Holsum Bakery: A Beloved South Miami Holiday Tradition
The smell of baking bread. Almost everyone loves that fresh baked smell. When you have a large professional bakery nearby it can be even more overwhelming. Just ask those who drove I-4 in Orlando during the days when Merita Bread operated a nearby bakery.
The same was true for residents of South Miami when Fuchs Baking Company, later known as Holsum Bakery, was in business on U.S. 1 in the growing community.
The Holsum Bakery building was located at 5750 S. Dixie Highway (U.S. 1). The bakery was housed in a large building that was originally constructed in 1925 as the Riviera Theater.
In 1910, brothers Robert and Harold Dorn left the cold winters of Chicago settling in an area known at the time as Larkin. Their plan was to make their fortune in the fruit business, selling locally and shipping fresh citrus north.
Robert especially bought into the hype of 1920s Florida real estate, building several commercial properties. His largest and most elaborate project was the Riviera Theater, completed in 1926.
The exterior of the building featured a wide and inviting staircase with arched entries. Attentive theater goers would have seen many decorative carvings, coat of arms displays, and decorative, yet functional lighting fixtures. The barrel tile, hip roof showcased the Mediterranean influence popular in Miami during the period.
The theater was built of steel and concrete. The ceilings reached a whopping thirty-seven feet high, supported by hand painted beams. Columns lined the aisles along the gently sloping floor which led to the stage area.
Facing the stage to the left was a large Wurlitzer organ with pipes installed on both the left and right hands sides of the stage. Seating was divided into three sections with two aisles creating left, center, and right sections. Total seating was around 1,000.
The theater opened to much fanfare, and with the September 4, 1926, opening showing of Her Big Night, starring Laura LaPlante, the theater looked poised to become a grand success. However, the Riviera was a victim of circumstances beyond the control of the Dorn brothers.
In mid-September 1926, hurricane tracking and forecasting were still a thing of the future. In the days before satellite imaging, hurricane tracking planes, and computer models, residents relied on reports out of Washington D.C. The problem being, Washington relied heavily on reports from ship captains. The Weather Bureau of the day knew of the storm but Richard Gray, head of the Miami branch of the Weather Bureau was unaware of what was barreling through the Atlantic that second week of September. It was not until the late evening of September 17, less than twelve hours before landfall, that hurricane warnings were posted. The deadly 1926 hurricane would be like nothing anyone there had ever witnessed.
Robert Dorn and his family were attempting to take a few days of vacation when they were caught in Palm Beach by the dramatically dangerous weather. The Sunday paper highlighted the damage to the region and Dorn had no idea the condition of the Riviera.
Fighting road flooding, traffic congestion, and bridges of uncertain stability, the family made it safely to their home which had miraculously survived. Dorn was to find the Riviera suffered little damage and he was able to have the theater put back in working order quickly. Unfortunately for Dorn, electric service took several weeks to be repaired. Theater goers, eager to escape the realities of life for a couple of hours, were forced to wait for repairs.
Despite having defied the ravages of a category four hurricane, the Riviera could not withstand the onslaught of the bursting of the Florida land boom and the coming of the Great Depression. Many residents found themselves in dire straits financially, and a night at the movies was no longer in the budget, as they tried to wait out the bust.
The Riviera was a casualty of the crashing of the Florida land boom, closing some time in 1927. Dorn entertained several ideas to reopen the facility, such as creating a nightclub, but the financial realities kept the facility closed for many years before, in 1934, the Riviera found a new life.
Fuchs Bakery/Holsum Bread Company
When Charlie Fuchs, Sr. arrived in south Florida during the early 1910s, he and his family opened a small bakery, cooking and selling out of their Homestead home. Quickly finding success, Fuchs purchased the local Noble Bakery in order to expand. With the help of a hired baker, and Charlie, Jr. returning from service in the Great War, the business thrived.
With the addition of a new bakery located near the Redland Hotel and having opened an ice cream parlor, the Fuchs were working hard, but showing meaningful results. Charlie Jr., drove a delivery truck, helping not only deliver bread, but spreading the Fuchs Bakery name across the region.
Charlie Sr. retired from the business in 1924. Needing to further expand, Charlie Jr. initiated talks to acquire the Riviera Theater building from the Dorn family. The building had been sitting vacant for nearly a decade and Robert Dorn believed selling the property was the best option.
Major interior alterations were made to the structure but the exterior, including the large open stairway leading to the arched entrances was preserved. Over the years, the name changed, eventually settling on Holsum Bread Company, often just called Holsum Bakery.
The Fuchs family did much to ingratiate themselves to the community. Not only did they sell bread right out of the oven to walk in customers, they delivered their fresh made bread throughout south Florida. One report states that they even shipped bread to Puerto Rico and Cuba. A newspaper account from 1949 made the claim the bakery had the capacity to turn out 10,000 loaves of bread per hour.
Annual Holiday Exhibit
While Holsum Bakery and Fuchs Bakery were best known for their bread, they were also famous for their annual Christmas exhibits. These exhibits drew thousands of spectators each year and were never the same, so there was always a reason to return each year.
Just when these exhibits started is open for debate. In trying to research this question, I have come up with published dates of 1937, 1939, and 1940. I suppose for our purposes here, if we were to say, “around 1940,” I think we would be quite safe.
Below, I present to you a series of postcard images I have collected featuring the Holsum Bakery annual Christmas exhibits from 1949 through 1958. I have seen a card featuring the 1948 exhibit but I have yet to add this one to my collection. If there are postcards before 1948 or after 1958, I have not seen them.
Focusing on the restoration of movie theaters in Atlanta, Biloxi, Birmingham, Durham, Memphis, and Tampa, Janna Jones provides a record of the architectural history and preservation of the opulent urban picture palace. Reflecting our fascination with the past, she re-creates the magic of the early years of theaters throughout the southern United States, their demise in the mid-20th century, and their renaissance in the 1970s as the preservation movement swept across the country. Click the photo or THIS LINK to learn more and order your copy of The Southern Movie Palace.
1941 Orange Bowl Parade
In keeping with the holiday theme, the Miami Dade Public Libraries Special Collections has these two images from the 1941 Orange Bowl Parade. It is interesting to note, the one photo is taken in front of a theater building, showing a Boris Karloff film, The Ape, something that only a few years prior might have showed at the Riviera. Be sure to note the parade watchers in the windows high above ground level.
Charlie Fuchs, Sr. passed away in 1940. An online memorial may be found using THIS LINK.
Charlie Fuchs, Jr. passed away either in 1949 or 1956 depending upon the source. He was killed in a hunting accident on an airboat while in the Everglades. In 1956, the city of South Miami renamed Blue Water Park, Fuchs Park, in honor of Charlie, Jr. An online memorial for Charlie, Jr. may be found using THIS LINK.
The Building in Recent Years
During the early 1980s, the Holsum Bakery moved operations to Medley, FL leaving the building empty and at the hands of real estate developers. The property was purchased, and the Riviera/Holsum Bakery demolished in 1986, replaced by a shopping mall. Property owners attempted to pay homage to the history of the property, naming the mall, Bakery Center with the AMC Bakery Center 7 Theatres as a tenant.
Bakery Center proved short lived and by 1996 this too was demolished to make way for the Shops at Sunset Place. According to Cinema Treasures, the rear portion of LA Fitness and the western edge of the parking garage are located where the Riviera once stood.
A Different Riviera Theater
The name Riviera Theater is certainly not unique and in 1956 another Riviera Theater was opened in south Florida. Located in Coral Gables, the theater seated 1,281. The theater was turned into a twin plex in 1974, before becoming a five plex in 1986. The theater ultimately closed in 1999. It appears the building was demolished in 2021. Several interesting images may be found on the Cinema Treasures website. If you click the link, be sure to scroll down to the comments for additional photos.
If you have photos or stories of the Riviera Theater, the Dorn or Fuchs family, or the South Miami Holsum Bakery facility I would love to see them and with your permission, add them to this post or create a new post for your material. Please feel free to comment on this post, or send me an email.
Florida Master Site file
“The Holsum Bakery Building.” Historical Association of Southern Florida Update. Volume 5 No. 2 (December 1977).
Miami Dade Public Library System. “Capacity 10,000 Loaves an Hour.” Article dated September 20, 1949. Miami Vol. 54: 1949-1950 Agnew Welsh Scrapbooks. 36.
Miami Dade Public Library System. “Florida’s Tallest Yule.” Article dated December 17, 1950. Florida Vol. 66: 1950 Agnew Welsh Scrapbooks. 75.
Miami Dade Public Library System. Untitled article. Dade County Vol. 22: 1951 Agnew Welsh Scrapbooks. 19.
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