In April 1917 at the lakefront Beaux Art picture palace, Palm Beachers were regaled by Robinson Crusoe, a newly released five-reeler filmed in Stuart. The audience may have empathized with the shipwrecked castaway’s fantastic adventures on a remote island populated with more shady palm trees than beachcombers, robber barons, and cultivated natives. A century later, the Historical Society welcomed nearly 100 supporters and history buffs to its annual Sunset Cruise where proceeds for the sold-out event will foster its history programs for the area’s school children. The benefit’s underwriting patrons were Bush Brothers Provision Company, Christian Angle Real Estate Inc., Dailey Janssen Architects, and Fernando Wong Outdoor Living Design, Inc.
Here is a glance at the Historical Society fundraiser before a look back at Palm Beach in 1954.
27 April 2017
2017 Sunset History Cruise aboard the Mariner III
Historical Society of Palm Beach County
When last Sunday’s yacht cruise on the Intracoastal Way had to be rescheduled to later in the week because of a windy rain, and considering the monsoon season is fast approaching, I thought I might be spared spending several queasy hours afloat, since I become unsettled even if I hear the word boat. Nonetheless, Thursday night’s weather could not have been more perfect, and once underway, I stabilized. When I was asked to be the guest speaker I thought what better perspective on a place built as a make-believe escape from reality than filtering its past around the topic “Believe It or Not: Palm Beach Myths and Legends.”
Why did Henry Flagler come to Palm Beach? Was it really possible that Flagler’s second wife Ida Alice was as mad about a Ouija board as his third wife Mary Lily could have been captivated with drink or drugs? Was the Everglades Club the town’s first Spanish designed building? Whatever happened to the Palm Beach Sanitarium? Guests enjoyed the odyssey with an open bar and generous hors d’oeuvres while exploring the facts and fictions that have long been a part of the island’s allure. And while I promised this was a one-night-only monologue, I have already been asked to encore next spring. Perhaps, a time to explore that imaginary place where money does not matter but it is the only thing that counts — “Billionaire’s Row: From Mar-a-Lago to Widener’s Curve to Sloan’s Curve & Beyond.”
Sunset at Rybovich Marina
Palm Beach Moment:
New Year’s Eve – 1954
During the sunny days and balmy nights before New Year’s Eve 1954, Palm Beach’s cottage colony was abuzz. The merchants wanted to ban automobile traffic on Worth Avenue. The Town Manager announced seventy-nine new residences and fifty-one apartment units were built during the previous year. At Villa des Cygnes, C. Egerton Warburton was overseeing the disposal of his family’s Mizner-designed waterfront house with plans to sell the furnishings, auction the art, and put the house on the market. At the newly organized Palm Beach Country Club, they were already planning an expansion as their New Year’s Eve dinner dance featuring the Al Navarro orchestra and Bob Frisco’s tightrope act had reached capacity with more than 350 reservations. Further down the beach, the staff at Bythedunes was setting up for Lester Lanin and his orchestra who were flying in from New York for a one-night-only engagement.
Afterward, many of the Charles Wrightsmans’ guests were heading to the Everglades Club for what was talked up as the most important New Year’s Eve in the club’s 35-year history. For the first time, the Orange Garden would become a weatherproofed ballroom with a sliding roof allowing guests to dine and dance without a shiver, a raindrop, or the fear of windblown hair. For years, the club had endured weather worries on cold and rainy evenings with only a makeshift canopy staked over the dance floor to shelter members. With construction begun during the summer, the $250,000 project included a new sixty-five by fifty-five foot band shell and a multi-ton retractable roof fabricated of structural steel and fiberglass, intended as a “revolutionary change that did not impair the charm.”
Designed by architects Wyeth, King and Johnson and John L. Volk, the roof rolled forward at the touch of a button. It moved across steel-encased concrete columns until resting on the roof eave of the new arcade constructed around the Orange Garden’s east and north sides. The ladies could now shed their Canadian fox ranch minks and full-length chinchilla coats. If there was a sudden chill, the club’s roof could retreat and reset atop the band shell within two minutes. The new ballroom’s color palette was primarily soft greens and beige accented with yellow and chartreuse. With the obligatory orange trees transplanted to the south gardens, the climate-controlled enclosure afforded the dining room and central lounge unobstructed views of the lake. From the edge of the stage, a runway controlled by a hydraulic lift could extend onto the dance floor and be drawn back under the stage. The band shell’s mural and faux greenery were painted by Ricardo Magni.
“Everglades Club will unveil Orange Garden’s roof tonight,” read The Shiny Sheet headline. An accompanying photograph of the new sealed off ballroom showed the club’s president Edward E. Bartlett Jr. rehearsing his push of the button with Wyeth, Volk, and the club’s committee that supervised the project.
Although organ music was piped in thru a modern sound system during the cocktail hour, “The roof was the attraction that filled the club to overflowing,” reported a local columnist. Billy Marshall and the Meyer Davis orchestra kept the more than 750 guests dancing through the night without regard to freeze or breeze. At midnight, the balloons tied to the roof were released. The outside gardens were darkened as guests crooned Auld Lang Syne amid the shimmer of amber globe lights conjuring the memory of the once iconic orange trees.
Two days later, at the annual Everglades Club Protective Syndicate meeting, President Bartlett announced the club had turned a profit for the previous year despite the expense of the retractable roof. At the close of the meeting, he opened the roof much to the approval of the directors. That Wednesday, the club’s first tombola fashion show featured a fashion fantasy drama showing what might have happened if the new roof had been planned and designed by women.
Photography by Augustus Mayhew.
Augustus Mayhew is the author of Palm Beach-A Greater Grandeur