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Palm Beach County as it was: Changing times

By BILL McGOUN

Sixth in a series.
Part 1, Memories of Palm Beach County, 1943-1954
Part 2, The war years
Part 3, Before the urban sprawl
Part 4, The wide-open coastline
Part 5, The wide-open west
Part 6, Changing times

The first decade after World War II was not a time of big change as far as downtowns were concerned. Palm Coast Plaza, the first shopping center, was not opened until 1959, and Palm Beach Mall, the first mall, did not come on the scene until 1967.

In residential areas, however, change was the norm as the vacant lots and blocks of the coastal cities began filling in quickly. The two vacant lots across from our house on South O Street in Lake Worth became the sites of a two-story apartment building and a one-story prefabricated house.

The vacant lot at S. Palmway and 3rd Avenue where I often played sprouted a one-story group of apartments. In the southwest, new streets — C, D and E — were cut between 6th and 12th Avenues S., and
the Whispering Palms subdivision was built on the south side of 12th Avenue.

The same pattern would hold true in other coastal cities, as most neighborhoods filled up to reach their present configuration. The great leap west would come later.

As for the downtowns, there was some infill and some realignment. In addition to the department-store changes noted previously, downtown West Palm Beach would add the Surf Theater in the 300 block of Datura Street and Mike Pucci’s Bowlarama on Evernia Street between Dixie and the Florida East Coast railway. It was there that I did my first indoor bowling and had my first pizza.

surftheater

Back in Lake Worth, the chief change would be the demise of the outdoor bowling alley, replaced by a five-and-dime. Otherwise, downtown remained pretty much the same into the 1950s, when the Lovett’s and Margaret Ann chains were combined and both Lake Avenue stores were closed.

The new company, Winn-Lovett, built a Kwik-Chek store on the east side of North Dixie Highway just north of 2nd Avenue. Later in the decade, Winn-Lovett would merge with Dixie Home to form Winn-Dixie and the Dixie Highway store would be renamed.

School days

I spent six years at South Grade. The school was of such a size that occasionally it had too many students in a given grade for one class but too few for two. As a result, some classes were split. I attended fourth grade in a class that was half sixth-graders and sixth grade in a class that was half fifth-graders.

The school safety patrol was drawn from boys in grades five and six. I was on the patrol for all of the fifth grade and six days of the sixth. Why? Because South Grade had a new principal who was a hard-liner on any infraction of rules. Any lapse of attention and you were off the patrol. Ditto for being late twice, my Waterloo.

That was the year that South Grade got its first girls on patrol, a change born of necessity. By mid-year all the boys in grades five and six had been kicked off.

picture-4

The only field trip of the year was an excursion by bicycle to Sunset Ridge Park for a May Day picnic. This was before people got paranoid about celebrating May Day because the Communists made such a big deal
out of it. I would come home exhausted and sunburned.

In 1949 I headed to the hill on the west side of town to attend what then was Lake Worth Junior-Senior High School, housed in the two oldest buildings on the present campus. I was there for six years, graduating in 1955.

My youth included the usual mix of odd jobs, including what then were the two traditional ones, paper boy and bag boy, tasks now taken over by adults. I bagged groceries at the Kwik-Chek on Dixie Highway and was for a time one of the best paper carriers The Palm Beach Post ever had.

That’s because I was delivering The Miami Herald. I also briefly delivered the erstwhile Lake Worth Leader, a daily published out of a Quonset hut on N. G Street along the Florida East Coast railway.

The Quonset hut, a World War II innovation, became popular for low-cost construction after the war. When Lake Worth Junior-Senior High School added a metalworking shop about 1950, it was in the form of a Quonset.

Cities would adopt various strategies as they began to get built out. Some would aggressively annex while others, such as Lake Worth, were content to remain within their boundaries.

Boynton Beach and Boca Raton had more aggressive policies than did Delray Beach, which is why today Delray Beach’s city lines are closer to Atlantic Avenue than to either Ocean Avenue in Boynton Beach or
Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton.

As to high-school education, the byword was addition by subtraction. In 1950 the downtown high schools in Delray Beach and Boynton Beach were closed and replaced by Seacrest High School, built roughly halfway between the two downtowns. The same year Industrial High School, the African-American school in West Palm Beach, was replaced by Roosevelt High School.

The “race question”

Jim Crow still was the rule in those years. Like most white youths I didn’t have to think much about race, so I didn’t. If you are African-American you can’t ignore race, as it confront you constantly.

Larry Rivers, a Florida A&M University professor, once told me in regard to the Confederate flag, “I’d like to forget about it, but everybody keeps shoving it in my face.”

If you lived in Lake Worth then, the race question was all but academic. The only African-Americans lived in the Osborne section, which was physically separated from the rest of the city. They went to the Osborne school through eighth grade and then to either Carver High School in Delray Beach or Roosevelt High, if they could arrange transportation.

Lake Worth never had the separate water fountains, rest rooms or railway waiting rooms that West Palm Beach had. About the only time we ever went into an African-American neighborhood was to eat at Harvey’s, a Tamarind Avenue institution in West Palm Beach with some of the finest barbecue I ever have eaten.

Of course, we had to order takeout or eat in our car. Only African-Americans were allowed inside. The first time I ever was inside was in the 1980s, but that was after Harvey had died and the food was decidedly inferior.

The evolution of the two-car family

A watershed event in my life, though I didn’t realize it at the time, came in 1953 when the Blosseys, our landlords on S. O Street, were killed in a traffic accident in Indiana. The new owners had other plans for the property, so we had to find a new home.

Dad bought a house at 1603 N. O Street and we moved in the summer of 1954, as I was entering my senior year in high school. For the first time, we lived somewhere where Mother, who never drove, could not walk to shopping.

In a way, it was symbolic of the rush to the wide-open spaces that would engulf Palm Beach County, and the nation, the decades to come. The two-car family would become the norm, due both to desire and to
necessity. Like all downtowns, Lake Worth’s would decline and come back in specialized form, stressing dining and entertainment.

1947crosley

Fortunately for my own mobility, by that time I had a car, if a 1947 Crosley could be called a car. It seems appropriate that it was built by an appliance firm, as it was about as large and as stylish as a refrigerator crate.

As I said in the first part of this series, I wouldn’t trade today for the “good old days.” I enjoy modern medicine and the Internet too much. Also, today’s society is a more just society, having excised the demons of Jim Crow for the most part.

I like to recall the days of my youth, but once around that block was enough.

- – -

A reader identified as Valesha corrected me on an item in the first part of this series. I had said the 1963 bus wreck in which 27 farm workers occurred when the bus missed the turn onto the old Six-Mile Bend bridge east of Belle Glade. In fact, as she noted, it happened when the bus collided with a truck. The wreck occurred several miles from the bridge on Brown’s Farm Road.

Memory can be a tricky thing. I tried to check my facts as much as possible but on this one I goofed. Valesha had a personal reason for remembering, as four of her relatives were among the 27 killed. Thanks for setting me straight.

billmcgoun

Bill McGoun is a retired editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post. He is the author of four history books, including Lake Worth High School: A History and Southeast Florida Pioneers, which tells the history of Palm Beach County, the Treasure Coast and the Lake Okeechobee region through the lives of noted individuals. He is working on a history of the Palm Beach County school system.

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Posted in Black Palm Beach Blog and Flashback blog April 20, 2010 at 9:39 am.

7 comments

7 Replies

  1. Greate Information……..

  2. Great information Bill. I particularly liked the information about Munyon Island and of Trapper Nelson. Would like to know more about the Hygeia Hotel and the mysterious death of Trapper Nelson.
    Keep up the good work.

  3. Tony Benjamin Apr 11th 2013

    Ran across your blog, Bill, via a Facebook posting. What a trip (you are an excellent writer). Moved to Lake Worth from upstate New York in 1959. I was 10 or so at the time. We lived in a small house — it was 106 1/2 (or near that address) and had been built by my uncle, Bob McGill. The house was on an alley, and there was a medical clinic across the way. It did, indeed, have a “colored” entrance and water fountain. So while there may have not been a municipal Jim Crow in those days, it was there in private business. And it was a real shocker for me. Lake Worth High took on racial integration when I was a junior. Several black football players showed up — and it was transforming. We played Belle Glade that first year, and many of them came out with KKK emblazoned on their helments. (i think we won the game). Like you, I later went on to newspapering as my calling (firstly at the now-defunct Boca News). Covered many Palm Beach County School Board meetings where integration was the main topic. Keep up the good fight. Tony Benjamin, Loveland, CO.

  4. Linda Spaugh Fossum Jul 14th 2013

    Bill, I am preparing to create a biography/photo album for my kids. I ran across your articles and found them so helpful — not only in facts but in jogging my memory. I remember Trapper Nelson, the Casino, not having a phone and then a four party line, etc. too. My dad owned Pinecreek Fish Farm on Military Trail – now a shopping center. We moved there in 1945 and I was in the class of 1959. Thanks for all your research and memories!


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