Palm Beach Social Diary Civic Virtue

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The Gold Room at The Breakers was the setting for a reception honoring James Augustine Ponce, the hotel's historian and the Town of Palm Beach's Living Landmark. In the right corner, a photograph of Mr. Ponce in the US Navy. Immediately to the left, Jim Ponce is seen 75 years later speaking with Ann Margo Peart.

Every year when Palm Beach becomes the ultimate destination for the ominum gatherum socialitum to revel within the seasonal spin of black-tie balls and gilded pleasures, it is easy to overlook the just as many whose social life revolves around the pursuit of civic concerns and local issues. As much as the goings-on at exclusive clubs and glamorous galas may be what Palm Beach is known for by the rest of the world, I am most often fascinated with the town’s proclivity to be anywhere but commonplace when faced with many of the same matters every town confronts. The town offers myriad forums where residents socially interact sharing mutual interests and causes.

While the Four Arts, Palm Beach Round Table, the Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and the Coudert Institute, among numerous groups, showcase compelling programs on foreign policy and world affairs, rest assured when there are matters of local interest, Palm Beach residents put down their tennis racquets and nine irons and head for the microphones at Town Hall to opine on coastline erosion, property rights and parking meters. Although so far no one issue has reached the decibels of the previous season’s kerfuffle over the Royal Poinciana Playhouse or the long-forgotten investigation into the Mystery at Four Winds, I find myself captivated by the town’s ongoing negotiation over retirement benefits for its public employees and the heated debate over the town’s obligation to provide public restrooms to beachgoers.

So before the new uber-luxe 40,000-square-foot Publix opens, the countdown has begun and life in Palm Beach will never be the same, here is a look beginning and ending at The Breakers at just a few of the events and people who this past week give Palm Beach its local color and unique character.

5:10 pm, Wednesday afternoon at The Breakers. Façade west elevation. The Schultze and Weaver design was adapted from Rome’s Villa Medici.

Palm Beach Living Landmark James Ponce honored

At last! After serving as historian for The Breakers for more than 25 years, guiding several thousand visitors on walking tours of Worth Ave for nearly a decade, and having been designated a Living Landmark by the Town of Palm Beach, James Augustine Ponce, 94, was awarded the prestigious Providencia Award at a reception on a Wednesday night where more than 130 well-wishers joined him in the Gold Room at The Breakers. And to think, he almost didn’t make it.

Just a few months ago, Jim tripped and fell while walking his dog; he thought he was only shaken up. The following day a visit to the hospital revealed a serious head injury requiring extensive surgery. And while his full recovery was uncertain for weeks, he has made a miraculous recovery with his indefatigable spirit intact. A direct descendant of one of the oldest European families in the New World, Jim Ponce may have discovered the real fountain of youth.

The Renaissance-styled fountain appears to have been restored since last I photographed it in December 2009; the work of Italian sculptor Leo Lentelli (1879-1961), best known for his bas-reliefs at Rockefeller Center.
L. to r.: I dashed through the brightly-lit main lobby, patterned from the Great Hall at Genoa’s Palazzo Carrega, before heading east along the South Loggia to the Gold Room.; Top: Ann Margo Peart, a director of media relations at The Breakers.
At the Gold Room’s entrance, the list checkers were at the ready.
An aesthetic replica of the Galleria Accademia found in Venice, the Gold Room measures 48′ by 48′ and the elaborate gilded ceiling is 20′ in height. The room’s iridescent golden glow was at first challenging for my flash; everyone looked radiant.
Keeter Martinson, Tom Johnson, Barbara Harris, and Phyllis Clarke.
Fred Zrinscak Jr. and Jim Urmann.
The receiving line soon stretched out to the South Loggia.
Jim Ponce, right, with “close friends.”
The Gold Room has a mix of decorative features, including this detailed floor candelabrum.
The Gold Room’s chandelier.
Debi Murray, chief curator for the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
L. to r.: Franklyn deMarco, of all things Ta-boo.; Bill Metzger.
Mr. Ponce, seated lower left with hat, watches a film of him leading a walking tour of Worth Avenue with a photograph depicting the same in the lower right corner.
And the winner is… Mr. Ponce humbly accepts a standing ovation.
David A. Burke, left, vice-president sales and marketing at The Breakers, and Jorge Pesquera, right, CEO of Palm Beach County’s Convention & Tourist Bureau, present Ponce with the Providencia Award. The award is a replica of a palm tree commemorating the story of how the Providencia’s cargo of coconuts washed ashore more than 130 years ago. Thus, Palm Beach became Palm Beach. The shipwreck story enhances Palm Beach’s remote aura, no?
A few words from Mr. Ponce.
7:00 pm, The Breakers, Façade west elevation.

Royal Poinciana Chapel holiday bazaar benefits area charities
60 Cocoanut Row

The upcoming holiday bazaar at the Royal Poinciana Chapel that benefits local charities gives residents and visitors the opportunity to enjoy the recently-completed Olivia Kiebach Memorial Garden and Great Lawn and affords a spectacular view of one of the town’s few remaining more than century-old Ceiba trees. During the early 1900s photographers from New York and Paris would come to Palm Beach and photograph visitors posed next to trees like the one pictured above, considered the ultimate Palm Beach souvenir.

Where better to discover the spirit of the season on Palm Beach than the Royal Poinciana Chapel’s upcoming Christmas boutique where not only can you can help provide college scholarships and aid local charities but also glimpse the chapel’s recently completed spectacular lakeside gardens and visit the re-restored Sea Gull Cottage, known as the island’s oldest house. Held this year from December 1st to December 6th, the one-week only event that began more than twenty years ago in one room of Sea Gull Cottage has evolved into the primary source for funding the church’s local outreach program, having raised more than $2 million for area students and charities, among them the Alzheimer’s Community Care, Center for Creative Education, Grandma’s Place (Kids Sanctuary), Pace Center for Girls, Palm Beach Habilitation Center, Opportunity Inc., St. Ann Place, Voices for Children, and the YWCA Children’s Day Care.

This year’s chairman Merrilyn Bardes credits the efforts of the more than 200 members and friends of the Chapel who contribute donations of time, financial support, and items for sale, including fine wines, estate jewelry, designer fashions, beautiful Christmas trees and centerpieces, antiques, and other collectables. The boutique’s invitational November 30 Opening Night is chaired by Melinda Porter and Kathy Vaughan. The volunteer effort is being coordinated by Connie Geisler and Missy Geisler.

Royal Poinciana Chapel, sanctuary. Founded in 1898 and built by Henry Flagler on the grounds of the Royal Poinciana Hotel to serve the resort’s seasonal visitors, the church’s current board of directors include H. Mitchell Watson, president; Dudley Moore Jr., vice-president-treasurer; and J. Cater Randolph, secretary. Directors include Michael Ainslie, Donald Dizney, Margery McCloskey, Betsy Matthews, and Lloyd Mims.
“I donated the garden in memory of my mother Olivia Kiebach,” said Merrilyn Bardes, who is serving as chairman for this year’s fundraising holiday event. Designed by Mario Nievera, the garden is set between the chapel, historic Sea Gull Cottage, pictured left, and the Columbarium, to the south of the fountain. On the terrace below, the Great Lawn sweeps down to the Lake Trail and the Intracoastal Waterway beyond.
The Columbarium at the Royal Poinciana Chapel.
” … there is a long tradition of beautiful cloistered gardens being connected to churches for meditation, contemplation, and community enhancement,” said Dr. Robert Norris, the chapel’s pastor.
A garden folly.
The fountain at the Kiebach Memorial Garden adds a visual counterpoint to the Intracoastal Waterway beyond.
Built in 1886 for R. R. McCormick when it became known as “the showplace on the shore,” Sea Gull Cottage, was the town’s most well-traveled cottage, having been moved and moved again, before permanently settled as part of the chapel’s complex.
Sea Gull Cottage’s interior has been completely restored and updated to serve church functions.
Afternoon light finds its way through the colored-pane windows.
The cottage’s dining room.
L. to r.: The chapel restored the cottage’s turret.; A view from west of the fountain towards the chapel’s fellowship rooms where the holiday boutique will be held.

Palm Beach Civic Association focuses on Law & Order

The Palm Beach Civic Association welcomed almost 100 guests to a forum on law and order with guest speakers Kirk Blouin, the Town’s public safety director, Rick Bradshaw, Palm Beach County’s sheriff, and Michael McAuliffe, the area’s state attorney. While I imagined they might address issues that might have directly affected residents, Ponzi schemes, ID theft and credit card fraud, cyber crimes, and the like, instead they focused on the area’s gang problems and pill mills.

Rick Bradshaw, left, sheriff of Palm Beach County and Michael McAuliffe, right, state attorney, discuss their success combating crime in the Palm Beach area.
The sheriff told the audience that Palm Beach is the only area that has “regional fusion center” and coastal radar, a kind of “electric fence” along the oceanfront. “Palm Beach is a wonderful safe place to live.”
L. to r.: Kirk Blouin, the former police chief who now as director of public safety heads the town’s police and fire departments. ; Michael McAuliffe is the state attorney for the 15th Judicial District that includes Palm Beach. He pointed out his success in “fighting pill mills,” having closed half of the county’s pill mills although I noticed one simply changed their sign from Pain Management to Spine Clinic.
L. to r.: Michael Reiter, former police chief of Palm Beach. ; Cynthia Van Buren.
L. to r.: Mark Foley, a former US Congressman. ; Shirley Cowen.
The event convened at the Guild Hall of the Episcopal Church of Bethesda by the Sea.
L. to r.: Charles Henderson. ; John C. Dotterrer is a lawyer in Palm Beach whose unique South Seas landscape in the North End was featured in NYSD three years ago.
L. to r.: William Roger Cummings. ; Suzanne Beck and James Weiner.
Ralph and Blanche Teldeo.
L. to r.: Sarah Alsofrom.; Officer Michele Pagan arrived on her bicycle rather than a Segway and was joined by other of Palm Beach’s finest.

Town Council declares whitefly emergency

“The worse devastation I have seen on Palm Beach in 45 years,” said a Palm Beach resident during a workshop meeting attended by residents, pest control professionals, and town officials at Town Hall last week. Being described as “a plague,” the Town Council has called for an emergency ordinance to be enacted at the December 13 meeting to combat the whitefly infestation that has destroyed rows of the island’s iconic ficus hedges. John Randolph, the town attorney, was directed to draft an ordinance as soon as possible.

It has been more than two years since I first wrote about the whitefly after I noticed it along South County Road. At the time, no one seemed concerned although it had already leveled ficus hedges as far south as Coral Gables. Pest professionals attending the meeting had various approaches, including, soaps, sprays, fertilizers, and the like… “It is like controlling ants; you will never be able to eradicate them …” “It is a real problem but soap and fertilizer does help.” “A noble effort but nothing you will do will ever have a lasting effect.” “Treatment with synthetic nicotine products works but the cost is upwards of $600 per quart. If you drive by The Biltmore, their treatment cost $3,000 but may not be a guarantee to permanently eradicate the problem.” And this was my favorite: “The anti-chemical people will tell you the answer is simply to rip out all the ficus hedges on the island.” Of course, that may be the correct answer since no other community has come up with an elixir. Stay tuned.

Town Hall, a view of from Earl E. T. Smith park. Dedicated in 1989, the park honors Mr. Smith who was a US ambassador to Cuba, mayor of Palm Beach, and the first chairman of the town’s Landmark Preservation Commission, among his notable accomplishments.
Residents, pest control professionals, and town officials attended a hastily called workshop on how to combat the ubiquitous whitefly that has infected the resort’s signature ficus hedges.
L. to r.: Skip Randolph, town attorney, facilitated the meeting to gather information in order to craft the emergency ordinance. ; Michael J. Pucillo is a local attorney and town councilman.
L. to r.: Heather Henry, president of the Garden Club of Palm Beach, has urged the council to act as soon as possible.; Garden Club members Beth Dowdle and Bobbie Lindsay attended the workshop meeting.
Town Hall’s most recent restoration has been completed.

Palm Beach Zoo supporters attend reception at The Breakers

Two Thursday nights ago in the Circle Room at The Breakers more than 100 cat enthusiasts attended the Palm Beach Zoo’s 2011 Conservation Leadership Lecture featuring the renowned Dr. Howard Quigley of Panthera, a NYC-based international organization whose mission is to ensure the future of wild cats through conservation action. An internationally-recognized expert on Florida panthers, Dr. Quigley’s work also has included studies of giant pandas, Siberian tigers, cougars in central Idaho, and jaguars in the Brazilian Pantanal. Here are some snaps from the evening and a few images from my recent tour of the Palm Beach Zoo.

The Circle Room at The Breakers was the setting for the Palm Beach Zoo’s reception and lecture, “Tigers, Cougars and Jaguars: Lessons Learned and Getting it Right for Cat Conservation.”
L. to r.: Howard Quigley, PhD. ; Linda and Jared Soper.
Kim K. Campbell, left, with David and Margarette Owen.
L. to r.: Robin Sweet. ; Jarrod Schilling and Hayley Lerner.
L. to r.: Judy Schrafft and Stephen C. Ferber. ; Barbara Mangum and John Drinkwater.
Palmer Loening, Carole Loening, Angela Peters, Charlotte Taylor, and Richard Stafford. Mr. Loening is the nephew of the renowned aviation engineer and Palm Beach resident for many years Grover Cleveland Loening (1878-1976).
L. to r.: Dan and Kathie Comerford.; Pete and Jean Phillips.
L. to r.: Jim Brennan and Faith Morford. ; Doris Hastings and Fred Wright.

The Palm Beach Zoo
1301 Summit Boulevard, West Palm Beach

Located in Midtown West Palm Beach in Dreher Park off Summit Boulevard, the Palm Beach Zoo houses more than 1,400 animals on 23 acres. Here are a few snaps from my recent visit.

Among the most fashionable, this peacock is out for a stroll wearing Louboutins.
Quiet for the moment.
Baker Lake, named by family members in memory of George F. Baker, offers a haven for waterfowls and a reminder of pre-development South Florida.

You can never have too much information about alligators.
An “ancient reptile” ready for a close up.
A touch for synchronization.

This wallaby was not the easiest to view or photograph.

Harriet & George Cornell’s Tropics of the Americas exhibit

While their major legacy remains at Rollins College in Winter Park, Harriet and George Cornell were generous to Palm Beach County, especially at the Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens and at the Palm Beach Zoo. You could not have met two of the nicest people.
Opened in 2004 at a cost of $18 million, the Cornells’ three-acre exhibit recreates a Central and South American habitat. In 2006 Animal Planet named it one of the nation’s “Ultimate Zoo” exhibits.
The Cornells’ extraordinary generosity made for the Zoo’s most elaborate habitat, recreating Mayan structures as settings for sheltering animals.

The kids love the zoo, on the lookout for wildlife.

The capybaras host an afternoon sun-and-swim soiree for their guests.

Far from their Madagascar homeland, the red-ruffed lemurs share a waterfront thatch-roofed villa accented with bamboo siding at the zoo.
Camera shy.

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