With all the stories about the traffic nightmares and generally debauchery going on in South Florida during spring break, we had a nagging suspicion that the very same folks who are complaining now were the ones causing the complaints a few decades ago. So, we asked readers to share their spring break memories.
We were expecting a lot of strange tales from the Golden Age of Spring Break, those crazy mid-1980s years that have reached legendary infamy. But we actually received a lot of emails from folks who participated in what you could call the Classical Age of Spring Break — the post-“Where the Boys Are” 1960s. Nevertheless, our theory has been largely confirmed. We can’t say that the people doing the complaining now are the same ones who caused the complaints years ago — we’re certainly not accusing our readers of hypocrisy. But what we can say is that crazy spring break stories seem to go hand in hand with young people seeking sun and fun, regardless of the era.
“The publicity seemed to have attracted a very different mix of kids with a different agenda. Numerous fights broke out in contrast to our previous visit, when we never saw one serious altercation,” Adelman wrote. “We decided to make the most of the beautiful weather and did our best to stay clear of spontaneous riots and focus on the positives, which included visits to the beach and the Elbo Room.”
Unfortunately, Adelman walked out of the Elbo Room, was invited to go for a ride in a car full of girls, and was immediately arrested when he stepped into the street.
“Apparently, the cop at the intersection had warned everyone not to step off the curb, and when I got into the car, he ran over yelling at me to get out of the car. He said I was under arrest for disobeying him, and if I tried to run he would hit me on the head with his club,” Adelman wrote.
Adelman was fined $15 and released the same day. But he says that media reports at the time reported that he had been sentenced to 15 days, not 15 dollars. This news gave his parents a great deal of agita until he was able to explain.
“Not long ago I stopped by the Elbo Room intersection to reminisce with my wife of 55 years. Of course she’s heard the story several times but it was fun for me to be there and explain all the details,” he said. “Today, I’ve come full circle as we are actively looking to permanently move to South Florida. I hope the character of that part of the beach doesn’t change, so I can visit again and smile.”
One Fort Lauderdale native, who asked to remain nameless, graduated from high school in 1969. He would return from college for spring break “and spend the week on the beach, never having to sleep on the sand. On the Friday or Saturday before Easter, I would show up at home, exhausted. Mom and little brother never knew I was in town all week.”
Ruth Perlow, now a 78-year-old Boca Raton resident, came down to Fort Lauderdale from nursing school in Boston in 1961.
“Two other students and I flew down on a small plane to Florida for one whole week in the sun. We stayed right on Fort Lauderdale Beach in a small trailer park located on the sand next to the water,” she wrote. “Our little trailer belonged to a friend’s uncle. Two young men lived next door. They were on strike from working in a Pittsburgh steel factory, and so were enjoying the beach while collecting union pay. We all had fun together.”
Fast forward a decade and … well, it’s pretty much the same.
“My friend and I drove down to Fort Lauderdale from New Jersey for spring break in March of 1972 in a Chevy Vega. I was 19 years old, gas was 29 cents a gallon and it costs us $15 each way,” wrote reader Don Appignani. “Drove straight through for 22 hours. Reached Fort Lauderdale about nine in the morning. We didn’t have any money for a hotel, so we took our sleeping bags and went to sleep on the beach. Sky was overcast, so we didn’t think sunburn would be a problem. Woke up about 3 p.m. with the worst sunburn I ever experienced.”
Appignani returned several times, along with his wife. They loved South Florida and wound up moving here in 1993, when Appignani went to law school. He practiced law locally afterward.
“Had a corner office on the corner of Las Olas Boulevard and Andrews Avenue, when Blockbuster’s headquarters was across the street. Spent a lot time in Fort Lauderdale and many days I would drive over to the beach for lunch. Lived there 14 years and practiced law for 10 years before moving to Palm Coast in 2007,” he wrote. “Saw many changes to Fort Lauderdale and South Florida over the years. I still love the area, its tropical beauty and diversity. If the traffic wasn’t so bad, we would probably still live there.”
Fast forward to the 1980s and … yes, same again.
“With no advance lodging reserved, had to head north a few miles in the then sleepy beach village of Lauderdale by the Sea & Mardi Gras Motel, across from Trader Jack’s with $2 Five Flags local brand booze and now a town parking lot … boy, was that a great time and decision,” wrote Gary Burnett, who came down from Pensacola and now lives in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. “[The] Elbo Room [is the] only bar [on that strip] with same name now, Blondies was Student Prince then, and Button Lounge, Penrods and The Candy Store — most popular on the strip — gone.”
All three of those bars closed in the late 1980s as the city cracked down on spring break, though their owners mostly went on to other successful bars and nightclubs, perhaps none more than Jack Penrod, who closed down Penrod’s in Fort Lauderdale and immediately opened Miami Beach’s Penrod’s Beach Club, which became Nikki Beach, which became a chain of four resort hotels and 14 restaurant/nightclubs across the globe.
Fast forward to the 1990s, as Penrod’s Beach Club was changing up to become Nikki Beach and … you guessed it.
“Several of my coworkers (we were cocktail servers at a New Jersey hotspot called Savannahs) had opted to fly to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break,” wrote reader Lin Materia, who recalled “the fire alarms constantly going off in the hotel. Being my first Spring Break, I did not know they were false alarms. I grabbed my purse and walked down several flights of stairs barefoot. When I got to the lobby, I was scolded for being barefoot, and they didn’t want to let me back in my room without my key. We did have a great time all in all. Now I reside permanently here in South Florida.”
Bottom line: If you find fault in the traffic, the rowdiness, the sunburns and shots and carrying on, just know that it’s not kids these days. It’s just kids, no time setting needed.
And for everyone coming down for spring break now, just know that your parents and grandparents did the same thing, and were probably even worse-off than you.