The Colonnades Hotel in the Town of Palm Beach Shores:
A. O. Edwards is known as the founder and developer of Palm Beach Shores. He purchased purchase the 240 acres in 1947 as the site for his planned development. He explained, "No place else in all South Florida had I found any unexploited property that held the same promise, that offered the fine elevation above sea level, with blue water on three sides, and such a splendid beach."
He reportedly paid $400,000 for the acreage and over $1.5 million for improvements. 631 lots were laid out, priced between $1,800 and $4,000. Two boat docks on Lake Worth for the use of town residents were depicted in an early drawing.
Edwards served as the first mayor of PBS from 1952-1954, and could not continue in this role since he did not live in the town. Thus, Henry Peerson became the first elected mayor of PBS.
Edwards built the Inlet Court Hotel in 1948. This would later become the Colonnades Hotel. The Colonnade motto was "where excellence is not extravagance."
After Edwards died in 1960, the hotel was sold three years later to John D. MacArthur, the son of a preacher, who would became one of the greatest financiers of his day. Newsweek rated MacArthur as the second richest man in the United States in 1976 with a $1 billion net worth. He presided over these vast financial holdings from a table in the Colonnades Coffee Shop.
The hotel had had many famous guests, including movie and television stars, politicians, and musical entertainers, including the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, and Jackie Gleason.
The sixth floor penthouse was named the Bob Hope Suite. Story has it that one morning when Bob Hope ordered breakfast from room service, a tall, thin waiter in white jacket with cigarette dangling from his mouth arrived to serve him coffee. It was MacArthur himself.
Paul Harvey's radio show was aired periodically from the hotel, as well as the television game show "Treasure Isle." In later years, Burt Reynolds used the Tiki Bar for his television show "B.L. Stryker."
MacArthur suffered a stroke at the hotel in 1976 and died 14 months later. The Colonnades was demolished in 1990 to make way for the Marriott Ocean Pointe.
Posted: 12:13 p.m. Wednesday, January 03, 2018
PALM BEACH GARDENS —
Readers: Only a man like John Donald MacArthur, who essentially built northern Palm Beach County, could cast such a giant shadow 40 years after his death on Jan. 5, 1978, at age 80.
Here’s more from colleague Joel Engelhardt’s profile in The Palm Beach Post’s 1999 Our Century special section, as well as from”Post Time” columns in August 2001 and August 2002:
Next to Henry Flagler, no developer has influenced Palm Beach County as much as MacArthur.
Both were self-made millionaires who grew up poor, and both were sons of preachers. But MacArthur stood as Flagler’s unrefined opposite.
Ornery, cheap and profane, MacArthur reviled blue bloods. He had more patience for those in blue collars. He awoke at 4:45 every morning, smoked three to four packs of cigarettes a day, drank 20 cups of coffee and swilled Scotch.
“Big Mac” ran his empire from a corner of the coffee shop at the Colonnades Beach Hotel on Singer Island, which he’d bought in 1963. Once, when asked why he dressed like a bum, MacArthur explained: “Sometimes, it’s better to feel like a bum than a millionaire.”
MacArthur sold mail-order insurance in Chicago before coming down in 1955 to collect on a loan. He took control of 80 percent of Lake Park and all of what he would name North Palm Beach. He kept buying, adding thousands of acres. He founded Palm Beach Gardens in 1959 and decided to stay and watch it grow.
He had a stroke at the Colonnades in 1976 and died 14 months later. The hotel closed in 1987 and was razed in 1990.
When MacArthur died, he was the second wealthiest man in America. He gave his fortune to a foundation named for him and his second wife, Catherine. He didn’t set up the MacArthur Foundation to do good. “I’ll do what I know best and make (money),” he told his lawyers. “You fellows will have to learn how to spend it.” But the foundation has given away billions.
MacArthur is the namesake of the state park on Singer Island. It had a dicey beginning.
Through the 1970s and into the 1980s, Air Force Beach was one of the largest nudist beaches in the nation. The 1/2-mile-long beach was owned by MacArthur, a frequent skinny-dipper, and got its name because it was popular with fly-boys from Palm Beach Air Force Base, at Morrison Field, now Palm Beach International Airport. One story says that when Walt Disney came down to survey Palm Beach County as the possible site of Walt Disney World, he and MacArthur took a skinny-dip.
The beach once drew hundreds of people a day, many of them au naturel, and the population rose dramatically during weekends and college spring breaks. When the state bought the beach in 1982 and made it part of the state park, the foundation that controlled MacArthur’s properties recommended an area be set aside for clothing-optional use. The state refused.
Submit your questions to Post Time, The Palm Beach Post, 2751 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33405. Include your full name and hometown. Call 561-820-4418. EK@pbpost.com. Sorry; no personal replies.
John D. MacArthur outside his Colonnades Hotel in Singer Island in 1974.THE PALM BEACH POST FILE PHOTO
Celebrity Days Remembered As Colonnades Hotel Is Razed
February 17, 1990|By FRED LOWERY, Staff Writer SUN SENTINAL
PALM BEACH SHORES -- It was not particularly old or really historic, but the old Colonnades Beach Hotel sure was a colorful spot.
Long-time residents and visitors watching preparations for the hotel`s demolition, which began on Thursday, had many recollections about the rich and famous who passed through its doors.
``It`s too bad they`re not going to blow it up,`` said onlooker Ernie Gordon, ``that would have been some real excitement.``
The hotel, developed by billionaire John D. MacArthur from a $750,000 beachfront motel in the early 1960`s, spent its last years as a crumbling resort.
The facades on some of the balconies had come loose, revealing thin sheets of stucco-coated metal wrapped around narrow steel bracing.
The final blow that led to the closing of the Colonnades in 1987 was a structural failure that sent a ceiling beam crashing onto the main dining room floor. It was one of a number of the building`s structural problems.
The once-proud three-star hotel had become such an eyesore that it was ordered by town officials to be either renovated or razed.
But the buildings were not the main attraction at the Colonnades, nor was it the radio and television shows that, over the years, emanated from there.
It was the celebrities who spent leisure time at the Colonnades that gave the hotel its color.
Bob Hope was persuaded to stay there in the early 1970`s by MacArthur`s installation of a sumptuous apartment atop the main building, dubbed the Bob Hope Suite. The plumbing in the suite`s lavish bathroom never worked properly.
Jackie Gleason whiled away some storied hours and chanted ``and away we go`` through the dining room. Helen Hayes was there to visit MacArthur, her brother-in-law.
And Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones and many of rock `n` roll`s superstars stayed there in 1969 for their appearances at an ill-fated rock festival.
But perhaps the most colorful character to occupy room in the hotel was MacArthur himself.
The billionaire, who made his money in insurance and land development, held forth from a corner table in the dining room where he drank coffee, smoked cigarettes and cut deals until he suffered a stroke in 1976. He died about 14 months later.
The property is still owned by the John D. and Katherine MacArthur Foundation, Palm Beach County`s largest private landowner.
Foundation officials say that it will likely be developed for a new hotel.
But it will not be the same, onlookers said, because there will never be another Colonnades, and there will never be another MacArthur.
``There were some really good times had in that place,`` Gordon reminisced, ``and I guess you can`t go back.``
John Donald MacArthur (1897-1978)was one of the three wealthiest men in America at the time of his death, and was sole owner of the nation's largest privately held insurance company.
One of seven children, Mr. MacArthur was born in an impov-erished coal-producing area of eastern Pennsylvania. His three brothers who survived childhood all achieved success in their fields: Alfred in insurance, Telfer in publishing, and Charles as a newsman, playwright, and Hollywood screen writer. John held several jobs, including stints as a newspaper reporter, as an insurance salesman in his brother's company, and in three unsuccessful business ventures, before turning to insurance as his life's work.
In 1928, at the age of 30, Mr. MacArthur bought the Marquette Life Insurance Company, and in 1935, he borrowed $2,500 to acquire the financially impaired Bankers Life and Casualty Company of Chicago. Five years later, Bankers had more than $1 million of assets; by 1977, they had surpassed $1 billion. At his death, Mr. MacArthur's insurance companies had more than 3 million policyholders, with $5.5 billion of insurance in force, and a sales staff of more than 5,000 agents and brokers.
In the 1960's, Mr. MacArthur's attention turned to real estate and development. He conducted his business at a table in the coffee shop of the Colonnades Beach Hotel, in Palm Beach Shores, Florida. He owned the hotel, and he and his wife lived in a modest apartment overlooking a parking lot.
At one time or another, Mr. MacArthur's holdings included 100,000 acres of land in Florida, primarily in the Palm Beach and Sarasota areas; several development companies and shopping centers; paper and pulp companies; 19 commercial, office, and apartment buildings in New York City; several publishing enterprises; hotels; radio and television stations; banks and 12 insurance companies.
For more information about the life of John D. MacArthur read an excerpt from the book John D. MacArthur: The Man and His Legacy.
Catherine T. MacArthur (1908-1981) was one of nine children born to Irish immigrants who had settled on the South Side of Chicago. Her father was active in Democratic politics in the city, and served in appointive posts in both state and local government. At various times, he also owned and operated several retail stores.
In the beginning, while John ran the business, Catherine kept the books. She remained intimately involved in her husband's business throughout their lives. When John purchased Bankers, Catherine created the business procedures which would be used until tremendous growth finally made them obsolete. She appears throughout the records of the various companies almost anonymously—under her maiden name, C.T. Hyland—in the position of corporate secretary, director, or both.
John D. MacArthur died January 6, 1978. Catherine T. MacArthur died December 15, 1981.
Singer Island Once Home To Popular nude Beach
August 7, 2002 Eliot Kleinberg's Post Time columns.
Q: Wasn’t there a nude beach on Singer Island?
A: There still is, depending on who you talk to. Through the 1970s and into the 1980s, Palm Beach County had one of the largest nudist beaches in the nation: Air Force Beach, on Singer Island.
The 1/2-mile-long beach was owned by billionaire John D. MacArthur, a frequent skinny-dipper, and got its name because it was popular with flyboys from Palm Beach Air Force Base, at Morrison Field, now Palm Beach International Airport.
One story says that when Walt Disney came down to survey Palm Beach County as the possible site of Walt Disney World, he and MacArthur took a skinny-dip.
The beach once drew hundreds of people a day, many of them au naturel, and the population rose dramatically during weekends and college spring breaks. According to the group Palm Beach Naturalist, Air Force Beach drew 2,000 to 3,000 people a weekend.
When the state bought the beach in 1982 and made it part of John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, the foundation that controlled MacArthur’s properties – he’d died in 1978 – recommended an area be set aside for clothing-optional use. But the state refused.
T.A. Wyner, a nudist activist from Loxahatchee who now lives in St. Lucie County, made news in 1990 when she showed up at the beach wrapped only in a parchment copy of the U.S. Bill of Rights.
A charge of disorderly conduct was later dropped. She had challenged the state’s permitting system in federal court in November 1989, arguing the beach was a public forum where free speech was protected. She eventually won. Wyner says clandestine nude bathing still goes on at the extreme north end of the beach, with lookouts sounding the alarm when rangers approach. The beach also is listed as a popular destination on gay travel Web pages on the Internet.
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park: 624-6950.
In 1980, a silhouetted couple (left) took a nude stroll on Air Force Beach, now MacArthur State Park. (Post file photo)
PALM BEACH SHORES RESORT - MARRIOTT OCEAN POINTE OCCUPIES SITE OF THE COLONNADES
How 'Old Man' MacArthur bullied, bulldozed and built North Palm Beach County
This story was originally published in The Palm Beach Post on Sunday, May 15, 2005
Fifty years ago this week, Palm Beach County met the man who would steer its future: John D. MacArthur.
George Frost was a young engineer in the early 1960s when he and a Palm Beach County commissioner walked into the old man's home for a morning meeting.
John D. MacArthur stood before them stark naked, cooking eggs.
The billionaire, discussing plans for a turnpike interchange, didn't explain his lack of clothing and the two men didn't ask. Eventually,MacArthur got dressed.
"A tool," Frost called it. Just another way for the old man to get what he wanted. Controlled eccentricity.
John Donald MacArthur, owner of most of northern Palm Beach County, was a risk-taker extraordinaire.
Irascible, ill-mannered, foul-tongued. A Scotch-slinging, chain-smoking, fanny-pinching billionaire. A man with the contempt for wealth found in someone who spent most of his life without it.
Whether he was buying land, lending money or wangling his way into a corporate board room, John D. MacArthur had to get the better of the deal.
He didn't do it to see his name in lights. He once said that if he wanted a monument, he would have called the city he foundedMacArthur City, not Palm Beach Gardens.
He didn't do it to support a lavish life. He was so cheap that he wouldn't buy rubber bands, instead relying on the ones that came with the morning newspaper.
He did it because he could.
MacArthur, who pronounced his name with a booming MACK-Arthur, didn't make his first million until the age of 48. He died at 80 in 1978, America's second-richest man, owner of a $1 billion empire of insurance companies, land in eight states, including 100,000 acres in Florida, and investments as varied as Alamo car rental andMacArthur Scotch.
He announced his first Palm Beach County real-estate deal 50 years ago this week. Like Henry Flagler, MacArthur proved that Florida could be shaped by a single man. Like Flagler, MacArthurbuilt his Florida legacy in the last decades of his life. But in place of Flagler's gilded edge, MacArthur brought a common touch.
He perched atop bulldozers to direct drivers around trees, toted luggage for guests of his hotel and spent hours manipulating politicians for sport. He wore rumpled, worn clothing, lived humbly and took great pains to avoid convention.He put his faith in the one thing that brought him to the top: himself.
He used people as props. He divorced one woman to marry another, refused to help his daughter find her missing son and took over his son's business when it became a success.
His best friend was a dog.
Yet he inspired fierce loyalty in his sales force of thousands and, even today, many of the men and women who worked for him in Palm Beach County gather every March 6 to toast him on his birthday.
He grew up in the shadow of three successful brothers: Alfred, an insurance executive; Telfer, a publisher; and Charles, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. His cousin, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commanded U.S. forces in the Pacific and South Korea.
John left the fame to them. But when it came to collecting money, he would come out on top.
He lived like a character out of one of his brother's stories during the Roaring '20s: savvy, direct, ruthless.
His friends and employees knew him as the Skipper, John Mac or the Old Man. He did not look rich, sitting with a slouch in a coffee-stained shirt, whiskers bristling, cigarette dangling.
He never stopped doing what he liked best: making money.
In death, it is what he didn't do, however, that reverberates today.
He left his $1 billion fortune and his stewardship over northern Palm Beach County to a foundation. And he left the foundation no instructions.
"I'll do what I know best and make it," he told them. "You fellows will have to learn how to spend it."
First fight: MacArthur takes over town hall
MacArthur spent 23 years in Palm Beach County, manipulating his empire to the end.
When he arrived in 1955, few people lived in the 10-mile swath between the small town of Lake Park and the even smaller town of Jupiter. Between lay scrubland and pine and palmetto woods and a lush vestige of the Everglades called the Loxahatchee Slough. Over two decades, MacArthur would come to own just about all of it.
His arrival was heralded in the May 18, 1955, Palm Beach Post. The "Chicago financier" owned 80 percent of Lake Park, plus 2,200 acres on Singer Island and land he would name North Palm Beach. He took the property to collect on a $4.5 million debt. Ralph Stolkin, a Chicago developer, gave up the land rather than make the first $100,000 payment.
MacArthur entered like a big-city ruffian.
When Lake Park denied him the right to build a water and sewer system, it denied him control over the only thing limiting the area's growth. So, MacArthur evicted officials from town hall, a building he now owned. Then he called for the town's dissolution in a full-page advertisement in the Sunday Palm Beach Post-Times. As a former newspaperman, he had a way with words.
"I would feel I was doing a disservice to all Lake Park residents not on the city payroll," he wrote, "if I did anything to help you keep your city government alive."
The town, spurred by a mayor who took an immediate dislike to the billionaire, would not bend. MacArthur sued to dissolve Lake Park, forcing a settlement that gave him what he wanted: control of the water supply.
John D. MacArthur had come to town, and town would never be the same.
He sold off North Palm Beach and the Lake Park lots to builders for $5 million, retaining land on Singer Island. He loaned the builders money and pressured them to move fast. By 1963, North Palm Beach had 6,000 residents.
He also began amassing land farther west that would become Palm Beach Gardens. He bought thousands of acres at a time, at prices ranging from $700 to $1,100 an acre. He hoarded land from Lake Park to Jupiter. He bought the Loxahatchee Slough.
Decades later, his foundation would sell those same parcels for exclusive gated communities. Frenchman's Creek, Mirasol, BallenIsles all bore MacArthur's stamp. In 1999, the foundation sold the leftovers, nearly 15,000 acres in three counties, for $228 million.
MacArthur considered land a shrewd investment. He knew the more he bought, the greater the price he could command.
He told an employee: "I don't want to buy the whole world. I just want to own everything next to what I already own."
A wife and partner as frugal as he was
MacArthur awoke at 4:45 every morning, smoked three to four packs of cigarettes a day and drank 20 cups of coffee. He lived to be 80.
In business, MacArthur had only one partner, his second wife, Catherine, who shared his faith in the value of a dollar, uttered profanities to equal his own, but came to distrust the train of personalities who lined up to see her husband, hands outstretched.
She shunned a social life. Instead, she worked. Long after they made their fortune, Catherine pored over employee expense reports, rejecting claims she found frivolous.
They lived in Lake Park in a home with a carport. When it rained, Catherine would roll the car out for a quick dousing, then wipe it down and consider it washed.
Catherine nagged MacArthur when he stayed up too late playing poker, persuaded him to give up his pilot's license at age 60 and protected him from showing his coarse side in social settings.
MacArthur chased other women. Catherine left him in 1948 and a year later sued him for half his holdings. Her suit included allegations that he spent company money on himself, hid income from the IRS and encouraged false advertising.
He responded by suing her for divorce. She claimed they were never legally married because he didn't get his first wife's consent to a mail-order Mexican divorce in 1937. The suit showed that John and Catherine also were married by mail.
But as insurance regulators and tax officials hovered, hoping to find evidence against a man who regularly escaped their clutches, the couple reconciled, and all charges were dropped.
Spartan billionaire: You can't 'buy your way into heaven'
MacArthur rarely gave anything away and, when he did, he usually had an angle. Like the time he offered the Baptist college 200 acres, hoping to bring a university to his vast land holdings.
When he gave money away, he didn't want anyone to know. He paid for the football field at Palm Beach Gardens High School but withdrew a donation for the swimming pool when the principal told a colleague of his largess.
"Every time I give somebody something, I am besieged by a thousand others with their hands out," MacArthur said. "Frankly, I don't believe you can buy your way into heaven."
He loved children and animals, but with men, MacArthur could be ruthless, impatient and unforgiving.
Some attorneys complained that he failed to pay his bills. "He didn't like people who tried to gouge him," said Bill Pruitt, whose firm did business with MacArthur for years. "He wasn't going to be a patsy."
He would offer guests a drink at his hotel, the Colonnades on Singer Island. After they'd had their fill, he would remind them to pay the bartender on the way out.
He looked for bargains everywhere. On visits to Miami, he'd dine with developer Irving Miller. When MacArthur paid, he chose a place where they could eat for less than $1.50. When it came time for Miller to buy, Miller would select a pricier restaurant. Rather than freeload,MacArthur would limit himself to soup or salad, nothing more than $1.50.
Palm Beach Post reporter Gayle Pallesen flew with MacArthur in his final years - coach, always coach, because, you see, the tail gets there just as fast as the nose. She liked the old man but she wouldn't do what he once asked, when he nudged her and told her to ask the stranger in the next seat for his uneaten cake. Undeterred,MacArthur asked on his own, reached over, wrapped the cake in a napkin and stuffed it in his pocket.
"Scotsmen are supposed to be very tight," MacArthur was fond of telling reporters. "Cheap is a better word for it. I've never denied it. I inherited it. My father was a Scotsman, even if he was born in New York City three days after the boat landed."
Son of a fire-and-brimstone preacher
MacArthur's father, William Telfer MacArthur, was a failed farmer and self-ordained minister, who traveled the country railing against sin and damnation.
His mother, Georgiana, tried to shield her children from her husband. She died when John, the youngest of seven children, was still a teen. John spent several years with his father before he moved to Chicago to be with his three older brothers.
John one day would have the money to buy anything he wanted but, in keeping with his father's admonitions, would spend next to nothing on himself.
In Chicago, John worked for brother, Alfred, the insurance executive. In 1916, at age 19, John later bragged, he sold more than $1 million worth of insurance. He did it by winning the confidence of factory supervisors to gain access to blue-collar workers.
He yearned to top his brothers, first as a World War I flying ace (who never saw action), then as a small businessman. He failed with a gas station, then a bakery. He tried newspaper work with brother Charles, who co-wrote the 1920s classic play The Front Page before marrying actress Helen Hayes. But John couldn't match Charles at the craft, and he went back to selling insurance.
John married Louise Ingals in 1919. They had two children, Virginia and Roderick. But the marriage between two opposites - she quiet, gentle and refined; he loud, aggressive and coarse - didn't last, according to William Hoffman's unauthorized 1969 biography, The Stockholder.
John married Catherine, Alfred's secretary, and got a divorce from Louise on a trip to Mexico in 1926. Louise refused to formally grant a divorce until 1937. He displayed flashes of brilliance as an insurance executive but clashed with his bosses, including Alfred.
In 1928, he broke out on his own, borrowing $7,500 to buy the failing Marquette Life Insurance Co., even though the company's roster of high-risk customers and low cash reserves made it a bad risk. He survived the Depression by denying claims, a practice that would make his insurance companies top performers, Hoffman wrote.
In 1935, he learned of a stable company that would cost just $2,500. He borrowed the money and became the sole owner of Bankers Life and Casualty. He established the basis for his fortune in 1942 when he hit on the idea of selling insurance by mail for $1 a month after finding the untried prototype in the archives at Bankers Life, Hoffman wrote.
MacArthur bought a $50 ad in a Chicago newspaper and couldn't believe the response: more than 1,000 requests, according to Hoffman. A second ad did the same. The era of mail-order insurance was born.
MacArthur foresaw the day when regulators would intervene. So he built a nationwide sales force. By 1948, he could send a salesman to the door of any customer who requested a brochure. Mail-order gave MacArthur his first $1 million. But $1 million would not be enough.
"The only reason I own 100 percent of the stock of my empire is that no one with $100 would invest in an impossible undertaking," he told a reporter three years before his death. "My own brother spent hundreds of hours giving me valid reasons why I had attempted an impossibility. By all the rules of the game, Bankers Life and Casualty Co. should have gone down the drain 40 years ago. The only explanation I can offer is luck."
In three years, the company's premium income quadrupled. By 1956, Bankers took in $120 million. MacArthur was ready to soak up the sun.
Starting a city, with or without Disney
Shortly after MacArthur founded Palm Beach Gardens in June 1959, Walt Disney slipped unnoticed into the city. The creator of Mickey Mouse and Disneyland dressed down to avoid publicity as he met with MacArthur and officials of the Radio Corporation of America, owners of the burgeoning NBC television network. RCA wanted Disney on its network. MacArthur wanted a Disney theme park on his land.
MacArthur and Disney got along famously, two creative men in a world of suits. They shook hands on a deal: Disney would provide the entertainment, NBC the programming, MacArthur the land and financing.
It would be at least a year until the news seeped out. But by then the deal would be dead, killed by a moment of anger in the penthouse of the Palm Beach Towers condominium. MacArthur's wrath would fall on Roy Disney, Walt's brother, who ran the company's business side.
The group gathered to draft the agreement, which would have put Disney on 320 acres along PGA Boulevard. Roy was there; Walt was not. Experts from the University of Southern California had concluded that a theme park east of the Mississippi River would not drain business from Disneyland. In fact, they said, it promised to be a bigger hit.
Shortly before lunch, Roy Disney spoke the words that killed the deal, said Jerome Kelly, MacArthur's real-estate adviser, who attended the meeting. Kelly died in November 2004. Roy Disney said he didn't want a repeat of Southern California, where Disney's neighbors made money off the theme park's success.
Roy Disney wanted a bigger piece of MacArthur land. MacArthurdidn't wait to debate. Roy was breaking his brother's hand-shake agreement. MacArthur would not be played for a fool.
He said nothing until lunch. Then he stood and excused himself. Kelly pulled him aside. How could he leave now?
MacArthur told him: "I have to get the hell out of here or I'll hit that goddamn beagle right in the nose."
Shaping a city and avoiding county control
The early 1960s found MacArthur selling lots and building homes in the first sections of Palm Beach Gardens, north of Northlake Boulevard and just beyond Lake Catherine, named for his wife.
He built a showy waterfall at the entry on a street later renamedMacArthur Boulevard. He made sure his first neighborhoods wrapped around schools. Even today, kids in those neighborhoods can bike to school without crossing a six-lane road. The curving streets are fragrant with such names as Buttercup and Bluebell, Aster and Azalea, Dogwood and Daisy.
Sidewalks are scarce. MacArthur thought they should go behind homes, but builders disagreed. The result: The city today owns thin strips of land behind people's homes.
When Florida Power & Light Co. told MacArthur it would be impossible to bury its electric lines, MacArthur inquired into the price of operating his own power plant. FPL got the message and gave in. Today, most of the city's power lines are underground.
MacArthur founded the city to avoid county control. His insurance men commuted from Chicago to form the first city council.
MacArthur never lived in his city. He had a three-bedroom home for many years on a corner lot next to Lake Park Elementary School. The house, with 9-foot-deep swimming pool, still stands, assessed for tax purposes at $101,000.
MacArthur grabbed national exposure for his city in 1961 when he moved a 75-ton banyan from Lake Park to the Palm Beach Gardens entry. Life magazine ran a full-page photo of the tree dangling above utility lines and reported that it snagged a railway signal line, stopping three New York-bound trains, and later fell, crushing an earth-mover. Total bill: $26,000.
But to sell homes, MacArthur knew, he needed jobs. He scored his biggest coup with RCA, which brought 2,000 jobs when it opened a plant in 1961. It helped that MacArthur owned more than 10 percent of RCA's stock.
He added an entertainment draw in 1964 by luring the Professional Golfers Association. MacArthur, who knew little about golf, didn't get along with PGA officials, who knew little about business. The marriage lasted eight years before MacArthur evicted the PGA from what is now BallenIsles.
MacArthur bought Channel 12, a local TV station, and WEAT-AM, a radio station. He considered buying The Palm Beach Post as well.
In 1965, MacArthur's insurance men gave way to a city council elected by residents. "I have always viewed Palm Beach Gardens as something that will live after me, and I'm proud of what I have contributed," MacArthur said. "It is the only monument I want."
By the 1970 census, Palm Beach Gardens was the nation's fastest-growing city, going from a lone squatter in 1960 to 6,007 residents. MacArthur didn't chase out the squatter. He gave him a home - in Lake Park.
Today, PGA Boulevard is the most expensive address in northern Palm Beach County, featuring upscale shopping and office buildings. But in 1963, the road existed only in MacArthur's mind. Officials doubted that anyone would want to drive to such a remote spot.MacArthur convinced them otherwise.
Once, reporters heard MacArthur's raised voice through the door of the county engineer's office. "I never would have bought that land if I hadn't thought the road would be four-laned," MacArthur shouted.
A county official left muttering, "That MacArthur is quite a salesman."
The result: The county would pay $875,000 for a new road, crossing virgin MacArthur territory and connecting Singer Island to the future path of Interstate 95. MacArthur would put up $600,000 for an exit at Florida's Turnpike. He would be repaid from toll collections in two years, faster than anyone expected.
When the interchange opened in 1965, MacArthur gave a speech and used the ceremonial scissors to snip the very real tie of his strongest booster, County Commissioner E.F. Van Kessel.
All the comforts of home
MacArthur hated to make deals from behind a desk. He brought a kitchen-table mentality from the days when he and Catherine ran their insurance company from a Chicago apartment.
In 1963, he bought the Colonnades Beach Hotel on the ocean in Palm Beach Shores on Singer Island. He said he didn't want the expense of a maid at home. Instead, he would have a hotel full of servants - a waitress to fill his coffee pot, a switchboard operator to take his calls, a bartender to make his drinks.
He started every morning with a phone call to Louis Feil, his real-estate partner in New York. Together, they amassed Manhattan office and apartment buildings worth hundreds of millions.
By virtue of his daily presence at a 3-foot-square table adorned by two phones and a coffee pot, the hotel coffeeshop became his headquarters. From there, he dealt with Howard Hughes.
The neon light from a MacArthur hotel in Las Vegas bothered the reclusive Hughes, who lived in a hotel next door. Hughes offered to buy the sign. MacArthur said sure - but he would just put up another. Hughes bought the hotel instead, and MacArthur pocketed a $3 million profit.
Businessmen, many of them looking for MacArthur to finance their schemes, lined up at the Colonnades, sometimes waiting for days.
"This is the greatest racket," MacArthur once told a New York Times reporter. "If I took these guys up to my office (in the hotel penthouse) I'd have to be courteous to them. Here, I can just get up and walk off into the kitchen and hide."
MacArthur trained his dog, Zeckendorf, to growl on command, a handy prompt to end business talk. Zeckendorf, a gift from renowned New York developer William Zeckendorf, had free run of the hotel, mooching food from diners. Then, MacArthur got a visit from the health inspector.
The dog must be reined in, MacArthur was told.
MacArthur scolded the large, golden Weimaraner and chased him out the back door. The dog ran to the front door, scampered back in and jumped into John D.'s chair. MacArthur turned to the health inspector. "Arrest him," he said.
Zeckendorf would accompany MacArthur on car rides. Most humans thought twice.
"MacArthur drives with characteristic aggressiveness, a heavy foot and an individual style in which he sits almost in the middle of the seat and uses his left hand, exclusively, on the wheel, leaving the right hand free for smoking - and gestures," a reporter wrote in 1965. "He appears to point the vehicle by sighting directly down the center crease in the hood. There is a sense of elan and excellent timing which makes the near-misses seem precisely planned."
His wardrobe lacked elan.
Howard Flynn, a neighbor and Lake Park town councilman, once asked MacArthur why he dressed like a bum. "Sometimes,"MacArthur said, laughing, "it's better to feel like a bum than a millionaire."
Disney World went to Orlando, and it stuck in MacArthur's craw. He decided to outdo Disney - in Palm Beach Gardens.
MacArthur's Walt Disney would be Ivan Tors, the producer. His Mickey Mouse would be Flipper, the dolphin. His Donald Duck would be Gentle Ben, the friendly bear.
The public would pay to see what MacArthur was doing with all those animals - filming television shows and movies - a Universal Studios before there was Universal Studios.
MacArthur and Tors also dreamed of TorsWorld, where African animals could roam free - a Lion Country Safari before there was a Lion Country Safari. They'd give people a reason to stay atMacArthur's Colonnades Beach Hotel and to buy homes in his city.
But relations between Tors and MacArthur soured over money,MacArthur's production chief, Sherman Adler, recalled. To get them back together, Adler said, he suggested a game show, the nation's first outdoor daytime program, Treasure Isle.
It would be filmed at the Colonnades, pack the hotel with guests, and bring Tors to MacArthur's front door. MacArthur built a 1-acre lake at the Colonnades, where he could watch filming and Zeckendorf could roam the set, free to chew through a cable and delay the first day of production. The show, which challenged contestants to run a watery gantlet to win a treasure, was a hit for two seasons.
MacArthur's last grand design for the empty land west of Florida's Turnpike was to bring the winter home of the Ringling Brothers circus, complete with resort apartments. Adler negotiated for a year with the tough-minded Houston millionaire Roy Hofheinz, the man who dreamed up the Houston Astrodome. MacArthur invited the governor and the press to the hotel for the signing. The former judge, Hofheinz, flew in from Houston.
Adler, in his mid-20s and excited by the hoopla, sensed something amiss. MacArthur pooh-poohed his concerns before rising to make an announcement:
"You know, I had a sleepless night last night. I'm not sure about this deal. I don't know if I want it. An old man shouldn't have more on his plate than what he can eat that day."
"Then we have nothing to say," Hofheinz, who used a wheelchair, said, rolling toward the door.
"Judge," MacArthur said, calmly. "Did you spend the night here (at the Colonnades)?"
The judge nodded.
"Make sure you pay your bill on the way out," MacArthur bellowed. "And don't let the doorknob hit you on the ass."
Sensing the end
In 1970, doctors treating MacArthur for lung disease discovered something worse: stomach cancer. Surgery would add eight years to his life but it awakened in him a sense of mortality.
"I realized I had so much to do. I hadn't prepared properly. What would happen to the company? It would go down the drain to pay the taxes. I asked for one more year to straighten things out," he told a reporter, recalling a stressful night in the hospital.
When morning came, MacArthur bellowed, "Get me my lawyer!" And the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation was born.
"He had a 25-cent will. Like most guys, he said there was no rush," said Phil Lewis, who managed a family foundation and talked withMacArthur about setting one up. "I said ,'Mr. MacArthur, you gotta do this. It's the only way to get around Uncle Sam coming in and taking everything.' "
Retirement never occurred to MacArthur.
"I'm not against retirement for those who want to sit around and wait to die," MacArthur said at his 77th birthday celebration. "But I need a reason to live."
He had not decided what his foundation would do. "Maybe now I'll have more time to think about that," he said.
If he did, he never said. He left it to the foundation board, made up of his wife, Catherine; his son, Roderick; and friends and business associates. Paul Harvey, the Chicago radio commentator who plugged Bankers Life on his show, served until 2002.
Doing it his way
MacArthur kept himself busy during the '70s fighting lawsuits in just about every jurisdiction in northern Palm Beach County. The man who prided himself on saving trees battled criminal charges of dredging without a permit, a building stoppage because his sewer company didn't meet county health standards, and lawsuits over development of his vast Pal-Mar holdings straddling the Martin County border.
All the while he held court at the Colonnades, fed the ducks every day and never mellowed.
He built Palm Beach Gardens hospital but refused to let the city council run it. It remained closed for a year until a not-for-profit could take over. He didn't give the city land but sold it 10 acres for city hall in 1970 (price: $155,000).
He went to court when the county wouldn't meet his price on 9.4 acres for a north county courthouse. The jury awarded MacArthur$169,000, twice what the county offered. But, in less noticeable ways, he could be generous.
Even though his idea for a Palm Beach Atlantic College in his city never came about, he quietly helped the school make headway in downtown West Palm Beach. A $12 million donation to the college was among his final acts, delivered three years after his death.
Last days, last deals
MacArthur went to the hospital in November 1976 under the cover story of choking on an ice cube. He had suffered a stroke, which weakened his left side and quieted his salty tongue. But it didn't slow him down.
Hugo Unruh, then a West Palm Beach police officer, remembers pulling MacArthur over for driving erratically one morning at dawn. The old man seemed lost and couldn't speak, and Unruh, now a powerful county lobbyist, didn't recognize the name. He put him in jail for his own safety. That is, until a supervisor heard of it. A call to the Colonnades brought MacArthur's chauffeur, who chastised the old man for slipping out, again, for a joy ride.
In 1973, MacArthur evicted Adeline Moffett, the widow of a Standard Oil chairman, from her $150-a-month Palm Beach apartment for not paying rent. Three years later, despite his stroke,MacArthur battled her $50 million lawsuit and a court order to disclose his wealth.
He still owned close to 50,000 acres in northern Palm Beach and southern Martin counties and ran the nation's largest privately held insurance conglomerate. His holdings included banks and developments in New York, Colorado, California and Texas.
"It would take a battery of accountants, maybe 20, working full time for several months to untangle his financial web," his attorney said.
In 1976, Newsweek magazine rated him the second-richest American, with assets of $1 billion.
Tough on the children
MacArthur rarely gave his children, Roderick and Virginia, a break.MacArthur, a high school dropout, complained that Roderick wasted too much time in college when he could have been running an insurance empire. Virginia studied art in Mexico City, where she married and set up home, too far away for MacArthur to keep count of her children.
When her son, Gregorio Florencio Cordova, disappeared while hitchhiking to San Francisco in 1973, family members criticizedMacArthur for failing to help. MacArthur dismissed the disappearance as a teen escaping his parents' troubled marriage.
Ill will with Roderick climaxed in 1975 over the Bradford Exchange, the commemorative plate business that made Roderick a millionaire. The mail-order company started in the early 1970s with a $115,000 loan from Dad. But when sales soared, MacArthur demanded control.
Ultimately, father locked son out of the company offices (in a building dad owned). Roderick, who was in his 50s, staged a daylight raid to get back his inventory of 25,000 plates. The relationship improved in the final years, and father entrusted son with his funeral plans.
"In the old days, a good Irish wake was pleasant. You saw your old friends ... you drank good whiskey and ate good food," John wrote to Roderick. "With the coming of the funeral home, the style changed and today's funeral bores everybody.
"Call me eccentric if you wish, but I am for having a great get-together at a convenient time... . Everyone would eat, drink and be happy. ... Before the dancing started we would let one speaker tell everybody what a great guy I was. I will have no control over the 'memorial service' but will provide the funds to do it right."
In early January 1978, surgeons found cancer of the pancreas. They gave MacArthur two weeks to live. He died three days later, on Jan. 6, 1978.
His body was cremated. No funeral was held. His son organized the memorial service a year later. Catherine didn't attend. The land he amassed went to his foundation, which took years deciding on a course of expensive gated communities.
The money the foundation made would be given away - more than $3 billion by last count - turning the gruff old man into one of the world's foremost philanthropists.
John D. MacArthur got no plaque, no statue, no tombstone.
No marker at all ... except, of course, the way we live.