The Palm Beach Mall – Outta Time…

Yesterday I took my last trip to the Palm Beach Mall; not even the whole mall, just the JC Penney store as they are closing out its last merchandise. It was with such reflection that I looked over the chain link fence to the rubble that once was one of the largest malls in the nation.

The Wonderfall in the Mall's center

The Wonderfall in the Mall’s center

The Palm Beach Mall opened in 1967 and began that era in American shopping that is coming to an end. There were several shopping centers around the county at that time, but nothing that rivaled the Palm Beach Mall until Town Center in Boca Raton opened in the early 1980s. In those early years, you didn’t need to say “I’m going to the Palm Beach Mall” all you had to say was “I’m going to the mall.” Everyone knew what you meant.

I was four years old on my first visit. I can remember going there with my parents and grandparents, and being allowed to pick out something. For me, it was Gumby and Pokey figurines from Richard’s Department Store, which was on the east end of the mall, in the space where Sears eventually located. Over the years, it became an almost weekly ritual to head to the mall for anything we needed, especially school clothes, shoes, toys, records, anything a teenager could want. It was our Internet for shopping and our Facebook for friends – we could rendezvous with others, and even with no cell phones, communication was easy – we just went to the information booth and had them paged! Sometimes the customer service clerk would not be accommodating if you asked too many times.

So as I entered Penney’s yesterday, I had to buy one last item in the mall. The shelves were pretty empty around the store. A display of clocks caught my attention, and I thought that was very fitting – a clock, to signify that the mall was out of time. It is made of slate with just simple clock hands, practical for the patio, where metal clocks always corrode.

So I took the clock to the check out, where a woman who was perhaps 20 years-old

Palm Beach Mall, 1967

Palm Beach Mall, 1967

was working. She looked at the clock  and was rather puzzled. “The clock does not have any numbers. How will you know what time it is?” I replied “I think I will know.” She said “Well maybe if its 6 o’clock you would know, but I don’t see how you would know other times.” Oh my. A generation that tells time in a different way and shops in a different way. My mall has made way for her new shopping experience. But that is progress, I guess. And I can tell the time just fine without numbers.

To learn more about the Mall’s history, see the web page at http://www.africa-usa.com/pbmall/ 

When Curiosity Changes your Life

Curiosity has solved many mysteries and helped spin many tales. But how a simple question could evolve into such a story that changed my life and how I view history and time is the subject of this blog posting. I had become interested in land research and how our current landscape came to be. For my city, Boynton Beach, the question was quite simple – where was the Boynton Beach hotel exactly located on the oceanfront? My history

The Boynton Hotel

The Boynton Hotel

readings told me that Major Boynton had built a large hotel on the beach and he had founded the town located to the west. But when I reviewed Palm Beach County Court records, a different story was told. Records did confirm Major Boynton’s hotel and its location on a plat map, but the town site records told a very different story. A different name emerged that was to send my co-author and I on a journey of discovery, inspiration and meaning.

Birdie S. Dewey was that name.  I was intrigued that a woman was selling all the lots in the Boynton town site. The name didn’t ring any bells for me, but it did for my co-author, Janet DeVries. She knew the name. She knew that Birdie S. Dewey was an author. We then embarked on a research effort that eventually resulted in the publication of our book “Pioneering Palm Beach: The Deweys and the South Florida Frontier.”

Our research reconstructed the lives of Byrd Spilman Dewey and her husband Fred S. Dewey from their early days of marriage in Illinois to their adventuresome move to Florida, from newspaper articles, letters, land records, court documents and most

Byrd Spilman Dewey

Byrd Spilman Dewey

important of all, Mrs. Dewey’s writings. Her books provided the insights and clues that unraveled the mystery of their lives and roles they played in Palm Beach County and the founding of Boynton Beach. Being the “true founders” of Boynton is firmly established and supported by the historical record.

But the Dewey’s personal story is much more compelling and had a profound affect on me. Being forgotten to history and time is certainly sad, that our contributions to the community and its development can become covered over by circumstances as they occur.

What we build in our lives –  houses, farms or buildings – completely disappear with development, especially here in South Florida. What stood for decades can be gone in minutes when the bulldozers wipe the land clean of our existence. So the realization of the temporary nature of all of our creations hit home with me. There are but a handful of

1893 Tea Party

1893Tea Party

buildings in West Palm Beach left from when the Deweys lived here – St. Anne’s Church, a few buildings on Clematis, and scattered homes.  All else has been lost to hurricanes, fires and most of all – development and redevelopment. Which means the South Florida we know and recognize today will also not exist in the next century – we too will be demolished and paved over with something bigger, better and more massive.

Our book resurrects those pioneer times; their wildness, adventure and bravery. That time has been paved over, literally, by our high rises and parking lots. The majestic Dewey home, as it stood on Lake Worth, was expanded and reimagined by its subsequent owners, the Baldwins, as a fine home on South Flagler Drive, which had its direct ties to the shores of Lake Worth cut in 1952 when Flagler drive was completed. The house survived until 1971, when the bulldozers sounded its death knell early one morning. In its place, a 19

The Dewey-Baldwin House in the 1950s

The Dewey-Baldwin House in the 1950s

story Rapallo condominium was built, and a parking lot sealed over the footprint where the house once stood.  No one who lives there now even knows the house existed.  And that is cruelest fate of all – to be forgotten. So in some small part, we did our best to make sure the Deweys would not be forgotten again. A book does that. Words are put to paper and become a part of the permanent history, to be read and remembered, to be archived and preserved. Mrs. Dewey’s books played that role in our research, providing the timeless tale that had to be retold.