As A-Rod Battles His Neighbor, Miami Beach's Film Renaissance Hangs in the Balance | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

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As A-Rod Battles His Neighbor, Miami Beach's Film Renaissance Hangs in the Balance

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"My neighbor may have a lot of money and all the women in the world," Friedman says with a glance toward Rodriguez's massive manse, its black and white walls looming like the Death Star. "But he's not much of a hitter."

Over the past year, Friedman's battle with the big-leaguer has metastasized into an outbreak that has the entire movie industry worried. As A-Rod and his acolytes rent out the property daily for photo shoots and TV shows, Friedman has taken his fight to city hall, spooking studio execs into threatening to abandon Miami Beach if they don't get their way.

But the dispute is also a personal duel between two proud men, both self-made millionaires. Their face-off reflects a growing divide between longtime Miami Beach residents like Friedman, and newcomers like Rodriguez, many of whom are out to flip their homes for a quick payday. The Bay Road brawl pits two visions of the island against one another: profits versus privacy, partying versus peace and quiet.

"I don't want to be a torchbearer," says Friedman, whose thinning gray hair and beard stubble make him look like an aging Alan Alda. "I'm just some schmuck from Brooklyn who came over from Hungary. But we are fighting for our lifestyle here."

Irwin Friedman can be forgiven for clinging to his peace. He was born in the Hungarian city of Debrecen in 1943 as World War II was tearing the continent apart. His parents owned a dressmaking store, but when Nazis invaded in 1944, they seized the shop and began hunting down the city's Jews.

The Friedmans fled to the countryside, where for more than a year, Irwin, his mother, and his older sister hid in a friend's hayloft. His father crept out after dark to scrounge for food and buy supplies.

One night, he didn't come back. Nazis had caught him and thrown him into a forced labor camp, usually a layover on the way to the gas chambers in Auschwitz or Birkenau. But Irwin's father devised a plan. He worked feverishly for two days to ingratiate himself with his guards. Then he broke his glasses and begged to get them fixed. When two guards took him to the town optometrist, he pulled out money hidden in his boot and bought them a bottle of slivovitz. "By the time he came out of the store 22 minutes later, both of them were dead drunk," Friedman says. Many of Irwin's aunts and uncles had already been murdered, "but my father came back to us."

When the war ended, Irwin's family settled on Manhattan's Lower East Side. His father worked in a shoe factory while teaching himself to make slipcovers and drapes. After years of working nights and weekends, he opened his own shop. Then another. And another.

The family moved to Brooklyn, where Friedman followed in his father's entrepreneurial footsteps. He found work selling plastics, and he married Nora Berkovits, a pretty Jewish American, in 1965. After they honeymooned in Miami Beach, Irwin vowed, "One day we're going to move here." Nora just laughed.

But Friedman worked his way from manager to general manager to vice president. In 1985, he left to found Delta Plastics Corporation. When Bank of America Capital Investors bought the firm 14 years later, Friedman was set for life. He bought his dream home on North Bay Road in 2002. "My pipe dream came true," he boasts.

For nearly a decade, the Friedmans lived happily in the two-story, 6,000-square-foot house. Inside his study, Friedman slumps in an oversize leather chair and stares at his family tree, written in Hebrew, on the wall.

"My mother-in-law had the numbers on her arm," he says of his family's fortune in life. "The people who came through that sort of thing and were even seminormal are remarkable. I'm just happy to be here."

Then his mood changes. "But now my sandbox is getting turned over," he says. "I don't care about the movie industry. I don't care about anybody. I just care about protecting my family."

Friedman's neighborhood nightmare began as soon as Rodriguez moved in next door in late 2011. First there was the Art Basel party. Then, a week later, an even bigger gala, sponsored by Tiffany & Co. Within a month, Rodriguez had begun renting his home out for filming. For six days in December, crews arrived at 7 a.m. to shoot a Conde Nast spread and two other ads. For 12 hours a day, they blocked the street and made a ruckus.

The next month, there were five more days of filming. By February, the number had risen to seven. On February 16, Friedman was lounging by his pool when music again began blaring. When he went upstairs to see what was going on, he spotted a small man in a hat barking directions at scantily clad women. It was Transformers director Michael Bay shooting a Victoria's Secret commercial.

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Michael E. Miller

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