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/ 

Flagler’s First Overseas Railroad was in Palm Beach

January 22, 2012 will mark the 100th anniversary of Henry M. Flagler’s “Overseas Railroad” completion and it’s arrival in Key West. But Flagler had built a tiny overseas railroad much earlier, right here in Palm Beach at the Breakers Hotel. Flagler’s first hotel

Breakers Pier

Breakers Pier from the south

in Palm Beach was the Hotel Royal Poinciana, which opened in 1894 and was expanded many times. His second hotel was originally called the Palm Beach Inn, and was located on the ocean, whereas the Royal Poinciana was located on Lake Worth. Guests would ask if they could book rooms “over by the breakers,” so the name of the inn was changed to The Breakers.

The research for this blog came primarily from a Tequesta historical journal article written by Sue Pope Burkhardt entitled The Port of Palm Beach: The Breakers Pier in 1973. She was married to Henry Burkhardt, one of the original Lake Worth region pioneers. At that time there was no port in Palm Beach; consequently Flagler decided to build not only a freight port, but also a passenger port which allowed guests to board or disembark from steamers. The steamers, part of the Palm Beach-Nassau Steamship Line, offered tourists direct passage to Flagler’s hotel in Nassau, the Royal Victorian.

Breakers Pier

The Breakers Pier with train and steamer

In 1895 Captain J. D. Ross was commissioned to build the pier of concrete,wood and steel, which when finished was 1,005 feet long, almost 1/5 of a mile. The train would travel across Lake

Breakers Pier

Breakers Pier

Worth and Palm Beach, and terminate on the Breakers Pier, where passengers then boarded steamers to the Bahamas. Steamships carrying cargo also docked at the pier, and offloaded much of the material that was used to build the original Breakers hotel, which burned in 1903.

The use of the pier as a railway was shortlived. By the time Flagler had built his magnificent residence Whitehall, the train had ceased its run to the pier. The train was moved to the north end of the Hotel Royal Poinciana, which became the new termination point of the railway. The Nassau steamships then began to run from the Port of Miami over to the Bahamas. The Breakers Pier then started a new life as a fishing and strolling pier, where guests enjoyed views of the coast line. Fishing was great at that time, being so close to the Gulfstream and its warm waters and not subject to today’s pollution and overfishing.

Boats and yachts continued to dock at the pier, including Admiral George Dewey and his

Breakers Pier

Fishing from The Breakers Pier

flagship Mayflower. There was even a fear at one time during the Spanish-American War that the Florida coast might be invaded, so the Coast Guard was stationed on the pier. Mrs. Burkhardt even relates that Springfield rifles were distributed to each household as a civil defense precaution.

The pier was severely damaged in the 1928 hurricane, and was demolished a few years later. I wondered if anything was left from the pier, so I walked there from Clarke’s beach at low tide. I knew where the pier was based on aerial photography, which still shows a long dark streak underwater where the pier was located. I also determined its location from looking at a 1920 Sanborn map of the Breakers Hotel.

There indeed was an old bulkhead, still visible on the shoreline with bolts intact,

Breakers Pier

Bulkhead at the Breakers Pier

probably of stainless steel to still be so shiny. The dark streak is still clearly visible under the water where the pier was located, even visible from shore. As I was there, a group of snorkelers led by a Breakers hotel employee were just emerging from the surf. The Breakers employee described what is left of the pier in this short audio interview – click on the following link – Interview with Breakers Employee.

 

 

 

 

Breakers Pier

Remnants of the pier underwater

I’m sure none of the guests who stay at the Breakers and few of the employees realize the magnificent pier that once stood on the shoreline by the hotel. Its ghost is still there, now an artifact, raptured in the deep.

breakers pier

Piling from the Breakers Pier

Vintage postcards are from the Florida Memory Project archive; underwater photographs are courtesy of Steve Anton.

Ever drive through a Ballroom? You probably have in Palm Beach.

For whatever reason, I like to know exactly where important buildings once stood – where its footprint was, for somehow I think it lingers and makes a permanent impression on the

The Hotel Royal Poinciana

area. For Palm Beach, no other structure could be as important as the Hotel Royal Poinciana (HRP) once was. Envisioned as the grand hotel on Lake Worth, Henry Flagler built the hotel in 1893, and expanded it many times until it became not only the largest wooden structure in the world, but the largest hotel in the world.

I knew that the HRP was near where the Flagler Museum is today, and that it was on the Lake Worth (Intracoastal Waterway) side of the island. A historical marker in the area indicates that today’s Palm Beach Tower condominiums are on the land where the HRP once stood. But I wondered, where exactly did the hotel stand? Maps of the time didn’t really provide a clue, because so much has changed in roadways; houses and cottages once there are gone too.

Then I stumbled across detailed maps of West Palm Beach the Sanborn Company prepared to estimate rates for fire insurance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanborn_Maps). The University of Florida has scanned the pre-1923 Sanborn Maps of Florida cities and towns, and the maps provide a rich history of buildings that once stood in many Florida cities (http://ufdc.ufl.edu/?c=SANBORN).

Hotel

The Hotel Royal Poinciana

Included in the maps for West Palm Beach are the maps of Palm Beach, with incredibly detailed maps of the HRP, even listing how many night watchmen would be on duty and information on all buildings on the site. I took this map and overlaid it on a modern aerial photograph from Google maps. My only points of reference were the then Flagler residence with the small road in front, the shoreline of Lake Worth, and Royal Poinciana Way. These points allowed me to scale and place the hotel exactly on the modern landscape.

And then I saw it. Today’s Cocoanut Row roadway, just north of the Flagler Museum, cuts squarely through the ballroom of the Hotel Royal Poinciana! The ballroom is the small octogon shaped room on the picture above. Countless rich and famous people danced on that floor; the biggest event of every HRP season was the George Washington Ball, and the event would have had its grandest moments on that ballroom floor.

It is truly hard, if not impossible, for us today to imagine the grandeur, the elegance and prominence of the Hotel Royal Poinciana as a focal point for the Gilded Age. The construction of the immense place was an undertaking of its own, but to feed and pamper

Strolling at the HRP

thousands of guests among its 1,500 rooms at a level that wealthy persons would be satisfied with had to have been a monumental task! The local area supplied much of the fruits, vegetables and fish, but other meats and foodstuffs all had to arrive by train or steamer in an era with little or no refrigeration.

As time went by, many factors contributed to the HRP’s demise. It’s design was considered old-fashioned by the 1920s, the buildings were badly damaged in the 1928 hurricane, and the Great Depression all led to the hotel’s closing and demolition, completed by 1936.

Pat Crowley has a very informative blog on the HRP with great photographs and other ephemera – take a look at http://royalpoincianahotel.blogspot.com/

The photographs and postcards are a part of the Florida State Archives, the University of Florida digital collection and the Library of Congress Archives.

Jupiter Lighthouse – 150th Anniversary of its First Light

July 10, 2010 marks the 150th anniversary of the first lighting of the Jupiter Lighthouse. This beautiful and majestic lighthouse is Palm Beach County’s oldest structure, and has withstood wars, hurricanes, and worst of all, development. Its 108 feet of brick has overseen all the changes, good and bad. As I grew up in the Jupiter-Tequesta area, the lighthouse was always my favorite monument and the guiding light home. When we visited my grandparents in Lake Worth and made our way home along U.S. 1, I would wait to see its light and know home was not far away.

jupiter sign

The commemorative plaque at the Jupiter Lighthouse

On our tour today, we spent some extra time with one of the staff members who was helping set up the tables for tonight’s event and ceremonial re-lighting of the lighthouse. He told us that in recently putting in a new wall, excavations produced several old french perfume bottles, and a blue bottle for a health tonic from a Dr. Pierce (more information here). His best find was an old conch shell that he recognized as being a trumpet shell. He quickly rinsed it off with a hose and he gave it a good blow, and it produced its first tone in probably 1,000 years. Anytime a tree is planted or the ground excavated for repairs, an archealogist has to be called in to look for indian artifacts.

Jupiter Lighthouse

The Jupiter Lighthouse in the sun

Jupiter Lighhouse

The Jupiter Lighthouse through the trees

The lighthouse sits on a natural hill that is 46 feet high (a mountain for Florida). Surrounding the hill are several kitchen “middens” where the Native Americans buried their kitchen garbage of bone and shell refuse. The U-shaped hill is called a “parabolic dune” and was probably first settled by the English in post-Colombian times. The name “Jupiter” is a twist of many languages. The Native Americans referred to themselves as the “Hoe-Bay,” which to the Spanish sounded like “Jove”, the Spanish word for the god Jupiter, so the English translation was applied.  Old maps from the 1770s mention that the area was renamed “Grenville” when the territory was ceded to the English. Some very old “tabby” building material and other British items were found in a recent excavation.

If you have an afternoon, the tour and museum is more than worth the time. The trek up the lighthouse is a 150 steps of winding staircase, so if you have vertigo or do not like heights, the climb may not be for you.