High Life, Miami Style

Delaplane is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist

The Palm Bay Club, ultra exclusive, is on the north shore of Miami's Biscayne Bay. Next door is the Palm Bay Hotel and spa. It's open to the public. A poor relative of its neighbor but by no means cheap. About $90 will get you a room. For a suite, $150.

The club's founder was Mrs. Cornelia V. (Connie) Dinkler. She bought the place, then a yacht club, in 1964.

When reporters asked her why, Connie answered as tartly as Marie Antoinette of France: "Everything is always being done for the poor and nothing is ever done for the rich."

Armed with a Christmas card list of 600 close friends and a cool million dollars, Connie created the most private of private clubs.

The club's social season matches the calendars of the Virginia-Kentucky horsey set. The membership boasts four owners of Kentucky Derby winners. One owns Affirmed and Seattle Slew, standing at stud. Some club.

Originally, there were 278 social members and it grew to 1,400. Applications poured in.

"Being rich and famous is not enough," said Connie. "You have to be lots of fun as well."

The club's marina is home to members' yachts as long as they're not over destroyer size. One member has berthed a 140-footer with a helicopter and pad. He keeps identical yachts in Europe and Brazil. Flies to them. Beats sailing the same yacht around all the time.

A woman who was Connie's business assistant and social confidante describes her as a "vivacious, jet-set blonde beauty with a passion for jazz and mint juleps."

In 1969 she built a bunch of condominiums on the property--"so I have a place for my pals to stay, with a live-in piano player." They sold instantly. A homey place for members whose horses were racing at Hialeah.

She built the 27-story Palm Bay tower. Condos for members. A quarter acre of penthouse apartment for herself.

If this seems incredibly snobbish, you are absolutely right.

Connie Dinkler is gone now. The whole place was bought last November by RKO General Corp. and A. Cal Rossi, a San Francisco developer of hotel properties.

The condos have been turned into a 27-floor hotel and spa. An Italian restaurant called Daniele is on the top floor, above 350 rooms.

Reading the handout: "The hotel will have 60% of posh suites. Top-level executives who stay three days or longer may be invited to join the private Palm Bay Club if properly sponsored by a member."

And there goes the neighborhood.

If you can get into the club--a big "if"--dues are still less than a thousand bucks.

Said warm-hearted Connie: "I don't want Palm Bay to be the most expensive club around. Just the most exclusive."

Exclusive members have been people who simply signed their dinner checks "Firestone" or "Woolworth" or "Neal" of the Maxwell House coffee purveyors.

One of the Neal grandchildren is Nina (Puddin) DiWitz. Goes to a club annual bazaar for charity. Wins a "designer" Cadillac. Puddin detests "labels." She spends $3,000 to have the Cadillac "de-Guccied."

That's the old club spirit.

The spa is a social club fitting the posh clientele who wouldn't hear it if you called it a "fat farm."

Hotel interiors were created by Andrew Delfino, who has won many awards. A plush town-and-country resort with meeting rooms for top-grade executives.

Water taxis take you to downtown Miami in 20 minutes.

Sun, tennis, golf and parties.

Dustin Hoffman and George Hamilton, a member of the board of directors, add theatrical style.

Governors, congressmen and senators take tennis lessons from the club pro, Frank Tutvin. Members have Tutvin flown to faraway places to brush up their tennis style before important matches.

If you're a good boy, Dr. Ignatius Adams will give you a sports fisherman trip around Biscayne Bay. May even let you call him Iggie. He's the Miami pet doctor who attends the social dogs of the social set.

His boat, streamlined and low to the water, races past luxury cruise ships and luxurious Miami high-rises. Jackie Gleason opened a TV show with footage from the ride. Splashy stuff.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World