South Miami Beach is a tiny gem of Art Deco architecture, warm sun and cool breezes. It was also the winter destination for many seniors throughout the 70s and 80s. During its golden age, upwards of 20,000 “snowbirds” (those who fly south for the winter to escape the cold north east) would migrate to the two and a half mile stretch of beachfront Shangri-La. After years of working hard, surviving the depression, the war and concentration camps, Jewish senior citizens made the pilgrimage south. A depressed economy and cheap rents in the crumbling Art Deco hotels made it an ideal choice for the retiree on a fixed income. The beach boardwalk overflowed with seniors, the sound of Yiddish filled the air as people spoke in their mammen loshen (mother tongue).
The Haddon Hall Hotel was the last option available to those seniors who wished to remain in South Beach. The dilapidated hotel offered the resettled seniors a place to live at a relatively reasonable price.
“I moved into Haddon Hall to embed myself with the hotel’s residents becoming their surrogate granddaughter. Equipped with a 35-mm camera and slide film, I photographed my surrogate bubbehs and zaidehs lounging by the pool, doing exercises and kibitzing on the veranda. I joined them for bingo, took them grocery shopping and to the beauty parlors; these people were my friends.”
— NAOMI HARRIS
Started in 1999, the project ended after two and a half years when most of the hotel guests either passed away, moved into nursing homes or became too frail to make the trip down to Florida.
Today Miami Beach is synonymous with luxury having become the playground for the rich and famous. And Haddon Hall itself has had yet another transformation; it's an adult-only hotel focusing on the LGBTIQ+ community.
Now, some twenty years later these images serve not only as documentation of the hotel’s last days as a place where seniors could happily live out their golden years, but mark the end of an era as there are no longer any pensioners wintering in South Beach.
Visual artist Naomi Harris seeks out interesting cultural trends to document through her subjects. Personal projects include ‘Haddon Hall’ in which she followed the last remaining elderly residents of a Miami Beach hotel, published by Void and MASA Books; ‘America Swings’ (Taschen), which documents the phenomenon of the lifestyle; and EUSA (Kehrer Verlag), a reaction to the homogenization of European and American cultures through globalization.
A self-proclaimed hobo, Naomi has taken many road trips with her trusty sidekick Maggie, a Shih Tzu whom she rescued in 2011 while driving across the country for her project ‘Oh Canada’. In 2017 they drove around the United States searching for answers as to how Donald Trump won the presidency for a project called ‘First 100 Days’.
Other accolades include the FUAM Book Dummy Award for Haddon Hall in 2019, a Canada Council for the Arts’ ‘New Chapter’ Grant in 2017, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in 2013, a Long-Term Career Advancement Grant from the Canada Council in 2012, and the 2001 International Prize for Young Photojournalism from Agfa/Das Bildforum. Currently, Naomi is doing her Masters in Fine Arts at the University at Buffalo and when not in the studio you can find her walking her dog Maggie or curling, a sport she’s recently embraced.