As Globe-Miami bordellos go, there were none as famous as Miami’s Keystone Motel which operated more-or-less in the open until it was shut down in 1962 after an unfortunate ad placed in the yellow pages from an over zealous manager brought it down. Miami historian and master story teller, John Michael Benson, recalls his earliest memories of the Keystone as a delivery boy for the neighboring drug store.
As he tells the story…
At a time when there were few jobs in town, especially for a 15 year old boy, Ryan-Evans Drug Store was hiring a stock boy that year. I had been told in no uncertain terms by my parents that they would not provide me with money, nor would they allow my grandmother to do so, and so I jumped at the opportunity to apply.
Much to my surprise, I was selected for the job which paid 50 cents an hour and thus began my working career. I worked every night after school until 9 O’clock, all day Saturdays and 3 hours on Sundays. After several months on the job, Alan Robertson, store manager, decided I had enough intellectual ability to work both the floor and the fountain and he promoted me. Of course, this reduced the number of hours he had to pay the higher paid help.
The #5 store of Ryan Evans sat at the corner of Live Oak and Adonis avenue in Miami, and contained a Soda Fountain which was popular with folks. This, and the fact that Joe Ryan had negotiated an agreement with the Miami Copper Company to fill their employee’s prescriptions at cost plus 10% encouraged a constant stream of customers into the store. With the Miami Post office located right next door, many people would stop in for a cup of coffee or a coke after picking up their mail.
At the time, there was a group of regulars: leading businessmen, who would stop in every morning at 9am like clock work. They included Mork Schwartz of Schwartz Lumber Company, Cecil Trussell and Charlie Clark, Valley National Bankers, Maurice Case and Freda Miles of Miles Mortuary and very often Mr. Robertson, my boss, would join this little group.
Working the counter, and listening in to their conversation, I learned more about the comings and goings in town, than through all the radios and newspapers. And on a regular basis one of the men would lean over and ask Freda Miller what Joe was recommending. Conversation would stop and all heads would turn for the answer. This little ritual perked my interest and I asked Mr. Robertson who this “Joe” was that everyone seemed to put so much store in what he had to say about the stock market. Turns out it was Joe Refsnes, a former Valley National Banker, a relative of Sonny Mills and a founding partner of the investment firm of Refsnes, Ely, Beck and company which was one of the most important financial firms in the Southwest.
“From that day forward whatever Freda said that Joe said……I did.”
And that was not the only thing I learned about life while working the counter at Ryan-Evans. At the time there were two stores in Miami, and it was the #6 store, located on Sullivan Street (several block from my store), next to the Grand Theater, which served a different group of regulars. They were known by all as the “girls from the rooms” and they never set foot in the store before 8pm when respectable folks were safely ensconced into their homes. Store #6, was their favorite, not only because it was convenient to the Theater, but managers, John and Hazel East welcomed the business and enjoyed for many years, an almost exclusive un-spoken contract with the girls whose needs for high-end toiletries provided a good deal of revenue for the store..
But that all changed one year while I was still employed by store #5. It was because Johnny East, an avid bowler, almost always attended the Arizona State Bowling Championship Tournaments, which forced the Corporate Office of Ryan-Evans to send out a replacement pharmacist to cover his absence. One year, the replacement they sent was not only a pharmacist, but also a part-time preacher, and on his second day on the job, three ladies of the night , just after 8 O’Clock, came into the store to buy their wares. The part-time preacher/pharmacist recognized them for what they were immediately and with great disdain, ejected them from the store.
And that is how I came to meet the Ladies of the Night.
They walked over to store #5 where I was working the counter, and while I didn’t peg them as the “girls from the rooms”, I knew they didn’t look like members of Grandmothers Budge Club. That night they spent a nice sum of money in the store and left with a promise to come back. They did every night after that and became regular customers at store #5… much to the consternation of John and Hazel East.
One night four of them came in together and one of the girls said she would like to have a chocolate ice cream soda. I motioned to the stools at the counter, and they all looked across the store at Mr. Robertson who said,
“Yes, please have a seat.” Little did I know that because of their profession, they were not to sit at the counter. However, Mr. Robertson thought it would be easier to let them have an ice cream soda than attempt to explain to me why they couldn’t sit there.
As I was making the soda, one of them said to me, “I bet you still have your cherry.” Even at 15, I knew she was making a reference to my virginity and I pulled the handle on the CO2 so hard that the force of the water sprayed soda all over me, the mirrors, and the ceiling. Mr. Robertson, far from angry, was laughing so hard he nearly dropped to the floor, and the girls simply smiled. I was in a state of complete embarrassment and was glad when Mr. Robertson ushered the girls from the store and locked up, so I could recover myself and clean up the mess. But it remained a story which was re-told by Mr. Robertson for weeks afterwards and always provided a great laugh at my expense.
It wasn’t until later that year that I finally learned just what it was that these good customers, who always came in late, paid their bills in cash and smiled at me…did for a living. It was a cold winter night when I was called upon to deliver a prescription one night to The Keystone, famous to everyone but me it seemed, until then. Stepping out into the night air to walk the 6 blocks to the Keystone, I pulled the hood up on my car coat, and arrived shortly at my destination. I was met at the door by an old lady wearing thick glasses who offered me a seat along with several gentlemen who were already seated, and several girls- scantily dressed, sashaying about the room.
I recognized most of the girls as my customers and began to put the pieces together.
About that time, the old woman came over and said, “You have seen everything I have, which do you want?” I remember blurting out something about simply being there to deliver a prescription from Ryan-Evans, when she pulled the hood off my head and said in disgust, “Why, you’re nothing but a damn kid.” Handing her the medicine, I was quickly paid and off I went, only to arrive back at the store and questioned by Mr. Robertson about how long I had been there and hoping I hadn’t taken anything out in trade.
After that I smiled back at the girls when they came in the store and felt I had graduated somehow to their secret club. Even though I was still just a counter-boy at Ryan Evans.. And so life went on at store #5 and I looked forward to both the morning crowd of leading business people and our evening regulars of girls from the Theater.
It wasn’t until a few weeks after I celebrated my 18th birthday that two of the girls came in and told me they had a gift for me, and I was to go to the Copper Cities Motel, room #5 at 10 pm on a Saturday night and there would be a girl there for me at that appointed hour. Although I worried briefly about how I was going to tell Father Webber the next Saturday about the “gift” I was delighted at thoughtfulness of the gift from the girls.
And so it was, that I arrived that night at the appointed time, at room number five. It was all I had hoped. The girl was beautifully draped on the bed and I began making small talk while getting undressed, when lo-and-behold, the door came crashing in, followed by a pile of my schoolmates. Seems I had made the mistake of telling my friends about the gift, and they had all showed up outside the door to listen in. The weight of all those listening-ears was too much for old hinges and the door collapsed, along with any hope of salvaging the evening. The girl got mad, took her coat and left.
After graduating that year, I did receive one last parting gift from the girls. It was a beautiful suede sports coat from Porters of Arizona. I immediately sent a thank-you note, and slid the box under my bed, knowing that Mother would not approve of any more gifts from the Girls. It wasn’t until September when I was safely away at college that I felt I could break out the jacket and when I did, I found eight hundred-dollar bills in the breast pocket with a small note about “keeping up with my education.”
I don’t know what possessed me to tell my Mother about this un-expected booty when I returned home for a visit that Semester. And I certainly don’t remember what I expected her to do once I told her about the jacket, the money, the note. But I learned soon enough that some things are best kept to yourself.
She never raised an eyebrow. Simply asked to see the money, and when I produced it, she took it from my hands and said in a voice which begged no argument, “I will manage this for you John Michael.” And that is the last I saw of the eight hundred dollars.
But – ahhhh. The memories are still there.
John Michael Benson retired from Magma Mining in 2002. He grew up in Miami where his father was the head of Inspiration Copper Mine. He is a a consummate story teller and historian.