This was the Miami Herald building at 200 South Miami Avenue when I joined its staff in July 1958. I was 27 years old, just out of graduate school at Chapel Hill, and ready to test my reporting skills in this new and exotic environment. George Beebe, the managing editor, told me that the Herald had moved into this building in 1941 and was already outgrowing it, less than 20 years later. A new one was being planned in an undisclosed location.
“Maybe in the suburbs?” I asked hopefully. It would be nice to be near housing that would be affordable for a young family. Beebe gave no hint and turned me over to Al Neuharth, the energetic assistant managing editor, for a briefing about the Herald and its culture.
A key part of that culture was intense rivalry with the Miami News, Neuharth said, and its owners had just expressed their confidence in the News’s future by building a fancy new plant on the south bank of the Miami River.
“We thought their city editor was too good for the Miami News, Neuharth said, “so we brought him over here.” And he took me to meet John McMullan, who in turn assigned me to ride with Gene Miller as he made his rounds on the Miami Beach beat.
“Don’t get any of Miller’s bad habits,” he yelled as we headed for the elevator. McMullan was a sharp judge of good writing, Miller told me. “He likes to reach way down into your story, find a buried lead there, and bring it to the top.”
The newsroom was so crowded that I would not have my own desk, McMullan told me when we got back. I would have to float from one unoccupied desk to another, a serious inconvenience. My beat, I was told, would be education, being temporarily covered by Joy Reese Shaw. She took me to a School Board meeting and introduced me around.
“This beat is about the two things that are the most important to our readers,” she said. “Their money and their kids.”
After my second School Board meeting, I returned with a stack of documents related to ongoing stories. “Where should I keep these?” I asked McMullan.
He led me on a stroll around the perimeter of the news room, looking for an empty file drawer. There weren’t any.
“You know,” he said, “the education reporter really needs a desk.” And I was assigned one in a cluster of four with Gene Miller, Dom Bonafede, and Mike Morgan.
When it was announced that the new building would be on the bay front between McArthur and Venetian causeways, the disappointment over the midtown location was mitigated by the impressive view we would have. And the new building at what would become One Herald Plaza occupied our thoughts for the next four years. Ground was broken on August 19, 1960.
I was in the Washington Bureau by the time the new building was ready for occupancy in March 1963, but I became a frequent visitor, helping with election coverage or special projects. And when I was moved back to Miami, as part of the corporate staff in 1978, I got a windowless office on the sixth floor and privileged parking under the building, sheltered from the Florida sunshine. I grew fond of that mustard-colored building. When the movie “Absence of Malice” was shot in its newsroom, I took my family down in the middle of the night to watch Sally Field and Paul Newman perform from Kurt Luedtke’s script.
The building in the picture above is still standing, although the exterior has been modified so that you can’t tell that a newspaper once had a home here. Federal Express occupies it today, and a few years ago, I walked in and looked around to see if I could recapture that feeling of being young and confident, ready to test my talent. It did help the memory a bit, and I’m glad the building is still there. Thomas Wolfe was right, you can’t go home again, but you feel better when visible parts of it are still there to visit.
Sadly, that won’t be true for One Herald Plaza, whose demolition started last week. It’s going to be some kind of resort. The building was made to be strong and hurricane proof and that makes it really hard to tear down, so they are doing it in increments. A lot of us will miss that mustard-colored building. And our days of wine and roses.