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People’s Park: A hippie park right here in West Palm Beach

An old saw says if you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t there. For some, the era is a drug-induced haze of memory. Even much of the physical evidence is gone. Example: the People’s Park.

The large open area in downtown West Palm Beach stood at South Flagler Drive and Chase Street, across from the famed Hut drive-in.

In the late 1960s, it was a mini-city for local hippies. Remember them?

Four months of clashes with police followed. Officers made numerous arrests for drug sales. They reported finding trash, human waste, and even used condoms in the park and on lawns of nearby homes and the doorsteps of churches.

As always is the case, the problems were the work of some, not everyone. Unofficial leaders said they could police their own. But they were overmatched.

Forty years ago this week, on July 7, 1970, police had had enough.

They swept the park, posting “keep off” signs, and arrested 64 young people — many now grandparents.

Two years later, a judge ruled two city ordinances designed to run the young people out of the park violated their First Amendment rights to free assembly.

Soon after that, the city ordered all parks closed at 9 p.m., except for planned, supervised activities and lighted courts.

“The park was a damned national disgrace,” Police Chief William Barnes said in 1978, as the city considered allowing a Memorial Day Dixieland Band concert — about as unhippie as you can get — at the site.

“Pot smoking, hellraising, fornicating on the grounds, bottle and rock throwing — you name it,” growled Barnes, who would retire as police chief in 1980 and die of cancer at 87 in February 2009. People’s Park now is the site of Phillips Point. One of our lingering mysteries is why it’s called that. Readers: can you help?

(Special thanks to staff researcher Niels Heimeriks.)

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A worker begins putting up “Keep Off The Grass” signs on July 7, 1970, in People’s Park in West Palm Beach. A crackdown in the park that day led to dozens of arrests of hippies by West Palm Beach police. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg and Flashback blog July 8, 2010 at 9:39 am.

13 comments

13 Replies

  1. People’s Park and The Hut were still active when I moved to WPB in 1977 to take a job as a WPB city planner. In addition to the park, the median and parkways along Flagler Drive, which were jungle-like back then, housed many homeless people in makeshift campsites. The city skyline was dominated only by the Comeau, Citizens and Harvey Buildings.

    Phillips Point is the name of the original subdivision plat, recorded in 1910.

  2. Deadguy Jul 10th 2010

    I Was there and the cops were violent, we were over by the lake just sitting on the bench and cops came over and hit us. Barnes incited his officers to use brute force which was unnecessary. We escaped the whole thing jumping over the wall into a boat we had in Lake Worth.

    Most of the gathered youth were just there to mingle, listen to the many guitar players and have a good time. Naturaly there were the extreme dopers and spoilers who showed no respect to anyone. Seems to be that in all social gatherings there just has to be the minority of troublemakers that ruin it.

    We did have a great time watching the narcs in the NCR building photographing everyone. One night we even made a chorus line and gave them a show.

    After that many moved to Curry Park and John Prince.

    Remember Sherigg Heidman, or as Janis Joplin called him ” Ikeman”
    Peace – JP

  3. I remember People’s Park. Someone named that, I don’t know who, because it was a place for people to go hang out. It was one of many places that attracted the hippies, and just regular people that wanted to go there and hang out. Other places that were popular, that I went to were Phil Foster Park, Riviera Beach, and John Prince Park. Many people wanted to just go there, hang out and meet people, and listen to rock music. And of course, drugs and sex were rampant.
    The problem with these places was there was always troublemakers. There wasn’t much respect for the police and “the establishment.”
    I remember once such incident at People’s Park, Police were called and I heard someone say, “they’re sending Jameson.” Jameson was to be our future police chief. Jameson said that we need to police ourselves. The problem was, the attempts to police ourselves was unsuccessful.

  4. I remember John Prince Park in the early 70′s. For a while it was peace, love and imaginative fun. John Sebastion showed up and played. Considering the ever increasing people and diverseness, it was good. No big problems, just young folks doing their thing. Then, one night the national guard came and shut it all down. Armed and serious, I never knew what was so wrong they had to get involved. Those were the days my friend.

  5. Eddie Jansen Aug 18th 2010

    The Hut 1969 Peoples Park. I was sent by my family to go live in West Palm Beach and work for my cousin at PBJC as a dishwasher. I rented a small room not far from The Hut off Dixie HWY. The cemetary was on the corner. I asked someone where every one hung out and I was told about The Hut. I remember walking on to the grass and meeting a wise guy ;but,funny guy (red hair ?)named Benny.who kidded me about being from NYC. Anybody remember this guy? Peach ,Blue Flats,and Green Flats acid. Blonde Hash. NEVER HAD BETTER SINCE ! I met a great friend named Jeff Gillenbach ? The guy looked straight short hair, I think he played football in high school. Lived on or near Olive Way and had a ROAD RUNNER. any body remember this guy ?I remember meeting this beauitful blonde and going to a party with her. at the party I heard Good Times bad Time by Led Zeppilin for the firest time. Wow ! Did it ever sound so magicial ! We left together hitched hiked. I doubt any one remembers me . I’m Eddie. I was skinny kid from NYC. If you want e-mail and tell me your favorite Hut/Peoples Park stories > Emjansen@yahoo.com Peace and Love to all The Hut brothers and sisters .

  6. Gary B Oct 18th 2010

    I remember it well. I was arrested the night of the big bust.I had only been there about 10 minutes when,”BAM”. Do you remember when “redneck jocks” would drive by & yell at us? How about the Litchfield Farmhouse Resturaunt across the street. The Hut had incredible sandwiches (2nd only to Russos).I remember after returning from the Atlanta Pop Festival going straight to the hut (never did acid again after Atlanta) I am so glad to have found pictures of the Hut (Hard to remember what it looked like exactly if you know what I mean) Peace Brothers

  7. To answer Baba’s question (above), although I haven’t thought of these events in many years, I’m shocked to realize that I was in the car that brought on the police (National Guard?) attack that closed John Prince Park. There were protests about the 9:00 p.m. closing that had hundreds of kids lining the road to the park that night. The police were already present and unsurprisingly unhappy about the impact on traffic on Congress Avenue. I was on a double date with a friend, on our way to the park when we discovered the protest. My friend was quite the provocateur, and he stopped the car in the middle of the road, which was at that time a single lane in either direction (is it still?), feigning an engine problem. We popped the hood open, opened the doors and let the music blast out, all of which was cheered on by the crowd. Traffic northbound was brought to a halt. After around 1/2 hour, my friend noticed that the southbound flow of traffic had disappeared, and he correctly interpreted that some action was taking place further up the road at the entrance to the park, or at Palm Beach Junior College (as it was called at the time). He closed the hood and we drove to the school and parked, and then walked south to the park to join the action. It was then that we saw Congress Avenue, northbound and southbound, blocked by police vehicles and armed policemen, driving and marching south. We later learned that a similar group of police were doing the same thing further south, pushing the protestors from both directions toward the center. We were ultimately chased by billy-club wielding policemen, with helicoptors hovering above us. We escaped by diving into thick shrubs that lined that part of Congress. Traffic eventually flowed again, and the escaping crowd left the area by jumping into any cars that would provide a lift. My foursome jumped into the open bed of a passing pickup truck and returned the next day to retrieve the car.

  8. Eddie jansen Dec 9th 2010

    The Hut. Girls ! Girls ! Girls ! One night I met these two woman in the lot in front of The Hut. A pretty dirty blonde woman of Polish decent from Ohio named Bonnie. I ended up going back to her place(Motel apt) in Riviera Beach where we made out all night. I remembered her pointed out on her dresser a cerramic of her bald headed boss. I saw her only once again. Emjansen@yahoo.com

  9. Eddie Jansen Dec 9th 2010

    The first night I ever bought a hit of acid was at The Hut. “Peach Acid” I took it and I met this beauiful blonde and she asked me if I wanted to go to a party I think she told me she attended Palm Beach Junior College. At the party, I heard “Good Times Bad Times ” by Led Zeppelin. for the very first time. Wow ! It soumded so magicial !!! I wasn’t getting off and wondered whether or not I got ripped off. We leff and started hitch hiking.We got a ride from a couple of guys. I told them I wasn’t getting off. We stopped and bought a can of Robitussin Spray ? which I inhaled through a paper tube a couple of times. All of a sudden it felt like a bear was crawing up my legs ! Then I started seeing images of the Devil with my eyes closed. They dropped me off. I went into my small cottage room and turned on the transister radio. Buddy Miles “Memphis Train’ came on. I felt like I was on a train going through a tunnell ! I ended up at the Greyhound Bus station talking to black people I told them i was going out of my mind ! Finally went home close my eyes for 5 minutes. Iit was really 12 hours ! Iended up at a movie theater seeing Funny Girl. I was 8 AM and thought They have movies really early here in West Palm Beach. I came out it was 10PM. Weird !

  10. Eddie Jansen Sep 17th 2011

    The Hut ! NYC had East Village, San Francisco had Haight Ashbury and Los Angeles had it’s hot rod/surfer hangouts;but no place was like The Hut ! To end up there in a 1969. A classic American hangout. Long hairs, fast cars, and hot girls. I remember a dirty blonde woman named Bonnie, She was Polish decent from Ohio. She lived in Rivera Beach and work as a drafts person or architect, i remember her showing a ceramic doll was cue balled headed boss of hers. I remember a friend named Jeff Gilgenback. He had played football at PBHS. He drove a green Plymouth Road Runner. I wnt to look him up only to find out he passed away in 1995 He was good guy and I would’ve liked talking old times with him. I went back to WPB a few years ago. It was like pieces of planet earth just broke off into space. It was gone. The Hut . The small cottage I lived in off Dixie HWY. THE WHOLE BLOCK WAS GONE ! Shakeys, rRoyal Castle and Palm Beach Mall.. GONE ! There is an old American saying…. YOU CAN’T GO HOME

  11. Eddie Oct 7th 2012

    Visit The Hut on Facebook.

  12. The Hut is now in Yahoo Groups. TheHutWestPalmBeach

  13. David Gearhart May 18th 2013

    I was at Phil Foster Park when the picture was taken by the post. Last night at peoples park. There was a person around 19 with long hair , sitting on a picnic table waiting. Waiting to go to work at the restaurant on the park. But it didn’t open that night. I know there was a picture taken. A person showed it to me and guess what ? It was a picture of me. I have been trying to get a copy. I would appreciate it ,if you could do this for me. Thank You


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