City Spotlight: Palm Beach

Palm Beach 1907
The Currie Investment Company map shows how built-up Palm Beach was that year [1907]. (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.) [Pg. 1]
Reprinted from 'Palm Beach' by Richard A. Marconi and Debi Murray with the Historical Society of Palm Beach County (Arcadia Publishing, 2009) 

With President Trump’s frequent visits to Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach so often in the news lately, we thought it would be a good opportunity to showcase the splendor of Palm Beach, its history, and historic photos of the town.

Brief History

The first permanent pioneers arrived to what is now called Palm Beach in 1872. At the time, however, it was known as “Lake Worth”, named for Major General William Jenkins Worth who fought in the Second Seminole War. According to accounts from early settlers, Palm Beach received its name from a shipwreck named the “Providencia.” When the wreck washed ashore in 1878, a load of coconuts bound for Barcelona was salvaged and planted in the hopes of launching a commercial coconut industry.

As word of the area’s beauty spread, a hotel was needed to accommodate the visiting tourists. So, in 1880, Palm Beach’s first hotel, the Coconut Grove House was established. Over the next two decades, the island community was well-established with a number of businesses, hotels, and increasing numbers of winter residents.

Later, the arrival of the Florida East Coast Railroad in 1896 marked an official end to the pioneer era in Palm Beach and eased the transition to the popular tourist destination it is today. The railroad tracks crossed Lake Worth, allowing trains to deliver their passengers directly the Flagler System hotels, which included the Palm Beach Inn. Later it was renamed The Breakers because so many guests often requested a room “down by the breakers.” Though a fire destroyed the hotel in 1903, a larger, more luxurious version was built later that year, but this too was destroyed by a fire in 1925. The magnificent stone structure that serves as a Palm Beach landmark today was rebuilt and reopened two years later, in 1927.

The Town of Palm Beach was officially incorporated on April 17, 1911. The town’s first officials were also elected that day. In 1929, the Garden Club of Palm Beach sponsored the preparation of a Town Plan.

Palm Beach today enjoys world-renown for its beauty, quality of life, and small town character. With approximately 9,000 year-round local residents, and about 20,000 more with seasonal homes. With its beautiful beaches, award winning golf and tennis facilities, and numerous attractions, Palm Beach is a quintessential coastal American city.

Historic Photos of Palm Beach

Palm Beach Pioneer Home

Many of the first pioneer houses were constructed like this one belonging to William M. Lanehart (1841–1924), who is standing in his doorway. Using wood collected on the beach, early residents used the cheapest and most plentiful building material available for the framework—palmetto thatching.[Pg. 11]
Reprinted from 'Palm Beach' by Richard A. Marconi and Debi Murray with the Historical Society of Palm Beach County (Arcadia Publishing, 2009) 

The Breakers Hotel

After The Breakers hotel burned for a second time in 1925, it was rebuilt using fireproof materials. The hotel was completed and reopened for the following 1927 season. The original hotel, built by Henry M. Flagler, was called the Palm Beach Inn. Flagler later changed the name to The Breakers because guests kept asking to stay “down by the breakers.” Designed in the Italian Renaissance style, The Breakers stands as a symbol of Palm Beach luxury. Today, the palm tree–lined driveway leads visitors and guests to a security checkpoint before entry onto the grounds. This helps protect the privacy of hotel guests. (Then, courtesy of Historical Society of Palm Beach County; now, courtesy of the author.) [Cover Photo]
Reprinted from 'Palm Beach: Then & Now' by Richard A. Marconi and the Historical Society of Palm Beach County (Arcadia Publishing, 2009) 

A group of pilots of the First Air Squadron poses with some of the unit’s planes, including Stinson Voyagers and a Grumman G-21A Goose (just inside the hanger) belonging to Palm Beach Aero Corporation. The squadron used the commercial hanger to service the airplanes. Capt. Ike Vermilya is on the left. (HSPBC.) [Pg. 28]
Reprinted from 'Palm Beach County During World War II' by  Susan Gillis, Richard A. Marconi, Debi Murray (Arcadia Publishing, 2015). 

Royal Poinciana Hotel

Flagler chose Palm Beach, a desolate barrier island about 250 miles south of St. Augustine, as the site for his most spectacular property, the Royal Poinciana. The hotel, built at the then-termination point of Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway, became a magnet for the social elite and established Palm Beach as the premier resort destination for the rich and famous. A spur of the railroad delivered guests right to the hotel’s door. This gathering of high society included famed business tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, on the right. (Courtesy of Florida State Archives.) [Pg. 46]
Reprinted from 'Florida's Grand Hotels from the Gilded Age' by R. Wayne Ayers (Arcadia Publishing, 2005). 

The Oakley Theatre
The Oakley Theatre, built in 1924, stands in the Moorish Deco style before damaged by the hurricane on September 16, 1928. The building was constructed by brothers Clarence and Lucian Oakley from Illinois. The Depression struck in 1929, just as the theater reopened. Clarence committed suicide in 1931 because of financial troubles. Ironically, Lucian died one year later to the day. It is believed that their ghosts still wander the playhouse halls.[Pg. 19]
Reprinted from Art Deco of the Palm Beaches by Sharon Koskoff (Arcadia Publishing, 2007). 

For more Palm Beach history and Vintage Images of Palm Beach, check out all of our related titles here.