Lower the Beer, Raise the Book

“Miami Beach of the North”

Montauk at the St. Patrick’s Day parade: It’s not all beer cups and bagpipes. How about the history of the place?

For those interested in such, Carl Fisher, the visionary prewar developer most responsible for the shape the “Miami Beach of the North” was to take, is the subject of a brick-thick biography by Jerry M. Fisher, his grandnephew. “The Pacesetter,” first published in 1998, is just out in a new edition from the Friesen Press, a self-publishing concern out west.

Born in middle-of-the-country obscurity in Greensburg, Ind., in 1874, Fisher was an entrepreneur from his teenage years, moving from brilliant marketing during the bicycle craze to making Prest-o-Lite automobile headlamps to earning “Mr. Miami Beach” status as a developer. He was a co-founder and president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indy 500, hence the book’s title, and the builder of the Lincoln and Dixie Highways, yet partly as a result of declining to name these monumental projects after himself, Jerry Fisher points out in his preface, in 1938 “Who’s Who” didn’t know him from Adam.

Back to the hamlet at hand, in 1925 Fisher bought more than 9,000 acres from Arthur Benson for $2.5 million and two years later built perhaps his most lasting legacy there, the Montauk Manor. Two years after that, of course, came the Great Crash. By 1934 Fisher had declared personal bankruptcy “as the drinking and womanizing continued unabated,” Peter M. Wolf, who would go on to write “Land Use and Abuse in America,” wrote in a 1998 review in The Star. “When he died at Miami Beach in 1939, his estate was estimated at $52,198, far below his peak net worth, estimated 50 million in 1920 dollars. . . .”

A most American of stories.