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Publisher's Letter

Publisher's Letter: Houses With A Past

This issue includes sections of our third issue of our new Florida Home and Garden magazine. That magazine, of course, includes additional editorial and is separately distributed as a free-standing magazine.

Design magazines are one of the few categories that continue to grow as print generally declines in an age of digital media. This issue illustrates why—the spectacular photos of imposing residences show to good advantage in the large magazine format.

Often we are left wondering who owns these impressive homes. They tend to be rather used, often with interesting histories. It is not unusual for owners to remain in the background; they don’t need publicity. This month, however, several owners with unusual business success are revealed. There is also a previous quite dead past owner mentioned, but only because his name is Al Capone. We all know that mob figures lived openly in South Florida for decades, largely unmolested by authorities as long as they regarded our turf as “open,” meaning they refrained from organizing rackets and killing people. Some were even covered on the social scene; their favorite hangouts attracted tourists.

No good thing lasts forever, and organized crime’s freedom in Florida ended in the 1980s when the Philly mob decided to go public. The notorious Nicky Scarfo gang, which had enjoyed a growth spurt when casino gambling came to nearby Atlantic City, decided to come to Florida. Prior to Scarfo, the Philly mob had earned the nickname “The Nicest Family” for its lack of violence. That changed when the previous boss was blown up on his South Philly porch. There is a real estate angle to this story.

The Philly mob was not discrete. Florida organized crime units were well aware of their move.

They might as well have worn T-shirts saying ‘Philly Mob’ when they got off the plane, said a detective assigned to track them at the time. They were all fit young Italian guys, and they told people they were the Philly mob and were taking over. Half the time the bartenders they talked to were police women, he noted.

When they were busted it was a big story in the north; dozens of mobsters went down, but not so much here where the actual investigation took place. It turned out the house the wise guys operated out of in Fort Lauderdale’s Middle River section was listed in the name of a former associate of this magazine. He was a lovable scoundrel, the middle man when we bought it in 1970. Of course, he cheated us, which led to a few years of frantic fund raising just to pay off the previous owners. He rarely paid a bill unless sued. His desk was piled high with legal papers. A man heard that I knew him and asked why he was still alive. The standard answer: “He never holds it against you after he screws you.”

We also joked that this man was a “deal addict.” If you wanted to sell something, he would buy it whether he had the money to pay for it or not; and if you wanted to buy something, he would sell it to you whether he owned it or not.

Change of pace. Our award-winning freelancer, Eric  Barton, entertains on page 58 with a house hunting expedition in Italy’s  historic Tuscany section. It is hard to tell from Eric’s tone how serious he was about actually buying a historic home on foreign soil. We know he did not commit on this trip. But isn’t it pretty to think he did?