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/ 

They paved Banyan Street and put up a Parking Lot

If you have visited downtown West Palm Beach, Florida to enjoy the Green Market, have dinner or shop, you probably have parked in the Banyan Street garage, which is on

Banyan Street

Banyan Street as it appears in 2011

the south side of Banyan Street from Olive Avenue to Narcissus Street. It’s a rather nondescript three-story building built in the 1970s, but in the early 20th century, it was the hot spot of West Palm Beach.

Most famous of all the businesses that were located on this block was George Zapf’s Seminole Hotel, first built in 1894 at the corner of Banyan and Narcissus. The Zapf family had bottling businesses in many Florida cities including Miami, Jacksonville and West Palm Beach. He was an alderman in the city, and certainly was one of the real characters in early West Palm Beach.

George Zapf

George Zapf at his home – he is second from the left

The original wood structure burned in the Great Fires of 1896. First, on January 2, 1896 a fire started from an overheated stove in Nicoli and Puckett’s “Midway Plaisance Saloon and Restaurant” and the entire Banyan block was burned. Then on February 20, 1896, the rest of Narcissus Street burned to the south when an oil lamp overturned in a tailor’s shop. Zapf immediately had the hotel rebuilt, and the new Seminole Hotel was then constructed of brick as a “fireproof” hotel.

The Seminole Hotel

The Seminole Hotel in about 1900

The Seminole Hotel’s street level shops offered many services and businesses such as a lunch room, a tailor and barber shop, billiards, several saloons, cigars and candy, clothing and a drug store. The rest of the Banyan block had restaurants, offices, a grocery store, a bottling works and a Chinese laundry. At the corner of Narcissus and Clematis was the Palms Hotel, where the original Anthony Brothers store was located.

Seminole Hotel

Ad from The Tropical Sun for the Seminole Hotel

Of course, it was the saloons on Banyan Street that were the big draw, being the only place in West Palm Beach that served liquor. Many Palm Beachers also came across the bridge to enjoy late night drinking on Banyan. Some even called the street “Whiskey Street” and it drew the ire of Carrie Nation, the crusading leader of the Woman’s Temperance Movement, who showed up with her hatchet to clean up the place. The map of the entire block exactly as it appeared in 1903 is part of the Sanborn Fire Map series for West Palm Beach. These maps were produced to estimate fire insurance rates. Buildings in yellow were wood frame construction, and buildings in red were brick or brick veneer. The types of businesses are noted on the map. Several different years are available online at the University of Florida library (http://ufdc.ufl.edu/?c=SANBORN) and the maps provide a glimpse of how the city grew from 1903 through 1920.

Banyan Street

Banyan Street as it appeared in 1903

Zapf eventually sold the hotel, and it was renamed the Lake Park Hotel. It was razed sometime before 1950, but the exact date of the razing was not indicated in Palm Beach Post articles on the hotel.

So next time you park in the Banyan Street garage, think of the people who shopped in the stores, imbibed in some spirits or stayed in the hotel and enjoyed the good times of days past. Perhaps their spirits still walk Banyan Street.

This article was researched through the Palm Beach Post Historic archives and the Photographic Collection of the Florida Archives.

Let there be light…and there was light!

Today as I watched the Riviera Beach FPL power plant implosion, I wondered when electricity first came to Palm Beach County. Electricity was a marvel in the late 1800s, and really centered around one thing – lights! The ability to light streets and provide light in homes and businesses was not only convenient, but much safer than lanterns, candles and gas light, all sources of combustion and fire in the mostly wooden structures of the time.

My search began in old issues of The Tropical Sun, the area’s first newspaper. The earliest articles first mentioned electricity as part of the Royal Poinciana Hotel in Palm Beach. The hotel was opened in 1893, and it was planned from the beginning to have electricity. They had their own power plant on the island to provide for the hotel’s needs.

Article on Gas Lights in Boynton, 1899

Obviously, others in the county wanted power too. Many streets and homes around the nation had been lit for years with “gas light”, an intensely bright light that is produced with acetylene gas. Such “light” even was found in the fledgling Boynton at the Boynton Hotel as early as 1899, and The Tropical Sun proclaimed gas light as the “greatest of all modern inventions.”

Notice in the Tropical Sun for power plant bids

The first idea for electricity in the city was to simply run electric wires across Lake Worth from the power plant at the Royal Poinciana over to West Palm Beach. That did not happen, so in 1902 the City of West Palm Beach took out an ad in The Tropical Sun for a new electric power plant. The West Palm Beach Light and Power Company was formed, with A.R. Beaujohn in charge. I was not able to find a paper online with the exact date that the power plant was activated, but I do know that the franchise for the plant was won by none other than Joe Jefferson, one of the most famous actors of the 19th century. He was best known for portraying “Rip Van Winkle” on the stage. Mr. Jefferson was a fixture in Palm Beach, and did much to develop downtown West Palm Beach. He owned six houses in West Palm Beach, along with the Jefferson Hotel, and several stores. Reportedly he uttered the words “Let there be light” when the switch was flipped on the plant and electric began to flow in West Palm Beach.

Through the years, other towns and cities began to generate electricity, first through the small independent types of plants such as West Palm Beach had. For example, electricity came to downtown Boynton in the early 1920s, being wired by G. C. Meredith. As the land boom

Early FPL Plant

approached, American Power & Light began to purchase many of these independent plants and consolidate them under the Florida Power & Light name, which began in 1925. The first large scale plants were at Fort Lauderdale and Sanford. Consolidation continued, but a few cities remained as independent power producers; in Palm Beach County only Lake Worth has its own municipal power plant.

In some ways, I was sad to see those old smokestacks go down today. They were such a part of the landscape and a real landmark. I remember driving from Lake Worth back to Jupiter along Flagler Drive and US 1 as a child, and the power plant was always the point where Flagler ended and you had to get on US 1. I know many considered the smokestacks an “eyesore,” but it is another element of our landscape forever lost to history.

FPL Plant Implosion, Riviera Beach, June 19, 2011

This article was researched through The Tropical Sun and Palm Beach Post historic archives, and Pioneers in Paradise by Jan Tuckwood and Eliot Kleinberg.

How about a drive to Cuba – It was possible in the 1950s

Now more than 50 years after Fidel Castro’s takeover of Cuba, it remains a mysterious, forbidden and foreign place. Few of us can picture a time when Cuba was a friendly neighbor of the United States, and a place for a quick weekend getaway. When Flagler’s train reached Key West in 1912, some of the trains were loaded onto 300 foot long barges to continue on to Havana for gambling and exotic rum drinks, especially after Prohibition took hold in 1920.

Cover of Havana Ferry Folder

Even up to the late 1950s though, a car ferry service ran from Key West, with a connection for freight in West Palm Beach (see this web page for a great history on freight to and from Cuba from the Port of Palm Beach – http://www.portofpalmbeach.com/photo-gallery/port-rail-history.php). So you could saunter down to Key West in your car, drive to Stock Island and catch the ferry, which was operated by the West India Fruit and Steamship Company.

A map of the ferry route

The ferry left Key West Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11:00AM. The S.S. Havana could accommodate 500 passengers and 125 cars. Arrival in Havana was at 6:00 PM, so the crossing took about 7 hours. The fare was $13.50 one way, or $26.00 round trip (about $190.00 in 2010 dollars). The ship then left Havana for the trip back to Key West at 10:00AM, so you were back in Key West at 5:00 PM.

The ship was air-conditioned and offered snack bars, lounges, a gift shop, and small day cabins. As relations with Cuba eroded in 1959 with the trade embargo emerging in 1960, the ferry service ceased and the ships were sold in 1961.

Interior view of the S.S. Havana

Could we ever see such a service again in our lifetimes? It could be possible. The Tampa Port Authority has proposed a car ferry service to Havana from Tampa. Approvals would have to gained from both U.S. and Cuban authorities, plus the logistics of taking a car to Cuba…there would be no calling AAA for a tow, and it might be a bit hard to fill out a claim form for your insurance company and list the place of accident as “Havana, Cuba.”

Still, the prospect of visiting a place essentially hidden from Floridians for more than 50 years is quite inviting.

Images courtesy of the website www.timetableimages.com,  from the collection of Björn Larsson.

The Last Cows of Boynton

I guess there has to be a last of everything, and in Boynton’s proud dairy history, these are indeed the last. The last cows of Boynton are in their 12 acre pasture, tucked between a gas station, a development and Knuth Road. You may have driven past them on Boynton Beach Boulevard. I often

cow

A cow in Boynton’s last pasture

take kids there to feed the cows carrots, so they can see what a real cow looks like. One evening we were lucky enough to meet Mrs. Winchester, who came by to check on them. There was a nostalgic gaze on her face as she told me of the days when thousands of cows grazed across Boynton’s prairies. She laughed as she told me her first name – Elsie! A perfect name for a dairyman’s wife.

These last cows hold the secret of all those that came before them. Boynton’s flat drained sandy and muck soils were ideal for cattle grazing, and in the 1920s,  the Model Land Company encouraged people to enter the dairying business.  The first large scale dairy had some very lucky cows, who enjoyed an ocean view. In 1920, Ward Miller decided that the lands that today make up Briny Breezes would make a fine dairy. Being near the ocean, diseases brought by ticks would be less of a problem. In 1923, he built the Shore Acres Dairy, along with owning the Miller-Jordan Dairy on Federal Highway, while W.S. Shepard had the Royal Palm Dairy.

Another large dairy in the early days of Boynton dairying was Bertana Farms, owned by A.E Parker and located on the Dixie Highway. He was also part owner of the Alfar Creamery in West Palm Beach, and a former city manager of West Palm Beach; much of the milk from Boynton was processed through the Alfar Creamery. Harry Benson and E.L. Winchester also had their dairys on the eastern side of Boynton.

As land along the ocean and the Dixie highway became more valuable, dairies began to pop up along the Military Trail, Lawrence Road and what would eventually become Congress Avenue (Congress was not put through Boynton until 1965). One of earliest and most famous dairy families of Boynton were the Weavers. Their dairy was located along the Military Trail, where the Cypress Creek Golf Club is today. M.A. Weaver served as mayor of Boynton for many years, and their house still stands in Lake Boynton Estates. His sons had land north and south of Boynton Beach Boulevard on Military Trail, all of which was eventually sold for developments and shopping. Stanley Weaver was also very much involved in Boynton, serving as mayor in the 1950s and serving longer than anyone else ever has on the Lake Worth Drainage District Board. The Boynton Canal is now named in his honor.

Many other families also entered the dairy business. The Melear family, from Alabama, had many dairies in Palm Beach County. In a June 25, 1955 article from the Palm Beach Post Historical Archives,  the eight brothers and one sister had over 2,200 head of cattle and 2,800 acres of land. All of the Melear siblings settled in Palm Beach County, except one who stayed on in Hawaii after World War I. Carlton Melear had his place at Hypoluxo Road and Congress Avenue. At the time it was built, there was no Congress Avenue, so when the road was put through in 1965, two cattle paths were built under

Melear

Carlton Melear

the road so the cows could get to the milking barn on the west side of Congress without disturbing traffic (see earlier post on my memory of the cows on Congress here). That property today is The Meadows development, including the Meadows Square Plaza, where the Melears’s house once stood.  Tyler Melear had his dairy on Lawrence Road north of what today is Gateway, C.B. Melear was on Old Boynton, Bill Melear and Charlie Melear were on Boynton West Road (today’s Boynton Beach Boulevard) and operated the Learwood dairy, and Lester Melear was on Lantana Road west of the Turnpike. A sister was even in the business. Nonnie Melear White and her husband Louis White were also on Boynton West road. The Melears milk was distributed through the McArthur, Alfar and Boutwell Dairies.

The 1945 Florida Census for Boynton Beach listed several people with the profession of “dairyman” – C.F. Knuth and his son Orville and his Few Acres Dairy at Lawrence and Old Boynton, A.E. Allen at the Eldorado Dairy, the Winchesters (who also raised pineapple), the Williamson and Goodman Dairy, the Goodwin Dairy, Harry Benson’s Gulf Stream Dairy, Albert Teele, who ran a “milk counter” in the Northwood neighborhood of West Palm Beach, B.L. Tuck on Lawrence Road, and Herbert Keatts and Grover Bell, who had their dairies on the Military Trail.

Walter Goolsby and his son Theodore ran Goolsby and Son Dairy along the Boynton Canal and Lawrence Road. They had 20 acres on the west side of Lawrence (where the Artesa development is today) and a hundred acres on the east side of Lawrence, which actually was originally platted in 1927 as the “West Boynton” subdivision. They bought both pieces of land at tax sales. They were featured in

Five Legged Calf at Goolsby's

Five Legged Calf at Goolsby’s

the Palm Beach Post in 1960 when a five-legged calf was born at the dairy. The Goolsby children sold the West Boynton subdivision portion in 1977, and the developer simply took the original 1927 plat and sold lots. These are the avenues today called Aladdin, Barkis, Coelebs, Dorit and Edgar.

As time went by, the land was becoming more valuable and the profit margin in the dairy business was razor thin. The inflation pressures and oil crisis of the early 1970s were the last blows to both the Weaver dairy in Boynton and the Melear dairy on Congress. Both were closed by 1973. Many of the cow herds were moved to the Okeechobee area to larger operations. Some cows remained across from the Boynton Beach Mall until about 2005, when the land was sold for the Boynton Commons shopping center.

So few today are even aware that Boynton Beach played such a large role in dairy production in South Florida. I miss seeing the cows across from the Boynton Mall; it somehow allowed me to believe that I

cow

One of the last cows of Boynton

still lived “in the country.” I know that very soon the last ones will too be gone, bringing a whimpering end to almost 100 years of dairying history in Boynton. Take a ride out and visit them while they are still there.

This story was researched through the Palm Beach Post Historic Archives, the 1945 Florida Census,  and a history written by B.W. White, courtesy of the Boynton Beach City Library and Janet DeVries, archivist.

 

Got Milk? Alfar Creamery made sure West Palm Beach did

Sometimes, life is just weird. I did my research for this blog last night, I sat down to write at 8:00 PM, flipped on the History Channel for Modern Marvels – and the whole show was about milk. We all pick up gallons or half-gallons of milk at our local supermarkets, not really knowing where the milk was produced, or how old it is. That wasn’t true of West Palm Beach back in the 1920s, when milk had to be delivered fresh each day. There was quite a bit of demand for milk and milk products such as butter, ice cream, sour cream and cream, and a growing city needed a dairy that could meet those needs. Alf R. Nielsen, a native Swede, who had been president of the Palm Beach Creamery Company, founded the Alfar Creamery Company in 1930. A dairy plant was built at 456 Flamingo Drive at the cost of $75,000,

Alfar Creamery Logo

Alfar Creamery Logo

and opened with great fanfare and a party til midnight on November 20, 1930. A.E. Parker, the former city manager of West Palm Beach was vice-president and was also president of Bertana Farms. He was also Major Boynton’s son-in-law and managed the Boynton Hotel for many years. Bertana Farms was a combination of a part of his first name “Bert” and “Ana”, his wife.

They bought their milk from the big dairy producers of the day, the famous Pennock Plantation in Jupiter with its Jersey cows (specializing in unpasteurized milk), the Bertana and Winchester dairies in Boynton, and the Clark Dairy in Kelsey City (today’s Lake Park). The white trucks of the Alfar Creamery delivered milk daily all over West Palm Beach, packed in ice to keep it fresh in the heat.

Alfar Box

Alfar Ice Cream

Service was extended to Belle Glade in 1934 with the opening of the western plant. Alfar also was famous for its ice cream in a variety of flavors, even Palm Beach!

Alfar also sponsored bowling teams and kid’s baseball teams, so they were a real supporter of the local community. The Alfar logo was everywhere to be seen, but probably no more iconically than on “The Hut”, the famous lakeside drive-in that was in West Palm Beach.

The Hut

The Hut Drive-in – West Palm Beach

Alfar provided all the dairy products for the milk shakes and malts, and the refrigeration equipment and neon signs as for this icon of West Palm Beach. Alfar also sold many thousands of the famous “Dixie

Dixie Cup

Collector Dixie Cup lid with Bob Hope

Cups” with ice cream, and the old lids are highly sought by collectors.

As time went on, the local dairy business became more difficult as consumers began buying milk at supermarkets. I can remember as a kid that the milkman still did stop by (McArthur Dairy) and would sell milk, ice cream and other dairy products and I loved it when my mom bought things from the milkman, but she said it was more expensive than the store.

In 1963, Alfar merged with the Boutwell Dairy in Lake Worth. The Boutwell Dairy was founded by William Boutwell, who had invented the process that produced half and half. At its peak, the Boutwell dairy had more than a 1,000 Guernseys at his dairy located at Congress and Forest Hill Boulevard (then called Selby Road). After the merger, products were sold as Alfar-Boutwell. Then in 1968, the T.G. Lee Dairy in Orlando bought the Alfar-Boutwell Creamery, and the Alfar name dissappeared from the West Palm Beach area. In the continuing mergers, Dean Foods bought the T.G. Lee brand. By the end of the 1970s, all of the dairies in eastern Palm Beach County had closed as the land had become too valuable for dairy farming.

So what happened to the Alfar plant? Did the property become housing or a shopping center? Nope. In some miracle, the property is still a dairy distribution plant and serves as the headquarters of McArthur Dairy (also owned by Dean Foods).  It is still located at the same address on Flamingo Road along the Florida East Coast railroad.
Information for this article was researched through the historical archives of the Palm Beach Post.

McArthur Dairy

McArthur Dairy Headquarters

Proctor’s Restaurant – Best fried fish in the world!

I was reading some of the comments over at http://www.historicpalmbeach.com/ about things people remember and loved about growing up in West Palm Beach. One restaurant that got more mention than any place else was Proctor’s Restaurant. It was the type of restaurant which is becoming so rare – family run, inexpensive and always good.

Proctor’s is the story of two families – there really was a Proctor at Proctor’s. The restaurant opened in 1947 on Dixie Highway just north of Belvedere Road. H.D. Proctor and his son H.D. Proctor Jr. ran the restaurant that featured seafood fare. Their most famous was the “All the fish you can eat” meal of golden fried fish fillets. In August of 1964, the Proctors sold the restaurant to a couple from Europe, Charles and Gertrude “Trudy” Seigner. According to the August 18, 1964 article in the Palm Beach Post, the Siegners paid $50,000 for the business and leased the building from the Proctors. At some point in the late 1960s or early 1970s, the restaurant moved about 100 yards to the south and to the opposite side of the street. I don’t know if this was an existing building or one they had built. Then, in 1975, they moved for the final time to an old A&P grocery store located across the street. It added 50% more serving space and a larger parking lot.

Proctor’s Original Restaurant

Proctor’s menu was so simple – a good selection of seafood entrees, both fried and boiled, along with a few steaks and chops, and fried chicken made fresh to order. When you ordered the chicken, you were told it would be a 20 minute wait. They also had daily specials such as pot roast on Mondays or corned beef and cabbage on Thursdays. This was real old school fare! The all-you-can-eat fish was delicious – served with french fries and a cole slaw that was finely chopped and delightfully sweet-and-sour. If everyone at the table ordered fish, your meal was typically served within 5 minutes! If your appetite was not huge, you could order the 2-piece meal and save a few dollars. My cousin told me that he was thrown out of Proctor’s more than once as he and his teenage buddies would get the “all-you-can-eat” and just keep eating…and eating, until they were asked to leave.

The “line” was always something to be dealt with, especially in the season from December through April. It started to form around 5 PM, and would begin to taper off around 7 PM. As in the postcard above, the line was typically around the building, but it was worth the wait. As you got closer to the door, you would get a number. The number set was used so much that they were all taped over on the top where they fit on the number stand. Proctor’s also had a busy take-out window. They closed during the month of September for vacation, and we would count the days until they reopened again.

Trudy was typically out front seating parties at tables, while her mother was at the cash register well into her 80s. Charles was in the kitchen, making sure the high-quality was maintained. The waitresses stayed for many years and the staff all around was very stable – it was just a great place to work.

They also had wonderful homemade desserts such as “Mississippi Mud” or the “Better than Sex” cake – who could resist that? The Seigners were also animal lovers – they fed and cared for a feral cat colony, even buying an old house at the back of the property so that the cats would have shelter from the weather. There was always a red collection box at the cash register for the Animal Rescue League.

The restaurant closed in 2006 when the property was sold to a spa operator. I have often wondered why they did not sell the business itself, but all good things must come to an end. The best approximation to their fish dinner is at John G’s on Lake Worth Beach. It’s close, but not exact.

If you have any more details or memories about Proctor’s, please leave them in the comments.