Gold Coast a celebration of 50 years
The story actually has two beginnings, very close to the same date, but 1,300 miles apart. In the late winter of 1965, Yolanda Maurer, who had been a social writer for the old Fort Lauderdale News (now known as the Sun-Sentinel) launched a magazine in Fort Lauderdale. Within weeks of that launch, in Philadelphia, Bernard McCormick joined the staff of what is now Philadelphia magazine, which was in the process of inventing a new media form – the city/regional magazine.
The Florida story first. Maurer’s idea for a magazine was not original. Palm Beach Life, owned by Cox Media Group, had been published since 1908, making it one of the oldest, if not the oldest regional magazine in the country. From the beginning it focused on the good life of a uniquely wealthy community, and over the years developed a strong base of luxury advertisers. Unlike city magazines, which appeared decades later, it was not out to create attention by investigative stories or anything dicey that would enrich its lawyers. It was just a nice, pretty, rich people’s book.
A half century later, Maurer decided that such a magazine could work in Fort Lauderdale. The city was growing at a furious pace, and while considerably less pretentious, it had many of the characteristics that made Palm Beach a good market. Its rivers and canals were lined with expensive homes with luxury boats docked in back. It had earned the nickname “Venice of America.” Maurer was by then well known in the area. She had lived in Algeria during World War II, where she met William Maurer, from one of Fort Lauderdale’s oldest families. He was a CPA and his young war bride quickly moved in the right circles when she arrived in the U.S. Twenty years later, she had good contacts when she set about organizing an investment group, and by early 1965, she was ready to publish. Her stockholders were all socially prominent and her board chairman, Theresa Castro, was a leading philanthropist. Her wealth came from Castro Convertibles, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, with furniture stores all over the country. Her involvement gave the new magazine instant credibility, as well as a prominent advertiser. She even contributed an occasional article, related to the social scene. Castro referred to it as “my magazine” and that certainly did not hurt with community leaders.
Maurer chose her staff wisely. The first editor, Henry Kinney, had been with The Miami Herald and was locally famous for taking on R.H. Gore’s powerful Fort Lauderdale News in a fight over whether to build a bridge or a tunnel where U.S. 1 met the New River. Gore wanted a bridge, because he thought it would enhance the value of land he owned near the river. Kinney and The Herald favored a tunnel. The Herald won and Kinney now has the tunnel named after him. Ironically, Gore also won, because it soon became obvious that the tunnel only served to increase the value of his holdings, whereas a bridge over his land might have done the opposite.
One of the first writers hired was Margaret Walker, who had also worked for the Fort Lauderdale News and was well connected with the leading families in the area.
Soon after it was launched, a veteran advertising executive came aboard. Hale Printup had been a high school classmate of Ernest Hemingway and had enjoyed a long career with Hearst Publications. He was also the mayor of Bal Harbour, the wealthy coastal community just north of Miami Beach, which did not hurt his influence with such important advertisers as Bal Harbour Shops.
From its first issue, Maurer shrewdly targeted her market. Bankers, developers and various social leaders, most of whom had business connections, filled the magazine’s pages. Local newspapers, following a national trend, were running less social coverage than in the past, and the magazine filled that void. Debutante balls and prominent parties were covered, and Castro was involved in many of those functions. She organized the Royal Dames of Nova to support the new Nova University in nearby Davie. Prestigious advertisers, including leading department stores, occupied front positions in the magazine. Printup’s contacts helped attract the highest quality advertisers. A typical issue would feature, in the coveted first 10 pages, full page ads from Burdines (now Macy’s), Jordan Marsh (now Dillard’s), Saks Fifth Avenue and Mayors Jewelers. The big stores sometimes bought more than one page. New condominiums, of which there were many on the Gold Coast, bought flashy ads. Although Fort Lauderdale was the magazine’s base, Maurer also looked north, covering Palm Beach and getting some nice business from Worth Avenue, one of the country’s premier shopping streets. Her first issue was Fort Lauderdale Pictorial Life, but she quickly dropped the Fort Lauderdale subtitle to avoid being limited to that city. Fifty years later, some old-timers still call the magazine Pictorial.
Maurer ran a tight ship. Her half-dozen investors had not taken much risk, putting up $5,000 each – pocket change for them. The magazine published three issues its first year, and by 1968, it was up to eight, but its handful of employees were not full time and took much of the summer off. Maurer was proud that she never paid for a cover, using public relations handouts whenever possible. Her offices were modest – on the second floor overlooking a nondescript shopping center. Her husband accountant handled the books. For extra income, the company published the playbill for Parker Playhouse – at the time the only venue for high-quality performances in the city.
By 1970, the magazine was much improved from its first issues. More color and attractive fashion spreads appeared, and the magazine went to perfect binding, giving it a more professional look. The magazine’s advertising broadened to include real estate, banking, fashion, home furnishings, automotive, travel and some high-end restaurants. Occasional national ads showed up. It was up to nine issues, and the summer issue (during the area’s seasonal slowdown)was still an impressive 160 pages. Fort Lauderdale, and all of Broward County, was going strong. Condominiums lined the Galt Ocean Mile, which just a few years before had been an empty beach where kids used to park and neck. Westinghouse was developing a city, Coral Springs, far to the west. It appeared that in a short five years, the magazine was firmly established, and with a roaring economy, poised for even more growth. But for whatever reasons, Maurer decided to sell.
Back to Philadelphia
Now back to Philadelphia. Bernard McCormick, at 25, was a columnist for a suburban newspaper. Through an army reserve unit he met Gaeton Fonzi, a writer for what was then called Greater Philadelphia Magazine. It was not the last time the military would play a role in this story. In 1961, McCormick, although having grown up in Philadelphia, had never heard of Fonzi’s publication, which had been formerly published by the Chamber of Commerce and still had a largely business audience. The young publisher, D. Herbert Lipson, had taken over from his father and decided to broaden the magazine’s appeal. Fonzi joined the magazine in 1959 and became its star reporter.
By 1965, taking advantage of stodgy newspapers, the Philadelphia magazine had begun to rock the city with investigative pieces and colorful stories on subjects that the newspapers generally ignored. These included an exposé of a crooked star reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and one of the first challenges to the Warren Commission Report on the death of President John F. Kennedy. The Philadelphia audience took notice and the magazine, soon to be renamed Philadelphia, grew rapidly in circulation and advertising. From a free circulation of barely 15,000 in the early ’60s, it was growing to more than 100,000 paid. Although few realized it at the time, it was also inventing a new media form – the city/regional magazine. A number of cities had chamber of commerce publications (most hardly more than newsletters), but these were nowhere near the power of Philadelphia. Yet within a few years, most major markets, including New York, and a number of smaller ones, had independent magazines imitating the success of Philadelphia. Today, there are literally hundreds of such publications. Almost none existed in 1965.
McCormick wrote a freelance piece on a colorful and controversial civil rights leader in 1964, and was invited to join the magazine full time. Watching the magazine improve and grow in importance month by month, he made a decision to switch careers. It was just about the same time Yolanda Maurer was launching a much different kind of magazine in Florida.
It was becoming apparent that Philadelphia was on the ground floor of a journalism movement. McCormick had publishing in his genes. His grandfather had been a book publisher in Philadelphia around 1900. Although Edward Sweeney went out of business, and died almost 20 years before McCormick was born, there remained an ember of interest in owning a publication – restoring the family honor, so to speak. A city magazine seemed the ideal opportunity. After several years at Philadelphia, McCormick looked toward Boston.
He had vacationed on Boston’s north shore for several years, and gotten to know the city. It had many of the same qualities as Philadelphia, and no important magazine, just a chamber of commerce organ. It seemed ripe for an independent magazine. He suggested the idea to his publisher, Lipson, hoping that he would back him in Boston. At Lipson’s suggestion he prepared a market study, assessing the Boston papers and the advertising potential in a city with rich history, old money, fine schools and great sports fans. A smaller, more refined version of Philadelphia.
Lipson had spoken about expansion, with cities such as San Francisco and Miami mentioned, but McCormick became convinced it was just talk. To his surprise, in the spring of 1970 Lipson told McCormick he intended to buy the chamber of commerce magazine in Boston, but McCormick was disappointed that his wish to be an owner was not in the cards. Accordingly, he wished Lipson well but said not to count on him, but that sooner or later he would be out of his own. McCormick had already put together the beginnings of an investment group, including possible banking connections. As important, Fonzi was willing to join the effort as a part owner. By this time, Fonzi’s work had attracted national attention. He had even made the pages of Time magazine, and his pioneer work (beginning in 1966) on the Kennedy assassination was creating interest in high places.
McCormick’s opportunity to use his team came with surprising speed. Within a few months he learned of a magazine for sale in Fort Lauderdale. He saw a single copy of the book. It was (compared to Philadelphia) amateurish, but it carried impressive ads. Before he could investigate further, a Philadelphia businessman with Fort Lauderdale real estate holdings arrived at Philadelphia magazine and tried to convince Herb Lipson to back him in Florida. He already had a deal in the works, but needed money to close. Lipson, who was concentrating on the move to Boston, was not interested. McCormick was. Unlike Boston, which he knew something about, McCormick was a stranger to Florida. He had been there only a few times – once with Lipson. They came down to interview a former newspaper owner living in Palm Beach. Lipson wanted to visit a Fort Lauderdale restaurant called the Mai-Kai.
McCormick had little time for research. The deal to buy the magazine was shaky unless the buyer came up with money to close. McCormick took a quick trip to Fort Lauderdale, noted the oceanfront condominiums sprouting like spring tulips, and saw The Miami Herald and Fort Lauderdale News bloated with advertising. He also met with Maurer. McCormick sensed that she wanted a sugar daddy – a well-heeled buyer, who would let her continue to run her show and finance future growth. She did not plan on writers from a big city who might steal her thunder.
For his part, McCormick thought the magazine was a strange creature – its social orientation so different from Philadelphia’s hard-hitting journalism. He wondered if a magazine filled with pictures of people dancing for disease could become something more impactful. He and Fonzi gambled that it could. A few investors were in place, and two Philadelphia banks came through within days. On the same August afternoon that Herb Lipson announced that he was buying Boston magazine, McCormick and Fonzi told him they were investing in a Florida magazine.
1. Lucy Cooper, pictured in the late ’60s, was an early friend of the new owners. She was a restaurant critic for The Miami Herald and later wrote for the magazine.
2. Jane Hoffstetter (left) with Margaret Truman and her husband, Clifton Daniel, in 1970, was society editor for many years.
3. Margaret Walker, shown in her younger years, became a great friend, and an invaluable contact for newcomers.
4. Doris Alexander, in this late ’60s photo, went to the bank with the newly introduced restaurant section. She remained with the magazine for another 35 years, always working on straight commission. If the magazine did not get paid, she did not. And she sure made sure she got paid. At her funeral service, Mark McCormick said, “There will never be another one like Doris.” And there hasn’t.
One of the first worrisome things that happened when Bernard McCormick and Gaeton Fonzi announced their move to Florida was that Herb Lipson dispatched a lawyer to check out the Fort Lauderdale magazine. He was hoping to change the two writers’ minds. The lawyer quickly reported that a prominent Florida developer had said: “That magazine’s a joke. I wouldn’t pay a dime for it.” McCormick was told that opinion had come from Joseph P. Taravella. The name meant nothing to him. Nor did the city of Coral Springs, which Taravella’s company was developing.
By the time McCormick learned how important Joe Taravella was, it was too late to turn back. Money had already changed hands. Soon after, McCormick was making regular visits to Florida, and at the same time, doing some freelance work in Boston to help Herb Lipson get underway with Boston magazine. He and Fonzi wanted to leave Philadelphia magazine on good terms. Indeed, although Fonzi made a number of trips to Florida to help out, he continued to work for Philadelphia for more than two years.
In January, 1971, the McCormick family moved to Florida. By then, the difficulties of the transition were clear. Yolanda Maurer not only did not want a new editorial type involved in the deal, she was bitter that the man she thought she had sold her magazine to had surrendered control to a couple of writers. Mostly, she had not been fully paid, due to some irregularities in the deal – of which she was aware but had never told McCormick until after his investment group had committed. Subsequently, much of the first year was spent trying to raise money to complete the purchase. And also trying to overcome what appeared to be a negative impression of the new owners.
For instance, some key advertisers became slow paying their bills. Some dropped out altogether. The most hurtful was Castro Convertibles, whose owner, Theresa Castro, had been chairman of the board under the old ownership. And it turned out the staff had been promised raises. It seemed that everything was more expensive than expected. Balancing the negatives were some very positive developments. John Collins had been hired as a consultant, and eventually became associate publisher. He already had a long career with Curtis Publishing, including Holiday and American Home magazines. Collins, from the New York area, was the consummate soft-sell salesman with valuable contacts in the advertising world. His friendships helped land cover advertising from important accounts such as Eastern Airlines, which few regional magazines had.
He was a diplomat to his fingertips. When problems developed with Maurer, McCormick called on his “ambassador” to smooth things over. Then there was the staff. Although the immediate changes in the publication were relatively minor, the staff seemed to recognize that the new ownership was competent and bent on improving the publication. One of the first changes was the name. Pictorial Life became Gold Coast Pictorial, and a few years later just Gold Coast. The name was widely used to describe the Miami to Palm Beach market, and seemed appropriate for a magazine celebrating the good life, and looking to grow outside Fort Lauderdale.
Associate editor Margaret Walker was particularly kind. She was well connected socially and introduced McCormick to influential friends. Years later, McCormick was asked to deliver the eulogy at her funeral. Art director Charles Zawadzki quickly became supportive, as was managing editor Joyce Walker. Doris Alexander was the first of the sales staff to capitalize on some new ideas. A restaurant section, pioneered at Philadelphia, and introduced in the first months of the new ownership, became her baby. In months, she added dozens of new accounts. She was married to Harry Collins, a prominent real estate man, and their combined contacts helped smooth the way for strangers in town. Alexander remained with the magazine for another 35 years, working well into her 80s. Her family asked McCormick and his son, Mark, to say a few words at her funeral. By the way, these Walkers and Collins were not related.
There was another potentially serious problem to overcome in the early days. Although it was never put in writing, the advertising staff had been giving the impression that the magazine had 15,000 paid circulation. Considering the high quality of the readership, that wasn’t bad. The only problem was that it was not remotely true. The real circulation was about 8,000, and not all of it paid. It took several years just to make the magazine honest in that respect. John Collins showed his value in that effort. Bank of America was moving its credit card operation into the market and Collins arranged (as part of an advertising contract) to have subscriptions go to the rapidly growing list of card holders.
The tension of the first six months broke in dramatic fashion. Le Club International on the Intracoastal Waterway was a popular place for social functions. One night at a party she sponsored, Theresa Castro was introduced to McCormick. She said she wanted to get to know him. A few days later, she invited McCormick and Fonzi aboard her yacht, the Southern Trail, docked at the Boca Raton Hotel and Club. Her husband Bernard was present. Theresa Castro told the men that she had been urged to drop her advertising, but was uncomfortable doing so, and said she would resume advertising and help the new owners in any way she could. And she wasn’t kidding. She became a friend and supporter until her death 25 years later.
The meeting aboard the yacht lasted several hours, during which Bernard Castro, a near genius at inventing convertible furniture, but a silent man by nature, said almost nothing. But as McCormick and Fonzi were leaving, he spoke up.
“Boys, two things. Good pictures and good paper,” he said.
“He pretty much summed it up,” said Fonzi as they reached solid ground.
A Helpful Lawyer
When Bernard McCormick and Gaeton Fonzi came to Florida, their new company needed a lawyer. Their lawyer in Philadelphia did not have Fort Lauderdale contacts, but he suggested a man in Orlando. It happened to be a man Fonzi knew from the University of Pennsylvania. That fellow thought he was too far away to be of value, so he referred them to a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, Elliott Barnett. They first met Barnett on a hot August afternoon. His office was not impressive, at least not compared to some of the posh law firms they had known in Philadelphia. It was in a storefront in a drab section of Federal Highway, next to a cheap motel, tire stores and such. But Barnett himself was an impressive man – tall, with a commanding presence and a background of Lehigh University and Columbia Law School.
Within a few weeks, it became apparent that Barnett was a force in South Florida. He introduced McCormick to bankers, and found a reputable and affordable accountant – the late Gene Guido. He also helped make social contacts, and he had surprising access for one of the few Jewish attorneys in a town still dominated by the offspring of the pioneers. He was greatly respected in the arts world, and soon would be the prime mover behind the impressive Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, bringing Fort Lauderdale out from behind Miami’s cultural shadow.
In the next years, his firm grew spectacularly, from five lawyers in a storefront to dozens in successively more impressive surroundings. Originally known as Ruden Barnett, the firm had been joined in the ’60s by Don McClosky, who was becoming the leading land use attorney in the community. Between them, they made the firm influential in most aspects of local business and culture. Barnett, aside from his prominent role in the arts community, distinguished himself working for Fort Lauderdale’s Downtown Development Authority, particularly during a period when the Authority got itself in the porridge by illegally knocking down blocks of buildings. Barnett worked it out, as he did when Antioch College in Ohio tried to take over the beautiful Birch State Park, which had been donated by a graduate of that school. However, the wording in his will left that enormously valuable property in ambiguous circumstances. Barnett convinced the court that the state had preserved the area in the manner that Birch had wished.
Early in the ’70s, Barnett brought on a young assistant, a Yale University and Yale Law graduate, Laz Schneider. He took over most of the magazine work, and, working with several subsequent firms, remained the magazine’s corporate counsel until he retired in 2012. By that time, the firm that Barnett built was no more. It had grown to 160 attorneys and 400 employees in a number of Florida offices, but Barnett was no longer part of the firm. He was accused by his partners of misappropriating funds when he took stock as a legal fee and did not share it with the firm. He left the firm in embarrassment and ill health, and died in 1998 at age 65 – a sad end for a man who had achieved so much, both for himself and his community.
Ruden, McClosky as it was henceforth popularly known, also had a melancholy demise. Shortly after Don McClosky’s death, the overextended firm was caught in the real estate recession, which began in 2007. It had grown by buying other law firms, and the members of those firms had no great loyalty to the Fort Lauderdale founders. Real estate was the strength of the firm, but it did not have a foreclosure unit, which might have been highly profitable in the next few years. Lawyers began to jump ship, sometimes in groups. The firm got some bad press, and in 2012, it declared bankruptcy and sold its assets to another South Florida firm. What just a few years before had been one of Florida’s largest law firms was no more.
The Magazine Speeds Up
It was not clear in 1970 how much and how fast a predominately lifestyle magazine with a strong social orientation could be turned into a more meaningful publication in the city magazine genre. What was clear was that what worked well in Fort Lauderdale could work equally well in communities farther up the Gold Coast. Yolanda Maurer had introduced regular coverage of Boca Raton and Palm Beach, and the magazine had developed circulation in those towns.
The new management simply accelerated the geographical expansion, devoting the main features in several issues to Palm Beach County. It did a major piece on Boca Raton’s rigid zoning requirements, and Delray Beach’s history as an artist’s colony. But it went farther north. As early as 1973, it began flirting with the Treasure Coast counties of Martin and Indian River. The intention was not to build circulation in Stuart or Vero Beach, but rather to feature the communities to which people in South Florida had already begun to migrate. The rapid development of Broward County (some of it ill planned) created alarm in communities north of Palm Beach, who enacted slow growth policies.
“We don’t want to be another Fort Lauderdale,” was a mantra for office seekers. Boca Raton at one point even voted for a density cap, and down-zoned projects already approved. Lawsuits followed, and by the time the courts ruled the cap invalid, the city had put tougher growth controls in place.
Ironically, that slow growth attitude appealed to many in Dade and Broward, – people seeking the quieter life that drew them to Florida in the first place. It created considerable real estate advertising from the less populated counties. The developers, like the residents, frequently were moving up from Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Many of them already knew the magazine and recognized the quality of its audience.
The editorial tone of the magazine slowly changed. South Florida was one of the best recreational spots in the country. It made sense to cover the sports scene, which was expanding every year. Home-grown tennis star Chris Evert made the cover several times in the ’70s. A landmark event was the arrival of the Miami Dolphins, the first major league sports team to reach the area. They not only reached it, they thrilled it, quickly becoming one of the best teams in the NFL. Stories on the Dolphins included a long profile of Joe Robbie, who brought the team to glory and later even paid for his own stadium – still in use 25 years later.
There was also a piece that tested the limits of where a social magazine could go. Doug Swift was a linebacker on the undefeated team. He was an odd pro football player – a graduate of Amherst, not exactly a gridiron power – and a very cerebral guy. He wound up a distinguished anesthesiologist in Philadelphia. With the Dolphins, he became friendly with one of our writers, Robert Herron, and gave him a remarkably candid interview. He joked about the insanity of football, describing being on the bottom of the pile, feeling bodies pounding one after another above. He said the best part of the game was Don Shula’s halftime speeches, and he ridiculed the politics of the game, such as President Nixon putting his two cents in during the Super Bowl, and preachers who tried for hall of fame pre-game invocations. He used some salty language. It was quite a good piece, but not everybody liked it. One prominent banker complained to McCormick that although he wasn’t a prude, and as a former jock, he knew how guys talked in the locker room, nonetheless he did not spend ad money in the magazine for the image of athletes mocking the president in frank language. He wanted class, not candor, and he wasn’t alone.
The idea of speeding things up worked, however, as long as subjects were not too gritty. Polo, auto racing, tennis, sailing and other water sports, golf and even ballooning, frequently made the magazine, often on covers. Sometimes those covers were PR handouts, but by the mid-’70s, most of them were paid. And so, by then, was the circulation.
From her first issues, Maurer put a camera on politics and power – often the same thing. Such work was ripe for extension, and after Maurer resigned in the early ’70s, the magazine expanded coverage with stories such as the history of the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel, owned by the R.H. Gore, one of Florida’s most powerful figures. The magazine went to Tallahassee to assess the Florida legislature, identifying the South Florida players who were making a difference. When Fort Lauderdale Mayor E. Clay Shaw complained about the city’s growing homosexual population, Fonzi toured the city’s most popular gay hangouts. These were the kinds of stories that had put Philadelphia magazine on the map, and they slowly did the same for Gold Coast in Florida.
As The Bar Turns
In the sultry summer, the new owners soon discovered everybody went away. At least many of the magazine’s more credit-worthy readers did. Because it was increasing its publishing frequency to include the summer months, the editors looked for stories that could work in the off season. Realizing that North Carolina’s mountains were Florida’s equivalent of Philadelphia’s Jersey Shore, the magazine began featuring the favorite mountain escapes. That was the high road, but there were also a great many regular folks who could not afford to take a few months off. Their escape from the summer heat was their neighborhood watering holes.
South Florida always had its share of such retreats. Some of them were nationally known. Key West had Sloppy Joe’s, made famous as Ernest Hemingway’s hangout in the ’30s. For the upscale crowd, Palm Beach’s Ta-boo on Worth Avenue dated to the beginning of World War II. It was funky and fun. The 1960 film “Where The Boys Are” glorified summer break and made beach-front bars, such as Fort Lauderdale’s Elbo Room, national attractions. More than a few college kids first saw the city in that era and came back to settle down.
When not hanging around Blowing Rock or Highlands – two of the more prestigious North Carolina resorts – Gold Coast’s staff chronicled the bar scene. Aside from the obvious diversion of that work, the stories had an unexpected business yield. It seemed that restaurant owners, and the hospitality field in general, tended to get around, particularly when their business slowed in the summer. So each fall, after the summer stories, restaurant advertising took a noticeable spike. A previously untapped audience had been found.
The magazine did not plan it that way, but in 1972, needing more space and a somewhat more upscale location, it moved a few blocks into what is now the Galleria Professional Building. It is located along the Middle River off Sunrise Boulevard, one of numerous waterways, which define Fort Lauderdale. On the ground floor of that building was a lounge called Nick’s, which just happened to be the most popular neighborhood bar in town. The owner was Nick Sindicich, who had come down from East Chicago, Indiana, in the ’50s. He was a butcher, and to make extra money he delivered potato chips on the side. One of his stops was a bar. As Sindicich retold the story years later, one day the owner suggested Sindicich buy the bar.
“I can’t make any money here,” Sindicich recalled the owner saying, “but you can.”
“I don’t have any money,” Sindicich said.
“You don’t need any,” replied the owner. And that’s how Sindicich got into the bar business.
Whatever the deal was, it worked out, and soon Sindicich was making the word “margaratz” a Fort Lauderdale byword. It is a Croatian word meaning jackass, and Sindicich’s father used to call him that when he was a kid. At Nick’s, everybody was margaratz. Sindicich was very good with names, but when he could not remember one, the visitor was “margaratz.” In fact, every margaratz who came into Nick’s called everybody else margaratz. It became a universal part of speech. “That margaratzian so-and-so” was a common usage.
Nick’s operated almost around the clock. It was supposed to close at 2 a.m., but often was open later. It was supposed to open at 7 a.m., but frequently patrons showed up before that. On Sundays you weren’t supposed to serve before noon, but Nick’s was often busy at 9 a.m. He served hot dogs and regulars often brought in soup. Nick served drinks; he simply did not charge until noon. That was legal. Nick also gave credit – unusual even then. Half his customers ran tabs.
There was nothing fancy about Nick’s, except for the fancy people who gathered there. Judges, doctors, lawyers, realtors, cab company moguls, stock brokers, cops and media types were joined by auto mechanics, construction workers and an occasional bank robber. The latter contributed to Nick’s legend when he held up a bank and skipped town – but first he paid his considerable bar tab at Nick’s. It was the only money missing from his trunk when he was caught a few days later.
Good Ideas, Bad Execution
It took more than a year to raise the money needed to complete the purchase of the magazine. As soon as she was paid off, Yolanda Maurer sought to break her contract on grounds of health. The new management bade her farewell, but not before a session with the lawyers (Elliott Barnett for the magazine) when she hinted about starting a new magazine, violating her non-compete clause. She backed off. About the same time, with some of the new ideas beginning to produce results, there appeared an opportunity hard to refuse. The magazine had been probing to the north, but the first serious expansion was in the opposite direction.
Miami Magazine had been sold by the Miami Chamber of Commerce. The new owner had no money to develop it and agreed to sell to Gold Coast for a song. The idea was to make it a regional version of Gold Coast and give the company a presence in one of the country’s best advertising markets. Advertisers, including a number of department stores already running in Gold Coast, could be offered a far greater audience. Moreover, in late 1972, it made it possible for Gaeton Fonzi to move to Florida to edit the new publication. Some new investors were brought aboard, and that became the problem. Almost from the beginning there was friction between shareholders who were helpful and reliable, and others who were just the opposite.
It also proved tricky to merge the two magazines. Fonzi was understandably doing a magazine more in the mold of Philadelphia’s serious journalism, whereas Gold Coast had to be careful not to alienate its strong base of advertisers who were buying an affluent lifestyle magazine. Miami Magazine started with very little advertising, but during the next two years, it grew steadily. This was despite a lack of adequate funding from some shareholders who expected management to grow the product without the necessary investment in sales and circulation. The result was that the money from Gold Coast’s first year of serious profit (about $100,000 in the 1974-75 season), was lost in Miami. Still, the new magazine was moving toward the break-even point when a severe real estate recession struck South Florida.
The economic downturn would prove to be relatively brief, but it was long enough to force an attempted reorganization in which the magazines would go their separate ways. Alas, the unreliable investors failed to deliver on their part of the agreement, and amid acrimony and disappointment, plus some legal skirmishing, Miami Magazine was sold in distress. The purchasing group was organized by Sylvan Meyer, who had been editor of The Miami News. It took Meyer some years, but with investor support (and some notable editorial contributions from Fonzi) he made the magazine successful and eventually sold for a nice figure in 1987.
One positive result of the experience was Fonzi’s contribution to Gold Coast. He fancied tennis and boating and wrote with flair about those subjects, which worked equally well in both magazines.
From Gold Coast’s point of view, Miami Magazine was a good idea that should have worked, and would have if the investors had lived up to the name. But the expansion concept made sense. In the future, however, the direction would be to the north. But, the importance of having reliable shareholders would need to be learned again. The company recovered from its Miami experience and the brief recession of the mid-’70s. The editorial content continued to improve, and circulation grew. The shareholders were not happy with the revenue growth, however. John Collins, who had been in charge of advertising, suffered a heart attack. Under the circumstances, he was not a man to put under pressure.
In 1978, there came an opportunity that promised growth in both territory and revenue. The publisher of Indian River Life, based in Vero Beach, proposed a joint venture, which would give the combined magazines a reach over 120 miles in four counties. Compared to Gold Coast, Indian River Life was an unsophisticated product, but it had some sprightly editorial and an advertising foothold in Indian River and Martin counties – the key towns of Vero Beach and Stuart. Both communities were filling up with people moving north from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton. Many were familiar with Gold Coast.
The magazine had already been developing business in that fast growing market; it seemed a good move. And it was, in the beginning. The combined magazines saw a rapid jump in advertising, and the much slicker Indian River Life grew in community impact. Although it was not apparent at first, the problems that scuttled the Miami Magazine venture soon reappeared. The joint-venture did not take advantage of economies of scale. It maintained two offices, and duplicated other functions. Most significantly, the management of the Treasure Coast operation proved ethically challenged.
Despite the advertising growth, the expected profits did not follow. Additional investors joined the company. Therein were planted the seeds for disaster
The Lost Decade
A Hollywood script writer would have a hard time coming up with the events that marked the magazine’s history in the ’80s. An office manager of a prominent brokerage firm, known as Prudential Bache at the time, became intrigued with the magazine and invested as part of a three-person group. The others were a broker who worked for him and her principal client, an heir to a famous newspaper family. The latter was not intellectually gifted, as we soon would learn.
We are not naming the brokerage manager, who is now retired, because he was basically a good guy who made some reckless decisions. His employee is a different story. Her name is Mary Lou Brooks, although she used some aliases. The brokerage manager convinced the company to go public in a novel way – taking over a shell company that had no liabilities. It seemed like a good way to raise capital for expansion. The expansion came, as the company acquired a magazine in Tampa, and negotiated for another in Orlando. Alas, the money for those efforts did not materialize, and the dissension that followed led to an offer by the new investors to buy the company. With Prudential Bache and a deep pocket newspaper heir involved, it seemed nothing could go wrong.
But it did. The magazine had moved into a Fort Lauderdale warehouse office owned by the brokerage group’s female partner. Brooks was a bizarre figure, a Kentucky hillbilly in the classic sense. She was overweight and sincerely believed she was young and beautiful. She tooled around in a yellow Mercedes convertible. Possibly unknown even to her two partners, she was also a certifiable sociopath with a track record of misbehavior going back to her early days as a back office clerk in a small brokerage. A man who worked with her earlier in her career describes her: “She was a pig. I thought she was pretty stupid. I could not imagine her being capable of anything Machiavellian.”
Instead of buying the magazine, Brooks decided to steal it. When Bernard McCormick was on an annual vacation in Philadelphia in the late summer of 1982, she shut down the company and announced a new corporation publishing the same magazine. Since she owned the building where the magazine published, she effectively locked the old management out. The employees, vaguely aware that some deal was in the woks, thought her move was legitimate. She stiffed all creditors, including a printer with a large bill. This is obviously illegal, but when McCormick went to the authorities, they deemed the matter civil, not criminal.
A civil case ensued. It should have been a slam dunk, except that the attorney for the company turned out to be a slam dunk drunk. Several times, he stood up the McCormicks (after a long drive to his Kendall office), missed court hearings, and eventually the case wound up in the hands of a trustee. The irony of this is that the attorney was not a casual hire. The same Philadelphia attorney who, in 1970, found the formidable Elliott Barnett as Gold Coast’s first counsel, researched South Florida for a specialist in asset disputes. The man he found may once have been an able attorney, but not any longer. Another lawyer later involved in the case described him as “a notorious drunk.” Of course, McCormick took the matter to the Florida bar. At a hearing, the lawyer showed up obviously under the weather. He mixed up McCormick with another similar name in Miami. That person managed a bar.
McCormick learned much about Brooks over the next few years, as several times she shut down corporations, started new ones and stiffed suppliers in the process. She lost her sugar daddy client, and then her job at the brokerage. Her former brokerage boss and the newspaper heir settled out of the suit, for far less than they should have paid. She then wound up suing her newspaper heir client and, amazingly, won $500,000. Even more amazingly, she managed to get around her own attorney by negotiating the settlement herself, and beat him out of a $140,000 contingency fee. He tried for more than a decade, but never collected, as she disappeared shortly thereafter.
But before that, she was suspected of arson in a fire at her Pompano Beach waterfront home. McCormick was called as a witness in the federal case in Miami against the insurance company, and to his surprise, the judge let him describe her as a crook. She lost the case on the grounds that her application was deemed fraudulent.
It did not help her case that by then, it had become known that she was involved in another suspicious blaze – that of an elderly aunt’s home in North Carolina. She then brought (kidnapped is a more apt term) the woman, who was in fragile physical and mental health, to Florida. She stole whatever assets she could find – several hundred thousand dollars – and kept the woman in a garage sleeping on a mattress. When she was satisfied she had pilfered everything her aunt owned, she put the old woman in a nursing home where she died less than a year later. The bill for the nursing home was not paid.
Oh, and at about that time, she reported to the police that McCormick had threatened to kill her. A pleasant idea, but it never happened, and the cops knew it.
All this took several years, and before she disappeared, she turned the magazine over to an associate. This required virtually a new lawsuit, and it dragged on with the defense getting continuance after continuance, each one a delay of six months. One excuse was that the defendant’s corporation had been dissolved. Another time the opposing lawyer seemed to have some kind of attack during courtroom testimony.
It took years before the judge ruled in McCormick’s favor, and awarded a judgment of $3.5 million – all quite uncollectable from a missing woman. During that period, the magazine continued to publish, but not always on schedule and under several different names, the latter being modified each time the corporate guise was changed. McCormick had kept the case in the papers, and it was challenging to sell ads under the circumstances – especially in a publication that was a shadow of its former self. The reputation was so bad that an investigator from the Securities and Exchange Commission interviewed McCormick about a magazine series being written by a Boca Raton broker who was touting highly questionable penny stocks.
Around the time the judge’s ruling came down, the magazine itself disappeared. McCormick went to the last of several addresses it had used over the decade. It was on Atlantic Boulevard in Pompano Beach. The landlord said he had emptied the office of everything in the middle of the night.
“It was clean, and that’s the only good thing I can say about them,” he added.
Fred Ruffner to the Rescue
McCormick moved quickly to return to business. He raised some money – enough to get underway. The first issue in the revival period was based on a gimmick. John Broderick, who had a long experience in trade publishing, had come up with the “Who’s Who In Charity and the Arts” feature for another magazine, which had gone out of business. Broderick kept the concept alive as an independent publication, then came aboard as associate publisher and continued the “Who’s Who” under the Gold Coast name in 1991. It sold well enough to cover costs, but it was a single issue and a long way from a viable magazine.
McCormick, set on raising money needed to return to a regular publishing schedule, was introduced to Fred Ruffner as a possible investor. Ruffner, who had made a fortune in reference book publishing, was not interested in a modest investment. He wanted to own a magazine. He bought the company. After a decade of almost unrelenting bad luck, it was a remarkable turn of fortune.
Ruffner was first class all the way. He insisted on top quality in printing and photography. He paid well. He had beautiful offices on Las Olas Boulevard. He promoted the magazine with lavish parties at his classic waterfront home in Fort Lauderdale. Unfortunately, he had too much class, producing magazines whose advertising content did not justify the robust publications. But in one year, he made the market forget the turmoil of the previous decade. Producing only four issues, his losses were heavy.
The reception to the magazine was excellent, but by the late summer of 1993 Ruffner wanted to sell. McCormick, who had remained as editor and publisher, had jokingly told Ruffner that the worst thing that could happen was that McCormick would buy it back. Ruffner asked him to do just that.
Within a few months, a deal was in place. This time McCormick, haunted by past experiences, went after reliable investors. Most were business people he had known for years in Florida. But also included were some parties who had been involved in the ’70s. Several had done well in the sale to Ruffner. In finding investors, McCormick was greatly aided by Robert McCabe, whom he had known for 20 years and who had been a small stockholder when the company briefly went public in 1981. McCabe, who had a strong financial background, had moved from Boca Raton to Vero Beach. He attracted a half dozen investors, all first-class people. McCormick found others, mostly in the Fort Lauderdale area. Robert McCabe became chairman of the new board with a new company name – Gulfstream Media Group.
Thanks to Ruffner’s investment, the magazine was now far more viable. In one short year, he made the market forget the difficult ’80s and the prolonged lawsuit. The timing was right, for after a period of stagnant economy, when most Florida magazines struggled, business was rapidly improving.
The process of forming a new company was greatly aided by something that could not have been foreseen a few years before. Mark McCormick had graduated from the University of Notre Dame and served six years in the United States Navy, where he won distinctions unusual for a junior officer. In 1994, as Gulfstream Media Group produced its first issues, he said he would be willing to leave the Navy and help his father. Accordingly, Bernard McCormick approached business friends who also had sons in their late 20s – about Mark’s age. The fathers would invest, and their sons would represent the families on the board of directors, giving the younger people valuable associations useful in their varied careers. A half dozen of the first investors fit the father-son model. All would prove to be strong allies.
Mark McCormick’s challenge was formidable. To justify a full-time staff, the publishing schedule had to be at least doubled, and quickly. That was expensive – asking advertisers to expand their budgets on short notice. The original dozen investors were supportive, even as the magazine suffered heavy initial losses. Most even bought more stock and several brought friends aboard as investors. Eventually, there were more than 25 shareholders, most of them prominent in business or social circles. It could not have been more different than the unreliable and contentious backers from the ’70s.
Mark McCormick had no previous experience in sales, but with confidence gained at Notre Dame and the Navy, he did an extraordinary job. Ruffner had lost money on $130,000 sales in an issue. After drastically cutting costs, including leaving the expensive Las Olas offices, the magazine broke even at about $90,000. Mark McCormick sold virtually every ad in that turnaround issue.
By 1997, the magazine was in the black. It now published 10 issues per year, and some of the initial investors were bought out, all for a substantial profit. The magazine expanded northward, producing versions tailored to Boca Raton, Palm Beach and the fast growing Treasure Coast communities of Jupiter and Stuart. It also launched interior design and real estate magazines, including them as sections in the lifestyle books, as well as offering them in separately distributed publications.
As the new century began, Gulfstream Media Group was growing more than 20 percent a year and was regaining its dominance in the South Florida magazine market that its predecessor company had enjoyed 25 years before.
The Treasure Coast Revisited
Although Gold Coast’s expansion to the Treasure Coast in the ’70s was ill-starred, the concept was sound. When the McCormicks reacquired the magazine in 1994, the Treasure Coast became a priority. The cities north of Palm Beach had grown appreciably. Their rigid development codes, while frustrating to developers, attracted affluent buyers who were escaping the overbuilt communities to the south. Jupiter, which had once been little more than a famous lighthouse, was now on the map as a well-planned, fast-growing community. Northern Palm Beach County’s residents included many famous sports figures, particularly golfers such as Jack Nicklaus, who found South Florida’s weather more than compatible with their game. It was a perfect market for an upscale magazine.
This time around, Gulfstream Media Group did it right. It did not open expensive satellite offices, and instead ran everything out of Fort Lauderdale. It shared some editorial with the regional magazines. Unlike the early days, one name no longer fit all. Gold Coast had been a natural title in the ’70s, but the growth of towns in South Florida had sharpened their identities, and the company went with the flow. It took the names Boca Life Magazine, The Palm Beacher, Jupiter Magazine and Stuart Magazine.
Mark McCormick sought out the most established and successful advertising sales people in those markets. He hired Boca Raton resident Sherry Goodman-Ash to lead an expansion into the interior design field. Kim Capen, a longtime Stuart resident, became publisher of that magazine, as did Donna Lewis in Jupiter.
It took time, but over the course of 10 years, those moves paid off. The territory north of Palm Beach became the most successful market for Gulfstream Media Group.
A BUSINESS for a new era
The magazine’s resurgence in the ’90s coincided with the Internet revolution. Mark McCormick had some experience with computers in the Navy, and was quick to embrace technological advances that changed publishing almost overnight. In 1995, the magazine sent large packages filled with film to printers. It took a man with a big wingspan just to carry them. A few years later, all that bulk was condensed to a single disk.
Gulfstream Media Group had experimented with the Internet, using websites to provide added value for advertisers. Useful sales tools, but they did not make money for the company. Realizing that he was ahead of the curve in using new software, Mark McCormick, in 2003, presented the idea of customizing its programs for other clients. He first experimented with a company owned by one of Gulfstream’s shareholders, then a year later, he launched The Magazine Manager, an Internet-based software package designed for magazines. The program was an instant success when unveiled at magazine conventions. Using the Gulfstream Media Group’s magazines as his “laboratory,” Mark McCormick continued to refine the system until it became recognized as the software leader in the small magazine field. Although computers initially were of most value to editorial departments, eliminating expensive typesetting and design costs, The Magazine Manager’s appeal was in the sales management and production areas. By putting everyone in a company on the same page, mistakes could be avoided and the production effort was made more streamlined and efficient.
Even during the prolonged recession beginning in 2007 when many magazines struggled, The Magazine Manager continued to gain clients. It celebrated its tenth anniversary representing nearly 10,000 print and digital entities. In 2015, the company, which started with Mark McCormick and just one programmer, had 25 employees in the United States and another 40 working in India. Its client base also became international, with magazines and newspapers in 14 countries.
The U.S. Navy has played an important role in Gulfstream Media Group’s history. On his first military assignment after Notre Dame, Mark McCormick met Elton Sayward. It was 1988 and Sayward already had ten years in the Navy. He started as an enlisted man and went through officer’s training. He was serving on the USS Oliver Hazard Perry when McCormick came aboard as a newly minted ensign.
Mark McCormick was impressed by Sayward’s intelligence, organization and work ethic. As soon as the magazine returned to profitability in the late ’90s, Mark McCormick tried to get Sayward to quit the Navy and join his fast growing company. Sayward, however, was pushing toward the 30-year retirement mark, and did not want to give up all that time in service. When he did retire, with the rank of Commander in 2007, he agreed to move to Florida and become chief operating officer for the company. By that time, it was two companies – the magazine operation and the fast growing software company, Mirabel Technologies.
When Mark McCormick told his father he was bringing his former shipmate aboard, Bernard McCormick said, “Elton is an impressive guy, but what does he know about publishing?” “Nothing,” Mark McCormick replied. “It won’t make any difference.”
He was right. Sayward quickly learned publishing and fit easily into the software company. He quickly became active in Fort Lauderdale, joining the Navy League (always a force in a port town) and within three years, he was president of the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society. When the software company decided to expand to India, he made trips to set up the new unit.
A second Navy buddy of Mark McCormick joined the software company in 2007. Andy Balch served with Mark McCormick when they taught at the Surface Warfare Officers School Command in Newport, Rhode Island. He is now vice president of sales for Mirabel Technologies (The Magazine Manager). Much of his work involves traveling, and like everybody else in that company, he lives by a computer, so he doesn’t need to be in Fort Lauderdale. He and his family live in the Cleveland, Ohio area. The bottom line is that three of the top execs in the company come from the U.S. Navy.