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The Palm Beach Post, Thursday, July 2, 1981,    Special to the Post


Progress Can't Eclipse Yesterday's Memories

By Mrs. Louis Levinstim



     For nine winters, from 1919-1928, my parents operated the Hotel Hibiscus on the Lake Trail.  The Hibiscus was a 40-room, white stucco hotel with a red roof.  It was the last nonresidential building on the trail to the north.  The trail extended past the Garden of Eden.  From the hibiscus to its northern end, the trail was flanked on one side by the lake and on the other side by jungle surrounding several residences.  In all of my winters in Palm Beach, I never heard of anyone hit by a falling coconut, although they lined the trail.  After an unusually severe rain or windstorm, teams of Negros carrying long poles shook free from the trees what appeared to be ripe coconuts.  It was impossible to get all of them, and I still remember the frightening thud of a perilously close falling coconut.


     On the north side of the Hibiscus, the Stotesbury Estate stretched from the trail to the ocean.  Except for the cleared area surrounding the mansion, the property was mostly jungle.  From Ocean Drive, we could see the tiled roofs of Stotesbury's beautiful El Mirasol and the nearby Phipps mansion, Casa Bendita.  A few other residences were less obvious.


     We walked the three blocks between the lake and the ocean wearing capes or coats over our bathing suits.  My bathing costume was a co9quettishly bowed purple satin bathing cap, a two-piece, lavender, checked gingham top and bloomers and tennis-like bathing shoes.


     Moored to the Hibiscus dock, Frank Adam's houseboat was a  familiar landmark.  Rumor had it that Adams was the ne're-do-well son of some socially prominent family.  Whatever his background, Frank Adams must have found Fortunato's purse because I never knew him, nor his equally charming wife to engage in any financially rewarding activity.  At the height of the social season, they frequently would appear in formal evening wear and be "wheelchaired," Presumably to some social affair.


     What we, in our ignorance, called "wheelchairs" are now more aptly" referred to as Afromobiles.  A few of our Negro-propelled "chairs" were built for a single rider, but the majority were two-seaters.


     To the south of our hotel, directly across Dunbar Road, stood the lovely Beaux Arts Building.  It was a building in the Spanish tradition of tan-tinted stucco and red red-tiled roof.  Shops lined both corridors and a stairway led to a motion picture theater.  On the opening night of a well-publicized picture, Palm Beach's bejeweled and formally attired social elite, as they ascended the stairway, reminded me in miniature of a similar scene at the Paris Opera House.


     The Palm Beach season was a brief three months and Palm Beach seemed deserted after Washington's birthday when the socialites began their annual trek to Pinehurst, to their respective hometowns, or to the Hamptons with occasional shopping sprees in New York City.


    The frame-structured Palm Beach Hotel was the next familiar building, south of the Beaux Arts, on the Lake Trail.  In front of its ample porch, a paved area served as a "wheelchair" depot.  I remember the hotel best for its adjacent fruit and souvenir shop from which we sent citrus fruit home.  A so-called native once told me that poinsettias could be mailed home and would arrive in good condition if the tips of their stems were inserted into raw potatoes.  On the occasion of a friend's anniversary, I shipped my friend a dozen lovely poinsettias.  Some two weeks later, I received a letter thanking me for the potatoes and asking, "What were those funny red things in the box?"


     Colonel Bradley's gambling casino, a block or two south of the Palm Beach Hotel, was as unimpressive, peculiarly shaped, white frame building with green trim and a shingled roof.  Its undistinguished lake-front entrance belied its size and interior.  At night, with lights aglow and its select membership arriving in ""wheelchairs," the casino was a memorable sight.


     The Palm Beach ferry dock was a block beyond Bradley's.  If my memory is correct, a small ferry boat, accom-modating about 50 passengers, crossed the lake every half-hour from Palm Beach to West Palm Beach.  It was the most convenient way to leave the island.  The little boat had its restricted section which usually was crowded with Negroes traveling back and forth from employment on the island.


     When the day was too warm to walk to the ferry from the Hibiscus to the ferry, we often would make the trip to West Palm Beach in the cool of the evening.  Some lovely evenings we would stay on the boat without getting off at West Palm Beach, just to sail among the brightly illuminated yachts anchored in the lake.  Occasionally, strains of dance music could be heard from the yachts.


     My principal destination in West Palm Beach w2as the small, inviting library on the lakefront.


     The passengers who traveled the Florida East Coast Railway to Palm Beach in private railroad cars had them detached from the mainline train at West Palm Beach and shuttled across the trestle to Palm Beach.  Other passengers departed from the train at the wooden shed-like station where groups of Negro boys sang and tap-danced for coins.


     The trestle at the site of the present Flagler Memorial Bridge had been built to convey affluent passengers to Whitehall (now the Flagler Museum), the Royal Poinciana, the Breakers and private estates.  These arrivals were met by "chairs" and cycled to their destinations via a paved roadway, shaded by Australian pines that connected the Royal Poinciana to the Breakers, baggage to the hotels followed by motor-propelled dollies.  The railroad cars that did not remain on the tracks adjacent to the Royal Poinciana backed across the trestle to West Palm Beach where they again were attached to a scheduled train.


     Whitehall was an elegant, beautifully proportioned white stucco mansion with an impressive and equally beau-tiful scrolled, wrought iron gate.  The Royal Poinciana and The Breakers were long rambling buildings painted with dark green trim, distinguished mainly for their size, their inviting porches, and lush tropical landscaping.  


     Occasionally we would take a "chai" to Worth Avenue, where the attractive shops then stretched about two blocks.  The shops were built in Addison Mizner's theatrically spectacular blend of Spanish and Moorish arch-itecture.  Some shops were hidden in rear, cobblestoned and exotically landscaped courtyards.  South of the avenue, a 10-foot high, thickly vine-covered fence provided privacy for the Everglades Club golf course.


     One of my outstanding memories of Palm Beach was the spectacular Breakers Hotel fire in 1925.  Having gone with friends for an afternoon swim, about 3 o'clock we heard the clanging of fire engines.  Soon we saw flames shooting skyward from what we immediately recognized as The Breakers some ten blocks away.  I distinctly rem-ember how we stood, spellbound in groups, as flames spread and the smoke-blackened until someone suggested that we hurry home to safeguard our own homes.


     Later we learned that the sparks from the Breakers had ignited the Australian pines that lined the roadway leading to the Royal Poinciana.  I do not know at what point the wind shifted, but miraculously, Bradley's casino, which was directly in the fire's path, was spared and instead the sparks ignited the Palm Beach Hotel and burned it, like The Breakers, to the ground.


     Since the Palm Beach Hotel was only a few blocks from our hotel, guests threw some clothes into their cars parked behind the hotel and left.  One couple, for an exorbitant price, managed to commandeer a "chair" to take them farther north along the Lake Trail.  When it looked as though the fire might spread in our direction, home-owners and friends organized bucket brigades to pass pails, pots, and pans of water to neighbors seated preca-riously on shingled roofs.  The hope was that by moistening the sun-parched shingles, they might be protected from flying sparks.  That night, to prevent looting, a curfew was imposed on the island.


     The following day, on the platform near the Royal Poinciana where the vacant railroad cars were stationed, rows of battered valises and small trunks, obviously thrown from windows, lay waiting for identification.  At the still smoldering Palm Beach Hotel, I distinctly remember seeing a badly damages piano, which, obviously, had been thrown from some window.  The day after the fire, there was not a roll of Kodak film to be bought in either Palm Beach or West Palm Beach.


     The construction of the beautiful new Breakers at the site of the old hotel, and the construction of the lovely hotel Alba to replace the former Palm Beach Hotel were mostly completed before we returned to Palm Beach in December.  The formal opening of both hotels in 1926 was a much-heralded event.  I often enjoyed afternoon tea on the lovely Alba Terrace, overlooking yacht-dotted Lake Worth.  The Alba later became known as the Biltmore.


     No record of the period would be complete without mention of the 1924-25 Florida real estate boom.  Every barber, waiter, clerk, and bootlegger was selling property and even more surprisingly, finding buyers.   Now, when I look at a map of Florida, I am amazed to see, for example, that the Tamiami Trail is a reality and that Lake Okeechobee is now surrounded by developments.  I find it difficult to believe that these transformations have been accomplished in the comparatively brief span of 50 years.  During the boom, these engineering feats had been mere lines on maps drawn to entice greedy, gullible buyers.  Talk of thousands and thousands of dollars, and of Florida developments heretofore unheard of, was a casual everyday topic of conversation.


     Infrequently, if I am reminiscing to a younger generation, my most popular stories seem to be related to the Prohibition Era and bootleggers.  Occasionally, on a moonless evening, we would drive north on Ocean Drive toward the inlet.  At some secluded spot, we would park and wait until finally, we would see the distant outline of a boat, presumably from Bimini.  The small motorboats that soon appeared, to run cases and burlap sacks of liquor from the distant boat to the shore were easily discernible.  In the distance were the revolving beams of the Jupiter Lighthouse.  As the speedboats, with silenced motors, drifted toward the beach, figures would emerge from the darkness, wade to the boats and hastily carry their costly cargo ashore.  Other equally silent and mysterious figures then would carry the cases and sacks to waiting automobiles.  Every rich man, poor man, storekeeper, and clerk had his favorite bootlegger.  The genial,  successful bootlegger I knew best operated from his fruit and souvenir store on the Lake Trail originally adjacent to the veranda of the old Palm Beach Hotel, later under the Alba Terrace.


     Another figure during these Prohibition years was Mr. Degan, a Scotsman whose sole duty was to supervise the Stotesbury liquor and wine supplies.  Mr. Dugan would stop at our hotel and about midafternoon, when he was sufficiently steady-footed, appear in the lobby and often say to me, "Little Missy,  I wish you could have seen the parade of pink elephants in my room last night."



     The only social gathering that we nonaffluent winter residents shared with the Palm Beach socialites were the colorful, late afternoon tea dances at the Royal Poinciana Coconut Grave, which were particularly popular with tourists impressed with celebrities.



     Beach bathing was the day's most enjoyable activity.  The beach. from the Breakers to as far north as we could see, was unobstructed by any enclosed private areas.  From Ocean Drive to the ocean's edge, it was about a block wide.  I never remembered the beach at the foot of Wells, our street, being crowded.



       We attended the movies at Beaux Arts as often as they changed programs, which was usually twice a week, and saw important pictures before they premiered in larger cities.  Another evening diversion was to drive to Lake Worth to see the Wednesday night American Legion-sponsored prize fights held in a large. barren, barn-like hall.  The drive to Miami to see a horse race, a dog race or a jai-alai game was an all-day event.



     I remember a few annual Palm Beach winter events such as the visits of the Tuskegee College Glee Club which, to raise funds for its all-Negro college, sang at our hotel and at most other hotels.  In West Palm  Beach, the Seminole Indians annual dances were a colorful though rather disorderly and dirty affair.  The Indians pitched their tents in the streets.  Curious crowds, having paid admission, milled around the enclosure peering rudely into tents and staring at the squaws, papooses, and chiefs.  In a circle, the Indians did their monotonous ritual dances.


     Another memory that remains vivid every time I hear a report of a Florida cold spell.  During one of these three-or-four-day spells, I remained in bed, fully dressed, wearing a coat and wrapped in blankets reading "The Sheik."  


     The influx of retirees and tourists, high-rise hotels condominiums, traffic and gas fumes -- all obvious from Chamber of Commerce material -- disturbs the old-timer.  But fortunately, this so-called progress cannot mar memories.  While much has successfully changed, much must have remained unchanged in still beautiful Plam Beach.  Warm winter days, the romantic evenings, the inviting beach and ever-changing ocean, lush tropical foliage and stately royal palms will forever be part of Palm Beach, even as they will forever be with me in memory.

The postcard to the left is dated circa 1910.  The photo below was probably in the late 20s.  Note that the columns have changed


The Palm Beach Post, Sunday, November 5, 1916,  Page 8


Hibiscus Hotel


      The Hibiscus Hotel on the lakefront trail in Palm Beach, is under-going extensive repairs under the management of the proprietor, A. C. Inglessi.  As remodeled the building has now a large front porch, 120 feet in length by 16 feet in width.  The house will be well equipped for the coming season with forty fine guest chambers and with twenty baths.


The Palm Beach Post, Wednesday, February 23, 1921,  Page 6


     The Hibiscus Hotel at North Lake Trail and Everglades avenue, Palm Beach, has been leased by its owner, A. C. Inglessi to Charles C. Bibo and wife of New York, for the 1921-1922 season.  The rental arrangement was made through the J. B. McDonald Company.  The Bibos first came to Palm Beach several years ago, on their present visit they observed the increased popularity of the resort and the lar-ger growth of the region and saw in the Hibiscus business opportunities.


     Mr. and Mrs. Bibo have operated hotels at Arverne and Edgemere, in the Rockaways, Long Island, New York, for a good many years, and also operated the Hotel Bibo at Madison avenue and 92nd street, New York.  Thay now own and operate the Hollywood Lodge, at High-mount, in the Catskill mountains.  They are credited with enjoying a reputation of the highest order as hotel keepers, and Mr. Inglessi feels assured that patrons of the Hibiscus will still be provided with first class service in every respect and an unexcelled cuisine.




The Palm Beach Post, Sunday, March 2, 1924 Page 14


New Hibiscus Hotel

     The Hibiscus Hotel was sold by the Inglessi owners to Kurzrock of New York it was announced on Friday and plans are under way for a 400 hundred room fireproof structure with shops on the ground floor.


     Consideration involved  in the sale of the Hibiscus Hotel, which is a wooden structure was given as being around $90,000.00.  Kurzrock , who is in Palm Beach for the winter season, also has purchased the lot adjoining the property on the north and the new structure is to use the entire plot.


     E. C. and M. M. Bibo are the present lessees of the hotel, this being their third season.  The Bibos have a hotel, The Hollywood Lodge  at High Mount in the Catskills.  They formerly had one of the largest hotels at Arverne, Long Island, and have recently sold their New York City property, Hotel Bilbo, ninety Second Street and Madison Avenue.


     Architects are working on the plans.  The new hotel is to be of Spanish architecture and will be in readiness for the opening of the 1924-1925 season.


In 1919, the enormously wealthy Edward T Stotesbury commissioned famed Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner to build a large Spanish colonial revival palace in the sand for his wife, Eva. Besides El Mirasol, the Stotesbury properties would also include a large Bar Harbor mansion called "Wingwood", a large country estate known as "Whitemarsh Hall" and a twin townhouse in Philadelphia. The mansion cost $657,000 and included, among other things, several patios, a theater, garage, 100-seater dining room, a teahouse and a zoo. It was the largest Palm Beach home built at the time, the ground floor alone being 35,000 square feet.

Stotesbury died with a mere $4 million (mere when compared to the previous $125 million fortune he had had when he married Eva) and a lot of debts. This would not be nearly sufficient enough to enable her to continue to live the lifestyle she was used to. She auctioned off all of the furnishings at Whitemarsh Hall and then sold the estate. She did the same thing to Wingwood and then as well to their townhouse. The staff was cut from 40 to 15 and the yacht was sold. She sold all of their limousines, except for her custom-built Rolls Royce, and most of their art collection. All of the money from this, plus the totals from the sale of most of her jewelry, allowed her to keep El Mirasol and live in relative luxury and comfort. After her death, the Spanish mansion was demolished in 1959. 

Above and Below - Designed in the Spanish style by August Geiger and built in 1916 at the corner of Everglades Avenue and North Lake Trail, the Fashion Beaux Arts shopping center featuring a second-story movie theater, the Beaux Arts Theatre

(Photo contributed by the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

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