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.)
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)