Several years ago, when Sue Gelman Browning visited the Jewish Museum of Florida on Miami Beach and noticed exhibition text stating Jews were not desirable on Palm Beach (“Always a view, never a Jew”), she wrote the museum about her grandmother Sadie Peller Louber who owned and operated Louber Villa, a hotel-inn located at 231 Sunset Avenue in Midtown Palm Beach that catered to Jewish clientele from the mid-1930s until the 1950s. Because of Browning’s photographs and memories, Louber Villa is no longer forgotten, now a part of the Jewish Museum’s collection and Palm Beach’s social history.
But Sadie Louber was not alone, as there was already an established Jewish colony in 1935 when she opened Louber Villa. Rather than among the millionaires and mansion builders, Sadie was one of several individuals and families who lived and worshiped on the island and were not within the social dynamic of Palm Beach’s more prominent Jewish personalities and hoteliers, whether Irving Berlin, George Jessel, or A. M. Sonnabend, that I wrote about in “Jewish Society in Old Palm Beach” and “Otto Kahn’s Palm Beach” on the New York Social Diary.
In a June 1925 feature, The Palm Beach Post described the kosher Horton Inn at 173 Peruvian Avenue as, “Incidentally, kosher or otherwise, it is better to get better luncheons or dinners there than at any other place in Palm Beach, and a peek into the dining room almost any night during the season reveals guests from all the hotels and the Everglades Club, as well as prominent people who have establishments of their own, and are of the Christian persuasion.”
Nevertheless, the assumption of Palm Beach’s intolerance continues to prevail. Available records, much of it published in Jewish newspapers and magazines from the 1920s until the 1950s, disclose a contrary narrative from the too-often repeated story line about the marginalization of the Jewish colony who, though not listed in the Social Register or photographed by George “Slim” Aarons or Bert Morgan, has long been disregarded in the telling of Palm Beach’s history.
The earliest reference to Jewish society in most Palm Beach timelines is during the 1960s. Today, Louber Villa has vanished from Sunset Avenue, displaced by the Publix supermarket loading dock. Although the Historical Society of Palm Beach County documents West Palm Beach’s earliest Jewish settlers, there are no files for Louber Villa, the Horton Inn, or the many Jewish individuals and businesses once a part of bygone Palm Beach from its earliest Main Street development until the 1960s.
Palm Beach was never all Blue Book and Who’s Who but a more diverse social spectrum where for the most part cultural differences were accepted rather than reviled.
Here are some of the people and the places who are part of Palm Beach’s Jewish social history.
Samuel & Pauline Scher
Main Street, Palm Beach
Before opening a shop and moving to Palm Beach permanently, New York-Newport clothier Samuel Scher ran Waldorf Men’s Shop in Daytona Beach. There, he was joined by his brother Joseph Scher, who operated a separate ladies’ wear clothing store on Beach Street. Their sister, Bertha Scher, face specialist, youth consultant, and rejuvenation expert, managed the Salon de Beaute in Daytona and Palm Beach as well as Berlin and Paris, perhaps a forerunner of Helena Rubenstein and Estée Lauder.
While Sam and his wife Pauline settled on Palm Beach, Joseph Scher stayed on Beach Street where he helped establish the Temple Beth-El synagogue for Daytona’s Jewish colony just as Sam and Pauline did in organizing a Palm Beach congregation of Temple Beth El. In 1939, Temple Beth-El in West Palm Beach officially dedicated the Joseph Scher Memorial Hall.
New York real estate developer Mark Rafalsky bought the Untermyer ocean-to-lake property next to the Palm Beach Country Club in 1925. Then he turned-around and resold it with platted lots, recording Palm Beach’s first Jewish-named subdivision. Lots were bought and sold quickly. Many of the buyers were Jewish who eventually built homes in this North End development.
In 1953, Samuel Paley failed to obtain a zoning change east of the Rafalsky tract that would have allowed a beach club on the southside of the existing Coral Beach Club. At the same time, on the north side of the Country Club, the Town refused Anna Thomson Dodge’s petition to rezone Playa Riente for a club or a museum.
Horton Inn – 1918
173 Peruvian Avenue
As I wrote in a 2014 feature “Horton Inn leaves legacy catering to Jewish clientele” for The Palm Beach Daily News, Sigmund and Eva Verschleiser opened The Horton Inn in 1918 at 173 Peruvian Avenue with a popular kosher kitchen.
1930s Palm Beach
Congregation Beth Israel (Temple Israel)
238-240 Sunrise Avenue, Palm Beach /Horton Inn
“The Temple on Main Street”
Popular gathering places during the 1920s and 1930s for Palm Beach’s Jewish colony from the Palm Beach Post archive.
Louber Villa c. 1935-1960
231 Sunset Avenue
In 1935, Sadie Peller Louber and family members acquired 231 Sunset Avenue, turning what was previously called Flora Villa into Louber Villa, a small kosher hotel. Along with the full-service resort hotels, Palm Beach’s seasonal housing was predominately composed of various daily-weekly-monthly small inns and guest houses that dotted the Midtown area.
Sunset Avenue was once an eclectic mix of residential and commercial buildings. One block east of Louber Villa, Otto Kahn built Oheka I along the oceanfront extending from Sunset to Sunrise Avenue. To the north, S. W. Strauss owned Sun & Surf Beach Club for guests at his Biltmore Hotel as well as resident members that included many Jewish families. Two doors west of Oheka I, Henry and Addie Seligman built Casa Mia. Louber Villa was a block from the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. Across the street from Louber Villa, the St. Charles Hotel was a popular venue. Main Street was one block to the south. Next door, at 235 Sunset Avenue, Cecilia Kavanaugh ran the Orange Blossom Inn, opened in 1920.
The Town of Palm Beach Records Department has no building files for any of the buildings that might have made up Louber Villa at 231 Sunset Avenue. It appears to have been demolished during the late ’60s-early ’70s as part of the Publix redevelopment.
Available contemporaneous accounts indicate the 1920s-styled main house at 231 Sunset Avenue was first the residence of Fred De Forest Newman, a Pennsylvania Railroad division executive. It was sold following his death in April 1929 and converted into a guest house, Flora Villa.
“On Beautiful Sunset Avenue, Palm Beach …”
Sue Browning wrote about Louber Villa in an article for The Miami Herald. I stumbled on it last week. It took me several hours of searching to find the Sue Browning that wrote the article. Within a few days, I went overland to Miami and spent some time with her, only to discover we both lived in Coconut Grove at the same time and knew some of the same people and places that are no longer.
Thank you Sue Browning!
Palm Beach 1941
Palm Beach 1948
Palm Beach 1956
Palm Beach 1965
Those halcyon days at Louber Villa and the Horton Inn are gone. Palm Beach moved on. Although no matter how it has changed in so many ways, some remain gripped by past beliefs and perceptions that will always make the contrary appear improbable.
The Palm Beach Daily News archive (1910-1975) has been inaccessible since Cox Media took it offline several years ago, leaving many chapters of Palm Beach’s significant history, for the most part, difficult, if not impossible, to document. I relied on The Palm Beach Post archive, the New York State Historic Newspapers and the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America. During the season, major New York, Washington, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia newspapers sent their own social columnists to report on Palm Beach.
In addition, I referenced several Jewish newspapers and magazines that had detailed comings and goings on Palm Beach since 1900, especially these excellent online sources: The Southern Jewish Weekly, The Jewish Floridian, Chicago’s Reform Advocate, The Hebrew Standard, and New York’s The American Hebrew & Jewish Messenger.