I moved into the Haddon Hall Hotel when I was 26, in December 1999. At that age, I rarely gave the future a second thought, preferring to live in the moment. I had no idea how important that time would become for me.
Haddon Hall is like my first love—it felt new and exciting, with no preconceived notions about approaching a photographic project. I possessed the freedom and naiveté unique to youth.
Now, back living in Toronto as a middle-aged caregiver for my parents, I’m experiencing déjà vu.
Twenty years ago, I couldn’t have imagined a time when my parents would depend on me. Two weeks before his 85th birthday, in September 2020, my father died unexpectedly. My mother passed away in November 2022, soon after she turned 83. I look at these photos now with a changed perspective and new relatability, having all these years of life experience behind me.
Therefore, these photos—which are part of a series newly published in book form—is an ode not only to the forgotten men and women of South Beach, Florida, but also to my parents, and to a youth that is rapidly becoming more and more distant.
Photographers typically choose to photograph the elderly in black and white, creating a sense of nostalgia and pathos. I opted for Technicolor to capture the vibrancy of both the people and the
location. Using a handheld flash added a pop, making the subjects appear more like supermodels than seniors.
I lived in the hotel for two months, enjoying the retiree lifestyle.
In May 2000, I relocated to Miami Beach, moving into an apartment of my own, though I continued visiting the hotel sometimes to take photographs but often just for the company. Despite the generation gap, I often felt I had more in common with Haddon Hall residents than with people my age. I liked going to the early bird special at Wolfie’s, playing cards and being in bed by 9 p.m.
At Haddon Hall, the typical socio-normative roles existed: the popular girl, the comedian, the loner, the jezebel.
The group dynamics brought to mind the same anxieties that plague us all, but with a senior twist.
The endless resident gossip, the mean girls who picked on a woman who used to wet herself; everyone wanting to sit at the cool kid’s table during bingo—it all felt sadly familiar.
But the residents could also be kind and generous to one another, sharing snacks, picking up a prescription at the pharmacy or just lending a helping hand.
They showed me that we spend our lives being a parent, a partner and a useful member of society only to reach a stage of life where many of us fear we’ll be reduced to no longer having a sense of purpose. But with determination and tenacity, the seniors found ways to stay busy and add meaning to their day— and lives.
When I took these pictures at the turn of the millennium, I had no idea that I would also be documenting this epoch’s final days. Today there is not a trace left of this bygone era.
Flashy cars, upscale hotels and exclusive parties have replaced the shopping buggies, modest motels and cozy, friendly get-togethers that I can best describe as haymishe.
Haddon Hall, which once served as a humble haven for Jewish retirees, has changed ownership a couple of times. At last check it had been transformed into a boutique gay hotel.
And though the pool still exists out back and remnants of the original architecture remain, the former occupants live on only in my heart.
This piece also appeared in the Winter 2022/23 magazine from The Canadian Jewish News: