A Brief History of Alcoholics Anonymous in Miami-Dade
Compiled by: Gwen G.
The Importance of Keeping our History
So many of us are confused when we hear talk about preserving the history of AA. We are taught in AA to live one day at a time. Yesterday is gone – why is our history so important today? AA is considered to be the most significant spiritual and social movement of the 20th century; there is an ever-increasing interest in our history.
Being a visionary, Bill W. saw the historical significance of the movement and the importance of keeping the records straight. We are trying to build extensive records, which will inform our future historians.
It is highly important that there be no substantial distortions. Thus, Bill commissioned his secretary Nell with the task of collecting papers and documents. Nell often spoke of having to rummage through the wastebasket at the end of each day looking for archive materials!
In AA we are asked to tell our personal stories: what it was like, what happened, and what it is like today. Preserving our history helps us to tell our collective story so we can carry the message of recovery in AA and pass it on to newcomers. When we record history, we preserve it for the still-suffering alcoholic as we fulfill our primary purpose.
Today the grandchildren of many of the early pioneers of our program sit in the meetings their grandparents helped establish. It was not that long ago that we could sit in a meeting where early members of this fellowship were present. Sadly, the original old-timers are no longer with us to tell their wonderful stories and share their experience, strength, hope and wisdom. Now we must rely on what we remember and what we have preserved in our efforts to pass on our message of recovery in AA.
We as a fellowship have a need to know about our roots. This is evidenced by the increasing numbers of AAs who journey to Akron, Ohio each year, and who attend the annual National Archives Workshop and service meetings such as this one.
To fully understand the importance of preserving our history, we need to consider the alternative: Are we prepared for the distortion that will occur if we don’t record our history? Is AA destined to repeat its mistakes? We don’t want that to happen.
The past is our guide to the future. Let us look at the pieces woven together into one story – the story of God’s love for His children.
– Excerpt from Jimmy S. tape – 11/2001
Chronology of AA in Miami-Dade County
1940 – In July, Agnes T. of Miami wrote to AA in New York seeking help for her husband Joe. New York had only one other request for help in the Miami area, made three months earlier by Roger G. Joe and Roger were put in touch with each other and they began working together to answer inquiries given to them by the New York office. They also worked with Irwin M., who encouraged and advised them in their efforts.
In November 1940, while in Houston, Texas, Carl S. contacted the New York office, expressing a desire to start a group in Miami; he was given the names of Joe and Roger to contact. On December 16, after arriving in Ft. Lauderdale, Carl wrote that he had spoken with Joe and Roger, and that he and Joe had begun to work with Charles G. (“Hook”), recently released from prison. On December 23rd, during a meeting at Joe’s Miami Beach home, Carl and Joe discussed activities in Ft. Lauderdale and St. Petersburg, from which several inquiries had come.
1941 – In March, Carl left the Ft. Lauderdale area, apparently returning to Texas.
1942 – Joe and his wife Agnes continued to forge ahead, making 12-Step calls and corresponding regularly with AA’s New York secretary, Ruth H., and other interested parties. Joe N. became a Miami AA 12-Stepper in May 1941 after such correspondence.
In a letter dated July 1941, Joe T. wrote that there were 10 members in the Miami group. He remarked: “They help me more than I could ever imagine – and if it were not for them, I don’t know what I’d do….my aim is for us to have 100 members by December 1st.”
By August, Joe T. had turned over correspondence duties to Secretary/Treasurer Bill H., and urged the group to take more responsibility for its affairs. By the end of August 1941, Bill wrote that there were 25 to 30 members in the Miami group: “19 bonafide members who attend regularly”. By November 1941, there were 40 members.
1942 – In May, Mae W. took over as secretary and the Miami Herald again provided more publicity for all.
In August 1942, Bill W. visited Miami; AA membership averaged around 45. Meetings were held twice a week: on Sundays, there was an open meeting with a buffet luncheon held in the Musicians’ Hall; on Thursdays, there was a closed meeting held in the Olympia building. On the last Thursday of each month, one of the group members hosted a meeting in his home.
1943 – In December, Basil A. took over as secretary; the group mailing address became P.O. Box 1584, Riverside Station, Miami, Florida.
1944 – In March, a difference of opinion over the use of publicity via radio, books, and magazines led Bruce H. to form a new group. Bruce had been asked by several members to start a group where wives could attend; the new AA group started with 7 members attending a Sunday meeting in his home – and after only one month membership was up to 17. This group was called Group #2, later to be re-named the Sunshine Group. When Bruce left the Miami area in early 1945, the Sunshine Group dissolved. From May 24-25, 1944 Bill W. and his wife Lois visited Miami again.
1945 – In April, after 16 months as group secretary, Basil A. suffered heart trouble and Sylvia L. became the Miami Group’s secretary. Basil continued to be active; in May, he wrote about the reorganization of the Miami Group: Fred K. was elected Executive Secretary and Sylvia L. became Corresponding Secretary. There were 5 district secretaries, which facilitated the geographic assignment of 12- Step calls as authorized by the group’s board of governors.
In the fall of 1945, 13 Miami Group members loaned a total of $1850 to rent a permanent meeting place at 23 NW South River Drive, on the 2nd floor overlooking the Miami River. The Anona Club was open from 11am to 11pm and offered evening AA meetings hosted by the many groups who shared the room while looking for permanent meeting places of their own. Active within the Anona Club were: Charles M. (the club’s first president), Fred K., Joe M., Phil H., Bob B., Naomi C., Lee T., Chester C., Red S. and Dick R. Prior to leasing the Anona Club, many meetings were held at Richmond’s Men’s Store located on Flagler Street at NE 2nd Avenue.
1946 – In October, after both Naomi and Lee took their turns in the role of secretary, Sylvia rotated back into the position again and 2 new groups were formed: the Miami Beach Group and the Northside Group in NW Dade County. The Miami Beach Group is the oldest group in Dade County and is still meeting today.
1947 – In April, with Chester C. serving as Executive Secretary, there is the first record of the Miami Group changing its name to the Central Group. At this time, Chester announced the formation of 3 new neighborhood groups: the Coral Way Group, the Hialeah Group and the NW-NE Group, believed to be the Northside Group.
In September 1947, with James T. as the new Executive Secretary, the Central Group formally changed its name to Greater Miami Intergroup. A letter from Sylvia stated that there were then 7 groups in the Miami area. That same month Bob B. started a second club – the Alco Club – located on SW 8th Street.
1949 – On February 16th, the North Dade Group was started at 12305 NE 6th Avenue in North Miami.
1950 – By the end of 1950, there were 9 groups in Dade County listed with Greater Miami Intergroup – in reality, however, there were only 7 groups, as two had folded by then. In 1950, and for several years thereafter, there were no public treatment facilities in Dade County providing help for the alcoholic. The Miami Retreat on 79th street and NW Miami Avenue might admit some alcoholics, but it was known as “the dungeon” because every room was locked and padded. Alcoholics were treated with paraldehyde, a very powerful medicine.
Jimmy S., a current member of the Principles Group in North Miami and the oldest member of AA in Dade County today, came to AA in July of that year.
1952 – In August, George L. of the Primary Purpose Group got sober at the New Horizon Group. She is the oldest woman member of AA in Dade County today.
1955 – In March, a Southeast Banquet was held at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach; this was possibly the first annual Intergroup banquet.
1956 – Harriet R. climbed the stairs of the Anona Club for her first AA meeting. She later became an Area 15 Delegate for General Service. Harriet was a prominent member of AA in Dade County and performed much service in District 10 General Service until she passed away in January of 2001.
Back then there was no chip system, no medallions, nor any large AA anniversary celebrations. Members were not allowed to speak for the first 90 days; they were told to shut up and listen! Strict records of information on the newcomer’s sobriety were kept and sent to New York. The Intergroup secretary was paid $50 per month.
1957 – In August, Claire M. came to the C Room. Today she is one of the oldest members of AA in Dade County. She has dedicated her sober life to the suffering alcoholics and drug addicts in our prisons and is the sponsor of the “Madan Act” which has helped so many. Claire spoke on the same program as Lois W. during the Founder’s Day meeting at Akron, Ohio in June 1981. She was also one of the featured speakers at the 1985 International Convention in Ontario, along with Ray O’K. and her son Jim B., who was one of the founders of Alateen in the 1950s.
1960 – On April 24th, the 5th Annual Southeast Banquet was held at the Miami Women’s Club. Jack E. of the Hialeah Group spoke and there were 100 attendees.
1965 – There were 25 unofficial groups in Miami. The original Anona Club was gone; by that time, groups were expanding and people were no longer going into the downtown area. Avon Park State Hospital was the only treatment facility back then – there was no other place to take the drunks, with the exception of a couple of halfway houses that were really flophouses. A new Anona Club was started, with places for drunks to dry out.
Also back then, there were no day meetings during the week; there were only night meetings and a few weekend day meetings. People who worked nights complained that they could not get to meetings.
On August 20th, Sam S. of the South Dade Group came to AA. He is a past Delegate for Area 15 and a past Trustee for General Service in New York.
1970 – AA celebrated its 35th year! On July 3, the 5th International Convention was held at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. There were over 15,000 in attendance (at the 2000 International Convention in Minneapolis there were over 60,000 in attendance) and the theme was “Unity”. Wesley P. was the Convention Chairman, and he received greetings to AA from President Richard Nixon, Florida Governor Claude Kirk, Miami Beach Mayor Jay Dermer and a host of other celebrities and dignitaries praising the accomplishments of our wonderful fellowship.
1971 – On January 24th, Bill W. passed away from emphysema at the Miami Heart Institute on Miami Beach; he had been a heavy smoker throughout his life. Bill’s last words were: “Pass it on.” To this day, the Miami Beach Group continues to meet at the Miami Heart Institute.
Recent events: in July 2001, District 10 (Miami-Dade County) hosted the AA Florida State Convention at the beautiful Doral Resort; we also hosted the 1987 Florida State Convention at the Knight Center in downtown Miami. At the 2000 International Convention in Minneapolis, there were two speakers from District 10: Steve P. and Gwen G., both members of the Primary Purpose Group.
Miami-Dade Group Histories
The Miami Beach Group was started in 1946 by Phil and Ethel L. It is the oldest still-functioning group in South Florida. The Miami Beach Group held two open meetings weekly for 42 years. In the winter of 1988 a candlelight, closed discussion meeting was added, and in October 1989 a closed Big Book meeting commenced. Today there are two weekly meetings here at the original Miami Heart Institute, where Bill W. spent his final days.
The North Dade Group began on February 16, 1949. Four seasoned members who were interested in the welfare of AA thought a north location would be desirable and helpful; these members were: Harry A., Walter D., Dr. R., and Mitch W. The first open meeting of the new North Dade Group was held at 12305 NE 6th Avenue, North Miami, in a vacant 10-store space.
On November 11,1949, the store space was rented, so the group moved to a one-car garage at the back of 123 NE 4th Avenue. That location soon became so crowded that the group was forced to seek a new location: The North Miami Community Center on Griffin Blvd. at NE 7th Avenue, just north of West Dixie Highway. Meetings were held on the open porch that surrounded the building.
On January 13, 1950, Harry A. arranged to have meetings held in the North Miami City Hall, which was not air-conditioned back then and very hot! The North Miami Group owes so much to Miss May, the then-City Clerk of North Miami, for being their champion over the years. It took time to gain the confidence of the North Miami city fathers, but the group soon did and was allowed to move upstairs. Attendance at one weekly meeting averaged 10 at most.
On April 19, 1950, the North Miami Group began to hold closed meetings on Wednesday and Sunday nights. This move marked a turning point in the group’s effectiveness in carrying the message of recovery, as well as in its attendance rate.
The Boulevard Group held meetings on Tuesday and Thursdays. They first met in a church basement on Biscayne Blvd. across from 54th Street, then moved to a location on NE 2nd Street. They were originally called The North Dade Sponsor Group.
The Arch Creek Group was the second group founded in North Dade County. Started by Bud D. (who was sponsored by Jimmy S.), it was first called the Slippers Group. At the beginning, the Slippers Group moved back and forth between two churches on NE 163rd Street. Back then 163rd Street (where Bud’s parents had a restaurant) was a dirt road! The Slippers Group eventually moved down to their long-term location at 128th Street and North Miami Ave., where they re-named themselves the Arch Creek Group.
The Little River 79th Street Clubroom was started in the early 1950s, west of Biscayne Blvd., (also a two-lane road back then, long before the arrival of “I-95”!).
The County Line Group was the third group started in North Dade. The group currently meets at NE 4th Ave. and 165th Street, but started out in an abandoned old bar on the east side of Biscayne Blvd. This is where the present-day Aventura stands, but back then it was a very desolate area of the county.
The founding members of these 5 wonderful groups were Harry A., Walter D., Charley M., Midge W., John C., Ed A., Bud D., Martha R., Bill R., Ray G. and unnamed others. Over the years, these groups helped so many alcoholics add hundreds of years to their collective sobriety. May God continue his blessings on these fine groups of AA!
The Sunset Group originally began meeting on Galloway Road; the meeting place was a big room then, and on Saturday nights an average of 40 to 50 people would attend the speaker meeting. In 1965, when Sam S. came to AA, the Sunset Group had been meeting in the Galloway Road location for about 3 years; since then, it has moved to at least 6 different locations.
On March 23rd, 1978, a very grateful alcoholic named Gwen G. walked into her very first AA meeting at the old Sunset Room on the north side of Bird Road, just east of the railroad tracks. The room was smaller than the one where the current Sunset Group meets, and it was a noon meeting. The speaker was an old woman named June – and Gwen G. has been sober ever since.
The Coral Gables Group was located at 348 Minorca from around 1958 until 1965; Claire M. was the room manager at the time, and she performed this service for 11 years.
In 1965, the Coral Gables Group was re-located to a very small room on the corner of Salzedo and Minorca; 6 meetings a week were held at the new meeting location.
The South Dade Group was formed in 1965. It was located on SW 169th Street and US Highway 1; four meetings a week were held back then.
The New Horizon Group was originally located on Palm Avenue in Hialeah, and the room was open all day. The group later moved to the Circle in Miami Springs.
The West Miami Group was founded by Edith D. The group meeting room was originally called the Serenity Room, but is now known as the Harmony Room.
The Al-Hi Group was located in a room behind the old Seminole Bar in Hialeah, back in the 1960s; the room was open only for meetings. The Al-Hi Group later moved to a church in North Hialeah and met there until the group closed in 2002.
The new Anona Club (called Anonanew) had rooms for skid-row drunks back in 1978, but it is no longer in existence.
The Biscayne Room was founded by Ed C. At first, the group hosted Saturday night dances and Sunday night Step Meetings, where well-known Dade County speakers such as Eddie E. gave Step series. This group is no longer in existence.
The old Friendship Group met on Flagler Street in a large, 2-story home. The group hosted a midnight meeting until it folded in the early 1970s.
The New Hope (a.k.a. 5500 Club) Group met on Flagler Street across from the cemetery. It was originally run by old-timers Jim and Dora H., but it is no longer in existence.
The next great events!
September 2003: The 8th Annual National AA Archives Workshop will be held in Ft. Lauderdale. Flyers are available – this will be a rich source of history for all of AA, and there will be plenty of old-timer speakers, archives and workshops.
In closing, I want to thank Ellen D., Office Manager of Miami-Dade Intergroup, and Roy P., current Chair of the Archives Committee of District 10 General Service, for all their help in providing me with so much information. I thank Ric B. for taping the old-timers, thus providing a rich source of our Dade County AA history. Finally, many thanks to Claire M. and all the other old-timers who have been not only a source of information but also the very source of my own sobriety. I love you so much. Gwen G.
About The Author, Gwen G.
I am the daughter of two alcoholics who died of this disease and never found recovery. I am also the sister and mother of recovering alcoholics and will probably be the grandparent of some, too. I want AA to always be here for those loved ones who need it and for every other sick and suffering alcoholic who wants it. You are the guardians of our history and traditions – please guard them well!
The Public Information/Cooperation with the Professional Community Committee of District 10 wishes to thank Gwen G. for her loving service in compiling this history of AA in Miami-Dade County, and for allowing this document to be re-printed in this website. Any correction or additions are more than welcome. Please submit them to:
By H. A. S.
In the manner of an old-fashioned church supper, with just a touch of lodge picnic thrown in to keep things from being too pious, the AA groups in three South Florida counties have found a delightful way to say thank you for their sobriety.
For the past nine years, usually on Saturdays in November (Gratitude Month), the AAs in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties have been lining up for big helpings of ham, baked beans, potato salad and homemade cakes and, of course, flagons of hot coffee. And there isn’t a banquet manager or caterer within miles of these gratitude dinners. They are strictly do-it-yourself. The cooks, the servers and the busboys are all AAs, Al-Anons or Alateens.
After the dishes are cleared away, there’s an AA meeting. Then, just before the Lord’s Prayer, they announce how much money has been raised by the dinner, and everybody goes home feeling good inside.
How did the happy tradition start? In 1962, a handful of AAs in Palm Beach County were feeling extra-special grateful, and they wanted to express themselves in some substantial manner beyond saying thanks in their prayers. The first idea was to take up a collection and send the money to the AA General Service Office. In that way, they felt, their gratitude would be spread around the world. Then somebody topped off the discussion with the dinner idea.
How does it work? Sometime in September, the dinner chairman calls his committee together to elect a co-chairman (who will be chairman next year) and to get things under way. Modest contributions ($10 to $25) are collected from the groups in the county. Tickets are printed, allocated and sold at varying prices (never more than $2.50). They go fast, and all ticket money goes into a sort of temporary escrow. All expenses are paid out of the collected funds, printing, rental of the hall, purchase of food and equipment. Meanwhile, the dinner committee has been divided into sub-committees to sell tickets, decorate the hall, cook, serve, act as busboys, wash dishes and clean up.
Every penny from the sale of the tickets goes to GSO. The first Palm Beach County dinner produced $169.50; the next $325.00. In 1963, Broward County held its first Gratitude Dinner, and in 1965 Dade County got on the band-wagon. The total for the three 1970 dinners was $4,892.35; the grand total for all these dinners to date is $19,640.32. And it was brought in with no rattling of tin cups, no pleading, no browbeating. Instead, everybody has a great time. We in South Florida hope the rest of AA will borrow our Gratitude Dinners.