Tuesday, January 24, 2006

In Cold Blood, and a neighborhood near you

Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is a riveting crime story told as a 'nonfiction novel'. It is also a sort of fugitive's travelogue, following murderers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith as they lie, cheat, steal, and hitchhike their way to Mexico and then across the United States. They reach Miami Beach in late December 1959, unaware that their days as free men are numbered:

In Miami Beach, 335 Ocean Drive is the address of the Somerset Hotel, a small, square building painted more or less white, with many lavender touches, among them a lavender sign that reads, “VACANCY – LOWEST RATES – BEACH FACILITIES – ALWAYS A SEABREEZE.” It is one of a row of little stucco-and-cement hotels lining a white, melancholy street. In December, 1959, the Somerset's “beach facilities” consisted of two beach umbrellas stuck in a strip of sand at the rear of the hotel. One umbrella, pink, had written upon it, “We Serve Valentine Ice-Cream.” At noon on Christmas Day, a quartet of women lay under and around it, a transistor radio serenading them. The second umbrella, blue and bearing the command “Tan with Coppertone,” sheltered Dick and Perry, who for five days had been living at the Somerset, in a double room renting for eighteen dollars weekly.

Perry said, “You never wished me a Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, honey. And a Happy New Year.”

- In Cold Blood, p. 199

A Google search for the Somerset Hotel Miami Beach yielded only the blurry postcard shown above. When I visited 335 Ocean Drive, though, I found a building recognizable from that postcard, only with pink and teal rather than lavender touches. It is now called "Ocean Walk Condominium".

the Somerset Hotel's current incarnation Posted by Picasa

Clearly the neighborhood has changed some, but it still attracts a fair amount of transient and temporary visitors. I lived just a couple blocks away, at 260 Collins, when I first moved to Miami Beach. Both addresses are just steps from the beach and those "facilities" Capote mentioned.

Dick and Perry's stretch of beach today Posted by Picasa

When I walked around to the rear of the building, I found a scene not unlike that Christmas Day in 1959, though these umbrellas were all slogan-free. There was a nice seabreeze, just as advertised. I was tempted to go inside the building, to ask some of the current residents if they knew about their infamous predecessors, and maybe find out what the weekly rate is today. I decided to limit my literary voyeurism to the exterior, though.

Here's one last view of that "white, melancholy street":

Ocean Drive, 46 years after Dick and Perry visited Posted by Picasa


Lydia Si-Ngaw Lui said...

Cool posting- since I hadn't been able to get a copy of the book YET. I had no idea that the outlaws stayed in Miami Beach- and that the building today seems to be the same one they visited. What a great voyage back in time.

Gus said...

Matt, great post. I'm not supprised that fugitives are attracted to Miami Beach, and that hotel looks like the perfect place to stay.

Good luck with the marathon.

Vikki said...

I lived at 335 Ocean Drive for 6 months in 2001. It had everything I wanted. It was clean and the pool was right in the back with the ocean just a few more yards away. I was paying $600 a month for one of the smallest studios ever.

Anonymous said...

I owned a condo there for 8 year, it was my vacation/rental place. It is to my surprise to learn of these fugitives staying in Ocean Walk. I am heading to Barnes and Noble to pick up this book. Although I no longer own my condo, I sold it in 2005. It was the smallest unit in the complex. I loved it there.

Anonymous said...

I spent 2 days there on part of my honeymoon in 1949. We got sunburned pretty good and suffered for a while. We discovered that the hotlel catered to a very nice jewish clientel and they served something called "bagels with lox" in the coffee shop. We were pretty nieve couple of kids then and wondered what in the world that was. Nice place!

Anonymous said...

I stayed in a studio there in Dec 2105 (AirBnB) rental and had no idea of the history of the building. Another local celeb (Raven) told me about it as he lives across the street. It made my stay there that much more enjoyable knowing those killers roamed the halls there back in the 50's. I really enjoyed the movie Capote with Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I think I'll rent "In Cold Blood" to catch the original movie with Robert Blake. Cheers. JB