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E.R. Bradley: A colorful Palm Beach character

Last week’s column on Guy Metcalf sparked a request that we profile another colorful pioneer, E.R. Bradley, who owned competing newspapers, albeit in different eras. Here’s a reprise of a December 2001 column:

Kentucky Col. Edward Riley Bradley operated his popular, but clearly illegal, casino in Palm Beach for a half-century.

The former livery boy was the only owner in history with four Kentucky Derby winners.

He would buy the Palm Beach Post, Palm Beach Times and Palm Beach Daily News in 1934.

He opened his Beach Club in 1898, just four years after Henry Flagler made Palm Beach a synonym for turn-of-the century indulgence.

Bradley’s club was renowned for its cuisine, but that wasn’t the draw. The white clapboard building on Royal Poinciana Way attracted tycoons who thought nothing of plunking down hundreds of thousands of dollars at the tables.

It was a private club with a cadre of security guards. Membership was a who’s who.

Stung by poor patronage the first year, Bradley and his brother were about to abandon the club when they opted to break tradition and admit women.

But no single women or people younger than 25. No smoking inside. Drinks only with meals. Evening dress mandatory after 7 p.m.

Florida residents were barred; Bradley reportedly targeted society Northerners who could afford to lose big because he feared locals would end up on, or before, a grand jury.

Bradley made generous contributions to churches, charities, and politicians.

There were feeble attempts at raids, but he always got a tip, and by the time agents showed up, tables had been folded and guests swayed to an orchestra or sipped tea. Bradley, in ill health, closed the Beach Club in 1945 and died at 86 on Aug. 15, 1946; as per his will, the club was razed for Bradley Park. On his death, Joseph Kennedy lamented, Palm Beach “lost its zipperoo.”

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Edward Riley Bradley (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

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From 1898 to 1945, Edward Riley ‘E.R.’ Bradley owned and operated the nation’s longest-running illegal gambling casino in Palm Beach. The casino, along with its fancy restaurant, was called the Beach Club, a rambling green-trimmed white building located where Bradley Park is today. It received its charter from the state to operate as a ‘social club,’ but the ultrawealthy who attended bet millions at the gaming tables each season. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

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Groundbreaking for St. Edward Church, April 25, 1926. E.R. Bradley is in the foreground. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg October 28, 2010 at 8:20 am.

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