Street from the Deauville Hotel, the Sterling Hotel, and the Carillon hotel, which she said were all first class hotels. She said that the small hotel handled all the overflow coming from the bigger hotels across the street, and she said that it was common for the big hotels to overbook or have customers overstay, and all of the overflow was sent to the smaller hotel. She said that one of the biggest customers were customers from the Sterling hotel, which was a Kosher Hotel, they had an agreement to send over all their overflow customers to the smaller hotel.
The broker told my Mother that the small hotel was called the “Norman” and it was always full of the Sterling’s overflow customers waiting for their rooms to become available. It sounded so good, that my Mother couldn’t resist leasing the Norman Hotel for 2 years for only $8,000.00 a year.
So, in late 1962, mom called me from Miami Beach to inform me that she was now in the hotel business. Naturally I was very concerned for her, I thought that she might be making a big mistake, but I knew that my mother was a very intelligent woman, and that she had never had the opportunity to utilize any of her talents to the full extent while we were living in Connecticut.
Mom had come to America from Russia at age 9, that was in 1921 and she had quickly learned to speak English. After graduating High School, she found that there were few opportunities open for intelligent women at the time. She was told that as a girl you could either become a teacher or a nurse, so mom chose teaching, and passed all the written tests. Then she went for her physical exam, and she was told to hop around on one leg for a few minutes. That was when the doctor told her that she had a weak heart and to forget about teaching. My mother said that she was devastated, and thus she entered the Grace New Haven School of Nursing, and she eventually graduated as a registered nurse. In 1937 my mom met and married my father, Jack Yasgar, who was a good looking, and a hard working electrician’s apprentice, He was earning about $14.00 a week at the time. My father was what you would call a “New Haven home town boy” and while he was about as good a guy as you would ever find, he was solidly anchored in New Haven, with little desire to ever leave there. So now my mother who was a potential poet, book writer, and ball room dancer, devoted herself to my father, her nursing career and then after 1939 to me. My father was always just happy to stay put in New Haven, but my Mother, who was always curious about everything, kept after him, until he eventually gave in, and we started traveling and doing all kinds of different things. I always suspected that mom had to put aside lots of the things that she wanted to do, so as not to offend my father, who was very traditional in his ways.
So here in 1962, my mother was now going to be a hotel operator on Miami Beach.
By 1963, I had just gotten married, and I was looking for a way that my wife and I could get down to Miami Beach to see my mother. At the time, I had just resigned from working with a company in Stamford Connecticut and I was self-employed.
While I was in Stamford Connecticut, I had met a fellow named Lou Gladstein and we had become good friends. Lou was the best man at my wedding and his wife was a witness. Lou lived with his wife Gladys in Bridgeport Connecticut, and one evening when I was visiting with them, they offered me a proposition. It seems that Lou had invested in an auto wrecking company in Miami Florida and he thought that the manager was embezzling all the money. Lou suggested to me that I drive down to Miami and take over management of the business. Lou’s wife Gladys said it would be just like my new wife and I were having a honeymoon in Florida and best of all we could get to see my mother. Lou offered to lend me a nice 1959 Plymouth to make the trip from Connecticut to Florida in. How could I refuse the offer, so I told my wife to pack up we were going on a permanent honeymoon to Miami Beach, Florida. I called my mom and told her we were coming. She said she had a room waiting for us.
So on a cold December morning in 1963, we headed from Westville Connecticut to Miami Beach, Florida. By evening we had reached the state of Georgia, it was late, and it was very cold. I was trying to impress my wife with how I could save money. So late in the evening we stopped at a cheap mom and pop motel in Georgia. The room was only $12.00. Well the heater didn’t work and the toilet overflowed and by 4 in the morning we were in a Holiday Inn which cost $35.00 a night, it had heat and even had a coffee maker in the room.
The next day we arrived on Collins Avenue on Miami Beach and started looking for the Hotel Norman near 70th Street. When we finally found it, it was nothing like what we had expected. Yes, it certainly was right across the street from the Deauville, Carillon and Sterling Hotel, but it was just a doorway with an awning over it, and the awning said “The Hotel Norman”. So we parked up the block in a Publix Market parking area, and walked back to the Hotel. There was a glass door to the hotel under the awning. To the left of the door and awning. The building had glass sliding doors that were open, and inside were lots of chairs, it was an auction gallery.
We entered the door to the Norman Hotel, to find a tiled hallway about 10 feet wide, with a staircase on the right side leading to the second floor. Up stairs was another long hallway, and what appeared to be 24 rooms, 12 on the left and 12 on the right. The first door to the left said office, it was open and there sat my Mother. She was sitting at a small desk by the front windows. Her bed was on the right side of the room, and leaning against the left wall of the room was 4 or 5 knapsacks.
Mom was so happy to see us, and we were happy to see her. She was so proud of being a hotel operator, and she wanted to show us everything. She said the first room was hers, and she used it as an office. A few of the rooms on the right side of the hallway were rented to seasonal visitors and a couple of retired people, that rented by the year. Mom said that the Sterling Hotel across the Street did send her Customers, but as the Sterling Hotel was a Kosher Hotel, all the people they sent over were orthodox Jews, and
Orthodox Jews can’t do anything mechanical after sundown on Friday night. This required my mother to go to their room every night and shut off the light switches for them, so they could go to sleep.
Mom said that as far as the downstairs auction house was concerned, it brought in people from all over the world, some of them being diamond and jewelry dealers, and many of these people stayed at her hotel. It wasn’t bad,” she said, as all the auction merchants were constantly inviting her out to the best restaurants as well as to the horse and dog tracks. I asked her what the knapsacks were for, and she said the Norman hotel attracted a lot of Hippies, and they just walked in off the street, but had no money, so mom always gave them a place to sleep and they left their knapsacks as collateral, mom was a soft touch. Mom said that the name of the hotel was the Norman but she had ordered a new awning as she wanted to change the name to the Sabra, it was a word she had learned in Israel, it meant a native born Israeli, mom said she just liked the word.
Mom gave us one of her best rooms, with a big double bed and television in it. It was just like being on a honeymoon vacation. Every morning we walked to the famous Pumperniks Jewish deli and restaurant where they gave you a basket of free pastries and rolls with breakfast.
One morning I went downstairs to wait for my wife, and when she came down, I saw a police car stop on Collins Avenue and motion for her to come to them. So I walked over and asked if I could help. They asked who I was and I told them I was her husband, they asked if I could prove it, and I asked why, I told them my mother ran the hotel Norman.
They laughed and said the Hotel Norman had quite a reputation on Miami Beach. When I told my mom she said that she wasn’t surprised.
A couple of weeks later, I was downstairs standing on the sidewalk when I saw a black stretch limo pull up across the street in front of the Deauville Hotel. As I watched several fellows in black suits got out and went into the hotel. It was the Beatles making their first U.S. Debut.
Every evening, people strolled up and down Collins Avenue, many coming to the auction house below the hotel. So mom rented her small hallway to a chalk painting artist from Brazil, and he would do beautiful chalk portraits for the tourists for $15.00 ea.
Mom told us that she was having a wonderful time running the hotel, but she said that she never made a profit with it. Between the cost of the lease and the cost of maintenance and laundry it cost her over $2000.00 extra money every month. So to try and make up the difference mom said she ran an ad in the local Miami Beach newspaper, asking if anyone needed the assistance of a nurse. She said she received lots of calls, they all wanted colonic irrigations, or enemas. When she asked them if they had a doctor’s prescription they all said no, it was for sexual gratification, so mom removed the ad.
Finding out that mom wasn’t making any money with the hotel, made us feel bad as she wasn’t charging us for our room. Also my driving every day from Miami Beach to run the auto wrecking yard was wearing me out. So my wife found a $20.00 a week rental trailer in a trailer park on 79th street in Miami and we moved there.
Mom did change the hotels awning to say Sabra. And she continued running the hotel until she completed her lease. She said losing money running the hotel was alright with her as she felt that she was the Queen of Miami Beach for two years. She then returned to our home in Westville Connecticut.
I remained in Florida and we always continued passing by the little Norman hotel. Eventually the awning was changed back to say The Norman Hotel. The Auction house closed down and the Norman Restaurant moved in. It has been 50 years, since mom had run the hotel, so we stop by the restaurant every so often for a hamburger and Mohito. I still have a chalk drawing the Brazilian artist did of my mom as she stood on the hall stairway to the Norman. For 2 years, she truly was the queen of Miami Beach.