|By Elinor J. Brecher, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 29, 2011--During the 1950s, Miami Beach was a stop-over for celebrities and gangsters en route to or returning from the high-roller casinos in Havana.
When they checked into swanky hotels like the Eden Roc and Fontainebleau, Fred Atlas was there to greet them.
He managed both at different times during that era, as well as The White House, 15th Street and Ocean Drive, where he began his hotel career, and later the luxurious Warwick Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.
Born Ephraim Atlas on Nov. 25, 1924 to Russian immigrants in the Bronx, Atlas died on July 22, at age 86. Son Russell "Rusty'' Atlas said that his father had Alzheimer's disease, detected three years ago.
He lived in The Villages, a Central Florida retirement community.
"Hotels were the only thing he knew,'' said Rusty, who developed Atlas Plaza in Miami's Design District. "He was a real extrovert who loved people and loved talking to people.''
Six feet tall, handsome and dapper, Atlas was "the best-looking hotel man in the business,'' said Stuart Blumberg, retired president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, a friend of 50 years. "He knew the back of the house, but he was the consummate front man.''
When Atlas ran big, first-class hotels, managers had to have the "personal touch,'' said Blumberg. "You knew every guest by name, you met with them, you knew your employees. You came out of your office...You'd be on the pool deck, in the restaurants and bars to meet the guests.''
Fred Atlas met, and was photographed with, high-profile guests like baseball greats Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel, comic Don Rickles, crooner Jerry Vale, actor Maurice Chevalier, pop sensation Chubby Checker, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
Atlas had definite opinions about how a hotel should run, said Blumberg, which explains his lengthy resume.
"He'd clash with owners then move on.''
His career as a general manager, managing director and part-owner took him from Miami Beach to Hollywood, where he managed the original Diplomat, also Tampa, St. Petersburg Beach, New York City, New Hampshire, Washington D.C., and the Hamptons on Long Island.
He was a past director of the Florida Hotel/Motel Association. In the late 1980s, Atlas worked as general manager of the Hamptons condominium in Aventura.
In 1983, Sheraton Corp. named Atlas General Manager of the Year. At the time, he was running the Sheraton River House near Miami International Airport.
He captained the Warwick for three years, living onsite, across the hall from Cary Grant, downstairs from Liza Minnelli's pied-a-terre.
Their father's life made his sons realize "that we didn't want to be in the hotel business,'' said Rusty. "He didn't have a life because he was always on call. It was very hectic.''
A U.S. Army veteran of World War II who enlisted on his 18th birthday, Atlas served in the Pacific, where he contracted malaria, son Rusty said. After an honorable discharge in 1944, he attended the University of Miami on the G.I. Bill, earning a bachelor's degree in business administration.
He got started at The White House after he married the owner's daughter, Janet Radoff. They had two sons before divorcing.
Atlas later married Jean Rosenbloom, with whom he had a third son before divorcing. He spent the past two decades with companion Liscette Headley.
He retired about 10 years ago after opening hotels in St. Maarten, Rusty said. Before moving to The Villages, Atlas kept a summer home in North Carolina and usually wintered in Miami, where, his son said, "he loved playing tennis for hours in the heat in the middle of the day.''
In addition to Rusty, Atlas is survived by sons Randy, of Fort Lauderdale, and Troy, of Tampa.
A memorial service will be held at 3:15 p.m. Sunday at Star of David Memorial Garden, 7701 Bailey Rd., North Lauderdale, followed by a celebration of life at The Bistro, Las Olas Riverhouse, 333 Las Olas Way, Fort Lauderdale.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Florida Opportunity Scholars Program, c/o University of Florida Foundation, Inc. in Gainesville; the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute, Tampa, or Cornerstone Hospice Foundation, Tavares.
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Copyright (c) 2011, The Miami Herald
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