Gen. James Patton Anderson Camp 1599
Celebrating 30 Years 1992 - 2022
A BRIEF HISTORY OF WEST PALM BEACH
An understanding of the historical development of a community is the foundation that makes it possible to place architectural resources within an historical context and permits the logical framing of arguments for their preservation.
EARLY SETTLEMENT PERIOD 1884-1902 TLEMENT PERIOD 1884-1902
The settlement of West Palm Beach occurred between 1884 and 1902. The first settler to file a homestead claim in what is now West Palm Beach is believed to be Irving R. Henry, who filed a claim for 131 acres in 1880. He later sold his property to O. S. Porter. During these early years, only a few cabins dotted the western shores of Lake Worth, the first of which was reportedly built by the Reverend Elbridge Gale. Railroad developer Henry Flagler visited the Palm Beach area in 1892 while investigating a route for the expansion of his Florida East Coast (FEC) Railroad south from St. Augustine. Impressed with the beauty of the area, he decided to create the Town of Palm Beach as an exclusive seaside resort community for wealthy northern industrialists. In 1893, Flagler purchased property on the west shore of Lake Worth from O. S. Porter and Louis Hillhouse in order to establish the Town of West Palm Beach as a sepa-rate commercial center apart from the Palm Beach resort community. The land was surveyed and a plat was filed for “Westpalmbeach.” The plat consisted
of 48 blocks and extended from Lake Worth on the east to Clear Lake on the west, and from Althea Street on the north to Fern Street on the south. The streets were named for native plants and laid out in alphabetical order. The streets were arranged in a grid pattern, except for two short diagonal streets at the east end of Clematis Street. They defined a V-shaped public space on the lake front. This space became “City Park” (later known as Flagler Park). A bandstand was erected, merchants held impromptu baseball games here, and a free “reading room” was established in 1896.
Flagler’s FEC Railroad reached West Palm Beach in 1894, bringing building materials, tourists, workers and new residents. In February of 1894, the first lots in the town were auctioned off at Flagler’s Royal Poinciana Hotel in Palm Beach. On November 5, 1894, the Town of West Palm Beach was incorporated. Although the plat had been designated “Westpalmbeach,” the registered voters in the new town decided to separate the name, due to superstitious fear of thirteen letters. A shell-topped road, which ran through the middle of the town (Clematis Street) between Lake Worth and Poinsettia Avenue (now Dixie Highway), became the retail district of the town. The first building on Clematis Street, a hardware store operated by Otto Weybrecht, was erected in 1894. For many years, West Palm Beach was populated primarily by railroad workers and construction crews building hotels and homes in Palm Beach. In addition, a sizable community of black workers settled in an area of the Town of Palm Beach known as the “Styx.” Probably sometime between 1910 and 1912, as development continued in Palm Beach, blacks were evicted from the “Styx”. This led to the formation of an African-American community just north of the original plat of the Town of West Palm Beach, generally to the west of the FEC railroad tracks and north of Banyan Street, in the areas known today as the Northwest, Pleasant City, and Freshwater neighborhoods. Most of the local white population continued to build their homes near or along Lake Worth.
The new Town of West Palm Beach quickly developed the amenities of community life. In 1894, a school for African-Americans in West Palm Beach was established by the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church at Clematis Street and Tamarind Avenue. Union Congregational Church, the first church in West Palm Beach, was founded at Datura and Olive Streets in 1894. That same year the town’s first grocery store and post office opened. In 1895, the Town’s first power plant began operation. In addition, a wood-pile railroad bridge was erected across the Lake. The bridge was moved several blocks to the north in 1902. However, for many years goods and passengers traveled between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach by small boats and ferries.
In January and February of 1896, two fires consumed most of the wooden structures in the downtown commercial area. The fires prompted the Town Council to enact a building code which required all buildings in the downtown area to be constructed of brick or stone. Many of the quality masonry structures in the downtown area were a result of those new building standards. In spite of the fires, the Town continued to grow. By 1900, the population had reached 564, and the Town could boast of having a library, sewer system, pumping station, electricity, paved streets and telephone service.
PERIOD OF CIVIC DEVELOPMENT 1903 - 1919 PERIOD OF CIVIC DEVELOPMENT 1903 - 1919
Two key events highlight the period from 1903 through 1919, a time of civic development for West Palm Beach. The two events fostered the development of West Palm Beach into a center for governmental and commercial activity. First, the Town Council petitioned the Florida Legislature for a city charter, which was granted on July 21, 1903. Second, the Florida Legislature created Palm Beach County out of Dade County on April 30, 1909. The City of West Palm Beach was named the county seat. By 1903 a public school was located at Poinsettia and Clematis. County bus-
iness was conducted in the school building until a Courthouse was constructed in 1917.
Beginning in 1908, with the construction of Central School, a complex of educational buildings for white students was erected on Georgia Avenue between Gardenia and Iris Streets.
In 1905, the City’s first permanent Fire Station and City Hall was dedicated at Dixie and Datura. Law enforcement was provided by a marshall until 1919; a jail had been constructed in 1915. A group of investors organized a telephone company between 1900-1904. It was incorporated as the West Palm Beach Telephone Company in 1909, with sixty-five subscribers.
Although a hurricane in 1903 caused severe damage to the downtown district, the railroad and the promise of a better life continued to bring new businesses and residents to the City. Some of those new commercial establish-ments located in the downtown area, and included Pioneer Linens and the clothing companies operated by J. C. Harris, and the Anthony Brothers. These businesses, along with previously established companies such as the Lainhart & Potter Lumber Company and Sewell’s Hardware, formed the heart of the commercial district. Carl Kettler opened the City’s first theater, the Bijou, on Clematis Street in 1908.
West Palm Beach’s African-American community also grew, with new residents drawn to the area by job opportunities with Flagler’s FEC Railroad and other upstart enterprises. As a result, Pine Ridge Hospital for AfricanAmericans was constructed in 1916, at 5th Street and Division Avenue. By 1917, Industrial High School for black students was constructed. By 1910, the population of West Palm Beach had reached 1,743. Support grew for the construction of roads that expanded beyond the farm-to-market route. Much of the interest in building new roads came from people who would benefit from increasing tourism, such as hotel and restaurant owners and those involved directly or indirectly in the automobile industry. The Dixie Highway Association, founded in 1915, was an influential organization that sought to link the Midwest to South Florida. One of the major proponents of Dixie Highway was Carl Fisher, founder of the Indianapolis Speedway, who was seeking to develop real estate holdings in Miami Beach. The last link of Dixie Highway was competed in 1918. This important tourist highway passed through the heart of West Palm Beach and served as the foundation for a developing tourist industry. In 1917, the completion of the West Palm Beach Canal from Lake Okeechobee to Lake Worth opened vast tracts of land for agricultural development west of the City.
To capitalize on this development, the City built a canal branch, the Stub Canal, to bring passengers and freight closer to the downtown area. The City built dock facilities, boat slips, warehouses, and a turning basin in what is now Howard Park. West Palm Beach then became the shipping center for the County’s crops of sugarcane, pineapple and winter vegetables. Congress had passed the Dick Act in 1903 to create federal standards for a National Guard, a volunteer militia administered by the states for civil defense purposes. Florida was the first state to create a National Guard under this legislation. A unit of the Florida National Guard was established in West Palm Beach in 1914. This unit was federalized from July 1916 to March 1917, for service along the Mexican border, and again in October 1917, for service in Europe. As material supplies and manpower were diverted to support the nation’s entry into World War I, construction in West Palm Beach, as throughout the country, dramatically slowed.
LAND BOOM PERIOD 1920 - 1928 LAND BOOM PERIOD 1920 - 1928
The automobile was one of the most significant industrial miracles of the second decade of the 1900s. The comp-letion of Dixie Highway and an ambitious road building program undertaken by the State of Florida (which incident-
ally led to the highest per capita public debt in the nation) enabled West Palm Beach to begin to attract seasonal, middle-class tourists. This economic boost and a diverse economy helped buoy the City through a recession that gripped the nation following World War I. Following the recession, the nation began to recover and experience an expanding industrial output, a soaring stock market, and a booming consumer market.
The nation was bombarded with brochures that promoted the natural beauty and wonders of Florida. To assist
with the annual influx of visitors, a West Palm Beach Tourists’ Club was established in 1920, and a number of hotels were built along the waterfront including the Royal Palm (1922), El Verano (1923), and the Pennsyl-vania (1925)
Various businesses, chambers of commerce, and real estate developers promoted the growing interest in Florida. Realtors developed a variety of sales techniques, promotional enticements, and national publicity campaigns. Full-page ads in newspapers across the country convinced many living in the populous cities of the Northeast and Midwest that Florida’s mild weather and reasonable real estate could offer a better life. Florida became a paradise for inves-tors because of its advanced rail and automobile access, mild winter climate, and theFlorida’s legislature’s promise to never pass a state income or inheritance tax. During the early 1920s, stories were circulating in newspapers and magazines about people who had become rich overnight in the Florida real estate market. The resulting real estate boom had an enormous impact throughout Florida, and West Palm Beach was no exception.
The population of West Palm Beach in 1920 was 8,659 and had quadrupled by 1927. During this time, the entire City east of Australian Avenue was platted. As construction boomed in the new subdivisions, West Palm Beach devel-
oped a substantial building supply and architectural specialties market, obtaining materials from around the world for distribution throughout the surrounding area. The building boom drew trained architects to the City. From 1920 to 1925, the City’s property values increased from $13.6 million to $61 million. Beginning in late 1922, a series of bond issues financed several important projects, including street repairs and widening, and sewer and sidewalk instal-lation. The commercial center continued to be concentrated on Clematis Street although it expanded to the west, and north and south along Olive Avenue and South Dixie Highway. The City’s first skyscrapers were erected: the seven-story Guaranty Building at 120 South Olive Avenue in 1922, the eightstory Citizens Bank Building at 105 South Narcissus Avenue in 1923, the ten-story Comeau Building at 319 Clematis Street in 1926, and the fourteen-story Harvey Building at 223 Datura Street between 1925 and 1927. Other important projects during the period were the opening of Good Samaritan Hospital in 1920, the construction of the Seaboard Airline Railroad Station on Tamarind in 1924-25, and the construction of a library in City Park in 1924.
During the spring of 1925, dishonest Florida real estate ventures were being widely publicized in northern newspapers. The real estate boom reached its peak in the fall of 1925. A freight embargo, bank failures, and two devastating hurricanes were among the factors that led the real estate market to dramatically decline. In West Palm Beach, three banks failed in 1926, including the Commercial Bank and Trust which held a $700,000 deposit from the City. A devastating hurricane swept across Palm Beach County on September 16, 1928, destroying 8,000 homes and taking more than 2,000 lives. Property damage was estimated at $13 million. When the stock market crashed in October 1929, West Palm Beach plunged into the Depression along with the rest of the country.
THE GREAT DEPRESSION ERA 1929 - 1940 N ERA 1929 - 1940
Between 1929 and 1940, West Palm Beach experienced the effects of the Depression. Nationwide, the unemploy-ment rate climbed from 3.2% in1919 to 23.6% in 1932. West Palm Beach saw its tax base shrivel due to declining property values and a near-cessation of new construction. Property values in the City fell from $89 million in 1929 to $18.2 million in 1935.Construction was limited to small projects in existing neighborhoods.Continuing financial problems caused the city to refund bonds in 1936 and 1939. The phenomenal population growth West Palm Beach had experienced in the past slowed to a trickle. In 1930, the population stood at 26,619.Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President in November 1932 and created various programs to pull the nation out of the Depression and to put millions of people back to work. These “New Deal” programs included the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the Public Works Administration (PWA). By early 1935, approximately 20% of Floridians were receiving some kind of direct government relief. In Florida, during the years 1936 to 1939, between 24,000-53,000 persons were employed on WPA projects.In September of 1937, Roosevelt signed the Wagner-Steagall Housing Act,intended to improve the general welfare of the nation by using federal funds to remedy “unsafe and unsanitary housing conditions.” Low income families would be housed through federal government vesting in local public housing agencies. The U.S. Reconstruction Finance Corporation provided low interest loans for slum clearance and construction of low-income housing for the nation’s poor. In 1939, Congress appropriated $800,000,000 for public housing projects. West Palm Beach participated in this program by setting up a Housing Authority and in 1940, constructed two housing projects:Dunbar Village, for African-Americans, and Southridge, for whites.
Many public buildings, such as schools, city halls, and community buildings, were erected with the support of the WPA during its eight years of existence. A special feature of the WPA building/construction program was a nation-wide effort to build armory buildings, and over 900 were constructed. In 1931, the local unit of the National Guard used city police barracks in Howard Park for its drills and inspections. WPA funds were used to construct an armory building for the Guard in 1939. Built at a cost of approximately $56,000, the Armory project brought jobs and federal money into the depressed local economy.
Palm Beach County solicited federal funds (FERA, WPA, and PWA) to construct Morrison Field. The airport was dedicated on December 19, 1936. PWA funds were also utilized to construct the Flagler Memorial Bridge which opened in 1938, replacing the railroad bridge.Other projects buoyed the community’s spirit during this time. The first public junior college in Florida, Palm Beach Junior College, was established and funded by the Palm Beach County School Board in 1933. The Norton Gallery of Art and associated art school were founded by Ralph Norton in 1941.
The anxieties caused by the poor economy of the Depression years was ameliorated somewhat by the creation of a number of recreational facilities.
Helping to provide an escape from the somber realities was the Palm Beach Kennel Club, founded in 1932 and the West Palm Beach Fishing Club, founded in 1934. The West Palm Beach Fishing Club was organized by thirty-five local sport fishing enthusiasts as a vehicle to attract tourists. It received support from both the City’s Recreation Department and the local hotel industry. Florida’s oldest sailfish tournament was first sponsored by the Club in 1935. In 1940, 350 anglers participated in the twenty-one day tournament. Their clubhouse, at 201 5th Street, opened in 1941. Another important entertainment source was radio. The area’s first station, WJNO, went on the air in July 1936. The Carefree Bowlaway opened in 1939, and today it is known as the Carefree Theater. In the late 1930s, the nation began to embark on a military buildup. Because of its strategic east coast location, a local unit of the Florida Defense Force was organized in West Palm Beach for civil defense purposes. The local National Guard unit was again mobil-ized into Federal service and served until the end of Word War II. In February 1940, Morrison Field was leased to the U.S. Army for an air base. The City’s population reached 33,693 in 1940.
WORLD WAR II AND POST WAR PERIOD 1941 - AR PERIOD 1941 -1947
Because of its geography and climate, the United States military viewed Florida as a perfect training ground for its armed forces. From 1941 through the war years, the City of West Palm Beach felt the effects of the military’s presence. On February 27, 1941, Morrison Field officially became a U.S. Army facility and was the home base for more than 3,000 personnel responsible for training 45,000 fliers during the war. The military expanded the size of Morrison Field and paid for additional runways, a control tower and water and sewage systems. The City was also a stopover for thousands of soldiers in transit. While City residents lived in fear of German U-boats that prowled the coast, the buying power of the U.S. military boosted Clematis Street businesses and the City’s economy. Very little private construction took place during the war years.
1948 TO THE PRESENT 1948 TO THE PRESENT
Many servicemen who had trained in Florida wanted to return to the state to live. Thus, immediately following World War II, homes were constructed in areas that had been platted but not built-up during the Land Boom. During
the 1950s, the Cold War and the Korean War led to the expansion of the West Palm Beach National Guard as it maintained its role in local defense activities. A new airport terminal had been constructed at Morrison Field in 1947, and the following year was renamed the Palm Beach County International Airport. Burdine’s Department Store moved into a new building on Clematis Street in 1954, reflecting a new era of property development during the post-war years. Property values rose from $72 million in 1949 to$147.5 million in 1962. The population reached 43,162 in 1950. As new residents flocked to Florida,West Palm Beach was faced with limited room for growth and a primitive sewer system. Successors to the Flagler interests owned the water plant and the land west of the City. In 1955, the City floated a bond for $18 million and used the money to purchase the water plant and 17,000 acres ofl and west of the City (including the water catchment area), and to upgrade the sewer system. A new library was constructed at the foot of Clematis Street in 1962. The following year, a Holiday Inn was erected nearby on Flagler Drive.In 1957, the City sold 5,500 acres of the newly acquired land in the westward expansion area to the Perini Land and Development Com-pany. Developer Louis R. Perini, Sr. converted these undeveloped acres of wetland and swamp into prime real estate. One of the City’s stipulations was that a residential area for African-Americans be included in the development.
The passage of civil rights legislation during the 1960s was the next major issue West Palm Beach had to confront. Up to this time, the entire city was segregated. On August 30, 1967, a riot erupted in the nearby town of Riviera Beach. Scattered groups smashed windows, set fires and shot at police in West Palm Beach. However, these problems were minor compared to the strife that consumed other areas of the country. Strong leadership in the African-American community and the City’s foresight in the development of the Roosevelt Estates neighborhood in the westward expan-sion area minimized the difficulties in desegregating the City. In 1968, the first African American students were admitted to Palm Beach Junior College. Ten years later, Eva Mack became the first African-American elected to the West Palm Beach City Commission. During the 1960s, other amenities continued to attract new residents to the west-
ward expansion area. The Municipal Stadium was constructed in 1963 and brought in baseball spring training. In 1967, the West Palm Beach Auditorium and the Palm Beach Mall were constructed.
The first portion of Interstate 95 in Palm Beach County was completed in 1966, 3.6 miles from Okeechobee Boul-evard to 45th Street. The Interstate was completed from Palm Beach Gardens to Miami in 1976. New hotels were erected just off the Interstate exits, diverting tourist traffic away from the motels that once lined Dixie Highway. As the population and economic base continued to shift to western suburbs, the downtown and the older residential sections of the City began to experience a slow decline. By 1976, 40% of the downtown retail space was vacant. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the City struggled to redefine and restore the downtown area. A strong mayoral system was adopted in 1991. Shortly thereafter, an $18 million dollar bond issue for revitalizing the downtown was passed. A symbolic event, marking the rebirth of the downtown, was the implosion of the vacant downtown Holiday Inn onNew Year’s Eve, 1993. The hotel was replaced by the Meyer Amphitheater. The Kravis Center for the Perform-ing Arts was constructed in 1992. In 1994,the downtown library was remodeled and the plaza and fountain in the forecourt have become a center of downtown activities.
A new police station was built at Rosemary Avenue and Banyan Boulevard in 1995. That same year, a downtown master plan was adopted to bring design cohesiveness and unity to the area bounded by Palm Beach Lakes and Okeechobee Boulevards, Flagler Drive, and Australian Avenue. In the 1980s, deteriorated neighborhoods north and south of Okeechobee Boulevard, just east of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, were cleared for a private renewal project that never materialized. The City eventually purchased the seventy-two acres and requested pro-posals for a multiuse commercial and residential development. Ground was broken in 1998 for a comprehensive assemblage of apartments, townhouses, and retail space, focused around a grand plaza. That project, CityPlace, opened in 2000.
While West Palm Beach is enhanced by new developments such as CityPlace, it is its historic architecture that imparts a sense of the City’s past and creates a special ambience imbued with the richness of time. It is the combination of new growth and respectful retention of our architectural heritage which will ensure that the unique character of West Palm Beach will survive.
THE STYX IN PALM BEACH
The Styx: Removal
Several men owned and collected rent on portions of the land under the Styx community, including Henry Maddock, E.M. Brelsford, and James M. Munyon. Each of these landlords dealt with many tenants, other property owners, local and state officials, and usually an agent to represent his interests. The local newspaper, The Tropical Sun, reported the ongoing efforts of the white community to improve or remove the conditions in the Styx, revealing a complex (if one-sided) view of the situation:
May 1903: Sanitation conditions had greatly improved since Eugene F. Haines, Justice of the Peace of the Thirteenth District, had taken over as agent for James Munyon. Haines issued orders to the blacks to “observe perfect sanitary laws and keep their premises clean and tidy or pay a $10.00 fine.”
October 1903: Four blacks were arrested for operating a “blind tiger” [or “speakeasy,” where alcoholic beverages were sold illegally]. Another man, apparently white, was arrested for the same reason across the lake on Banyan Street.
January 1904: “East Side” property owners [Palm Beachers] Senator Elisha Dimick, Thomas Tipton “T. T.” Reese, Enoch Root, and Harry Redifer asked the West Palm Beach Board of Trade for help with conditions at the Styx. Flagler and others, they said, had also promised, “to rend what aid they could.”
Senator Dimick (chair of the East Side owners) had approached the state health officer, who said the local officer was authorized to handle the problem. Officers had already come from two other areas and presumably reported to Tallahassee, but nothing had changed. Dimick believed, “if the health officer was to insist that the property owners put in sewers it would have to be done or else remove the buildings.” Dr. Henry J. Hood, chair of the West Side (West Palm Beach) owners and supervisor of the local health officer, Dr. Richard B. Potter, offered to speak with him. Dr. Hood also acted for E. M. Brelsford, who he said would evict his tenants if others did. Representatives for Sidney Maddock, [unnamed] Russell, and Munyon were sure their clients would agree. A three-man committee was organized to act as liaison with the Styx residents.
February 1904: At a subsequent meeting, Enoch Root, the Palm Beach postmaster, called conditions “bad beyond all powers of imagination.” He described the Styx as “hundreds and hundreds of unsightly huts, some of them but little more than shoeboxes, all jumbled up together, and with no system of sewerage, and the filth was allowed to remain. [M]oral conditions were such as to cause all decent people to shudder [with] scores of houses of ill-fame, blind tigers and other dens of iniquity.”
All property owners were said to have agreed to “do what was best.” Munyon authorized George Currie (then Dade County treasurer) to have a deputy serve his 150 tenants with 30 days’ notice to remove their dwellings. Maddock said he would follow suit when the season ended. Guy Metcalf had given 30 days’ notice to Russell’s tenants, not only to vacate, but also “to remove their ‘shacks.’” The unnamed purchaser of Russell’s property, Metcalf said, intended “to make a cleaning out of all [illegible] element, and conditions that have brought about so much fear of epidemic.”
In 1910 T. T. Reese convinced his employers, brothers Edward R. and John R. Bradley, to purchase Munyon’s land in the Styx, adjacent to their existing property, from the Beach Club northward 264 feet to John Bradley’s cottage, and from the lake to the ocean. The plan for that summer, The Tropical Sun reported, was to remove all the old shacks on the Bradley property, fill in the marshy sections, remove “ugly barn-like buildings” along the water’s edge that were “damaging the value of contiguous estates,” and add a road along the lakefront.
There was no mention of the residents, who apparently had relocated for the most part about 1906 to the all-black Northwest neighborhood of West Palm Beach, which had been established since 1894. According to the Palm Beach Daily News:
Many negroes had been allowed to put up “topsey-like” houses, [which] have seen their best days [and] will disappear within the next few months. The entire tract will be leveled, filled in, and ornamental trees … will be planted. [T]hree large and commodius [sic] villas … will be built of concrete and Miami stone.
The rest of the Styx residents were not asked to leave until 1912, as the Bradleys developed their land into the town’s second subdivision, Floral Park. That year Pleasant City, established in 1905, was created. A 1913 ad in The Tropical Sun advertised its remaining lots for sale by Currie Investment and Title Guaranty Company: “This is a high class colored subdivision north of town. Four hundred lots have already been sold and we have about 75 more yet for sale from $150.00 up.” Currie chose ‘pleasant’ names for the streets: Beautiful, Comfort, Merry, Cheerful, Contentment—even an Easy Street. Present day Pleasant City is bordered on the north by Northwood Road, on the south by 15th Street, on the east by Dixie Highway, and on the west by the FEC railroad tracks.
The Peppers Family 1906 in Styx
THE URBAN LEGEND
By Mc Clatchy News Service
Few Floridians left as indelible a mark on the peninsula as Henry M. Flagler. The rail, oil and real estate baron towered over Palm Beach County and has also been called the father of Miami. In 1912, he completed the Overseas Railroad linking Key West to the mainland, its first train rolling into Key West on Jan. 22.
Although the railroad was torn to pieces by 1935’s Storm of the Century and never rebuilt, the project arguably remains Flagler’s most audacious achievement. It’s centennial is being celebrated this year with lectures, museum exhibits and bike rides.
But in Palm Beach County, where his 55-room mansion (now a museum) and the Breakers are monuments to his vision, a controversy hovers over the tycoon 99 years after his death.
In the black community, many believe that Flagler was behind the burning of a dilapidated oceanfront neighborhood known as the Styx, a haphazard colony that housed many of the black workers who labored on his behalf. It would have been a primitive, illegal version of what later became known as Urban Renewal.
The scorched-earth legend has been passed on through generations like an heirloom, and gained currency not long ago in a sensationalized novel.
There’s simply no way it is true, said Debi Murray, chief curator of the Palm Beach Historical Society.
“Would he have problems with his employees? Sure. He was a railroad baron and they were working in the worst conditions you could possibly imaginable,” Murray said. “But I think it’s a huge stretch to believe he torched the Styx.”
One in six Palm Beach County residents are black, and to many of those residents, the assertion that Flagler had a role in the destruction of the Styx in 1912 is not far-fetched.
“From what I’ve seen in the past, it has never been refuted,” said Lia Gaines, the director of the city’s NAACP chapter. “When we look at the story of blacks in America, it’s been ugly for most of that history. But we were able to persist.”
Here’s what most everyone can agree on: In the early 1900s, the area now known as Palm Beach began to evolve from an untamed frontier town into a winter playground for rich snowbirds, thanks to the extension of Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad down the Atlantic Seaboard.
A CHEAP OPTION
During the construction of Palm Beach’s first two iconic hotels — the Royal Poinciana and the Breakers — the black labor force needed a place to live, so they created a tent settlement at what is now Sunset and Sunrise avenues off North County Road. They called it the Styx because of its (at the time) remote locale, said Jim Ponce, 94-year-old historian at The Breakers. There was no running water, so the raw sewage piled high. But it was a close and cheap option for poor blacks who worked in the resorts.
At its peak, some 2,000 blacks are said to have lived in the Styx, a slum owned not by Flagler but by brothers Edward R. and John R. Bradley. As the years went on, most of their tenants were either single men or heads of households who stayed in the shantytown during the work week, but whose families lived in better neighborhoods to the west.
Eventually, the white powers-that-be decided the growing eyesore had to go. Newspaper clippings from the early 1900s show an effort by local business and political leaders to have the tent city closed on sanitary grounds. Eviction notices were issued, and by 1912, the entire population was asked to leave. But how exactly it was shut down remains a point of heated debate.
The legend: Flagler’s henchmen burned out anyone who didn’t budge. As the story goes, he brought a carnival to town, and provided free tickets to all of his black employees, emptying the compound. When the residents returned, their homes were in embers and they had no choice but to find another place to live.
A century later, that’s the accepted account of events for many in Palm Beach County. And with his book The Styx, author Jonathon King gave cover to those believing the worst. King’s novel, published by Middle River Press in 2009, accepts the premise that the Styx was burned to the ground, although he admits his thesis employed a healthy amount of creative license.
Thing is, fires were common in those days of potbelly stoves and open hearths. A shantytown like the Styx would have been especially vulnerable. At the time, there were numerous fires around the island — including at some of the fancy resorts — that had nothing to do with arson, Murray said.
“I never found a news report, or came across any actual documentation of the fire,” King said. “It’s a work of fiction. It is folklore, it is a myth. But I think it could have happened, just in stages.”
Willie Miller, 36, a fifth-generation Palm Beach County resident, said his great-aunt, Inez Peppers Lovett, lived in the Styx, remembered no fire and said she left of her own accord.
Her characterization of the Styx’s demise ran so counter to everything Miller heard outside of his family, he felt compelled to sift through old newspaper clippings himself, in an effort to determine the truth. All the written accounts he found supported his aunt’s benign version of events.
Just one of many holes Miller found in the theory: If 2,000 people were burned out of their homes, there would have been mass homelessness. But in the newspaper archives, there was no mention of such a phenomenon.
“There’s a lot of evidence that refutes it, but none that supports it,” Miller said. “It’s character assassination of that man and needs to stop.
Murray isn’t betting on that happening any time soon.
Both the historical society and Palm Beach-based publications have written extensively over the years in hopes of disposing of the story. But it persists.
“Urban legends are stronger than facts,” Murray added. “And this is definitely a very strong urban legend.”
“HE TRICKED US . . . AND BURNED OUR HOMES DOWN”
February 7, 2014 · by rosysophia · in History. ·
I sat in on a lecture a couple of years ago and listened as a docent from Whitehall talked about Henry Flagler, the man who forged a path through the wilderness of Florida to do the impossible– build a railroad clear to Key West. I didn’t know much about Flagler at the time, but I knew enough to know that many call him a great man and a visionary. I also knew the legend of the Styx, the community on Palm Beach island where the black workers lived. They worked to build up the area for Flagler, to bring in all the wealthy tourists. They lived in shacks and little homes they’d built.
The local legend tells us that Flagler then saw the attractiveness of Palm Beach as a resort getaway, but knew visitors wouldn’t want to see the “squalor” of the Styx when they arrived in pristine Palm Beach. Supposedly, in 1912 Flagler invited all the blacks off Palm Beach for a circus of sorts– some say a cookout –and then set the Styx ablaze while everyone was out.
I raised my hand after the lecture to ask the docent about this, and everyone laughed, waving it off as a silly inquiry. I couldn’t help but notice everyone in the room was white.
The legend is sensationalized in the book Palm Beach Babylon, and many people believe it to be true. While whites saw the Styx as “dirty” and “uninhabitable,” these were homes the blacks lived in, people who built the hotels, the beautiful places whites flocked to for their vacations.
In present-day Florida, I’ve heard racists say horrible things about the blacks “on the other side of the tracks.” Pleasant City, where the blacks settled after they were forced off Palm Beach, is not so pleasant today, and neither is the crime rate in West Palm Beach as a whole. Having driven through Pleasant City, and read about the town, I’m sad to see its decline.
Flagler saw what Palm Beach could be.
Naturally, there was more than one reason to get rid of the Styx. It was a health hazard, they say. But I don’t think anyone can ignore the bottom line. What rich white fellow wants to visit an island that has a bunch of black people living on it, in a time when blacks were considered nothing more than laborers?
When the blacks were evicted, Pleasant City was born, and developers gave the streets lovely names such as Merry and Contentment because “the Negroes were naturally happy people” Everee Clark recalls. Many of them were still employed on Palm Beach, but they weren’t allowed there after sunset.
Author Eliot Kleinberg dismisses the tale as false, and Inez Lovett, a little girl at the time, remembers no fire. Kleinberg says the owners of the land had to evict the last of the blacks, and then set fire to what was left of the settlement.
But I met a woman recently who claims otherwise.
She knows an elderly lady who was there when it happened.
“I was there,” the old woman had recalled. “Flagler tricked us. They got us out of there, invited us off the island, then burned our homes down.”
I was there, the old woman said.
What do you think?
This is part of the research for a book I am writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts, readers. Florida might be a beautiful place, and I’m certainly in love with it . . . but I don’t want to wear my rose-colored glasses while I write this book.
Others may laugh at what the legend claims, but I say there’s a bit of truth in every piece of fiction. The only question is, just how much truth are we talking about here?
An Old-Timer's look at West Palm Beach
An Old-Timer's look at West Palm Beach
Founding Palm Beach County
Palm Beach County was carved out of Dade County in 1909 becoming Florida’s 47th county. The first county government meetings were held in an old four-room school house at the corner of Clematis Street and Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach. At the time, only about 5,300 people lived in the new county comprised of portions of what are now Broward, Martin and Okeechobee counties. Broward County was established in 1915, Okeechobee County in 1917 and Martin County in 1925.
The official battle to create a separate county out of the northern portion of Dade County began on February 8, 1907 when a group of concerned citizens gathered in the hall over the Free Reading Room in West Palm Beach to discuss the pros and cons of division. With 4,424 square miles, Dade was the second largest county in the state and had an assessed valuation of $5,700,000 for the 1905 tax year. The group in favor of the county's division wanted Dade County split just south of Fort Lauderdale so the new county would have approximately 2,500 square miles, or about sixty percent of the land.
The group's biggest complaint was that the area between Fort Lauderdale on the New River and Stuart on the St. Lucie paid sixty percent of the taxes, but few of those dollars were spent in northern Dade County. The men wanted a more equitable distribution of tax dollars, especially in the matter of roads and schools. Many of the roads in the southern portion of the county had been paved and were seen as attractive to outside investors. Yet roads north of New River were either incomplete or only finished after levying additional taxes and with help from Henry Flagler who provided free shipments of road materials on the Florida East Coast Railroad. In addition, less than thirty-seven percent of the school budget, or about $15,000, was spent per year for the segregated schools in the northern section of the county.
In view of these inequities and other injustices and after discussion of how the new county would be able to function on the tax monies available, the group passed a motion to establish the Executive Committee of the County Division Movement. The seven men chosen to serve on the committee were empowered to do anything necessary to see that a new county was created out of the northern half of Dade County. At yet another mass meeting the following week, the Committee resolved to take their petition for a new county to the appropriate officials in Tallahassee. At the time, the state legislature only met every other year and it was due to meet in April 1907, so time was of the essence.
Reactions to the petition for division were varied and many were acrimonious. The people in north Dade were seen as ungrateful agitators by those in and around Miami. Newspaper editorials reflected their readership's geographic location; The Daily Tropical Sun and the Palm Beach Daily News, both north county papers, were pro division and The Daily Miami Metropolis was against.
Four Division Committee members, Mr. L. W. Burkhardt, Mr. M. E. Gruber, Mr. George Butler, and Mr. W. I. Metcalf traveled to Tallahassee to lobby for division. T. J. Campbell, later to be the tax collector for Palm Beach County, acted as a messenger for the legislature that year and kept the delegation apprised of the progress of the petition. On May 8, 1907, Campbell advised that the “Palm Beach county bill passed senate 20 to 11.” Unfortunately, it did not pass in the House of Representatives where it was defeated 39 to 21 on May 22, 1907.
The division committee members were not idle during the two years they had to wait for the next legislative session in order to resubmit their petition. They searched for and found a candidate for the House of Representatives who would support splitting Dade County. Consequently, when George O. Butler, the agreeable, successful candidate from Miami submitted the petition for division, it was quickly approved on April 30, 1909. When it became effective July 1, 1909, Palm Beach County became the forty-seventh county in Florida.
The area that includes the Town of Jupiter was called Jobe (Hoe-bay) by the Spanish, for the nearby Indian village. When the English arrived in 1763, they interpreted the name as Jove and referred to the area as Jupiter (in ancient mythology, Jove and Jupiter refer to the same god).
Fort Jupiter was built in 1838 after a battle with Seminole Indians on the Loxahatchee River. The 9,088-acre Jupiter Military Reservation that was created around it in 1855 included the site of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and the location of the second Fort Jupiter where the Fort Jupiter Post Office was activated from 1855 to 1856, during the Third Seminole War. The garrison’s chronic illness and the inlet’s tendency to close made the fort too difficult to man or supply and it was closed in 1860.
Lighthouse keeper James Armour opened the Jupiter Post Office briefly during 1884. Three years of inactivity followed before Mary Moore “Mollie” Carlin reestablished the office in 1887 at the Jupiter Lifesaving Station, where her husband, Charles Carlin, was the keeper.
The DuBois family is one of Jupiter’s pioneer families; their former homestead, on the south side of Jupiter Inlet once known as Stone’s Point, is now part of Palm Beach County’s DuBois Park and reveals much about life in early Jupiter. John Rue DuBois, the eldest son of Harry and Susan Sanders DuBois, carefully preserved artifacts found on their property, which were later examined by the Florida State Museum.
Jupiter was the northernmost stop on the 7.5-mile “Celestial Railroad” line that had once served as the last link for travelers to Lake Worth. After boating down the Indian River, they would take the train to the head of Lake Worth in Juno where they would once again board a boat for destinations further south. When Henry Flagler ran his Florida East Coast Railway west of the Lake Worth Creek on its route to West Palm Beach, two paddlewheel steamboats that had frequented the Indian River were no longer necessary and they rotted away where they had been beached. Local historian Bessie DuBois said, “Early settlers of the Fort Jupiter reservation used the stateroom windows and doors in their shacks. The steamers gradually rusted away … relics of a priceless era.”
In 1900 the population of the Jupiter area was 145. In 1905 Rev. Dr. Charles P. Jackson started an elementary school for white children in Neptune. At that time Jupiter referred to the area east of Lake Worth Creek (the Intracoastal Waterway) and Neptune was the designation for the area and the post office along the Florida East Coast Railroad. The Neptune post office was consolidated into Jupiter in 1908. A converted lifeboat from the battleship U.S.S. Maine served as school “bus” for the children. A ferry service across the Loxahatchee River started in 1894 was replaced by a bridge in 1911, when a new two-story school added grades seven through ten. West Palm Beach was the closest town for students to complete high school for many years.
In 1916 to 1917, a group of nine British aviators used Jupiter as a training “ground” for three small seaplanes – a crew of three assigned to each. Because the Jupiter Inlet remained closed during their stay, the planes were able to park on the river side of the beach. The aviators erected tents there to get out of the sun, but lived with Mr. and Mrs. Walter Savage, who contracted with the U. S. Government to provide them room and board. A windsock added to the flagpole on the Carlin House dock assisted with wind direction during the many landings and takeoffs practiced each day.
When John DuBois married Bessie Wilson in 1924, they stayed on at his family’s house on Jupiter Inlet. They later recalled how Seminole Indians had often come to town in covered wagons pulled by oxen or horses and camped out near today’s Center Street. The Indians came to trade with local merchants; their contact with others was mainly to sell them venison and berries. John DuBois said the Seminoles seemed to know when schools of large fish were trapped in the inlet by changing tides; they would spear them from canoes.
In 1925 the Town of Jupiter was incorporated. A year later, the federal highway was completed to Miami, and a new bridge went up across the Loxahatchee River.
PALM BEACH Population Schedules
Run on Farmer's Bank, late 1920s.
By August 1925, the Florida East Coast Railway was overwhelmed by the demands of passengers and freight, which interfered with its ability to maintain its equipment properly. The railroad placed an embargo on non-perishable goods, and by winter, at least 7,000 freight cars sat in Jacksonville, waiting to head south.
As news of real estate scams by con artists reached the North, panicked investors there cancelled their long-distance real estate contracts. In the early fall, Florida Governor John W. Martin led a delegation to New York to fight the flow of bad publicity. They held a seminar, “The Truth About Florida,” at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, owned by T. Coleman du Pont, an investor in Addison Mizner’s development of Boca Raton in southern Palm Beach County. One week later, du Pont and several other board members left Mizner Development Corporation.
Although imagined values started the fall of Florida’s boom, very visible events brought more tragedy to Palm Beach County. First, on September 18, 1926, a hurricane from Miami moved across the west side of Lake Okeechobee, killing more than 390 people and taking its toll on the farms of the Glades communities, as well as those along the east coast.
Because of the destruction caused by the 1926 hurricane, potential buyers were afraid to purchase land, and developers went broke. On March 15, 1927, The New York Times reported: “Three banks in Palm Beach County failed to open their doors this morning [in West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, and Delray], bringing the number closed in the county in the last week to six, and causing runs on the two largest banks still open in West Palm Beach.”
By the next day, rumors had already spread in West Palm Beach that the U.S. Government had gone broke too. About 400 owners of savings accounts at the West Palm Beach Post Office, mostly from the black community, withdrew their funds of up to $2,500 each, the maximum of post office accounts. The New York Times called it the first run in Post Office history. But the worst was still to come.
On September 16, 1928, a Category 4 hurricane, with winds reaching 150 miles per hour, destroyed 8,000 homes and hundreds of commercial buildings in Palm Beach County. Although coastal areas sustained extensive property damage, it was flooding from Lake Okeechobeeand high winds that killed more than 3,000 people, most of them migrant farmers and laborers from Belle Glade, Pahokee, and South Bay.
By the time the New York Stock Exchange crashed in October 1929, sending the nation into the Great Depression, southeast Florida was in a depression of its own. From 1929 to 1930, the recorded value of all real estate in West Palm Beach dropped 53 percent to $41.6 million; by 1935 it was down to $18.2 million, little more than its pre-boom value.
The boom left behind a developing infrastructure of highways, transportation, hotels,
The Town of Jupiter felt the bust sooner than other parts of Palm Beach County. In 1925 the town made palns to establish zoning of residential and commercial areas, and add plazas, a yacht club, and a civic center. The following year, street lights were installed, and a water system to accomodate a population of 500. But by 1927 the town needed a short-term loan to pay for the lights, and residents requested that some be left un;it to reduce expenses. When many property owners did not pay their taxes, the town at first seized the land, and then repealed the tax ordinance for the year.
Fire History of the City of West Palm Beach
by Bennett T. Kennedy Jr.
Published January 24, 1980
Here are some excerpts from Centennial History 1894-1994:
The town of West Palm Beach incorporated November 5, 1894. At the time there were more than 1,000 residents, a post office, town hall, school, newspaper, stores, and an ice factory. Seventy-eight voting citizens elected John S. Earman as the first mayor. Elected to the first board of aldermen were George Potter, J. M. Garland, J. F. Lamond, George Zapf, H. T. Grant, E. H. Dimick, and H. J. Burkhardt.
Burkhardt had gained local notoriety as the "naked mailman." Working as one of the famous barefoot mailmen, he had taken to walking the isolated stretches of beaches without any clothes so that he could obtain the beneficial rays of the sun over his entire body. He was always careful to dress as he neared populated areas.
The first major fire after the incorporation of West Palm Beach occurred on Thursday, January 2, 1896. At 2:00 p.m. fire broke out in the Midway Plaisance Saloon, a large wood frame building on the south side of Banyan Street. Flames quickly spread from one building to the next, resulting in extensive damage to the south side of Banyan Street and the Seminole Hotel located on Narcissus Street. The Alerts saved little of the involved structures. An explosion of a gasoline stove started the disasterous fire.
Flagler's winter resort suffered a major setback June 9, 1903. Fire raced through the Breakers Hotel leaving little more than a pile of ashes. West Palm Beach volunteers responded to the fire pulling their old hose reel loaded with 500 feet of hose. They were delayed by the toll keeper on the railroad bridge who wanted proper payment for their passage. As a large column of smoke billowed skyward from the island, a nickel toll was demanded from each of the men before they were allowed to cross.
The whiskey, beer, and wine were flowing early on the morning of January 25, 1916, and it wasn't a party. Grove's Warehouse, where more than $30,000 worth of spirits was stored, went up in flames. The fire was discovered by West Palm Beach Policeman Clarence Pierce at about 1:00 a.m. He immediately pulled out his revolver and fired it into the air before rushing to the fire station to sound the alarm. By the time firemen arrived at the warehouse, located at North Olive Avenue and infamous Banyan Street, the building was completely engulfed.
March 18, 1925, the Kettler Theatre in West Palm Beach was featuring the movie Inferno. At 4:20 p.m., less than an hour into the first showing of the film, a real inferno erupted only a short distance away in Palm Beach, and the West Palm Beach Fire Department again responded to assist the neighboring community.
Flagler's Breakers Hotel, a four-story wood frame building, was burning out of control and Palm Beach called desperate for help. Constructed of Dade County pine lumber rich in tar, the hotel had no chance once the fire entered the free burning stage. No toll was collected this time as the apparatus roared over the bridge. It appeared the entire island was burning.
“There will be a great problem to be solved in Palm Beach on the eve of the New Year.”
No, that’s not a current holiday-season pronouncement, but rather one by a local newspaper in 1924.
The mood was effervescent in a then-flowering winter resort town entering mansion-building boom, but there indeed was a perceived “problem.”
At issue: Among the wealthy winter denizens, collectively referred to as a “colony,” lay an enviable conundrum: In a discriminating see-and-be-seen social scene, which New Year’s Eve party was most promising?
That was a tough decision in 1924: The handful of coveted New Year’s Eve party venues — ranging from the Everglades Club to Standard Oil and railroad tycoon Henry Flagler’s Palm Beach hotels — were being elbowed by two newcomers.
And the opening-night galas of both venues? New Year’s Eve, promising “exclusive” and “gay and hilarious” fêtes with entertainment by such orchestra leaders as Meyer Davis.
One of the venues remains today, transformed; the other’s a former hot spot that drew the limelight and Prohibition raids.
Welcome to Whitehall and the Royal Daneli.
The former — the stunning 75-room mansion (now a museum) Florida developer Flagler gifted in 1902 to his third bride Mary Lily Kenan — was in transition in 1924 after years of the Flaglers as preeminent social hosts.
After Mrs. Flagler’s death four years after her husband’s in 1913, her niece Louise Clisby Wise Lewis inherited the manse and sold it to a group of investors, including an executive of Flagler’s hotel company, newspapers reported.
It was then announced Whitehall would be an “exclusive residential center” with “suites and apartments engaged” by the socially prominent.
Meanwhile, construction of the Royal Daneli, a New York developer’s $2 million 200-plus room hotel — advertised as fireproof — was concluding along the Lake Trail, just north of today’s Biltmore.
Features included a dining room, grill and “Japanese garden” destined to become a nightclub. The entertainment lineup included a “Hawaiian orchestra with two girl dancers.”
As New Year’s Eve approached, Whitehall’s opening party was foreseen as “refined,” the Royal Daneli’s as “catering to another class of pleasure-seekers.”
News accounts after the parties add focus.
“The opening of Whitehall, the new residential center, was the most brilliant social event Palm Beach has known in the early season and the beautiful decoration made an exquisite setting for the French frocks so universally worn. Dinner was served in the Louis XIV ballroom. … Two orchestras furnished music, one for dancing and the other in a program of classical music. … Handsome metal brocades and beaded dresses were worn by elder matrons, but many of the older set appeared with bobbed hair and in frocks as chic and short as the debutantes. … Bands of fur and ostrich were seen in large number (as were) large Russian types of headdresses studded with rhinestones and cabochon emeralds…”
Meanwhile, New Year’s Eve at the Royal Daneli, where caviar was served on ice “with rainbow lights beneath,” the scene teemed with “younger people who prefer jazz to classical music. As Meyer Davis was there with the choice of his inimitable jazz orchestra playing the most mirthful, rollicking music Palm Beach has heard in many a day, the dining room with its capacity of two hundred, the grill below and the tea garden with its moonlit dancing floor, had one of the gayest crowds ever assembled in Palm Beach for the festivities which began with what some may call breakfast and dancing with supper in between.”
The Royal Daneli continued to thrive in the 1920s and withstood Prohibition raids and odd goings-on, such as a chef’s disappearance. The place briefly was a hangout of Austrian Count Ludwig von Salm-Hoogstraeten amid his headline-inked divorce feud with Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers. By 1930, the Royal Daneli was rebranded as the “family friendly” Mayflower Hotel. Today, private residences occupy the site.
Meanwhile, after Whitehall’s 1924-25 season, a multi-million-dollar 10-story hotel with 300 rooms opened the following season, launching three-plus decades as a resort hotel. The adjacent Flagler mansion provided common areas, including loggias where late orchestra leader Lester Lanin, no stranger to Palm Beach, entertained.
After Whitehall hotel hit financial trouble, Jean Flagler Matthews, Flagler’s granddaughter, succeeded with efforts to save the historic estate from an uncertain future, establishing the museum in 1959 (the hotel addition was razed in the process). Today, the Whitehall mansion is part of a nationally acclaimed museum property Henry Flagler once called home.
High-rise Palm Beach: Changes in altitude
Building booms transformed island from seasonal playground to international resort.
By Augustus Mayhew
Posted: 9:46 a.m. Sunday, January 20, 2013
Palm Beach is a one-of-a-kind small town where “the bigger, the better” has been the prevailing standard since Henry Flagler’s Royal Poinciana Hotel, once known as the world’s largest wood-frame building, transformed the down-to-earth settlement from an unpretentious refuge to an international resort.
Whether permitting a 90-room Addison Mizner-designed oceanfront villa, introducing multi-story office buildings along Royal Palm Way, or attaching a 10-story hotel tower to Whitehall, Palm Beach’s building history is exemplified by the demise of the old and the subdued and the rise of the new and the overshadowing.
Despite the lingering sentiment for the 1920s Boom as the town’s definitive era, the post-World War II construction frenzy surpassed the barrel-tile-and-stucco mania in dollar value and production volume.
The town’s upwardly mobile stretch extended from the construction of The Colony and The Ambassador hotels in 1946 until the Town Council imposed new zoning laws in 1970. The laws did away with eight-story, 90-foot heights and restricted apartments and offices to no more than 60-foot, five-story buildings.
Although South End or Midtown towers never reached the altitude of the 12-story Alba-Biltmore Hotel or the high life of nearby Singer Island, their quantity and size impacted Palm Beach’s image as an exclusive destination.
At the same time buildings were lifting the town skyline far beyond its church steeples, several significant ocean-to-lake estates were being carved into single-family subdivisions accommodating smaller houses with modern conveniences. Streetscapes that gave the town its seasonal resort allure linking it with Newport and Bar Harbor were rapidly disappearing.
The shift in aesthetics and economics resulted in Palm Beach attracting a more diverse spectrum of permanent taxpayers rather than tourists seeking sunshine and souvenirs. Cooperative apartment owners, and later condominium residents, were interested in parking garages — not postcards.
South End soars
While South Florida’s seasonal storms are frequently remembered for their human toll and ferocity, the hurricane of 1947, however devastating, resulted in a windfall for South End developers.
By relocating State Road A1A along the waterway from Manalapan’s Vanderbilt Curve to Palm Beach’s Sloan’s Curve and engineering lakefront landfills on the west side of A1A, the storm’s aftermath resulted in twice the number of apartment buildings.
When Cleveland developer Charles Bernstein, along with his brother-in-law Harold Weinstock and nephew Sander “Sandy” Weinstock, began building The Ambassador Hotel on A1A south of Sloan’s Curve, the scenic road ran directly along the oceanfront. Following the 1947 storm, the road’s realignment along the lake multiplied the Cleveland Shaker Co.’s development potential. During the next decade, under the aegis of Sandy Weinstock, the Ambassador complex was able to add oceanfront and lakefront villas and multi-story apartment buildings.
“I designed the Ambassador apartment buildings along the ocean and lake for Sandy Weinstock,” said architect Gene Lawrence.
“We were better received by the marketplace than by the town. The town was not too excited. But, since we were within the codes, approvals were never withheld.”
Along the oceanfront, Weinstock and Jack Meyerhoff of Baltimore, chairman of the Rouse Co., hired Lawrence to design an eight-story, 96-unit building, with units priced in the $16,000 to $25,000 range.
At Ambassador Lakes South, now called the Regency, the lakefront co-op apartments were priced at $30,500. The amenities included soundproof walls and use of The Ambassador Hotel’s oceanfront cabanas, pool and dining areas. For this development, Lawrence also designed the molds for the 22,000 decorative blocks used as balcony railings and solar wall screens.
However Weinstock was not the only developer to take advantage of the town’s broadminded zoning code. He was soon joined by others who saw Palm Beach as a metropolis for the many rather than a seaside enclave for the few.
Unusual marketing edge
In April 1961, New Era Development announced the construction of the Palm Worth, located to the north of the Lake Worth Casino. Designed by architect Edgar Wortman, the five-story oceanfront building’s 68 units were sold pre-construction at $16,900 to $32,900. Opened in 1962, the Palm Worth sought a marketing edge over its competitors when it advertised residents would have exclusive use of an on-premise air-raid and fallout shelter.
Not to be outdone, that same year developer Morris Calig and his two sons, Harold and Sam, announced plans for the lakefront President of Palm Beach Hotel. The Caligs offered their guests the First Lady Beauty Salon, managed by a hairstylist named Jacqueline.
Built for a cost of $1.5 million, the President’s crescent-shaped 97 units were designed by West Palm Beach architect Norman Robeson. It offered seasonal residents full hotel service until 1970 when it converted into a condominium with units priced at $16,000 to $43,000.
Keeping with Palm Beach’s presidential fervor during the Kennedy administration, developers Milton Steinhardt and Louis Mandel built the Palm Beach Whitehouse just south of the Par 3 Golf Course. The five-story, 50-unit building was designed by architect Gilbert Fine.
In describing Palm Beach’s ever-climbing skyline during this period, a New York Times headline read, “National Trend Toward Apartments Evident in Gold Coast resort.”
Soon after The Colony opened, architect John Stetson was at work designing the Riviera Apartments at the west end of Worth Avenue. These in-town modern apartments were built featuring a switchboard and maid service, comforts not found in surrounding bungalows and cottages.
Soon after, the 11-acre lakefront site of the Royal Poinciana Hotel was readied for what was described as the “largest apartment hotel building in Florida” and “the largest poured concrete building of its type in the world.”
The Palm Beach Towers’ projected construction cost of $8.5 million made for the largest building permit in the town’s history. Developers Joseph Mass and Alfred N. Miller retained Washington, D.C., architect John Hans Graham to design the H-shaped multi-story complex’s diverse array of more than 270 apartments, 20 shops and restaurants.
Formally opened in December 1956, the Palm Beach Towers quickly changed its format from a hotel to an apartment-hotel facility. With the addition of its expanded New Royal Poinciana Room and Regency Room designed by architect Herbert Mathes, the facility was capable of hosting large conventions, banquets and receptions with more than 1,000 guests. To the north of this intense development, a suburban-style shopping mall was added. The Royal Poinciana Plaza’s shops with large display windows and surrounding asphalt parking lot made for one of Palm Beach’s most anomalous commercial developments.
Further changes occurred along the town’s scenic lakefront between Worth Avenue and Royal Palm Way when apartment buildings were approved at Nos. 315, 369 and 389 S. Lake Drive. Among the most noticeable of the 15 residential buildings in Midtown designed by architect Howard Chilton, this ensemble of lakefront modernist designs made for a clear-cut distinction between old and new Palm Beach.
Nearby, high-rise development continued with Florida Capital Corp.’s six-story $570,000 office building on Royal Palm Way. To the east, the demolition of the Mizner-designed La Fontana and the permitting of the One Royal Palm Way condominium further intensified residents’ concern that urbanization threatened Palm Beach’s “worldwide image of refined elegance.”
On Midtown’s oceanfront, the 400 Building opened as rental apartments. To the north, a $2 million building permit was issued for the construction of the seven-story Ocean Towers complex. At Bradley Place on the North Lake Trail, Louis Pergament retained New York architect Salvatore Bevelacqua to design the 80-unit Royal Poinciana apartments, with six penthouses.
Concrete in the sunshine
During the mid-1960s, developer Milton Hoff conceived a plan to transform Palm Beach into the “Biarritz of Florida.” He began by changing the name of his 150-room Mayflower Hotel to the Palm Beach Spa.
Initially built during the 1920s Boom as the Royal Daneli, Hoff promised the hotel would become “the most modern in the world.” That is, once he gained approval to add 87 villas and cabanas on the adjacent lot along North Lake Trail.
Thus, in May 1965, bulldozers “pounded to rubble” the 54-unit Beaux Arts apartments. Built in 1917, the apartments were a revamp of the once-prized Beaux Arts shopping promenade and movie theater, said to have inspired Addison Mizner’s Spanish-style designs for Worth Avenue.
“I know of no other landmark so steeped in tradition as these buildings,” lamented then-Mayor Claude Reese.
Nonetheless, the property owner declared the Beaux-Arts had “… fallen victim to progress.”
Once the Palm Beach Spa facility was completed, Hoff sold the complex to John D. MacArthur.
At the same time McArthur took possession of the Palm Beach Spa, builder Jack Resnick was completing The Sun and Surf between Sunrise and Sunset avenues, replacing the private Sun and Surf Beach Club with “the town’s most expensive rental apartments.”
Built for $14 million and designed by architect Gene Lawrence, the 242-unit complex with “front-door ocean bathing” was composed of two modernistic curvilinear seven-story buildings housing three restaurants, a beauty salon, exercise rooms and a barber shop.
In March 1969, Resnick hosted a cocktail party to preview the model apartments with interiors by Park Avenue designer Marilyn Motto.
Dubbed a “Historical Party,” the event gave the town’s local VIPs the last opportunity to recall the personalities who lived in the buildings that were demolished to make room for the Sun and Surf.
The Palm Beach Daily News described the forthcoming multi-faceted development as “A reflection of the past, luxury of the present and promise of the very near future subtly combined …”
Keeping Palm Beach for the Palm Beachers
In response to the decades of high-rise residential and commercial development, the town’s 1969 and 1970 council elections proved revolutionary. While it had always been considered impolite to challenge incumbents, George Mathews won a council seat opposing nine-term Councilman John Cushman. The following year, with as many as 12 buildings planned for South Ocean Boulevard, Robert Grace and Yvelene “Deedy” Marix were elected. Their incumbent opponents had appeared lax in protecting the town against development.
“The high-rise explosion threatens to destroy the town’s unique character,” Grace said.
“Palm Beach is a worldwide synonym for beauty, quality and value,” Marix said.
Matthews, Grace and Marix kept their pledge to scale Palm Beach back to sea level. They immediately tightened building codes and zoning restrictions to reduce the town’s population density.
At public hearings, residents referred to Palm Beach as “a historic shrine like Newport and Williamsburg.”
By March 1970, the town had curbed high-rises, setting a five-story limit on apartments and three-story commercial usage. Church steeples and flagpoles were limited to the same height as the zoning districts in which they are located. Single-family houses were divided into three different types.
During the summer of 1970, the council created an Architectural Commission. Charged with the task to “preserve Palm Beach’s beauty,” the five-member board of professionals would meet regularly to review building plans.
While the town took more than 20 years to restrain its “sky’s the limit” building swell, yet another decade would pass before the Landmarks Preservation Commission was formed.
Today, as Palm Beach contemplates its 21st century developments, it might be time to revisit what architects John Stetson and Howard Chilton observed 52 years ago in an essay they wrote: “So many times in our attempt to maintain Palm Beach’s beauty, we have passed ordinances that prevent duplicating the types of buildings that made the resort famous.”
Augustus Mayhew is the author of Lost in Wonderland — Reflections on Palm Beach.
2ND PALM BEACH HOTEL
Built in the evocative Spanish Baroque style, so characteristic of 1920's Palm Beach attitudes, the Palm Beach Hotel was designed by eminent New York architect, Mortimer Dickinson Metcalfe, and built by Thomas A. Clarke. It is the largest commercial building in this style in Palm Beach. The rich Spanish Colonial details include twisted columns with Corinthian capitals that line the 400 foot colonnade, twin mission-style bell towers that flank the entrance, balustrade railings, numerous cartouches, decorative urns, ornamental brackets and lion's head rain spouts, as well as the textured stucco finish with terra cotta tile roof lines. The building also incorp- orated current beaux-arts styling throughout the exterior and interior. Finished in mid-December, 1925, an astonishing six months after construction began. guests arrived for Christmas and New Year and the official grand opening gala was held January 9, 1926.
The Palm Beach Hotel Condominium offers hotel-like accommodations with the unique feel of a private condo- minium. Apartments may be rented on a nightly, weekly, monthly or yearly basis. Studios, one bedroom, and two bedroom suites are available, some with terraces. Most with full kitchens or kitchenettes. Each unit is maintained and furnished as a private apartment, so no two are alike.
Within the building there is an exquisite, island popular authentic French Patisserie, Patrick Leze, where you can have breakfast or lunch by the pool or on the loggia as well as PB Catch, one of the finest fish restaurants on the island. Also in the building are a full service bike shop, beauty and barbershops, stationer, consignment shop, shoe repair, floral shop and pharmacy and The Palm Beach Poetry Group that meets every Wednesday at 1:00pm. Directly across the street is a world class fusion restaurant, and within a few minutes stroll, a wide range of other fine dining venues. Banking facilities and a new state of the art super market are all just steps away.
Palm Beach enjoys the benefit of its closeness to the Gulfstream, and is noted for its mild, sub-tropical climate with year-round ocean breezes and average temperatures ranging from the mid 70's to the upper 80's..
The Palm Beach Hotel is an exciting destination for those visitors who want to explore the unmatched Florida beauty of Palm Beach at an incredible value. Close to the center of everything in Palm Beach, we are steps away from the beautiful white sand Atlantic beaches, gourmet dining, and famous Worth Avenue shopping. The Palm Beach Hotel is located just North of the Flagler Memorial Bridge, on Sunrise Avenue, one block from beach access, post office, fine restaurants and 5 miles from Palm Beach International Airport. Interstate 95 and the Florida Turnpike provide easy access to the Royal Park Bridge and Cocoanut Row and North County Road (via Okeechobee Boulevard exit) that leads to Sunrise Avenue.
The Palm Beach Hotel is near the center of it all: discover some of the best that Palm Beach has to offer.
The Bradley Park Hotel and that Palm Beach Energy,
by Bruce Klauber
One of the most beautiful things about Naples, Florida, is its individual and collective attitude, if a city can have such a thing. Apt descriptions of this Naples state of mind would likely include phrases like “laid back,” everything “on an even keel,” etc. In short, everything and everybody in Naples is just darned nice.
From time to time, however, there is a need for a change of energy, a shot of adrenalin, a surge of excitement and, shall we say, a modification of attitude. Joy Adams and I experienced all this quite recently, and it came from an unlikely source, if only because we didn’t know we needed this energy shot until we got where we were going. The place was Palm Beach, Florida, a locale we’ve not visited for ten years. Friends from the north were visiting Palm Beach, and we decided to meet them for lunch, and then drive back to Naples. Our lunch visit lasted almost three days.
Because Palm Beach exists virtually as its own universe–Joy characterizes it as “a different country”–it also has its own energy. The wealth, the fashion, the beauty, the grace, the gentility, and yes, the excitement of it all combined, at least in our case, to inspire and lift the spirit. Like every city of every size, Palm Beach has changed somewhat in terms of gearing itself a bit more to the younger contingent. But Worth Avenue is still Worth Avenue (and more beautiful than we recall), the pristinely restored and majestic Breakers is still The Breakers, Ta-boo’ restaurant remains one of the culinary and social epicenters of the island, and Ta-boo’ co-owner Franklyn deMarco is still the host of hosts.
For us, one of the major contributors to the Palm Beach charm factor, was The Bradley Park Hotel, and we happened on this jewel of a property quite by accident. When we decided on an overnight stay, we first checked The Palm Beach Hotel, where our friends were installed, for a vacancy. They were filled, but when asked to recommend a place in “the neighborhood,” the suggestion was Bradley Park.
This hotel, quite simply, is a certifiable gem that personifies the grace and charm of old Palm Beach. And they had a vacancy.
Now 85 years old and meticulously restored, the hotel accurately describes itself as a charming, intimate and historic boutique property that offers “traditional values in hospitality, blended with an original expression of the past and present.” The 32 guest rooms and suites are beautifully appointed, many with features like full kitchens, European linens, bathrobes, DVD players, surround sound and much more. There is a wonder-ful, gourmet grocery, C’est Si Bon, on the premises (Joy now swears by their coffee) and a to-die-for Asian fusion restaurant, Coco’s, on the premises. The hotel’s Royal Palm and Bradley Suites on the penthouse level, have to be seen to be believed. All of us who saw the unbelievable penthouse deck clearly and quickly envisioned throwing a spectacular private party there, with entertainment, of course, by the Joy Adams/Bruce Klauber Orchestra.
Deservedly, the facility has been designated as an historical landmark by the Palm Beach Historical Society. Its Mediterranean Revival architecture is indicative of the gracious, tropical lifestyle of Palm Beach. Adding to the beautiful picture is a central courtyard, café tables and a trickling fountain. Arched entryways and expansive suites opening to landscaped balconies complete the experience. Yes, it is luxurious, but without stuffiness or pretense of any kind.
Charm and gentility factors notwithstanding, service is what makes a hotel — of any size and in any locale — work. The staff of The Bradley Park Hotel sincerely cares about its guests, and I got the sense, early on, that they would do anything within their power to make a guest happy. While moving into our room, I encoun-tered one of the managers in the elevator, with his hands literally filled with pots and pans.”What’s up, Peter?” I asked. (It does not take long for everyone to know everyone’s name here.) “Well,” a lady on your floor wants to cook spaghetti in her room tonight, so I just gathered up everything she might need.” Service, indeed. Coincidently, that lady also drove over from Naples that afternoon, and had come to Palm Beach to participate in a croquet tournament.
After a full day of more shopping and more beauty, we had no choice but to ask if there were a vacancy for another night. Fortunately, there was, and if we didn’t have a commitment back in Naples Friday evening, we might still be there.
The Palm Beach energy jolt remains within, especially because we’re now aware there’s a warm, welcoming and charming place for us there, in the form of The Bradley Park Hotel, when we return. If there’s a vacancy, that is.
General Manager Melissa Payson deserves a good deal of credit for overseeing operations at the hotel, which includes supervision of the restoration. I fervently believe that any staff takes on the attitude of manage-ment, which certainly explains why everyone involved at The Bradley Park Hotel is so wonderful.
Incidently, if only because this is JazzLegends.com, I would be personally and professionally remiss if I didn’t tell of the rather active jazz scene in Palm Beach. For information on clubs, schedules and festivals, log on to the web site of The Jazz Arts Music Society of Palm Beach at: www.JamSociety.org.
The Bradley Park Hotel is located 280 Sunset Avenue, Palm Beach, FL, 33480. Telephone: 800-822-4116 or 561-832-7050. Visit on the web at www.BradleyParkHotel.com.
This entry was posted on Saturday, February 28th, 2009 at 12:16 pm and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
The History of Singer Island
The first record of a settlement on Singer Island dates back to 1906 with Inlet City. Inlet City was a spon-taneous community of fishermen and squatters, most of whom came from nearby Riviera Beach and the Bahamas. Fishermen were attracted to the island as a place to dry the cotton nets that they used in those days, and for its proximity to the fertile Gulf Stream (the waters of the Gulf Stream are closer to land on Singer Island than any other place in North America!).
Singer Island was named for Paris Eugene Singer, the famous developer of Palm Beach and 23rd child of Isaac Singer, the sewing machine magnate (Paris also fathered a son with legendary dancer Isadora Duncan in 1910*). In 1920, he visited Palm Beach and met Addison Mizner. He agreed to pay the architect a $6,000 a year retainer for life if his work was confined exclusively to the Palm Beach area. With Mizner, he created the Palm Beach we know today with its Spanish architecture, picturesque streets and exclusive shops. Singer often took his friends on picnics to the beautiful island directly north of Palm Beach. In anticipation of the Florida real estate boom, he and Mizner planned to develop a luxurious resort (the Paris Singer Hotel) on the south end of the island and a modest hotel (the Blue Heron) on the north end with a 36 hole golf course between the two structures.
The estimated price was four million dollars - a fantastic amount in those years. Mizner was to design the hotels, but it is said Singer was so eager to start, construction of the Blue Heron was begun before the drawings were started. The opening date was set for 1926. The hotel's service wing was the first and the last to be completed. Singer's original plan was to finance the building from the sale of lots throughout the island. The Florida land boom was already slowing down in 1925, and the combination of 1928 hurricane and 1929 stock market crash dealt a mortal blow to Singer's finances. The shell of the Blue Heron remained for 14 years, until Paris Singer's dream finally came to an end when the the abandoned, incomplete hotel was razed in 1940 (the Hilton Hotel stands there now).
In 1940, the City of Riviera purchased 1,000 feet of beach on the Island for $40,000. This led to the growth of tourism in Riviera and eventual incorporation of the island north of Palm Beach Shores. In 1941, the city of Riviera changed its name to Riviera Beach. The Town of Palm Beach Shores was developed in 1947 when A. O. Edwards, a railroad and hotel tycoon, bought 240 acres on Singer Island for $240,000 and invested $500,000 in improvements. He laid out a city plan with parks, walkways and roadways (Palm Beach Shores' northern boundary originally extended 300 ft. north of Blue Heron Boulevard). In 1948 Edwards built the Inlet Court Hotel which was later renamed The Colonnades. A year later the wooden Sherman's Point Bridge was replaced with a steel and concrete two lane structure with a drawbridge which permitted passage through the Intracoastal Waterway. The first Sebring style race was held on the island in 1950 and ended at the Colonnades. Edwards became the Singer Island's first mayor in 1952. When he died in 1960, his estate sold the Colonnades Hotel to John D. MacArthur in 1963.
John D. MacArthur, born in poverty as the son of a preacher, became one of the greatest financiers of his day through the building of Chicago's Banker's Life and Casualty Insurance Company. By purchasing over 100,000 acres in this part of Palm Beach County, MacArthur became the largest landowner in the area. MacArthur ran his billion dollar empire from a booth in the Colonnades Hotel's coffee shop. In 1976 he suffered a stroke and died 14 months later in the hotel. The hotel was razed in 1990 and the Marriott Corporation began construction of its time share resort, Marriott's Ocean Pointe Resort, on the land.
MacArthur also owned many acres on the north end of Singer Island and he donated a large section of that land for a state park. The MacArthur Beach State Park opened in 1989 and his foundation provides funds to improve the facilities.
In the 1950's Palm Beach County enjoyed tremendous growth and Singer Island evolved into a resort area of hotels and condominiums for winter residents. In 1952, Phil Foster Park was opened, named after one of Riviera Beach's pioneer citizens. In 1976, to accommodate this growth and ease the access to the island, the two lane draw bridge was replaced with the current four lane Blue Heron Bridge.
*Paris Singer's son was killed in an automobile accident in 1913.
Blue Heron Bridge, named for ill-fated hotel, was the third to link Singer Island
January 24, 2013 Eliot Kleinberg's Post Time columns.
Retired Riviera Beach and Palm Beach Gardens police Chief Jim FitzGerald wrote this month to ask about “the old wooden bridge from the mainland to Singer Island that predated the former concrete drawbridge and the current high-rise bridge.”
In the 1920s, Paris Singer, part of the sewing machine family empire, and architect and developer Addison Mizner planned the Blue Heron Hotel, a $4 million resort on what’s now Singer Island.
At the time, the south end of the isolated island was populated by a few dozen fishermen. “Singer had hoped to link the island to Palm Beach either by a series of high-rise bridges or by a tunnel under the (Palm Beach) inlet,” the 1976 U.S. Bicentennnial “History of Riviera Beach, Florida” said. But it said both Palm Beach and Riviera Beach opposed the idea, as did the U.S. War Department.
So in 1925, Palm Beach County built the 2,700-foot-long, timber and steel “Sherman Point” Bridge to serve the Blue Heron. Singer bought the bond issue.
The sewing machine magnate boasted that his hotel would open in time for Christmas dinner. But, having already sunk $3 million — in 1920s dollars — into “Singer’s Folly” — he eventually abandoned his dream resort. He died in 1932. The hulk of the Blue Heron would stand for 14 years until it was razed during World War II. The 1928 hurricane, meanwhile, partly destroyed the Sherman Point Bridge. It was mostly rebuilt in the 1930s. And in August 1949, an $850,000, concrete and steel, two-lane drawbridge, the Riviera Beach Memorial Bridge, opened. “Singer Island was still empty in the late 1950s,” retired Palm Beach Post colum-nist Bill McGoun wrote. Getting over there, he said, “was a bit of an adventure. The Blue Heron bridge was a low-level wooden structure and the floorboards bounced as we rode over them.”
As Palm Beach County exploded in growth, the bridge eventually could not handle the increasing vehicle and boat traffic,
A new $8.5 million, 65-foot-high, four-lane, high-span bridge — the one that stands today — opened June 7, 1976. The eastern 350 feet of the old 1949 bridge became a fishing pier. The new bridge, officially the Jerry Thomas Memorial Bridge, is colloquially called the Blue Heron, and the road leading up to it Blue Heron Boulevard — both for the hotel that never was.
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.
"Singer Island was named for Paris Eugene Singer, the famous developer of Palm Beach and 23rd child of Isaac Singer, the sewing machine magnate (Paris also fathered a son with legendary dancer Isadora Duncan in 1910*). In 1920, he visited Palm Beach and met Addison Mizner. He agreed to pay the architect a $6,000 a year retainer for life if his work was confined exclusively to the Palm Beach area. With Mizner, he created the Palm Beach we know today with its Spanish architecture, picturesque streets and exclusive shops. Singer often took his friends on picnics to the beautiful island directly north of Palm Beach. In anticipation of the Florida real estate boom, he and Mizner planned to develop a luxurious resort (the Paris Singer Hotel) on the south end of the island and a modest hotel (the Blue Heron) on the north end with a 36 hole golf course between the two structures.
The estimated price was four million dollars - a fantastic amount in those years. Mizner was to design the hotels, but it is said Singer was so eager to start, construction of the Blue Heron was begun before the drawings were started. The opening date was set for 1926. The hotel's service wing was the first and the last to be completed. Singer's original plan was to finance the building from the sale of lots throughout the island. The Florida land boom was already slowing down in 1925, and the combination of 1928 hurricane and 1929 stock market crash dealt a mortal blow to Singer's finances. The shell of the Blue Heron remained for 14 years, until Paris Singer's dream finally came to an end when the the abandoned, incomplete hotel was razed in 1940 (the Hilton Hotel stands there now)."
Arthur O. Edwards: Empire Builder at Palm Beach
During the three decades Arthur Edwards took part in Palm Beach’s development, his accomplishments were built largely on Paris Singer’s vision and deeds. Although Edwards’ self-made bundle never equaled Singer’s family-based wealth, both were English-educated civil engineers that shared a worldly cultural heritage who became naturalized American citizens.
Unlike Singer’s financial reversals prior to his death in 1932, his holdings crushed by debt that undercut his standing as the resort’s most influential developer, Edwards’ prudence and caution lead to his success in the area’s speculative real estate roulette.
At Palm Beach, Edwards developed the Stotesbury Park subdivision from a lakefront tract carved from the legendary El Mirasol estate. He acquired Addison Mizner’s iconic Via Mizner enclave of apartments and shops in the wake of several years of foreclosure proceedings.
During the post-WW II era Edwards turned what was once the resort’s northernmost stretch known as Singer’s Island into the Town of Palm Beach Shores. Ironically, Edwards’ thriving year-round community was built where developer deluxe Paris Singer’s plans for the ultimate millionaire’s playground triggered the collapse of his Palm Beach enterprises.
Born in Ripley, Derbyshire, England, Arthur Edwards was the son of London civil engineer Edgar James Edwards. Having studied and trained under Sir Robert Elliott-Cooper, the era’s most prominent engineer, Edwards designed and supervised the construction of Britain’s state railways in its far-flung dominions and colonies before turning to real estate development in London. As founder and chairman of Edcaster Ltd, a multinational conglomerate, he focused on the luxury hotel market. By then, Edwards’ business interests extended from blocks of flats in London’s Kensington Park and Queensway to Cape Town, where he owned factories, warehouses, the Union Dominion Trust Ltd finance company, diamond mines, and a Ford dealership.
In 1925 the second Duke of Westminster formally leased his family’s historic Grosvenor House estate to Arthur Edwards. Edwards headed Grosvenor House Ltd and Grosvenor House - Park Lane Ltd, companies organized to build London’s largest most modern hotel with a sizeable two-wing addition with 472 rooms and 150 flats. Soon after construction began, Edwards was concerned the design too traditional, especially since the new hotel was being built to attract the American market of emerging millionaires. Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens was retained to enhance the project’s architectural ambiance. Lutyens had toured the United States, making note of skyscrapers framed with Georgian architectural details. Along with the crescent-shaped colonnade, he topped the main building with distinctive classical elements. Though the Duke of Westminster was said to have hoped for a recreation of Paris’ Rue de Rivoli by the time the project was finished with French salamander stone at a cost of £2 million in May 1929, it was clear the project suggested New York’s Fifth Avenue.
The Grosvenor House was patterned on New York apartment hotels where there were private bathrooms and each bedroom had a separate formal entrance. An ice skating rink was installed in the basement that later became London’s most formidable banquet area. The complex was divided into separate blocks with deep setbacks from the street. When the hotel opened, its Georgian stone pavilions were described by The Times’ architecture critic as “an overgrown small building much like a big woman who dresses to look petite.” In 1935 Edwards’ company purchased the freehold from the duke for £475,000.
As Europe grew consumed with war, Edwards relocated to the United States with his second wife Jadwiga Kossakowski, described as a former Polish countess according to available records. Edwards’ first marriage to Janet Irvine Edwards ended in a 1936 divorce on the grounds of “misconduct.” For their American base, the Edwards’ bought Northwick, a Philadelphia Main Line estate, and a house on El Brillo Way at Palm Beach. Edwards had the opportune of serving on the Everglades Club’s proxy committee that supervised the club’s disposition of its various properties, choosing instead to devote itself to civic charities rather than real estate developments. Having retired from his position at Grosvenor House in 1939, Edwards pursued making bets on the recovering Palm Beach market.
Betting on Palm Beach
In March 1940 local newspapers headlined “Pennsylvania Family buys Palm Beach Tract.” Arthur Edwards purchased a 22-acre lakefront parcel carved from Eva Stotesbury’s El Mirasol estate. Since her husband’s death in May 1938, Stotesbury had begun cutting back on her households. Before letting go of the acreage surrounding her Malmaison tea house for $155,000, earlier that season she had sold Herbert Pulitzer a smaller south side tract for $100,000 with 200-feet of oceanfront along Wells Road extending to North County Road. Even before the sale was recorded, Edwards hired Arnold Construction as his agent to develop the tropical sanctuary into the 56-plot Stotesbury Park residential subdivision. The original plans called for retaining the estate’s exotic palms and citrus trees as well as adding fountains, seven lakefront parcels, 49 home sites on Coral Lane, Emerald Lane, and El Mirasol Drive, a crescent-shaped thoroughfare hooking onto North County Road.
With Stotesbury Park sales interrupted by wartime uncertainties, Edwards’ next bet was another one of the resort’s iconic properties. He acquired the Addison Mizner Building, a complex of attached buildings extending from Worth Avenue to Peruvian Avenue along Via Mizner that faced complex foreclosure proceedings for more than a decade. As early as 1926 creditors had begun foreclosure suits against Mizner’s various interests. The architect’s personal and business holdings were split between Addison Mizner Inc. and Mizner Industries.
When Edwards closed on the complex of 19 shops and offices along with five apartments, including the renowned Mizner apartment, for $77,000 on July 14, 1944, according to court records, the sale did not include Mizner’s architectural practice. In March 1934, one year after Mizner’s death, Madena Galloway, general manager of Addison Mizner Inc., announced that longtime architect William Manly Kinghad merged his practice with the Mizner office. That same year Mizner Industries reorganized as Mizner Products Inc., managed by E. C. Peters. With Mizner’s personal bankruptcy proceedings having been settled, in 1939 Atlantic National Bank of Jacksonville filed suit against Addison Mizner Inc. claiming defaults in the amount of $129,600 against the Via Mizner complex and a vacant parcel near Boynton once owned by Mizner. In June 1940 the court approved the reorganization of Addison Mizner Inc. as the Addison Mizner Building Inc.
When the bank sold the Via Mizner property in April 1944 there were six bidders. As litigation is believed to follow golf, tennis and bridge as one Palm Beach’s major enthusiasms, a lawsuit was filed to stop the sale. Russian-born Bulgarian portrait artist Kyril Vassilev, who was leasing the Addison Mizner apartment, claimed he made a binder with the bank two months earlier for $75,000 guaranteed by a $5,000 deposit with the stipulation that if the bank received a higher bid, he would offer $500 more than the highest bid. Ruling Vassilev’s offer was too indefinite and uncertain, the court dismissed his claims and the bank proceeded in selling the property to Edwards. The Studstill & Hollenbeck real estate office that facilitated the earlier sale of Mizner Industries handled the transaction and managed the property for Edwards. A year later the Addison Mizner Building complex was sold again. Edwards sold it for $122,500 to Rosemor Inc., a Florida corporation formed by New York residents Rose and Mortimer Sachs.
Interest in Stotesbury Park was rekindled after the war. By September 1946 only one lakeside lot remained unsold. That same year, Archie and Jadwiga Edwards became American citizens. With a growing confidence in the market and recognizing the dissimilar demands of a post-war economy, Edwards determined there was a need for a “year-round community, more like Daytona Beach than Palm Beach.”
When Riviera Beach voters failed to pass a bond issue that would have acquired the 210-acre south section of Singer’s Island and converted it into a public park, Edwards stepped up and paid $475,000 for the tract with 3,000-feet of oceanfront bordered to the south by the Palm Beach Inlet and the west by Lake Worth. Two decades earlier, the site was where Paris Singer’s Palm Beach Ocean Development Company had planned a luxurious enclave connected to Palm Beach with a gondola over the inlet.
Singer’s Folly at Palm Beach Ocean
Singer’s Island, 1924-1927
In early March 1924, Paris Singer published a letter to members of the Everglades Club explaining that because of health concerns he proposed to sell the club for approximately $850,000 to its 472 current members that would then be governed by a board of directors. Along with Singer as head of the newly formed Everglades Club, a non-profit corporation, the officers were Anthony Drexel Biddle Jr., vice-president, Martin Sweeney, secretary, and W. L. Kingsley, treasurer. The board of directors included Earle Charlton, James Gerard, Harris Hammon, L. Quinton Jones, Gurnee Munn, R. S. Pierrepont, E. T. Stotesbury, E. F. Hutton, J. Leonard Replogle, John Sanford, and Barclay Warburton. Within several weeks, a few more than 200 members had subscribed. Apparently, club members were almost split whether to become a member-owned club. In August, Singer announced a dissolution of the corporation, having found it “impracticable” to proceed.
It was during this period, perhaps anticipating relinquishing his ownership of the club, that Singer pursued a significant expansion of the Everglades Club and a series of acquisitions paying top-of-the-market prices for properties that three years later would be “under water,” facing heavily mortgaged foreclosures. Having paid the Kenan family more than $1 million for Whitehall, in April 1924 Singer’s Ocean & Lake Realty Com-pany set up the Whitehall Building & Operating Company and proceeded to turn the main house into a private club before adding a ten-story addition and reorganizing Whitehall into a hotel.
He bought the oceanfront Gus’ Bath complex, turning half the facility into the private Palm Beach Swimming Club, for exclusive use of club members. In the North End, he paid Frances Cragin $1.75 million for her 35-acre Garden of Eden estate that would be redesigned as a golf course for Palm Beach Ocean, his elaborate Addison Mizner designed hotel-resort-residential trophy property located then in what was the northern part of Palm Beach. Singer secured more than $1.5 million in financing for Palm Beach Ocean using the Everglades Club as collateral. It was only months after creditors began filing suits against Mizner’s Boca Raton project, that Paris Singer’s pyramidal real estate holdings collapsed. Singer left Palm Beach after the 1930 season, leaving his sons to settle the acrimonious aftermath of his quixotic pursuits.
But rather than fulfill Singer and Mizner’s plans for another exclusive millionaire’s playground, Edwards’ plan was geared for more middle-class residents, with more than 600 residential lots advertised between $1,800 and $4,000 with the perimeter reserved for commercial businesses and apartment buildings. Officially chartered as the Town of Palm Beach Shores by the Florida legislature in 1947, street intersections were bounded by stone balustrades and a private beach and boat docks were originally earmarked for residents only. The next year Edwards completed the oceanfront 120-room Inlet Court Hotel, renaming it The Colonnades in 1950 and adding a convention banquet facility four years later.
Singer’s Island becomes Palm Beach Shores 1947
Upon Arthur Edwards’ death in 1960, the hotel was sold to John D. MacArthur, philanthropist and developer of Palm Beach Gardens. MacArthur, who spent winters at The Colonnades, built his empire selling life insurance beginning with Bankers Life & Casualty Company. He is perhaps best known as the benefactor of the annual MacArthur Fellows Program administered by the MacArthur Foundation. Edwards’ wife Jadwiga continued to make Palm Beach her winter home. When her estate was probated after her death in 1988, the Edwards’ 33-acre Villanova estate was subdivided. Northwick’s main house and 19th-century hunting lodge became the Arthur O. Edwards Center educational facility for the Devereux Foundation.
The Pennsylvania: The last of the West Palm Beach grand hotels
April 30, 1994 Archives.
By AVA VAN de WATER
Palm Beach Post Home Editor
In the booming 1920s, downtown West Palm Beach had dozens of hotels and rooming houses that drew tourists for the winter social season. The Intracoastal Waterway lapped at the hotel door fronts, and ferries shuttled guests to and from Palm Beach. Today, just one of those grande dames remains, and maybe not for long. The Pennsylvania Hotel sits quietly on South Flagler Drive, only its elegant ivory facade, arched windows and graceful lines hinting of its social heyday.
“The Pennsylvania was the biggest, the fanciest and the nicest,” said Dale Waters, historic planner for West Palm Beach. Built in 1926 – smack in the middle of prohibition – the hotel was dubbed “The Breakers West.” It was the site of balls, coming out parties, elegant dinners, and other celebrations associated with the city’s social season. Even slot machines graced its halls.
Now, the eight-story, 230-room building has a more serene role – a residence for the elderly run by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirmed of South Florida Inc. But the hotel is abuzz again since the Sisters announced plans to raze the former hotel to make way for a 19-story, up-to-date residence for the independent elderly as well as those needing special care.
Preservationists are upset about the possibility of losing the hotel, one of the last large Mediterranean Revival-style buildings downtown. Designed by the prestigious firm of Harvey & Clarke as a prime example of the Mediterranean style so popular in the 1920s, the hotel has graceful arches, a tower and decorative ornamentation. A flat roof is hidden by parapets, decorated with barrel tile.
Inside, the crown jewel is a beautifully tiled mezzanine, where 4-inch squares of Spanish tile provide a gleaming backdrop for high ceilings. Wonderful columns are decorated up to 4 feet with colorful blue, green and yellow tiles made by Addison Mizner’s factory.
The Pennsylvania once hummed with activity. The dining room seated 400; a beauty shop and barber shop had a steady stream of customers. But today, footsteps echo in the halls of the nearly empty building that is being prepared for an uncertain future.
Of the half-dozen resort hotels that graced the downtown waterfront, only the Pennsylvania remains. The former George Washington Hotel, now the Helen Wilkes Residence Hotel, has been dramatically altered. Long gone are the Lake Court (now the site of the Noreen McKeen Residence next to the Pennsylvania), the Salt Air (the old downtown Holiday Inn site), the Royal Palm, the Monterey and the South Palm Inn.
Designed to be entered from Evernia Street, the hotel features a large, arched window with iron grill and stairs that lead to the grand mezzanine. Unfortunately a large canvas awning hides the window’s beauty, and an alternate entrance, favored by the Carmelite Sisters, takes visitors into a lobby of 1960s or ’70s vintage. But beyond the mezzanine level, there is little of interest in the hotel.
The upper floors are marked by long, straight hallways that lead to small rooms with tiny baths. Although ceilings in the mostly 11-by-11-foot rooms are tall – about 12 feet – the hallways have dropped ceilings of acoustical tile that hide air-conditioning ducts and pipes. Contemporary bamboo wallpaper lines the walls; new carpet covers the concrete floors.
And while there is a beautiful crystal doorknob here, a simple brass knob there, the rooms are nondescript. New windows with plastic mullions replaced original double-hung sash windows in the mid-1980s. Tiny bathrooms with tall tubs hinder the elderly, and ill-designed fire exits lead not to the outside, but to the mezzanine or lobby.
“The facade of the building is beautiful. The mezzanine is beautiful. The functional use of the building ends right there,” said Kathleen Chobot, spokeswoman for the Carmelite sisters.
But preservationists hope to preserve the facade – and a part of West Palm Beach’s elegant past. They would like the sisters to consider gutting the interior of the building (except for the grand mezzanine level) rather than tearing it down.
“There is not a whole lot left downtown,” Waters said. Of 25 major buildings, “maybe 6 or 7 are of landmark status . . . There really isn’t another major building downtown in that style.”
THE PENNSYLVANIA THROUGH THE YEARS
1900: Henry M. Flagler sells the land at what is now the southwest corner of Evernia Street and Narcissus Avenue to Wilmon Whilldin. The same year, Whilldin sells it to Lewis D Lookwood.