Black history month
This Week in History
West Palm Beach
World War II
Last week we told you about the “mariner” statue that stands at Phil Foster State Park.
It’s just part of the extensive works of Earl LaPan.
From 1934 to 1939, LaPan, originally from Lowell, Mass., created wall-sized scenes of tropical birds and Indian chiefs at more than 300 South Florida hotels, some of them famed Art Deco structures.
In 1962, he created his twin 10-foot-high, 1-ton bucking horses in front of the First Federal bank at 500 S. U.S. 1 in Lake Park. The artwork became a landmark and First Federal often was called simply “the horse bank.”
LaPan (pictured above) died of pneumonia at 87 in February 1996.
“I was extremely proud of him,” nephew Roy Bahr, 81, said. Bahr’s Vero Beach home is decorated with much of his uncle’s artwork. “He was an extremely talented individual.”
First Federal went through new names and owners and finally closed in 2001, to be replaced by the Pediatric Respiratory Center. In 2005, one horse was toppled in a storm, and the center’s owners decided the second one was a danger to pedestrians, so it came down as well.
The following year, the steeds were replaced by a bronze statue depicting five children — four boys and a girl hugging a doll — climbing a vine-covered rock.
An artist found it wouldn’t be practical to repair the horses, so officials proposed the town and the center owners chip in to create new ones and place them on the other side of U.S. 1 in Kelsey Park. Nothing ever came of that.
Update: Several readers – including former Post colleague Chuck McGinness, who grew up in Riviera Beach – called to correct our May 17 column on the Mariner statue. The bank actually was First Marine Bank & Trust Company of the Palm Beaches and was at 20th Street and Broadway in Riviera Beach, not in Lake Park.
Special thanks to staff writer Bill DiPaolo.
Earl LaPan’s statue of a pair of bucking horses was erected in 1962 in front of First Federal bank in Lake Park. One of the horses was toppled by a storm in 2005 and the other, deemed a hazard, was taken down the following year. (Palm Beach Post file photo)
I want to know the history of the fisherman statue at Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach.
— Barbara Platner, Singer Island
Seaman statue at the entrance to Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
The romantic figure of a grizzled skipper, hands at the wheel, seems perfect for seafaring Singer Island. But that wasn’t the “mariner’s” original home.
Its creator was noted muralist and sculptor Earl LaPan. His client was, not surprisingly, Mariner Bank. It stood on Broadway in Lake Park. The bank paid $18,000 for creation of the 14-foot-high, 2,500-pound statue in 1978.
The bank later closed, and in 1983, the mariner was loaded by crane and moved to Phil Foster Park. There it stood, in tribute to Jerry Thomas, who’d founded Mariner Bank in 1962. Thomas’ son Ken said in 1983 his father had been the model.
Jerry Thomas was in the Florida Senate from 1965 to 1972 and was president from 1971 to 1972. The banker-turned-politician wrote or co-sponsored hundreds of laws. He served on the Board of Regents and was an undersecretary in the U.S. Treasury Department under President Gerald Ford.
Thomas died of cancer at 51 in 1980. The bridge from Riviera Beach’s mainland to Singer Island and a Jupiter elementary school are named for him.
Then Senate President Jerry Thomas talking with artist Earl LaPan in 1972 before the unveiling of two murals LaPan created for the state senate. The mural in the background depicts Ponce De Leon landing in Florida. (Photo courtesy of the Political Collection of the Florida Photographic Collection, on the Florida Memory website of the State Library and Archives of Florida)
When Phil Foster Park was renovated in 2006, the mariner was moved about 20 feet east, and it has since been given a “sprucing up,” with fiber patches and some new structural support, Palm Beach County Parks director Eric Call said this month.
The mariner was a tiny piece of Earl LaPan’s résumé.
But perhaps his most famed Palm Beach County work is no longer here.
NEXT WEEK: The horses.
Tags: art, parks, place names
We’ve written a few times, most recently this summer, about the grim stretch between February and May 1942 when U-boats sank 24 ships off Florida, 16 of them from Cape Canaveral to Boca Raton.
Frank Leonard Terry, 23, was the only survivor when a torpedo sank the 500-foot W.D. Anderson, filled with oil, 12 miles north of Jupiter almost 70 years ago, on Feb. 22, 1942. He’s now 93 and lives in eastern Pennsylvania.
William Kelly saw our story this summer all the way in Oxford, England. It hit home. Among the Anderson’s dead was its second mate, Mahlon E. Stitsel, 37.
“Mahlon was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. John Stitsel and brother of my grandfather, Glen Stitsel,” Kelly wrote.
“Tragically, another brother, Elvan E. Stitsel, also enlisted in the merchant marines, was killed exactly one week before Mahlon, in a freak accident which occurred on board his tanker, Point Breeze, in the relatively safe waters of Long Island Sound, New York. The tanker ran aground, triggering an explosion in the engine room which knocked Elvan overboard. There were no other casualites. Elvan’s body was never recovered.
An article in a Defiance, Ohio, newspaper, provided by Kelly, said, “These men gave their lives to their country, even though they were not enlisted in the armed services.
“Patriotism and devotion to duty inspired them to take risks fully as dangerous as the servicemen meet, and just as necessary to the winning of the war.”
Terry said in October of this year he doesn’t specifically remember Stitsel but he still remembers his own ordeal. Covered in oil, he bobbed for hours in water so cold he thought sharks had bitten off his legs and was surprised when rescuers told him they were still there.
“It was my first trip to Florida,” Terry said in a 1992 interview for a Palm Beach Post section marking 50 years since World War II came to Florida. “I didn’t like the experience.”
Frank Leonard Terry of Parkesburg, Pa., in 1992. He was the only survivor of the W.D. Anderson, sunk in 1942 by U-boat ‘off the South Florida coast.’ (AP file photo)
Update: Our recent columns on Autorama said the great “Mural of America” now hangs at the Boynton Beach Woman’s Club. Janet DeVries, archivist at the Boynton Beach City Library, alerted us that we’d been given bad information. She said the Woman’s Club mural is by the same artist, Bernard Thomas, but it shows a history of Boynton Beach. The “America” mural is in the library’s archives — or at least one 8-foot by 4-foot panel of it. DeVries says the rest is believed lost to history.
Tags: art, automobiles, museums, World War II, WWII
It’s still there, at Hilltopper Stadium, adjacent to the city of Delray Beach’s Seacrest Soccer Complex. The former high school stadium is home to the Delray Rocks youth football team.
The 20-foot-high steel-reinforced concrete statue of New York Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle was sculpted by Don Seiler, who died in 2000. Seiler wanted the statue to go to the Orange Bowl, but a friend suggested donating the statue to “a lovely little high school with a great football team,” and the Seacrest High School class of 1969 contributed the funds to move the statue to the school.
A Palm Beach Post file photo of the statue in 2003:
The statue was featured in The Palm Beach Post in 1981:
The dedication at Seacrest High School in 1968:
Tags: art, Delray Beach, football, schools
On Nov. 23, 1965, thieves cleaned out much of the Norton’s jade collection, a haul worth about $1 million. All but three of the 100 pieces were recovered three months later in a Broward County garage. The theft was thought to have been tied to other major crimes in south Florida. The museum, now known as the Norton Museum of Art, still owns the jades it acquired in 1942 from the collection of Stanley Charles Nott. Read more about the history of the Norton Museum of Art here and here.
Tags: art, museums, Norton Museum of Art, notorious crimes, This Week in History