If not a desert, Miami Beach’s South Beach was something of a slum when the Rubells arrived from Manhattan in the early ’90s. The area was still suffering from the crime wave that Fidel Castro helped unleash on the city by dumping Cuba’s prisoners onto boats to South Florida. The refugees from the Northeast who had built the neighborhood as their retirement community were dying or fleeing up the coast. The first couple of glorious old Art Deco hotels had been restored, but the gold rush had not yet happened.
When the Rubells’ son, Jason, moved to South Florida to open a gallery, his mother fell in love with the place and its possibilities. “It was like every day you could have an idea and execute on it,” she says. “You could never do that in New York.”
One day, a lawyer Donald knew called up to say he had a client, a hotelier who was going to jail at 8 the next morning. If the Rubells could buy the place that night, they could have it for, ahem, a steal.