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West Palm Beach man discovers boxing arena photo

Our Dec. 13, 2012, column described the boxing matches the American Legion Post 12 held in an indoor arena, with bleachers for about 2,000 built in the late 1920s on the north side of Clematis Street, near the Florida East Coast Railway crossing.

What we didn’t show you was a photograph of the place. We had to settle for one of boxing at a club on Palm Beach. In fact, we’ve searched high and low for an image from the West Palm Beach venue, without luck.

Until now.

The picture seen here came to us by way of Leonard (“Buddy”) and Rosanne Bush, of West Palm Beach, who themselves can’t remember how it came into their hands. It says on the back, “photo by Herb Davies.”

Buddy, now 84, isn’t one of the guys in the ring, but he recalls boxing there in 1939 at the ripe old age of 11.

“My first fight ,” he recalled, “was with a redheaded boy from Lake Worth who a few years back retired as a judge, name Tom Johnson. And I lost.”

He means “Red” Johnson, born in 1927, who was a Palm Beach County Circuit Judge from 1976 to 1992 as well as a state senator, a Palm Beach County State Attorney, and a municipal judge. Buddy recalled he won the first round and Johnson the next two. “Red” died at 77 in 2004.

“He used to go down to Clematis Street and fight,” son Bill Johnson, a West Palm Beach lawyer, recalled. “When he was older, he had a crooked nose.”

The photo itself has buried treasures. The Al-far Creamery was a major dairy downtown. And the Howard Johnson’s at “So. Dixie & Belvedere” was across the street from where the Palm Beach Post now stands.

The American Legion sponsored the Friday fights “to get the kids off the streets,” especially older teens, Buddy Bush recalled.

Buddy’s in the “Bush Brothers” family, which has been in the meat business in Palm Beach County for nearly nine decades.

He said he boxed four or five times each summer. The gloves were heavy for maximum protection, but that “you got tired, as a kid, just slapping at the other one.”

He said two pals fought along with him: Harold Clarence Cook, also a “Buddy,” and George Shahin. Cook was killed in Vietnam. Shahin went to the Marines and lives in the Miami area.

Buddy said the place was huge and hot and the crowds were big, but at that young age, “you didn’t have any fear. Just foolishness.”

He said he doesn’t remember anyone getting hurt and that the fights were “a family affair. My dad would take all of us down. It was a great program. I’ve been in the Legion for many years and they’ve always done good work.”

Undated photograph, probably from late 1930s or early 1940s, of boxing matches the American Legion Post 12 held in an indoor arena, with bleachers for about 2,000 built in the late 1920s on the north side of Clematis Street, near the Florida East Coast Railway crossing. (Photo courtesy of Leonard “Buddy” and Roseanne Bush)

Leonard “Buddy” Bush boxed at age 11 at the American Legion venue on Clematis Street in West Pam Beach. (Photo courtesy of Roseanne Bush)

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Posted in Archives and Eliot Kleinberg and Flashback blog October 10, 2013 at 10:48 am.

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Old School Square fueled Delray revival

The end of a Delray Beach era came 25 years ago this week. It led to a downtown cultural jewel.

The 4-acre complex at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Swinton Boulevard now is called the Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square. It changed its name last fall.

“Old School” isn’t the half of it.

The complex holds not one, but three historic buildings, all of which predate the great 1928 hurricane. The Cornell Museum of Art and American Culture is in the former 1913 Delray Elementary building. The Crest Theatre is in the former 1925 high school building. And the Vintage Gymnasium dates to around 1925.

For nearly 75 years the complex was a center of culture and education, hosting church services, community meetings and band performances. But by the mid-1980s, it had become an eyesore.

The high school closed in 1950. When the elementary school graduated its final class on June 7, 1988, many advised just tearing it down.

The stained and crumbling school was a totem of despair. And the rest of downtown was a dark, depressed place with little business, something hard to imagine now that the avenue is a bustling entertainment mecca.

But starting in 1985, a small group, led by resident Frances Bourque, vice-chair of the city’s historical society, and Mayor Doak Campbell, made things start to happen.

The hard sell was made a bit easier when more than $2 million was included in a $21.5 million bond referendum that promised significant street, sidewalk and drainage improvements throughout the city. The measure passed in 1989. The closest vote, at 52 percent approval, came on the question that included money for Old School Square.

The city bought the property for $392,000 that year. The former elementary school opened in 1990 as the Cornell. The gym reopened in 1991 as a community events room. The former auditorium opened in 1993 as the Crest. The remainder of the $7 million renovation was finished by 1998.

Old School Square hosts 1,500 activities a year. The museum’s budget has grown from $230,000 in 1992 to $2.7 million in 2013.

“This is where the town grew up,” president and CEO Joe Gillie said last month.”We’ve come full circle. (And) not only did we save the old schools. We saved the character of this community.”

Flag raising at the then-new Delray Elementary in 1913. (Photo courtesy of the Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg June 6, 2013 at 9:38 am.

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Our history in photos: The Palm Beach Post

The square building at the center of this photo is the Palm Beach Post-Times building on Datura in 1926. The view is from Dixie Highway looking East down Datura. The Harvey Building, still under construction, is in the background, and the West Palm Beach Fire Department and their equipment are in the foreground. (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

Oct. 23, 1961: Demolition nears completion on the old Post-Times building at 328 Datura in West Palm Beach. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

The Palm Beach Post gets a new building

July 1960: Aerial shot of the new Post-Times facility on South Dixie Highway.

Nov. 13, 1960: About 2,500 people attend the grand opening of The Palm Beach Post-Times’ new building. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

About 1,000 members of the public tour The Palm Beach Post-Times’ new building. The hooks hanging from the ceiling carried copy to linotype operators. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

In the composing room in 1960 (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

L. Boswell works with a stereotype dry mat, part of the printing press process of the day. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

Journalists work in the newsroom as a maintenance man installs a sign. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

The copy desk the day after John F. Kennedy was elected 35th president of the United States. In those days the copy desk was also called the “U-desk” because of the shape of the desk (the boss sat in the middle to control copy flow). The term persists today. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

The Palm Beach Post-Times’ downtown Lake Worth bureau in the 1960s. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

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Posted in Flashback blog and Our history in photos April 26, 2013 at 12:20 pm.

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Norton’s Nessel wing opened 10 years ago

Almost 10 years ago, on March 8, 2003, the Norton Museum of Art opened its $20-million, three-story, 45,000-square-foot Nessel wing.

That’s enough of an excuse for us to do a two-parter on the historic museum, featuring some mysterious graves and a big heist.

First, the new wing. It went up on the southwest side of the museum and was named for shoe magnates Melvin and Gail Nessel, who donated $6 million.

Its 14 galleries include a 1,600-piece photography collection, the Nor-ton’s Chinese collection — much of it selected by museum founder Ralph Norton — and European art from before 1870.

The expansion, part of an overall $35 million campaign, boosted the complex’s total area to 112,500 square feet. This helped the institution to display more of its 5,200-piece permanent collection. Museum officials also acquired about 150 new works of art.

With more space in the new wing, the original building was reconfigured to include more of the permanent collections and special traveling exhibitions.

The museum has a link to this region’s early settlers.

It was built on land that originally had held the graves of some 200 pioneer settlers.

That cemetery operated from 1895 to 1921, when it could no longer compete with Woodlawn, across the street.

The Lakeside Cemetery Association donated the land to the city, with the provision that it be used as a public park, that its graves remain untouched and that, with the exception of a pavilion, no construction be allowed.

Norton, a Chicago steel magnate, and his wife, Elizabeth, had bought a winter retreat in West Palm Beach in 1934.

When Ralph Norton leased the land from the city in 1940 to build the museum, the cemetery association removed a number of restrictions. But it added others.

In 2001, the Lake Worth Pioneers Association, representing more than 300 families who claim to descend from the region’s early settlers, complained that the museum wasn’t complying.

The dispute was later resolved.

NEXT WEEK: Graves under the stage.

Visitors to the southwest wing at the Norton Museum mingle and descend the staircase after the ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2003. Architect Chad Floyd of Centerbrook Architects, who designed the new wing, said the space was intended to be like an “ice grotto” — providing a “cool” space for visitors seeking relief from the warm South Florida climate. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg February 21, 2013 at 3:42 pm.

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Palm Beach schoolhouse first in the region

Valentine’s Day isn’t the only thing around here that’s red. Palm Beach’s “Little Red Schoolhouse,” the only school in all of southeast Florida when it opened March 1, 1886, reopened this month after being closed for nearly a year.

Once again, the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach will host its “living history” program, which takes fourth-graders back in time for a mini-day in a one-room school of the 1890s.

The schoolhouse, in Phipps Ocean Park, was closed during a yearlong soil-remediation project in the park. The Foundation took advantage of the down time to renovate and update it.

When it opened, it was the only schoolhouse in what was then Dade County, which was a swath of scattered settlements stretching north to Stuart and covering an area the size of Massachusetts.

A county grant of $200 paid for lumber for the 22-by-40-foot building. Laborers donated time.

The Ladies Aid Society raised another $200 from the sale of embroidery and quilts to pay for furniture and supplies.

The first class had seven students ranging from 7 to 17 years old.

The teacher was Hattie Gale, from Kansas. She was all of 16, younger than some of her charges.

She was the daughter of the Rev. Elbridge Gale, a minister, educator and professor of horticulture, who retired to the area from Kansas in November 1884 and became one of the first to build a cabin on the west side of Lake Worth (the Intracoastal Waterway).

Hattie, who arrived in 1885, taught for only three months before the area hired a teacher for $100.

In 1901, the schoolhouse closed and a boat ferried the children to the new four-room school at Clematis Street and Poinsettia Avenue, now Dixie Highway, in West Palm Beach.

The original building was moved to Casa Bendita, the Palm Beach estate of John Phipps. It sat there for four decades, where it was used as a potting shed.

In 1960, shortly before Casa Bendita was razed, the schoolhouse was dismantled and moved to Phipps Ocean Park. In 1990, the Preservation Foundation restored the building to look like a one-room schoolhouse.

The building is closed to the public, except for the “living history” program.

The first schoolhouse (left) in Palm Beach County is shown in 1886 in Palm Beach. The first school teacher was 16-year-old Hattie Gale (in doorway). (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg February 14, 2013 at 3:36 pm.

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