In 1943, a young man arrived at the newly opened Betsy Ross hotel. Greeted by the Betsy Ross’s neon sign, he checked into the hotel — for three months.
Relaxing as a three-month Betsy stay might sound, Henry Garner arrived in South Beach a soldier in uniform preparing for war. The Betsy Ross had opened only the year prior, in 1942, and quickly leant its services to the war effort, quartering American soldiers destined for Europe, the Pacific, and military bases across the country. For these young soldiers, the Betsy offered a sanctuary of relative peace and calm (not to mention much-appreciated hot showers) on the eve of possible deployment to the front.
But the Betsy Ross was more than a safe harbor. Its architect, L. Murray Dixon, was responsible for many of Miami Beach’s art deco treasures, but he opted to do something different with the Betsy. The Florida-Georgian style of the hotel was very much an intentional choice by the architect; opening its doors against a backdrop of World War II, the Betsy Ross proudly showcased a uniquely American style to match its patriotic name.
Today, 78 years after a smiling, bright-eyed Henry Garner posed next to the Betsy’s original sign, a neon Betsy Ross sign once again graces our hotel — and once again, we find ourselves facing existential threats to our democracy. We recreated this sign to bring a piece of history back to life, but also as a reminder to ourselves of the purpose of the Betsy, which three quarters of a century later remains a safe harbor against the rising tides of hate that threaten our ways of life. Like the Betsy itself, we hope this sign will serve as a beacon of light as well as hope, and a reminder that just as we made it through then, we will make it through now.