Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Florida’s Treasure Coast

With Florida’s coastline deeply walled by a skyline of condominiums, the landmark Ocean Grill in Vero Beach is a prominent exception, celebrating its 70th anniversary anchored into the beachside dunes overlooking the ocean. Built in 1941 by the legendary Waldo Sexton, the popular seafood venue is still owned by the Sexton family. And although located 60 minutes north of Worth Avenue, the Ocean Grill and the Sexton family’s other nearby properties harbor the largest known collection of Addison Mizner artifacts salvaged from Palm Beach’s most extraordinary demolished mansions.
Florida’s Treasure Coast: Getting Away From It All
By Augustus Mayhew

Fall is in the air with temperatures finally dropping below 90 as tables at Michael McCarty’s begin to fill and another season rolls out of nonstop bridge games and tee times. In pursuit of my ongoing search for the Old Florida spirit, this past weekend I motored overland along the Treasure Coast from Hobe Sound to Vero Beach somewhere south of the Bermuda Triangle and north of Margaritaville making several stops on picturesque Indian River Drive.

Along the way, I pulled into what felt like scenes from the film Baghdad Café at Harry and the Natives in Hobe Sound where Harry McArthur has transformed his parent’s roadside 1940's-styled cabins and eatery into an offbeat local happening. Then, I found former Palm Beach Day School student, department store scion, and conch pioneer Frederic M. Ayres III still preserving Florida’s island charm at Conchy Joe’s and the former Frances Langford Outrigger Resort.

Next, between these spots and outside of the Palm Beach spotlight, Rufus and Melynda Wakeman have resurrected the 7-acre River Palm fish camp. Mr. Wakeman’s mother Nancy “Trink” Deere Wakeman was a Palm Beach presence for decades; his grandfather Dwight Deere Wiman was the legendary Broadway producer and great grandson of the legendary Illinois plow manufacturer John Deere.
An Indian River scene at River Palm Cottages & Fish Camp in Jensen Beach, owned by former Palm Beacher and world-class fisherman Rufus Wakeman. Simply sensational!
Add to this unexpected mix, the trash cash-and-splash Huizenga family, think Waste Management, Miami Dolphins, Pier 66, Rybovich Boatyard, Boca Resort and Club, etc., who reportedly paid $29 million for the late entertainer Frances Langford’s 57-acre estate and marina in sleepy Jensen Beach where a cluster of condominiums are now moored along the riverfront adjacent to Ayres’ Outrigger property. Further north in Vero Beach, a brief stop at the landmark Ocean Grill built by the legendary Waldo Sexton and operated since 1965 by the Replogle family.

But before heading up to the Treasure Coast, here is what may be a last-look at the Stambaugh Cottage one of last vestiges of Palm Beach’s pioneer history when it was a far less cosmopolitan destination.

Stambaugh cottage
North Lake Way, Palm Beach
On Palm Beach last week the century-old Stambaugh Cottage was barged off the island onto a platform now docked on the waterway’s west side until its final resting place can be determined, among the possibilities being floated are Peanut Island, Lake Worth, Phipps Park, and Yesteryear Village.
For decades the Stambaugh family’s pioneer homestead was utilized as a caretaker’s cottage by the Palm Beach Country Club where it was spared demolition but was accessorized with inappropriate additions that camouflaged its hidden vernacular construction. What the cottage lacks in Beaux Arts grandeur, most certainly not the work of a “master architect” as the locals refer to their favored designers, it does represent the homestead of one of the area’s oldest Lake Worth settlers.

Palm Beach has always preferred to have its architectural history told by showplaces framed by ficus hedges that were built as secondary residences for its seasonal residents rather than landmarks designated solely for an individual’s local historical contribution. After all everyone in Palm Beach is somebody somewhere. Considering the indifference of the Town Council and the Preservation Foundation, the Stambaugh family’s last-minute effort is commendable.
Pat Burdette heads up the Orlando-based Modern Movers that orchestrated the move for the Stambaugh family. During the past two decades more than 500 houses have been demolished on Palm Beach.
But enough about the preservation business, NYSD has reserved a first-class seat aboard the Seahorse Express for your virtual jaunt to Florida’s Treasure Coast where the state’s storied past of cottages, camps, mermaids, conch shells, seahorses, and starfish is still a part of its present-day landscape. When I asked at Conchy Joe’s the who-what-when of the dreamlike mural pictured above, the response was “ Dunno, musta been here since day one.”
Harry & the Natives http://harryandthenatives.com
11910 SE Federal Highway, Hobe Sound

Once you’ve dropped in on Nat Reed over at the Jupiter Island Club, said hello to Celine, prayed with Barbara Bush, and given Tiger a few pointers on his game, you’re probably ready to hang with more of the locals before heading back for Pilates or trying on shoes in Palm Beach. Harry & the Natives may be just the place. How to find Harry & the Natives? "Ya know, there ain't no place like this place anywhere near this place, so this must be the place," according to Harry’s web site.
After Harry McArthur’s father died, he returned home to Hobe Sound, reopening his family’s enterprise called The Farm at the intersection of Bridge Road and Dixie Highway as Harry & the Natives. Much of the McArthur family’s efforts have gone into helping the local community, Natives Helping Natives, Inc., a 501(C)3, distributes funds to help local youth groups.
On stage at Harry & the Natives, the Rowdy Micks added some flavor to Saturday night’s Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day Bash. By 6 pm, the parking lot was rapidly filling.
Today’s Harry & the Natives has made some colorful additions since it was built in 1941 as The Cypress Cabins and Restaurant, including this attached mural depicting South Beach’s Ocean Drive.
A garden element offers a photo op. The barbecue grill is under the hood of this classic Ford.
In case you need to wait for a table.
The restaurant’s walls feature local artisans, including “Winds of War,” a touch of suburban surrealism by graphic artist Michael Scott whose work has also been shown at the nearby Hobe Sound venue of the Midtown Payson Galleries owned by John Whitney Payson.
All that remains of a fragment from Old Stuart.
Stuart’s downtown has undergone a decorative makeover.
Once bare walls are now artistic canvases.
“Abundance” is the downtown’s centerpiece. Small downtown boutiques flourish without a Starbucks.
The Jensen Arch was the original city line between Stuart and Jensen Beach. While many Florida towns developed during the 1920s had these entrance features, most have been lost to hurricanes.
Dolphin Bar & Shrimp House http://www.dolphinbar.com/
(formerly Frances Langford’s Outrigger Restaurant & Resort)
1401 NE Indian River Drive, Jensen Beach

Following their 1955 marriage, entertainer Frances Langford and outboard engine magnate Ralph Evinrude acquired a 57-acre waterfront parcel in Jensen Beach where they built their estate and on an adjacent marina property built the Outrigger Restaurant and Resort The waterfront restaurant sold to Fred Ayres who also owned the nearby Conchy Joe’s. After Langford’s death in 2005, the H. Wayne Huizenga family reportedly paid $29 million for the marina and more than 50-acre estate. Here are some scenes from the original Outrigger and today’s Dolphin Bar & Shrimp House.
Frances Langford became known for “I’m in the Mood for Love.”
Langford went from singing show tunes to serving up Singapore Slings, albeit with her own 50+ acre estate and 110-foot yacht.
The restaurant features several walls that chronicle Langford’s show business career.
Some of the Outrigger’s Polynesian design remains.
A namesake mosaic Dolphin embedded in the restaurant’s front wall.
The Dolphin’s main dining area has kept the original high-pitched ceilings and wooden floors.
Found at the entrance to The Dolphin, a replica of a world-record dolphin caught by Rufus Wakeman. A native Floridian with over 30 years of experience tackling fish in South Florida, Mr. Wakeman has held nine world records and guided clients to three world records. His fish camp is a short drive north of The Dolphin.
River Palm Cottages & Fish Camp www.riverpalmcottages.com
2325 NE Indian River Drive, Jensen Beach
A few years ago River Palm was a condemned property that might have been converted into another condominium project until Rufus and Melynda Wakeman bought it and transformed it into a laidback Old Florida tropical oasis. With 23 Key West-style cottages set on more than 7 acres, River Palm features a postcard setting enhanced by the recent addition of an authentic Seminole chickee built by local Native Americans. The grounds also provide a place for Melynda Wakeman to cultivate the plant stocks she distributes as medicinal herbs through the Amazon Herb Co. In addition to his Hot Tuna Charters Rufus Wakeman leads tours to the Amazon for peacock bass fishing. Most recently, the Wakemans finished building a 20,000 + sq.-ft. certified-green waterfront house near their fish camp.
A half-century of hurricanes and these coconut palms only become more interesting.
Looking east towards the river, a towering oak makes for a perfect shade.
The CBS-built cottages are painted in a spectrum of Florida pastel colors.
Gone bananas! A cluster of artful birdhouses.
The chickee hut was set up for a wedding and when the manager said it was set for 4:00 pm I thought I would come back and take some photos with the Indian River in the background.
The groom at 3:50, ten minutes before he says his
“I do.”
Minutes before the wedding was to take place, guests still seem to expect the ceremony will take place.
4:10 and I wonder what happened to the 4 o’clock wedding as guests began photographing themselves.
4:25 and no wedding. Guests and the groom are smiling and out of their seats, it is Florida, as it appears no one knows where the official is who was to marry the couple and when/if he will show. I follow a woman out to the parking lot who explains that she is a notary and the groom asked her to officiate. Unfortunately, she needs to check online to see if she can legally perform the wedding because she is unsure of her notary status. “Do they have Wi-Fi?” she asked me. I left to the sounds of Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney, as the party may have just gotten started.
I spotted this bird life between the River Palm and Conchy Joe’s.
Conchy Joe’s Seafood http://www.conchyjoes.com
3945 NE Indian River Drive, Jensen Beach

In December 1979 Fred Ayres opened Conchy Joe’s, his first restaurant venture, at 651 South Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach where the casual Bahamian Island atmosphere and red tablecloths attracted the “ex-Peter Dinkels crowd from Palm Beach.” By 1982 he had sold the venue to Palm Beacher Murray Goodman who proceeded to build the monolithic 960,000-sq.-ft. Phillips Point office complex while Ayres transplanted his Conch Island brand to Jensen Beach where three decades later it has become an institution. Scion of the Midwest L. S. Ayres & Company department store family, “That Ayres Look,” Ayres was a resident of Delray Beach before moving to the Treasure Coast. The Ayres department stores were known as the first to offer an Economy Basement. In 1961 a subsidiary, Ayr-Way Discount stores opened, growing to a chain of 40 stores before being acquired by Dayton Hudson in 1981 and renamed Target while the main stores later became part of the Macy’s chain.
Four years after opening his first restaurant venture in West Palm Beach, Fred Ayres moved his “Royal Order of Conch” to a onetime fish camp and roadhouse in Jensen Beach.
A designated Treasure Coast Landmark credited for “pioneering Bahamian recipes and resources,” Conchy Joe’s is known for its conch chowder, stone crabs, rum punches, and its low-maintenance landscape along Indian River Drive.
Here is the view you don’t see from the street. In 1987 Conchy Joe’s added the area’s earliest and one of the largest Seminole Indian Chickee Huts built by local Native Americans.
During the 1930s Conchy Joe’s was known as Seymour’s Dine and Dance, the place to be during Prohibition. According to local legend, ships offloaded Bahamian rum on the waterfront docks behind the popular spot that was also a fish camp run by Lucy and Seymour Gideon, a county commissioner.
An Old Florida landscape of what appears to be Indian River Drive graces the center of the original lounge’s bar.
“Lost in paradise. Don’t send help!” reads the gift shop T-shirts.
The cathedral ceiling in the main dining room is one of my favorite dining spots. Having been there several times during thunderstorms I cannot recall ever seeing a leak, always marvel at the sheer simplicity of the functional form. Old Florida at its best!
The mounted sailfish is attached high atop a cross beam.
A touch of whimsy.
In the bar area, a memorable fishing citation awarded to Mr. Ayres’ father who was a resident of Gulf Stream for many years.
With stone crab season to begin in October, if you can’t make it to Joe’s on South Beach, Conchy Joe’s may be an alternative.
The raw bar dining area with the mermaid mural in the background.
Scenes along Indian River Drive
Towd Point, 4304 Indian River Drive. An eclectic whimsical cottage along the riverfront.
3422 Indian River Drive.
11 Maple Street. One of Florida’s most acclaimed restaurants,11 Maple Street is located a block or two off Indian River Drive.
Mary Theroux at Mary’s Gourmet Kitchen. “Long story,” said Mary when I asked her why she was MIA for so long. Indeed, she had left her location for a new one, only to have that fall through while a barbecue place had already taken over her old location. So, when that failed, she moved back, albeit now surrounded by thatch-roofed outside tables. “We are still a gourmet kitchen not a tiki grill,” she assured.
Yesterday’s Florida along Indian River Drive. Postcard courtesy of Edenlawn Plantation.
Ocean Grill www.ocean-grill.com
1050 Sexton Plaza, Vero Beach
The Ocean Grill’s spectacular collection of Mizner artifacts from El Mirasol, La Fontana, El Mirasol, Casa Florencia, and Playa Riente includes this fireplace mantle and fixtures.
A Renaissance-styled polychrome-and-gilded Vargueno chest can be found just to the right of the front entrance.
To the left of the entrance, the grill work is from the Great Hall at Playa Riente.
Great Hall, Playa Riente. Palm Beach. Photo courtesy of Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Yes, all roads must lead back to Palm Beach. These original Mizner-designed Everglades Club dining room chairs are now at the Ocean Grill acquired by Waldo Sexton from the club more than fifty years ago.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.
Click here for NYSD Contents