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Nixon's Florida White House razed

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Nixon presidential retreat in Key Biscayne torn down

President Nixon's Key Biscayne house, where he often relaxed and conducted White House business, was razed to make way for a new residence.

BY KARL ROSS

[email protected]

It was the place where the late President Richard Nixon could be found when he needed to get ``tan, rested and ready.''

The private sanctuary at 500 Bay Ln. -- also known as the Winter White House for Nixon's frequent stays there -- was where plans for the Watergate break-in at Democratic headquarters were discussed. It was also there that the president went to lick his wounds as the Watergate scandal unfolded.

Now it's history.

The nondescript ranch-style home was razed Wednesday to make way for a new, and no doubt flashier, residence, Key Biscayne village officials said.

It was part of a compound including three other properties, a private beach and a floating helipad that Nixon frequented between 1969 and 1974.

''When he became president, he needed a getaway, and that became his Winter White House,'' said Paul George, history professor at Miami Dade College. ``He retreated there many times during the Watergate crisis.''

Telephone transcripts from the congressional investigation indicate that plans to break into the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate building in Washington were discussed there, George said.

`NOTHING GLAMOROUS'

Nixon visited the home almost monthly during his presidency, making at least 50 visits over his five-year tenure.

''It was your basic, boring 1950s concrete-block home, low to the ground, thick walls, nothing glamorous about it,'' George said. ``This is where he was all the time.''

FRIENDS AS NEIGHBORS

Nixon purchased the home from George Smathers, with whom Nixon had served in the U.S. Senate. He purchased it with the help of his close friend and confidant, banker Charles ''Bebe'' Rebozo.

Rebozo owned the home immediately to the north. Another Nixon ally, financier Robert Abplanalp, inventor of the aerosol spray can, lived north of Rebozo. He leased his property to the U.S. government to serve as living quarters for Secret Service agents.

The property immediately to the south of Nixon's home also belonged to Nixon. That property, 485 W. Matheson Dr., was redeveloped in the 1980s and was featured in the film Scarface.

Key Biscayne's top building official, Jud Kurlancheek, confirmed the demise of Nixon's home. ''It's done,'' he said. ``It's all torn down.''

Kurlancheek said a new home would be built there. He said he couldn't say who the owner is, but property records trace it to developer Edgardo Defortuna, president of Fortune International Realty.

Defortuna was on vacation and could not be reached Wednesday, according to a receptionist at his office.

Real estate records from 2002 show that Defortuna once sought to rent the home for $20,000 a month. ''Magnificent sunsets and Miami skyline views,'' the listing boasted.

Key Biscayne historian Joan Blank said a second story was added to the building after Nixon sold it.

A local historical society, The Villagers Inc., celebrated the entire Bay Lane compound last December with a guided holiday tour, Blank said.

`THE LAST HURRAH'

''I guess that turned out to be the last hurrah,'' she said.

Blank noted that other presidents, John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman among them, have found comfort in South Florida.

''Florida is an important place,'' she said.

``Truman chose Key West, Kennedy chose Palm Beach, and Nixon chose Key Biscayne.''

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