Saturday, August 11, 2012

Florida History: Winston Churchill "hides" on Miami Beach

By Jane Feehan
(See labels at right to find more Miami history) 

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and his wife, Clementine, came to Miami Beach for a six-week vacation in January and February 1946. It was their first extended holiday after World War II and Churchill had recently been voted out as prime minister (he won that office again in 1951). Not known for taking many vacations together, the famous couple stayed at Col. Frank W. Clarke’s Miami Beach home.

They sailed to New York on the Queen Elizabeth II, and then took a train to Miami, arriving Jan. 17. Churchill aimed to "hide on Miami Beach," to have a low key stay. Col. Clarke, a Canadian steamship and wood pulp executive, said the old lion would accept no invitations nor attend many functions. “Newspapermen” were asked to come seldom and stay only as long as necessary.

The modest two-story Clarke home featured six main rooms decorated in grays, pinks and greens and were casually furnished. A veranda next to the main bedroom provided privacy for sunbathing; a den with a fireplace was used by Churchill as an office. A rear garage apartment housed staff that included Churchill’s “man,” Mrs. Churchill’s maid, a secretary, and a Scotland Yard agent.

Churchill’s name and photo appeared in the Miami News a few times during his stay. A story about his medical checkup conducted by Dr. Robert M. Harris, a Navy lieutenant commander, revealed his health to be excellent after the 4,500-mile journey from England. The doctor gave advice to the 71-year old about how to adjust to the climate of South Florida’s Gold Coast: stay indoors the first few days.

It doesn’t appear Churchill followed the advice too closely. He was photographed a day or two later - cigar in hand - on San Marino Island where “he was having himself a time.” An accomplished artist, he ventured out to paint scenery that day and set up his easel under a huge umbrella. A group of island residents, which included children, gathered. The former prime minister obliged them with autographs on scraps of paper. Churchill used oils to paint the northwest side of DiLido Island, where Leon Lowenstein’s estate, the Villa Leglo, stood. The painting included the villa, nearby homes and a vacant lot owned by the president of Churchill Coffee. Coincidentally, the coffee company was named after the British hero.  

Daughter Sarah Churchill Oliver flew to Miami to join her parents during their vacation. Part of their visit that year included a week’s stay in Cuba at the exclusive Havana Yacht Club; they were hosted by the wife of the Cuban secretary of state, Mrs. Alvarez.

On the day the Churchills left Miami Beach (March 2), a reception was held for the former prime minister, described by reporters as “mildly tanned,” at the Surf and Turf Club. Afterward the family headed to Washington on the Florida East Coast Railway. Churchill met with son Randolph, then traveled with President Harry S. Truman to Missouri where he gave the first of several speeches across the country. He returned to England March 21. Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

For a newsreel clip of his arrival in Miami, see

Miami News, Jan. 11, 1946
Miami News, Jan. 17, 1946
Miami News, Feb. 4, 1946
Fort Lauderdale Daily News, Mar. 2, 1946

Tags: Miami Beach history, Winston Churchill, Miami Beach in the 1940s, Florida history, film industry researcher

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