Jan. 22, 1977: Hundreds of people waited in line in 30-degree temperatures to buy tickets for Elvis Presley’s Feb. 13, 1977, performance at the West Palm Beach Auditorium, in what would be the King’s final tour. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
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The Kravis Center turns 20 this week.
The 10.6-acre complex “on the hill” at Okeechobee Boulevard and Tamarind Avenue, west of downtown West Palm Beach, has become such an icon that few bother to still use its formal name: Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
There’s the 2,195-seat Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr. Concert Hall, the 289-seat Rinker Playhouse, the 170-seat Helen K. Persson Hall and the capacity-1,400 outdoor Michael and Andrew Gosman Amphitheatre.
The $100 million center has become an important stop on the national culture circuit, hosting touring Broadway shows, Frank Sinatra and violinist Itzhak Perlman, as well as local institutions.
Some had criticized the wisdom of placing a mecca to high society in a decaying neighborhood. But it would serve as the jewel for CityPlace’s revitalization.
And it would be neighbor to Dreyfoos’ other obsession. His largess helped save the original Palm Beach High School and convert it to a school of the arts that bears his name.
Dreyfoos, who gave $5 million to the Kravis Center, retired as chairman in 2007.
The dream of a performing arts center had started more modestly, back in 1980, with the idea of just a small theater in Currie Park. Neighbors blocked that. Ed Eissey, then president of Palm Beach Community College — now Palm Beach State College — scored a $10 million education grant to begin a $30 million center.
By 1985, the price had nearly doubled to $55 million. Four months after the January 1989 groundbreaking at the school’s Lake Worth campus, the theater was moved to its downtown site.
The center opened Sept. 19, 1992, in a spectacular dedication ceremony — crowned with the announcement that the $55 million price tag had been paid in full.
Board Chairman Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr. addressed some 2,100 supporters and cut a giant gold bow draped over the stage. In attendance: the Oklahoma oilman and benefactor for whom the theater is named. Kravis, who had wintered in Palm Beach for decades, would die just a year later, in October 1993.
The formal grand opening would be Nov. 28, 1992, at a $1,000-ahead gala. The master of ceremonies: local product Burt Reynolds, who gushed: “Is this a miracle or what?”
Maestro Ulf Bjorlin, who died in 1993, ‘conducted’ the pouring of the concrete for the orchestra pit of the Kravis Center during a media tour of the construction site in 1989. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
Against a backdrop of unfinished balconies and private boxes in April 1991, Ballet Florida dancers rehearse on the Dravis Center stage while children from the School of Ballet Florida watch. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
President John F. Kennedy arrived at Palm Beach International Airport for the last time on Nov. 15, 1963 for a weekend trip that included a visit to Cape Canaveral.
Click on the images to browse the Nov. 16 and Nov. 18, 1963 pages of The Palm Beach Post.
After the president’s death Mrs. Kennedy carried on the family’s tradition of visiting Palm Beach for the Christmas holidays, arriving in Palm Beach on Dec. 18 with six-year-old Caroline and three-year-old John Jr.
Feb. 11 is a big candle day for a local legend: Burt Reynolds turns 75. The man who might be this area’s most famous celebrity wasn’t even born in Florida. In fact, despite making his reputation in good-old-boy movies, he wasn’t even born in the South.
Burton Leon “Buddy” Reynolds Jr. was born Feb. 11, 1936, in Lansing, Mich. Some Hollywood reports place his birthplace in Waycross, Ga., where he lived as a small child before his parents moved to Palm Beach County. His father, Burton Milo Reynolds Sr., was Riviera Beach’s police chief.
Reynolds graduated from Palm Beach High School in 1954, but his football career at Florida State University (pictured below, Reynolds in Tallahassee, circa 1950) was cut short by injury and he enrolled at Palm Beach Junior College.
Bitten by the acting bug and guided by legendary theater mentor Watson B. Duncan III, he made his way to Hollywood, where he appeared in, directed or produced more than 100 films.
Reynolds opened the 400-seat Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre in Jupiter in January 1979, then sold it 10 years later after trying to donate it to Palm Beach Community College. The theater folded in 1996.
Reynolds also operated tours and production studios on his 160-acre ranch in Jupiter Farms, poured millions of dollars and many hours of time into local events and causes, and, in the 1980s, even brought the region a television series, B.L. Stryker, and the economic impact that came with it.
He followed that with the popular Evening Shade series. After Reynolds’ marriage to Loni Anderson ended, failed investments drove him into a bankruptcy that cost him his beloved 160-acre ranch. But an Oscar nomination for Boogie Nights helped restore his career. He continues to operate the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre at his museum in Jupiter, which opened in 2003, not far from the 35-acre Burt Reynolds County Park. And last month, he performed An Evening With Burt Reynolds at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart.
Burt Reynolds speaks about his times at Palm Beach High during an April 2010 ceremony dedicating “Burt Reynolds Road” on the campus of the Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach. He’s a 1954 graduate of Palm Beach High School, one of several schools to previously occupy the buildings that house the Dreyfoos School.
A half century ago this week, a former maid who’d dabbled in writing was buried in a Fort Pierce pauper’s grave.
It’s only in the past few decades that Zora Neale Hurston earned the adulation she never got in life.
Hurston wrote with passion and poetry and humor about the joys and turmoils of blacks living and dying far beyond the main roads of central and south Florida.
“Miss Zora’’ rose to prominence, was gradually ostracized by her own people and died destitute in Fort Pierce, only to be reborn only as an artist can be — through her work.
She was raised in Eatonville, north of Orlando. It was America’s first all-black town when it was founded in 1887.
Her mother once said, “You jump at de sun.”
Her mother died and her father, a tenant farmer and pastor, handed her off to relatives. She was a maid, graduated high school, and went to Howard University in Washington.
She was 30 when she wrote her first story in 1921 but lied about her age by a decade, making her an undeserving prodigy. She moved to New York in 1925 and was swept up in the Harlem Renaissance.
Her career climaxed with 1937’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, a swirling trail of a woman’s journey to independence that climaxes with the Glades’ great 1928 hurricane.
But fame didn’t always translate to fortune; she never made $1,000 on a book and once was a secretary to novelist Fanny Hurst.
Two marriages failed.
Peers accused her of Uncle Tomism after she became a political conservative, decrying integration.
Her last novel, Seraph on the Suwannee, was published in 1948.
She was a maid, a substitute teacher, and a columnist for the black weekly Fort Pierce Chronicle.
She died broke in a Fort Pierce nursing home in 1960. Friends donated for her funeral.
In 1973, Alice Walker (The Color Purple) paid for a marker for her grave.
Eatonville’s Zora Neale Hurston Center was opened in 1987, a monument to the woman who prophesied: “When the consciousness we know as life ceases, I know that I shall still be part and parcel of the world.’’
Special thanks to Post staff writer Scott Eyman.