“Radiogram for Mr. Baruch.”
“Mr. Seligman, your guests have arrived.”
“Telephone call for Mr. Goldwyn.”
“Mr. Kaufman, your table is ready.”
“Mr. Gershwin is at the center table in the Orange Gardens.”
These may be the last names you would expect to hear from behind the walls of the Everglades Club or the Bath & Tennis Club, Palm Beach’s sub rosa private clubs, but during an earlier era, contrary to public accounts fostered from decades of press reports, prominent Jewish families were members and guests at these clubs; unlike today, where the clubs, and that would include the Palm Beach Country Club, have lost their earlier diverse, more inclusive ambience that once made them representative of the resort’s standing among the world’s social vanguard.
For a half century these enclaves have been the island domain’s focal point for the imperfect, controversial relationship of mindsets molded as much from cryptic lore and legend as actual reality with equally exclusive social circles whose shared past is as common as it is contradicting.
And, whatever euphoria Palm Beach’s social season produces, it is no match for the enduring social cachet attained within the island’s most elite social circles where although the tightly-knit comings-and-goings have been top secret, kept confidential without nearly a published whisper for the past fifty years, these covert venues are the resort’s most coveted white-glove invitations while their membership remains center stage for the protracted rift between the resort’s own Nobs and Swells.
Palm Beach’s social jungle
Ever since Henry Flagler left his Standard Oil office at 26 Broadway and transformed Florida’s East Coast into the American Riviera, New York and Palm Beach have shared the same social caste. Flagler envisioned Palm Beach as an international destination, built as much an indulgent retreat set apart from reason and restraint as it was patterned from the existing social DNA.
Thus, more than a century ago Gilded Age Knickerbockers and Our Crowd, as members of New York’s aristocratic Jewish community called themselves, arrived at Flagler’s Royal Poinciana Hotel for a winter season of sailboat launches on Lake Worth, wheelchair rides along the Lake Trail and cakewalks under the banyan trees.
As old-money millionaires, more newly-minted merchants and fashionable financiers disembarked with steamer trunks weighted by wardrobes for the resort’s marathon of dress parades, they also brought their inflexible cast-iron social chain of command.
Palm Beach’s earliest social cliques revolved around bridge parties and luncheons in the Royal Poinciana Hotel’s Grill Room, Episcopalian teas, bird shoots at the Palm Beach Gun Club and afternoon tango teas and nightly turkey trots at Bradley’s Beach Club.
In 1903 the Gun Club’s roster registered 60 members. Located in the town’s jungle-like North End, where the Palm Beach Country Club was eventually built, the Gun Club’s membership was culled from existing members of New York’s gun clubs while the select at Col. Bradley’s Beach Club was limited to non-residents of Florida and, most likely, handpicked by Bradley’s catholic stamp of approval.
When the Beach Club opened its Bradley’s Floral Park Casino, E. R. “St. Edward” and Mrs. Bradley invited only 150 guests, Vanderbilts, Kennedys and Fitzgeralds were included, during an era when more than 3,000 attended the season’s social highlight, the Washington Birthday Ball at the Royal Poinciana Hotel.
Local archives house two million photographs of Vanderbilts, Huttons, Sanfords and the social milieu they represented but very few, perhaps less than ten, images of Palm Beach’s prominent early 20th-century Jewish residents and visitors who were a part of the same blue blazer-and-pearls set, regardless of whether they ever became pass-the-plate Episcopalian converts like the Belmonts.
While there are hundreds of files documenting personalities from Long Island’s Gold Coast, there is not one file holding a single clipping about Henry Seligman. In New York, the Henry Seligman residence is a landmark; in Palm Beach it was demolished. These significant Jewish personalities are also overlooked in the social histories written by today’s private clubs.
Our Crowd in Palm Beach
In 1905 tin magnate Meyer Guggenheim’s death at a lakeside Palm Beach house made worldwide headlines. The Guggenheims spent winters in Palm Beach with other Our Crowd families — the Warburgs, Schiffs, Lewisohns, Loebs and Seligmans — who later were joined by Paleys, Annenbergs, Ittlesons and Gimbels, among others, as well as Jewish film and theatre celebrities.
Our Crowd, and the wealthy Jewish social strata that came after them, acquired enormous fortunes, intermarried with the fervor of their blueblood counterparts — Henry and Adele Seligman’s wedding announcement was headlined, “Seligman-Seligman”— night-clubbed on County Road and dined on Worth Avenue.
There were times when prominent Jews shared the same tennis courts and golf courses with Palm Beach’s prevailing social cocoon as well as moments when they were subject to the similar patterns of exclusion, discrimination and quotas practiced in every other club, university and city in the United States.
Nevertheless, they experienced an arbitrary exclusion that was never codified, yet admittedly, the United States was an anti-Semitic society after the Civil War and into the 20th century. And, although prejudice existed, some clubs accepted Jews, only to bar them a decade later without any consistent policy of exclusion.
During the 1920s Palm Beach’s seasonal private clubs accepted Jewish members only later to reportedly rule them out; then, include them. Club memberships were as unpredictable and arcane as inclusion in the Blue Book.
The 1923 Social Register listed Henry Seligman, Jules Bache, Otto Kahn, Louis G. Kaufman and Bernard Baruch but omitted Felix Warburg and Mortimer Loeb Schiff. By 1929 Adolph Lewisohn and Mortimer Schiff were listed but the Warburgs were still excluded.
Moreover, the guest registers and membership lists at Palm Beach’s hotels and private clubs, most notably The Breakers, Everglades Club, B&T and the Palm Beach Country Club, evolved in several distinct stages.
From the late 1890s until the 1960s, the hotels and clubs reported every event and guest list, almost daily, a detailed who’s who, when members of Our Crowd were social insiders.
Then, during the 1960s, a period after the PB Country Club became predominately Jewish, the Everglades Club, the B&T, and to the same degree, the PB Country Club, closed their curtains and withdrew from the public eye.
Club events were no longer publicized; membership rosters were closely held, often publicly acknowledged only in a member’s obituary. In 1960 the Everglades Club announced that “only club events that are member-sponsored and private parties will be permitted without being publicized.” The club “could no longer obstruct traffic and have events where guests outnumbered members and appear to be commercial activities.”
From 1918 until the 1960s The New York Times archive has amassed more than 1,500 detailed who-was-with-whom stories from inside the Everglades Club. Since then, the paper has reported on only two club events with only the slightest mention, experiencing a greater news blackout than Cuba since the Castro government.
And today, while only a small percentage of the town’s residents belong to the town’s Big Three — Everglades, PB Country Club and the B&T — for many, the world within the private clubs remains the only sport in town.
By revisiting the available records documenting the resort’s prominent Jewish families and guests at its hotels, clubs and cottages, a more complex social mosaic of Palm Beach emerges.
In 1877, when the Joseph Seligmans arrived in Saratoga for their tenth season at the Grand Union Hotel, they were intercepted by a clerk who announced: “Mr. Seligman, I am required to inform you we have instructions that no Israelites shall be permitted in the future to stop at this hotel.”
That confrontation ignited a national controversy, the nation’s second Battle of Saratoga, as some media pundits called it.
The selective exclusion of Jews from several resort hotels began a series of prominent investigations and editorials decrying the practice. At the time, hotels were free to discriminate without any legal recriminations and the practice continued. In the case of the Grand Union, the owners responded with a smokescreen of objections, complaints by women guests and proclaiming that “Hebrews like the Nathans and the Hendricks (Sephardic Jews socially established in New York) were always welcome” but “not the ostentatious class, the Seligman Jews” (German Jewish arrivistes) whose presence was blamed for ruining resorts.
And yet, in 1884 at Long Branch, an Ocean Avenue casino and club with a ball room and reading room included among its founding patrons, the Seligmans, the Maurice Sternbergers and A. J. Drexel.
Fifty years later in February 1933, Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Simon Ochs celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at The Breakers in Palm Beach with a family dinner for twenty-five in the hotel’s Rotunda dining room. Ochs, the publisher of The New York Times, and his family were seasonal visitors at The Breakers, as were other A-list Jewish families who stayed at the hotel ever since Flagler’s first oceanfront hotel opened as the Palm Beach Inn at the turn of the century.
A decade earlier, these same families made the Ponce de Leon Hotel, Flagler’s Old Florida resort in St. Augustine, their seasonal retreat.
Yet, as much as Ochs and his circle enjoyed swimming at the Breakers Casino and gambling at Bradley’s Beach Club they probably realized that for every Jewish guest who stayed at The Breakers, there were others, perhaps less prominent, whose reservations were refused and would stay at the nearby hotels, the Royal Poinciana, Whitehall, Alba, or later, The Colony.
From the opening of the Royal Poinciana Hotel, The New York Times and The Tattler, Flagler’s social newspaper that recorded the boldfaced names at his Florida resorts, included the names of Jewish guests, and from those reports a rich social tapestry unfolds of Jewish families who made Palm Beach a part of their lives.
In 1920 Samuel and Goldie Paley hosted a dinner for 300 at the Alba Hotel. The Jerome Kerns entertained the Fatios and the Amorys aboard their yacht, Showboat. Sophie Loeb spent her winter sojourns at The Breakers. In 1931 Felix Warburg celebrated his 60th birthday playing golf at The Breakers. “The Warburgs arrive …” read the headline the following season, as Felix and Frieda Warburg registered at The Breakers with their family, Mrs. Jacob Schiff, Mrs. Gerald Warburg, Mrs. Walter Rothschild and Frederick Warburg.
Eventually, the Warburgs purchased a house on Eden Road in the island’s North End where Mrs. Warburg passed her winters playing bridge and canasta with neighboring Our Crowd families, the Stroocks, Nathans and Lewisohns.
Although it is still widely-believed hotels imposed selective quotas for Jewish guests, Jewish guests and entertainers were welcomed at Palm Beach hotels operated by Jewish-owned companies. The Alba and Whitehall hotels were favored among the Hollywood stars and studio czars, including Samuel Goldwyn, Edgar Selwyn, Lee Shubert, and Marcus Loew. At the Alba, Adolph Zukor hosted a dinner for New York Mayor James J. Walker following a tea at Sailing Baruch’s hotel apartment.
Developed by H. M. Heckscher, The Alba opened in February 1926 only to close and reopen shortly thereafter as the Ambassador Hotel, part of the national chain. Subsequently, the hotel was owned by New York real estate titan, S. W. Straus, who acquired the ocean front Mizner-designed Replogle estate on Sunrise Avenue, built cabanas and established the Sun-and-Surf Beach Club for his hotel guests.
In 1942 hotel magnate A. M. “Sonny” Sonnabend purchased the Ambassador, that became known as the Biltmore Hotel, and the Whitehall Hotel, along with the Sun and Surf Club and the Palm Beach Country Club. An active member of the American Jewish Committee, Sonnabend, whose holdings later formed the Sonesta hotel chain, also launched the Chart House in Annapolis Maryland, as a place for Jewish travelers to spend the night when driving between Boston and the South.
The ten-story Martin Hampton-designed Whitehall Hotel became a choice destination for many of Palm Beach’s Jewish visitors. As Sammy Eisen’s orchestra played in the hotel’s Jardin Royal, well-known New Yorkers, Mosette Morganstern, Mrs. Harry Schwartz, Irving Geist, and Issac Levy were joined by Seventh Avenue and Wall Street personalities, according to articles featured in Palm Beach Life magazine during the 1930s and 1940s.
And, although there is no public record of discrimination at any Palm Beach hotel, though surely a selection must have existed in some form, as there were periods when every hotel room in Palm Beach was reserved, in March 1965 the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith (ADL) picked The Breakers for its first test of the Civil Rights Act, asking the Department of Justice to bar the hotel’s practice of discrimination.
The ADL sent written reservation requests, some with Jewish and non-Jewish sounding names; those sounding Jewish were denied reservations that were given those with Protestant-sounding names. At first, The Breakers denied the charges; months later the hotel agreed to abide by the existing civil rights discriminatory policy.
Press reports during and after the incident stated The Breakers had never permitted Jewish guests even though it was the favored hotel of the Our Crowd set whose every coming-and-going was publicized. Social Registers published during the 1920s listed Frederick Lewisohn’s winter address as simply, The Breakers, Palm Beach. At the time, The Breakers acknowledged that it practiced selective discrimination while having accommodated Jewish guests since the early 1900s.
As Palm Beach’s popularity grew and hotels became more crowded, resort life became more exclusive as seasonal guests emulated Bar Harbor and Newport’s cottage colony, moving their social networking from hotel rotundas to behind club walls and onto their own terraces and loggias.
Established by Paris Singer, Everglades Club opened in January 1919 with 305 members, and subsequently limited membership to 500.
Several years later, The Bath and Tennis Club was first organized south of The Breakers with cabanas and tennis courts; then, in 1927, E. F. Hutton and Anthony J. Biddle syndicated the club with 200 members and built a new $1 million complex designed by Joseph Urban on South Ocean Boulevard across from the Hutton’s seasonal retreat, Mar-A-Lago, that would rival Newport’s finest beach club.
While both clubs shared the same rule book and memberships, rooted in the extended families found in the Social Register, Philadelphia’s Main Line, Boston’s North Shore and New York’s private dining clubs, golf clubs and Long Island beach clubs, often alternating the same presidents, the B&T’s membership was more diverse and international than the more parochial, Singer-directed Everglades Club.
From their inception, the Everglades Club and the B&T held widely-publicized private and public functions, fashion shows, gala charity fundraisers, musicales and political luncheons. The popularity of these clubs led to more clubs, the Seminole Golf Club, the Oasis Club and the Gulf Stream Golf Club.
For more than sixty years the Everglades Club welcomed Jewish guests to its luncheons, teas and dinners, mostly those who were also members at the B&T. The club’s popular tombola fashion shows were attended by ladies and their guests. At the Woolworth Donahue’s supper dance, Jules Bache was a guest along with the John Jacob Astors and the Alfred Vanderbilts.
In February 1929 Mr. and Mrs. John Bryden held a luncheon in the Orange Gardens for Mr. and Mrs. Henry Seligman. When the Seligman’s grand-daughter visited Palm Beach, The New York Times reported, “Miss van Heukelom, one of the prettiest young girls to visit Palm Beach, has been entertained with dinners and teas at the Everglades Club.”
The Henry Seligmans hosted the luncheon in honor of Metropolitan Opera diva Maria Jeritza when she opened the Everglades Club’s concert series for The Society of Four Arts.
In March 1933 when the club presented Josef Kallini, tenor, the event’s patrons included Eva Stotesbury and Esther Paley, wife of Jacob Paley, a 20th- Century Fox studio executive and brother of Samuel Paley.
In February 1940 Capt Alistair Mackintosh hosted a dinner before the club’s popular backgammon night with the Munns, Guests and Frederick Lewisohn. Charles Loehmann, the discount clothier whose mother, Frieda,founded the national department store chain in her Bronx kitchen, was an Everglades Club member until his death in 1986.
For decades the island’s largest galas, Red Cross, Heart and Good Samaritan Hospital fundraising events, were held at the Everglades Club, now staged in hotel ballrooms or at The Mar-A-Lago Club. At the 1965 Flamingo Ball, with the Orange Gardens aglow with pink and white lights, more than 950 guests attended, including Estee Lauder, Bernard and Alva Gimbel and Enid Haupt.
When the Everglades Club faced foreclosure, banker Louis G. Kaufman, the son of Jewish immigrants, was among the club’s few members who secured the club’s future. President of New York’s largest bank, Chatham-Phoenix National Bank, later Manufacturer’s Hanover before becoming Chemical Bank, Kaufman had served as finance chairman for General Motors for more than twenty years.
According to the Everglades Club’s official history, beginning in the 1960s the club permitted only member-sponsored private parties. The club asserted that when guests outnumbered members at events it made the private club appear like a commercial venue. And further, the club stated it would no longer hold functions that obstructed traffic. In 1975, when the club affirmed that it had more than 1400 members, a newspaper report described the club as “Grand Central Station.”
In explaining the clubs apparent change in public policy, one venerable Palm Beacher said, “Sonny Whitney’s 80th birthday party may have been more than the Everglades Club could bear; Mary Lou had Beverly Sills sing Happy Birthday. She probably got a letter about that. Imagine, anyone sending a letter complaining about Beverly Sills …”
For many years the Everglades Club rule book’s Section XIII stated that no member may “introduce as a guest or bring upon the premises any person when such person might essentially believed would not be acceptable as a member.” Guests were limited to five visits to the club during the season while there were another set of guidelines for care givers, house guests and golf guests.
To become a member, according to the club’s rule book, an individual must already be a member of a “leading club in the place of his residence.” Once the prospect obtained three letters from current Board of Governors, one of whom could not be the club’s president, and three letters from members, the name would be posted for a period of two weeks allowing for members to comment on the membership. At that time, a prospective member could be blackballed with two negative votes.
Fifty years after Joseph Seligman was turned away from Saratoga’s Grand Union Hotel, his nephew, Henry Seligman became a member of Palm Beach’s Bath and Tennis Club. In February 1929 the Henry Seligmans and their party of 18 guests attended the B&T’s formal opening of the new Urban-designed facilities, as did Jules Bache, who entertained a party of 12 family and friends. Mr. and Mrs. Edward F. Hutton shared their table with the Bernard Baruchs.
Baruch, whose wife was Episcopalian and father was Meyer Guggenheim’s doctor, was a lifelong friend of E. F. Hutton’s, mentioned prominently in Hutton’s obituary as one of the major influences in his life.
The Mortimer Loeb Schiffs were also among the opening dinner-dance crowd. In 1935-36 Samuel Goldwyn, the Hollywood film producer, was regarded as one of the B&T’s favored guests. By 1973 the B&T listed 700 members, declaring it a “family club,” allowing only one public benefit annually and ruling that members could propose no more than two prospective applications per year.
Following the B&T’s opening, Anthony Biddle and E. F. Hutton headed a group that opened the Oasis Club, located at one of E. R. Bradley’s tennis buildings remodeled into a club by Joseph Urban. Organized as a “men only” club, the Oasis Club was a place to transact business, play cards, have dinners and stage boxing matches, usually following a tea dance. The Oasis Club’s opening beefsteak dinner and dance was held in February 1929, hosted by the club’s vice president and treasurer, Jules Bache.
What made the Oasis Club unique was its membership mix: bluebloods, Vanderbilt, Hutton, Doubleday and Conde Nast, among them, were joined by Bache, Kahn, and Schiff, among other Jewish residents. Interestingly, the roster also included several local, year-round residents, highly unusual for a Palm Beach club to include “townspeople.” Although the Oasis Club did not last through the Depression years, it began one of Palm Beach’s lasting social legacies, the exclusive Cocoanuts, founded by the resort’s single men to give an end-of-season party to repay social obligations.
Established at The Breakers in 1914 as the Fishing Club, the Sailfish Club of Florida is regarded as the oldest private club in Palm Beach, having moved to its present North Lake Way site in 1932.
Several years ago when the Sailfish Club was notified by the State of Florida that its membership selection process was discriminatory, the club adapted the following credo: “The Board of Governors of the Club shall not consider race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or marital status of the applicant, applicant’s spouse or applicant’s family.”
Reportedly, the club does have minority members. In his memoir, The World I Lived In, entertainer George Jessel, “Toastmaster General of the United States,” writes about his fishing trips with Woolworth Donahue and his membership in the Sailfish Club during the 1930s.
The Palm Beach Country Club was built in 1916 by Flagler’s Florida East Coast Company on the old Gun Club’s 1,760 feet of oceanfront for the exclusive use of hotel guests at the Royal Poinciana Hotel and The Breakers, quickly becoming one of the resort’s most popular social and sporting venues. Along with the Peabodys, Whitneys, Huttons and the Sanfords, Samuel Untermeyer and Harry Rosenfeld were among the first to tee off on the Donald Ross-designed golf course.
Because of the golf course’s challenging renown, it became the setting for some of the state’s most notable golf tournaments. For more than a decade, Rube Goldberg hosted the annual New York artist and writer’s golf tournament at the PB Country Club, a week-long event that included receptions at the Everglades Club and the Royal Poinciana Hotel.
In 1952 A. C. Sonnabend sold the PB Country Club to an investment group for $1 million that immediately hired architect John Stetson to design an extensive makeover of the club’s facilities, described by the Palm Beach Daily News as a “Hawaiian motif” with “conservative grace.” The club reopened 15 December 1953, with Morrris Brown as its first president and Edward Cohen, Edward Goldstein Harry Fine and Louis Leibovit serving on its first board.
Today the Palm Beach Country Club is one of Palm Beach’s most exclusive clubs, with Nelson Peltz, Charles Bronfman and A. Alfred Taubman among its members, and governed by many of the same membership rules as the Everglades Club and the B&T, although it emphasizes a member’s and the club’s charitable donations. Joseph Kennedy was one of Palm Beach’s only residents who were reportedly a member of the Palm Beach Country Club as well as the Everglades Club, B&T, the Seminole and Gulf Stream golf clubs.
Established in 1995, The Mar-A-Lago Club offers an array of amenities and allows publicized events, closely resembling the same social profile the Everglades and the B&T maintained for more than sixty years before they became averse to any public acknowledgment of club events. As the Everglades and the B&T continue to preserve their enforced blackout on all the club’s social activities, The Mar-A-Lago Club stages musical concerts, galas, luncheons, and charity balls attended by its members, their guests and others who pay to attend charitable fundraisers.
The development of exclusive clubs in Palm Beach paralleled the shift of Palm Beach’s social realm from hotel lounges and European-styled nightclubs to parties and dinners in private homes as the resort’s seasonal guests became permanent residents with their own tap rooms and ballrooms, including the island’s prominent Jewish families who were a part of the island’s A-list social set.
At home in Palm Beach
Palm Beach houses have a mythical aura. Thus, it is surprising that after nearly a century, there has been no chronicle of the houses owned by the resort’s seasonal Jewish families.
In 1920, after visiting Palm Beach for several seasons, the Henry Seligmans purchased a lot on Sunset Avenue next door to local pioneer banker, T.T. “Tommy” Reese.
Referred to as the “American Rothschilds” in Stephen Birmingham’s book, Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York, the Seligmans’ New York residence was a French Renaissance townhouse designed by Cass Gilbert who also designed their summer house, Shorelands, in Elberon, New Jersey. For their Spanish style Palm Beach house, Casa Mia, they retained architect Marion Sims Wyeth.
The Seligman’s hosted the New York String Quartet Ensemble and Metropolitan Opera baritones in their music room, “a room of noble proportions,” as invitations were accepted by the island’s A-list — Huttons, Singers, Stotesbury, Cluetts and Vanderbilts. Mrs. Seligman’s teas introduced progressive international personalities, hosting Mme. Halide Edib,author and feminist leader of Turkey.
In January 1928 when New York’s Cardinal Hayes visited Palm Beach, Casa Mia was the setting for the prelate’s welcome dinner attended by the same smart set that were aboard Harrison Williams’s yacht the next day and at the luncheon for the Cardinal at the B&T.
Following the Seligman’s death in March 1935, Casa Mia was sold by Gurnee Munn’s real estate agency, Munn, Hull & Boardman, to Joseph Schenck,president of United Artists and Alfred C “Blumey” Blumenthal, a Fox Theatres executive, who managed Florenz Zeigfeld’s theatrical interests. In announcing the sale, Munn said the producers would make the resort their winter residence.
A few blocks north of the Seligmans, Nate and Frances Spingold purchased Las Puertas, a Spanish-styled house on Wells Road. A movie studio executive and champion bridge player, Nate Spingold, and his wife, Frances, a New York couturier known as Mademoiselle Frances, hired Addison Mizner, and later, Treanor and Fatio, to design their winter retreat.
Mizner transformed the Spingold’s living room into a 42 ft. by 18 ft. drawing room and added a new loggia with a high vaulted ceiling and tiled floor, a grill room with Gothic vaults and stained-glass medieval windows, enhancing the dining room with XVIth-century panels from the Cathedral of Pamplona. With interiors designed by Valentine, Inc., a second-floor Louis XVI master bedroom suite was created with French blue-and-rose marble.
When the Spingolds purchased the property to the east for their swimming pool with salt water piped from the ocean, an exterior flying staircase was added that joined the poolside terraces with their second-floor master bedroom suite. The Spingold’s pool became a popular spot for Hollywood stars, like Norma Talmadge and Joan Crawford, to bask in the Palm Beach sun.
Further north on County Road, Otto Khan, regarded as the “King of New York,” built Oheka, a 23-room Renaissance oceanfront palace designed by Treanor and Fatio. Khan was an early seasonal visitor to Palm Beach, hosting the E. T. Stotesburys before they built El Mirasol.
In 1928 Khan’s daughter, Margaret, married John Barry Ryan, Jr., grandson of financier Thomas Fortune Ryan, known as the richest man in the world. One of the most significant arts patrons, Kahn supported the Russian Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, playwright Eugene O’Neil, as well as the renovation of the Parthenon. In 1941 the Graham-Eckes School purchased Kahn’s Palm Beach house, only later selling it and the house was demolished.
In Midtown at 160 Barton Avenue, Jules Bache’s winter cottage, La Colmena, was an Addison Mizner design, its distinctive 45-foot living room is all that remains of the original, as it is now referred to as “The Ballroom House.” Bache purchased the house from the Angier B. Duke estate following Duke’s death in 1923. Bache’s clients included J. D. Rockefeller, Edward Harriman and Jay Gould.
His eclectic Palm Beach houseguests included Jefferson Davis Cohen, the English godson of the exiled Confederate president, whose French racing stables were considered among the world’s best, earning Bache and Cohen hand-delivered invitations to be among the Widener’s inner circle at Hialeah. A resident for more than thirty years, Jules Bache died in Palm Beach in 1944, leaving his immense art collection to the Metropolitan Museum.
In the South End estate district, New York attorney Louis S. Levy and his wife, the former Norma Rabinowitz, bought El Salano at 720 South Ocean Blvd. from Harold Vanderbilt. A half-mile south of the Levys, Kuhn, Loeb scion, Mortimer L. Schiff, and his wife, Adele, built one of Palm Beach’s most unique houses, Casa Eleda, designed by Treanor and Fatio.
While the economic upheavals of the 1930s reversed the fortunes of some of Our Crowd’s gilded Palm Beach lives, others persevered eventually making Palm Beach their homes during the 1950s.
After the war, new North End subdivisions were carved from the Boom era’s ocean-to-lake estates where, even though reportedly some restrictive covenants forbid Jews from ownership, Palm Beach continued to attract the nation’s Jewish patrician class. Felix Lilienthal, Max Horwitz, the Albert Zifferblatts, A. A. Goldbergs, Nathan Yamins and the Herman Rothbergs are some of the New York families who built seasonal cottages in the town’s Midtown and North End.
At 1465 South Ocean Boulevard the Bernard Gimbels settled on an ocean-to-lake property that was later subdivided, the ocean side now known as the entertainer Rod Stewart’shouse.
Every winter Alva Gimbel would board the Silver Meteor with her Dalmatian, Chieftain, and make the trip to Palm Beach. The Gimbels were often seen at Hialeah race track, guests of their neighbor, Joseph Widener. The Gimbels owned Sak’s when the department store’s Worth Avenue venue became the first branch outside of New York.
The Annenberg sisters, Janet Hooker, Evelyn Hall and Enid Haupt, were among Palm Beach’s most benevolent residents who also lived in Newport and New York.
In Palm Beach Janet Hooker lived at Il Palmetto, the Fatio-designed Widener residence, recently renovated by Netscape founder, Jim Clark. After meeting ambassadors during the Red Cross Ball in Palm Beach, she became one of the nation’s largest contributors to renovating US State Department buildings; her gifts to the Smithsonian included the Janet Hooker Hall of Gems, Geology and Minerals.
Her sister, Enid Haupt, purchased a house on El Dorado, the site of the Palm Beach Garden Club’s house and garden tour in 1961. In a newspaper interview, Haupt credited architect Philip Johnson with influencing her design decisions with the house, especially its expansive windows and door openings. The Enid Haupt Conservatory at New York’s Botanical Gardens is considered one of the grandest spaces in the world. In 1971 she sold the house to her sister, Evelyn, who was a significant arts patron, a major Museum of Modern Art benefactor.
For more than fifty years Samuel and Goldie Paley came to Palm Beach from their Chestnut Hill estate. Eventually, the Paleys purchased a house on Tangier Avenue, and following Mrs. Paley’s death in 1977, their house was sold to the “Queen of Palm Beach,” Mary Sanford, after she sold Los Incas.
Goldie Paley donated the funds for a living memorial in Palm Beach honoring her husband, the Samuel Paley Pavilion at the Rehabilitation Center for Children and Adults on Royal Palm Way. Mrs. Paley traveled to Palm Beach with her staff in a private jet provided by her son, William Paley, CBS founder and president, who was also a part of the Palm Beach scene for many years.
Beginning in the 1930s and for the next four decades Henry Ittleson, and his wife, Blanche, made Palm Beach their seasonal retreat. Founder of C.I.T. Financial Corporation, Ittleson was regarded as the innovator of revolving credit accounts. Following her husband’s death in 1948, Blanche Ittleson continued to make Palm Beach her home and in 1956, at the age of 80, built a unique Japanese-inspired temple-style house and gardens at 756 Slope Trail.
Palm Beach today
Following many years of worship at the Episcopal Church at Bethesda-by-the-Sea, Palm Beach’s Jewish community were granted a charter for a local Temple Emanu-El in 1963, seventy years after Temple Emanu-El members from New York first came to Palm Beach. Rabbi Max M. Landman was the Temple’s first spiritual leader, Ben Propp, the first Cantor, and Benjamin Lehr, the Temple’s first President. Building on Palm Beach’s diversity, the Palm Beach Fellowship of Christians & Jews was formed in 1993, an organization promoting fellowship among religions and cultures, while focused on intolerance, anti-Semitism and discrimination.
Today’s Palm Beach has a diverse year-round population, gone are the days when only a few prominent Jewish families visited Palm Beach and when private clubs dictated the town’s social standards. Yesterday’s 400 have become today’s 4,000. The island’s social life is no longer governed by the decrees of a lone social arbiter or rises-and-falls on the like-mindedness of an arbitrary elite, ever vigilant for creased sleeves, vat-dyed socks, voweled last names and speech patterns.
Temple Emanu-El’s once elite circle, Our Crowd, has evolved and Jewish residents are half the town’s population. Members of today’s social scene are less likely to share the previous generation’s restrictive practices instead preferring a more consequential social whirl concentrated on philanthropic and charitable causes. Outsiders become insiders by their generosity not genes.
Unfortunately, photographs showing a collective social history have not been unearthed, and appear lost forever — the Bernard Baruchs dining with the E. F. Huttons at the B&T, Woolworth Donahue and George Jessel having drinks at the Sailfish Club and the Henry Seligmans dancing in the Orange Gardens at the Everglades Club.
Why the clubs have opted for a self-imposed blackout, changing their attitudes and policies — whether a post-war generational change in reaction to Palm Beach becoming less exclusive, the invent of the condominium during the 1960s, if an upshot of Civil Rights laws that would compel the clubs to accept members whose families they did not know, or maybe their members are simply snobs, wanting to keep the clubs among themselves — the answer may remain buried forever with the club’s members honored code of silence.
However, unearthing the spirit and remembering the camaraderie that once existed when the Old Guard was the avant-garde is a reminder when there was no where else in the world like Palm Beach.
Historic photos: Palm Beach Daily News archive, Library of Congress and the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. Photos: Augustus Mayhew.