Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Palm Beach’s Underwater World

Once the railway tracks were removed by c. 1905 from the 1,000-foot Breakers pier, Palm Beachers were able to “walk on water” on this oversea promenade.
Palm Beach’s Underwater World
By Augustus Mayhew

For some, Palm Beach’s attraction revolves around its high-flying social network. For others, the barrier island’s sense of place and allure are found deep beneath the surrounding sea, days spent with nothing more than swim fins, snorkels, and aqua lungs. With the Bahamas just a short leap and legendary shipwrecks submerged yards off the coast, exploring Palm Beach’s underwater canyons and creatures can be almost as satisfyingly remote as life on a South Pacific atoll.
At Figulus, the legendary shoreline is where cocoanuts first washed ashore and, in an often told story, thus gave the island its name, Palm Beach. During the early 1890s, the New York Times reported the beach was “… covered in shells.” Imagine.
It seems like yesterday that shark fishing and alligator hunting were two of Palm Beach’s prime attractions.
Alligator Joe’s was a must-visit for every guest at the Royal Poinciana Hotel. Above Joe Warren, who had alligator farms near other Flagler venues in St. Augustine and Miami, tends to his herd of Palm Beach reptiles.
Originally, The Breakers Pier extended 1,000 feet and was a popular fishing locale. The Sailfish Club was organized at The Breakers in 1914, keeping its official scales at the pier until it moved to Whitehall before it finally settled in its present North Lake Way location. Today, the reef off The Breakers is a popular spot for deep-sea divers.
Here is a glimpse of Palm Beach’s marine life and art from several different perspectives.

Visa Required: Judy Schrafft’s undersea world

A resident of Palm Beach’s deep end for many years, native New Yorker Judy Schrafft experienced a life-changing event in 1970 when she took a local scuba diving class. After acquiring her gills amidst the various “Palm Beach Wrecks” scattered along the island’s coastline, Judy was soon on an odyssey that consumed the next several decades of her life, taking her from the Great Barrier Reef’s sting rays and sharks to discovering the marvels of India’s Eden, the Andaman Islands. In 1983, she became a member of New York’s Explorer’s Club. Following four sanctioned scientific expeditions with the group, Schrafft was tapped as a Fellow in the highly-regarded organization in 1987.

As of last week, plans for a spring trip to the Sudan have apparently been tabled; a trek to Iran may still be in the works. While she still concentrates on the same local environmental and animal concerns, she was a founder of the Coral Reef Society and a board member of the Palm Beach Zoo and the Animal Rescue League, these days Judy enjoys being on island time, more likely making sure her passport is updated rather than checking her social calendar.
Judy Schrafft’s portrait captures her passion for underwater adventure as well as the memory of her prized dogs, Duffy and Mopsy. The large painting in a Magic Realism style by artist Juan Ripoll, “I think he may be in Guatemala now,” is installed over her bed.
Her recently published book Visa Required provides a more complete map of the places and the people of the past 40 years of her life while including her travel essays from two previous collections, Places (1989) and Other Places (1999). Only recently Schrafft realized she had journeyed to nearly 100 countries, most between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, in pursuit of “… the strange, the new, and the inaccessible… lost cultures.” Canoes, carts, mules, camels, elephants and catamarans have taken her from Palau’s Jellyfish Lake to Cabo Verde, Libya, Yemen and Grande Comoro. Along with her discoveries and observations, Schrafft also touches on the ongoing politics, often as anarchic as the undersea world where she feels at home. With each chapter, she includes her favorite quotes about the virtues of traveling into the unknown. Judy’s book was published locally by Palm Beach Editorial Services, headed by John Nelander.

“I love to sail forbidden seas and land on barbarous coasts.” Schrafft credits Herman Melville, but the quote might just as well have been her own words.
When Judy isn’t decked out in a wetsuit, she can usually be found making sure her current companions, Gatsby and Meghan, are always in the picture.
At the front door, guests are warned just how ferocious Gatsby and Meghan can be.
Once inside, Gatsby and Meghan make everyone feel welcome.
As of last week, Judy said she will have to wait until spring to jump back into the pool; at least, without a wetsuit. A North Lake Way resident for many years, after her husband George Schrafft died, she moved from the west side of Stotesbury Park, once the lakeside portion of the Stotesbury’s El Mirasol estate, one block east to Crescent Drive. “We believe this house was first built for Robert E. Rich Sr., from the ice cream family who made a fortune when he invented non-dairy Cool Whip. After the Riches sold the house, they built a similar brick oceanfront house in the North End, just beyond Limbaugh Curve.” Many of the artworks reflect Judy’s travels; tabletop artifacts document her journeys from Egypt to Mongolia.
Judy’s collection includes pre-Columbian artifacts.
Over the kitchen breakfast table, a Schrafft’s prix fixe $1.50 menu from 1933 at 220 West 57th Street. Yum: hot gingerbread, orange biscuits, toasted crackers with gruyere cheese, and for 50 cents extra, broiled lobster.
An Obin painting from Haiti. “It’s my general painting.”
“Mary, watch your family tree,” remarks one show dog to another, noticing that she may have attracted less than AKC, in this cartoon by Zito, a popular caricature artist in Palm Beach. I wrote a feature story on Zito last year and that was how I met Judy. She called me after the article. She and her husband were great friends of Zito’s. Several months ago, I received a call from an entertainment lawyer in LA that the producers of the new Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts movie wanted to use one of Zito’s cartoon books as a prop for the film and if I knew if Zito had any family. Unfortunately, Zito died at his Palm Beach house without any known family.
A Spanish Colonial-style vargueno chest in the living room. “The harlequin painting is also by Juan Ripoll; I’ve always liked it.”
The flexible open-floor plan found in Mid-century Modern houses is perfect for casual Florida living.
“Probably my favorite portrait,” said Schrafft. “George Payne, a Madison Avenue illustrator at the time, approached me on a bus in New York about doing my portrait. And, I still have it; all by chance.”
Judy Schrafft standing in her den with “friends” from Papua New Guinea.
Councilman Bill Diamond, in his official capacity as a neighbor, Joan Fredricks, and Judy Schrafft with her pith helmet, at Wednesday night’s book signing for Visa Required at the Palm Beach Book Store on Royal Poinciana Way.
Anne C. Washburn. Candice Cohen, owner of the Palm Beach Book Store.
John Strangi and John Castagna.
Diana Holt brought along several copies of Judy’s book. Judy Schrafft with Zita Wright.
The Palm Beach Book Store specializes in Palm Beach must-reads.
Christa’s Shell Garden

For Christa Wilm, a 30-year Palm Beach resident, it was her Bavarian roots, Italian travels and archeological studies that cultivated her interest in transforming shells, stones and fossils into works of art. Whether at her Midtown Spanish-style villa or her Antiques Row shop, Christa has translated her passion into forms and functions that take shell craft to a much-more refined aesthetic dimension. Here are some scenes from Christa’s shellular universe.
The living room fireplace is expertly trimmed with shells and a mosaic seahorse centerpiece. Located on one of Midtown’s charming historic Sea Streets, Christa’s shell pieces enhance the house’s eclectic appeal.
The two alligators are attached to the sun room’s pecky cypress ceiling, making for perfect conversation pieces. The faux tortoise shell motif treatment on the French doors adds to the sense of fantasy.
With the touch of a Photoshop button, the alligator appears ready for a close-up.
The shell motif continues in the cabana in the guest house just off the pool.
A coral bouquet atop a sun room semi-circular shell shelf. The grotto fountain is at the west end of the pool.
This artful shell ensemble is on the wall in front of Christa’s Midtown Spanish-style house. Although she has recently listed her beach house, with plans perhaps to move closer to her shop, the two-story barrel tile house retains her eclectic touches. I found Christa’s shell collection through Palm Beach Realtor Linda Olsson, who has listed the house for $2.295 million, describing it as “elegant old world charm with magical gardens, glorious pool and convenient back-service alley owned by a world-renowned seashell designer …”
Christa’s South Dixie Highway shop, next door to Lars Bolander, is a not-to-be-missed collection of museum-quality shell creations, exotic volutes, augers, cones, cowries and triton’s trumpets.
At her shop, Christa is in front of her computer screen just under the left lamp, plagued at the moment with printer problems.
A striking shell crown. A decorative wall creation.
An elaborate shell-covered box.
A small shell treasure chest.
Obelisks made from the sea.
Shell creations appear to be worth losing your head over.
A palace jar covered with shells. A small shell fountain.
The mailbox at Christa’s shop.
The jewelry case is well-stoned.
Christa Wilm behind the desk at her Antique Row emporium of shell fantasies.
4515 Georgia Avenue, West Palm Beach

A Worth Avenue fixture for many years, Devonshire moved to WPB’s design-and-craft industrial area on Georgia Avenue, just around the corner from where Addison Mizner established his factory and workshops during the 1920s. I had never met the owners, Nelson Hammell and Pete Hawkins before, although they had very kind words for my NYSD real estate roulette column awhile back on their Devonshire blog. So, I thought I’d pop over and see if they had some beneath-the-sea, only-in-Palm Beach creations. As it turned out, in the small world department, Nelson said he has known Carol Joynt for many years.
A touch of Everglades meets the ocean in this original Devonshire creation on antique glass. $750.
A unique bronze merman, probably 1950s-1960s, obtained from a client on Hobe Sound.
A fiberglass alligator would seem to be a must welcome for any front entry. Crafted in a Miami studio, this playful creature is $3,800.
Several of the distinctive shell mirrors were custom-made for Devonshire.
A colorful aquatic cabinet painted by a local artisan, Allan Petrocevich, maybe 20-30 years ago, according to Nelson.
An ensemble of shell cornucopias and bouquets, custom designed for Devonshire.
Although not part of my marine theme, I am endlessly fascinated by birdhouse architecture and marvel at bird’s nests, built without approved working drawings. Above, a Romanian birdhouse that Pete and Nelson found in London.
FS Henemader Antiques
316 South County Road, Palm Beach

Along with an eclectic array of Anglo-Indian antique and decorative items with a tropical flair, Rick and Holly Henemader have amassed a signature collection of coral and marine motif artifacts. Located between two landmarks, Hamburger Heaven and C. Orrico’s Lilly Pulitzer Premiere Shop, FS Henemader maintains an online catalog.
A large coral centerpiece ($2,400) stands in front of a painting of a colorful Murex seashell by artist Lee Reynolds ($2,450).
What more comforting than an octopus pillow?
A pair of must-have seahorses.
A one-of-a-kind metal work for that sea garden wall.
A large fiberglass nautilus.
A decorative shell treasure chest.
The one that didn’t get away.
The following artifact is from the pb BOYS CLUB shop on South County Road, a reminder of more than 40 years ago when surfing was first banned in Palm Beach, leading to the arrest of surfers. After lengthy litigation, surfing was allowed, albeit in restricted areas.
A walk beneath the sea
The entrance to the Gioconda and Joseph King Library at The Four Arts is paved with timeless fossilized coral, most likely quarried 80 years ago from the Florida Keys.
The Beach Barnacle Book is a mixed-media work, part of the collection found at The Gioconda and Joseph King Library, The Society of the Four Arts. Crafted by Colleen Barry Wilson in 1985, this beachcomber’s Bible was a gift to The Society of the Four Arts by Mr. & Mrs. Oscar Epstein.
Much like more than a century ago, Palm Beach is still a well-known refuge for sharks.

Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

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