President Nixon's Florida White House in Key Biscayne (1972-1974)


Village of Key Biscayne
The Florida White House on Key Biscayne Island  
Country
 United States
State
 Florida
County
Elevation
3 ft. (1 m)


Key Biscayne is a village in Miami-Dade CountyFlorida, United States on the island of Key Biscayne. The population was 10,507 at the 2000 census. As of 2004, the population recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau is 10,324. Key Biscayne is located on the island of Key Biscayne and lies south of Miami Beach and east of Miami. The Village is connected to Miami via the Rickenbacker Causeway, originally built in 1947. Because of its low elevation and direct exposure to the Atlantic Ocean, it is usually among the first Miami areas to be evacuated before an oncoming hurricane.
My families’ final move while I was assigned to WHCA came in 1972 when I was transferred once again this time to the Florida White House in Key Biscayne Fl.  We were assigned Quarters and lived on Homestead AFB.

President Richard Nixon purchased the first of his two waterfront homes, forming a compound known as The Florida White House, in 1969 to be close to his friend and confidant, C.G. (Bebe) Rebozo and industrialist Robert Abplanalp. There was a total of five houses plus the SSCP and helipad that made up the compound at Key Biscayne. President Nixon had two houses, then Bebe Robozo's home the SS/GSA house and finally WHCA/WHMO.

The Presidential compound at Key Biscayne was bounded by Biscayne Bay on the west, West Matheson Drive on the south, Bay Lane on the east, and a fence on the north.
The Key Biscayne Compound (Helipad, USSS CU, 516 House, 500 House, Rebozo House)
The President's homes at 516 and 500 Bay Lane are the southernmost houses in the compound Bebe Rebozo owns and uses the house next door at 490 Bay Lane. The Federal Government leases the next two houses at 478 and 468 Bay Lane. The house at 478 Bay Lane, which is owned by Robert Abplanalp, was leased by the Government in February 1969 for use as an office for Secret Service and GSA personnel. Abplanalp purchased this residence after the owners expressed a desire to sell because of the heavy traffic of Government personnel. The house at 468 Bay Lane was leased in December 1968 and served as the telecommunications facility for the WHCA and an office for military aides to the President.
500 Bay Lane (1972)
The principal construction work by the Government began about December 15, 1968 and was largely completed by September 1, 1969. Nixon visited Key Biscayne more than 50 times between 1969 and 1973. During the summer of 1973 there was a new pool and Florida room constructed in the rear of the 500 house which was also added to the Federal Government’s expenditures in connection with the Key Biscayne compound. These expenditures totaled approximately $7.9 million. Of this, approximately $4.56 million was expended for Secret Service, GSA, Coast Guard, and WHCA personnel permanently assigned to that location. The DOD and WHCA spent $2. 1 million for communications, helipad and boat dock, shark net, and electric power generator; the Secret Service spent $67, 000 for security equipment and devices; and the Coast Guard spent $192,000 for boats, buoys, electronic equipment and boat house. 
516 Bay Lane prior to demolition (2004)
In the 468 Bay Lane house WHCA installed a three position switchboard with FM radio paging, a Comm. Center with secure voice and secure TTY, and a Radio Console that had phone patch capabilities on Baker, Charlie, and Sierra FM frequencies. This console also had a KWM-2 HF transmitter installed.
Marine One awaits the Presidents arrival
There was always a great deal of activity at Homestead AFB. Most of the detachment lived on base and all of the arrivals/departures took place at the base. Air Force One and Marine One were secured on the base while the President was at Key Biscayne. The crews and all of the support staff also stayed at Homestead. After the President arrived he would climb aboard Marine One and head for the Key Biscayne compounds Helipad.

Patty as Air Force One taxi's up to the ramp
Air Force One arrives at Homestead AFB
President Nixon’s arrival at Homestead AFB
Then came the Watergate break-in, the 1972 Campaign and election and of course Richard Nixon’s eventual resignation as President!

I was in the process of moving my family to Key Biscayne when the break in occurred, little did anybody realize the impact that this incident would have on the Nixon White House and the personnel at Key Biscayne Compound.

During the 1972 re-election campaign and despite his overwhelmingly strong position, Richard Nixon had engaged in a variety of dirty tricks, culminating in the botched burglary in the Watergate Complex on June 17, 1972. The Watergate scandal would ultimately be his undoing, leading to his resignation in 1974, but it had no impact on the 1972 campaign.

The Watergate complex located in Washington D.C.
My Family barely got moved into our quarters on Homestead AFB., when I had to get ready for the Republican Convention.

The convention was not originally supposed to be held in Miami, but rather in more summer-friendly San Diego. When the Republican National Committee had problems with the City of San Diego they started looking elsewhere. And what better place than Miami Beach, who had already set themselves up for two conventions in the previous four years and had the hotel space and phone, lines to accommodate them. Not to mention a drivable distance to Nixon’s summer home on Key Biscayne where there was all the communications that the USSS needed for security during the time of the convention. The convention was carefully organized to take advantage of television coverage. Because the war in Vietnam was still going on, the White House was expecting large demonstrations at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Some antiwar demonstrations did take place but without the violence that had erupted in Chicago four years earlier!

The Miami Convention Center
The 1972 Republican National Convention was held in Miami Beach, Florida from August 21-23. President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew were re-nominated on their first ballots.

When I arrived in 1972, the swimming pool, at the 468 house, was fully operational and available to our families on weekends if there were no visits. There was also a beachfront where the family could swim in Biscayne Bay. Unfortunately for us after Watergate it seems like the President was there every weekend to get away from the constant barrage of questions from the Press.

Enjoying the beach at the Key Biscayne Compound 
Whenever the President came to Key Biscayne for a visit we had to set up and check all of the communications in the Compound, but we also had to place equipment in the Villas at the Key Biscayne Hotel for the Sr. Staff. H.R. Halderman and Henry Kissinger would have an IBM Dictaphone with a recorder coupler installed on their WH extension, so when they picked up the phone their conversation would be recorded. When the trip ended the villas were swept by Comm. Center operators to insure that no sensitive information was left behind.

Things really started to change in 1973 the War in Vietnam was finally over and the POW,s came home, the armed forces moved toward the all voluntary Army and WHCA was lowering its standards as candidates dwindled. WHCA, s mission was changing and they were also going through major technology changes. 

The Watergate scandal was front page news after it was disclosed by Alexander Butterfield that WHCA had installed tape recorders so there was a record of the private Presidential conversations and President Nixon refused to release them to Congress. The Bugging of the White House was disclosed during the Watergate Hearings and only then did the country realize that this was a long standing practice within the White House dating back to Franklin Roosevelt.   

Vice President Agnew resigned from office and Gerald Ford was appointed the new Vice President. 

The main reason that I left WHCA after nine years was that I grew tired of traveling and wanted to spend more time at home with my Family, and the office of the President had been surrounded with corruption and was disgraced. I was discharged on December 20 1973 to begin life as a civilian.  It would be only eight months later when President Richard Nixon would resign to end the Watergate scandal.

Southern Florida suffered the worst hurricane in their history when Andrew ripped through in 2004.  Homestead AFB was reduced to rubble and all of the military quarters were demolished, Homestead was never rebuild and was closed and never re-opened.

Key Biscayne also received severe damage many of the hotels that were used during visits were demolished and rebuilt including the Sonesta Beach and Key Biscayne Hotels.  The same was true for the Key Biscayne’s Florida White House the 500 and 516 houses were torn down in 2004.

FM Radio Network Key Biscayne

The Detachment was also tasked with designing, installing, and maintaining two radio networks:

  1. The FM Radio Network for the Secret Service and staff for ongoing support.
  2. UHF Radio Network to tie Walkers Cay, and Grand Cay in the Bahamas back to Key Biscayne, this also included FM radios, mini switchboard and a small Comm. Center
The FM radio Network covered all activity from Key Largo in the south, Homestead AFB, Miami, Key Biscayne, and the Coast Guard station in Opa-Locka to the north.  Baker, Charlie and Sierra base stations were installed in the following locations:

1.   Homestead AFB, this site insured coverage of all arrivals and departures, as well as any trips to The Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo where Bebe Rebozo had a vacation house that the President would visit.

2.   The Miami site was on top of One Biscayne Tower; this was the tallest building in south Miami and had line of site to most locations including the Convention Center site of the 1972 Republican Convention.  This site also covered all of Key Biscayne and the Rickenbacker Causeway.

3.   The Key Biscayne site was on top of the Sonesta Beach Hotel, this site provided coverage of the beach and hotels where the senior staff stayed.

4.   Opa-Locka FL, the Coast Guard based at Opa-Locka provided all of the coastal security for the Key Biscayne Compound, the Coast Guard had two chase boats that would patrol the restricted area off of the compound and would challenge and watercraft that might stray to close. The Coast Guard was also available for any trips to the Bahamas.

All radio circuits terminated at the Key Biscayne Compound either at the Secret Service Command Post (CP), or the WHCA radio console, switchboard and Comm. Center.

FM Radio Network Key Biscayne

Base Station Site locations of the FM Radio Network


Walkers Cay and Grand Cay, Bahamas

Walkers Cay Club, Bahamas (note radio antenna), WHCA maintained UHF system 
Robert Abplanalp the owner and President of PVC Corporation was a close friend of President Nixon. Mr. Abplanalp owned two islands in the Bahamas’, Walkers Cay and Grand Cay.

The Walkers Cay Club and Marina was a very popular fishing resort.  It was a very exclusive resort as the only way to reach the island was by boat or by air.  The resort had regularly scheduled flights from Ft Lauderdale, Fl. by seaplane. Travel by WHCA to the island was generally by helicopter.  A relatively small hotel was on the island as well as the resorts bar and restaurant and two swimming pools. There were several villas available besides the Hotel for guests to stay while visiting the island.  The marina was fully equipped with bait, tackle, and snack shops. 
The island had its own power plant and desalinization station for all drinking water.  There were several buildings where the staff lived while on the island. The radios were in a building adjacent to the 125 ft. tower, and a separate building near to the radio room housed a small switchboard and communications center.

Walkers Cay Club air strip and Marina
Walkers Cay Island in the Bahamas
Walkers Cay Club after 2004 hurricane Andrew
Walkers Cay Club after 2004 hurricane season 
Note:  Walkers Cay Club was severely damaged in 2004, was closed and is now for sale.

President Nixon stayed on Grand Cay, Mr. Abplanalp's private 125-acre island in the Bahamas, complete with a house that Mr. Abplanalp had refurbished for presidential use, and for relaxation a 55-foot yacht was always available. There were also two villas located on the island for other guests.  Grand Cay was about a 15min. boat ride south east of Walkers Cay.  The island did have a usable helicopter pad for Marine One and Army One.
There was a small house by the boat dock for the caretaker and a small bunk house for necessary support personnel during the trip.  The Secret Service CP and WHCA radio room was in the same building near the front entrance of the main residence.  The bunk house was two small to house everyone, so the Secret Service would stay on Grand Bahama Island (GBI) near Freeport and they would  be choppered in to change shifts. Golf carts were the normal mode of transportation.
The President was visiting his close friend Bob Abplanalp on Grand Cay.  I remember the night from hell on Grand Cay very well, I was there when the Mayday call came in. When the midnight shift came in for a landing the blades hooked the water and 16 agents plus the chopper crew hit the water.  I was asleep when the Mayday call came in.    I grabbed a radio and headed for the chopper pad without a flashlight God was it dark, but I could hear the agents yelling. The 15 survivors, agents and crew, were all on the underside of the chopper which had flipped over when it crashed.  About the time that I got to the pad Bob Abplanalp arrived on a golf cart which had headlights so we could see the chopper.  I called the CP to let them know where the chopper was located and that everyone was still on the chopper and that it was partially submerged. . Maybe five min. after that the boat arrived with the divers and started evacuating the agents.  Luckily there were divers on the trip and they finally got to the chopper to start evacuating everyone. 
                                                                       
Others arrived and I then went back to the radio room to make sure all the radios were working.  I called Walkers Cay to let someone know over there what had happened, I then went to the bunk house where they were bringing everyone any necessary medical treatment, this is when I found out that an agent was trapped inside the chopper and drowned.  Agent J. Clifford Dietrich - May 26, 1973: was killed in this helicopter crash near Grand Cay Island in the Bahamas while on assignment with the Presidential Protective Division.  I was asked to help place Agent Dietrich’s body on a Chinook to transport everyone back to GBI and then back to Homestead.  They placed him under the jump seats of the chopper and none of the agents that flew back ever knew they were sitting over him.  This was one night that I will never forget. That was the last time I ever saw the Army One crew and I think that they were deactivated in 1976, in part because of this crash.  In LTC Boyer’s book “Inside the Presidential Helicopter” he disclosed that the altimeter was not properly calibrated and was off by 300 ft. this along with inadequate lighting contributed to the crash.

UHF Radio System to the Bahamas

UHF Radio shot from GBI to Walkers Cay to Grand Cay
The GRC-104 UHF Radio system used from GBI to Walkers Cay and Grand Cay Islands
Prior to 1969 there was little or no communications on Walkers Cay or Grand Cay. There was a low power radio at the Walkers Cay Club that they used to communicate to their office in Ft. Lauderdale, and for emergencies. There was nothing on Grand Cay!

The UHF System was designed to provide 8 channels of voice grade circuits from the Key Biscayne White House switchboard to a mini-switchboard at Walkers Cay.  The Walkers Cay switchboard would also terminate 24 voice grade circuits from Grand Cay. 
               
AT&T provided the voice circuits from Key Biscayne to a NASA submarine cable that terminated at a down range missile tracking station on Grand Bahama Island (GBI).  Using an existing radio tower WHCA installed a Farinon UHF radio system on the Air Force facility.  GBI shot directly to Walkers Cay where the circuits terminated.  On Walkers Cay there were telephones installed in the Walkers Cay Club’s office and several of the hotel rooms where supporting staff would stay during all Presidential trips to Grand Cay.  Voice circuits were also installed in the communication center for any Dex-1 and TTY traffic.  FM base stations were also installed for any necessary communications for WHCA, Secret Service, or the White House Stall staying on the island.  The final leg was a GRC 103 UHF radio system, with a TD 660 multiplexer providing 24 voice circuits between Walkers Cay and terminating on Grand Cay.  Telephones were installed in the Main residence and both villas, as well as the bunkhouse on the island.  The Secret Service CP also had phones installed and FM Radio Consoles on Baker and Charlie frequencies.  All equipment, tools, and personnel had to be sent in on helicopters from Homestead AFB.

The monthly maintenance trips to Walkers Cay were like paid vacations, we would be choppered over from Homestead, spent two or three days doing PM's on Walkers and traveling over to Grand Cay by boat.  During this time we ate, drank and slept all complementary.  Plus we would of course have to man all locations during any official trips.  We also had a UHF system between Freeport on GBI to Walkers Cay which meant side trips to the Casino in Freeport.  We honestly did do some work during some of these trips.  I never had any problem finding volunteers to help me on maintenance trips.

Unfortunately the Walkers Cay Club was heavily damaged by hurricane Andrew and was closed down, the island and all of the facilities are presently for sale.

Nixon visited Key Biscayne more than 50 times this also included several visits to Grand Cay between 1969 and 1974 when he resigned from office.


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