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Slots one part of Lake Worth Casino

Q: I remember going to the Lake Worth Casino back in the 1960s, and it was all about dances for us teenagers. Was the Lake Worth Casino an actual gambling casino ? — Elissa Crawford, Hypoluxo

A: Yes! Here’s what we wrote in 2005:

In 1919, the pioneer Brelsford family deeded a large tract of beachfront to Lake Worth. As a result, the city owns the 1,300-foot stretch, which bisects the town of Palm Beach.

In 1913, workers had hauled 1,700 feet of lumber and 17,000 shingles across the lake to build a two-story bathhouse just north of what is now Kreusler Park.

The second story had a dance floor and gallery for bands. The first floor was divided into a dining room and dressing rooms.

The Old Casino mysteriously burned down in 1918. The city then built the structure whose core still stands today. The Lake Worth Casino and Baths, topped with domed towers and adorned with arched columns and wide-open windows, opened in 1922.

The “casino” was only part of the complex, which included the ballroom, pool, restaurant and beach. Patrons could play slot machines until the city outlawed them in the mid-1930s.

The complex was pounded by the famous 1928 hurricane, plus years of rain and salt water took their toll. When the 1947 hurricane tore off the roof, the structure was rebuilt with a bland shoebox-with-windows look.

For years, the city talked about revitalizing the 19-acre complex. Work finally began in 2011. It’s now lining up tenants and plans a grand opening this fall.

Special thanks to staff writer Willie Howard.


A view from the water of the Lake Worth Casino and Baths in 1925. The structure, topped with domed towers and adorned with arched columns and wide-open windows, opened in 1922. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg May 3, 2012 at 9:16 am.

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Lake Worth publisher braved 1928 storm

Every year at this time we donate a Post-Time column to what’s arguably the most important event in Palm Beach County history: the 1928 hurricane . It’s the second deadliest natural disaster of any kind in America. The official death toll of 1,836 was updated to 2,500 at the 75th anniversary in 2003, and many historians believe far more died.

One of our more loyal readers has been retired pilot William S. Stafford, who lives all the way in New Zealand.

Stafford grew up in Lake Worth. At the time of the storm, his father, James, later Lake Worth’s youngest mayor, was about 7 years old. And his grandfather, William M. “Chief” Stafford, was publisher of the Lake Worth Leader.

“My father would not discuss the ’28 storm, but my grandfather retold it to me quite often, and my grandmother made interjections throughout his dialog, adding to their night of terror,” he writes.

Just after noon, William Stafford crossed to the Lake Worth Casino. Winds were so strong that any attempt at photos “was all but impossible due to the sand and its effects on the camera.”

His 3-ton 1926 Hudson sedan got him back over the wooden bridge, waves breaking over it.

Realizing it was too late to get out a special edition, he shut down the presses and sent his workers home. His own trip home, normally 5 minutes, took 25. At one point a small house or shed flew over the car and smashed to the ground just behind him.

It took him 10 minutes to get the door open. He and his wife had to shout to be heard. They could hear windows upstairs starting to smash; they ran up and began tearing off closet doors and nailing them to the frames.

“Chief” ran outside to rescue his pet Shetland pony, trapped in its shed, which blew away as soon as the horse was out.

As the eye approached, Stafford ran out to secure more windows. Then the second half was on them. Knowing it well could be worse, he and his wife put their children under mattresses and the dining table. The family cowered for another four hours.

The next morning, they saw their home was one of only two left standing in the neighborhood. The morning after the storm, Stafford raced to his newspaper to find the roof had come down right on the presses. It would be weeks before he could publish again.

The family home later would be condemned. A new one finished in 1929 incorporated salvaged items, so “there were always constant reminders in the ‘new’ house of the ’28 storm,” William writes.

1928narcissusst
This photo of Narcissus Street, looking south from Second Street in West Palm Beach, was taken Sept. 16, 1928, following the hurricane. (Photo provided to The Palm Beach Post)

Click here for more photos and memories of the 1928 hurricane.

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg September 16, 2010 at 8:36 am.

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Palm Beach County as it was: The wide-open coastline

By BILL McGOUN

Fourth 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

Today it is hard to envision the beachfront east of Lake Worth as it appeared in the 1940s. It was quite truly another world.

There was no Sloan’s Curve. State Road A1A continued south along the ocean beyond Ocean Avenue in Lantana, curving over to the lakefront where Manalapan Town Hall now sits.

(It was State Road 1 when we came to Lake Worth in 1943. The As were added later to avoid confusion with U.S. 1.)

There was only one house between today’s Sloan’s Curve and the Lake Worth Casino area. I heard that it belonged to Lily Pons, then one of the world’s leading sopranos, but I never have been able to confirm that.

Across the street to the north of the casino was a nightspot named the South Ocean Club, which burned in 1957, after we had moved from S. O Street. Kreusler Park occupies the site today.

lakeworthcasino19381

The casino itself (pictured above in a 1938 Palm Beach Post file photo) was the original 1922 building, the north half of the present structure. There was a salt-water pool behind it and an underpass in front leading beneath State Road A1A to the beach. The walkway along the beach was wooden, with several gazeboes. At least two of them extended eastward over the sand.

At the south end of the Lake Worth beach were the studios and transmitter of radio station WWPG. I had an old console radio next to my bed and WWPG was the only station near enough that I could hear it.

South of WWPG there was nothing on the ocean until Manalapan.

lakeworthcasino1940s
This aerial photo taken from a 1940s postcard shows the Lake Worth Casino in the center with A1A running the entire distance north and south of the casino right along the beach. The road in this area was later moved away from the water. Photo courtesy: Florida Photographic Collection.

I’m sure there was a lot of open beach in south county but I don’t recall ever having been there before the Lake Worth High School graduation party of 1955. The party was held at the Boca Raton Club’s beach pavilion, south of the inlet, which has long since given way to more intense development.

To the north, Palm Beach was already developed but there was virtually nothing between Blue Heron Boulevard in Riviera Beach and Jupiter Inlet. All I remember are the Seminole Country Club and some houses in Juno Beach.

Singer Island was still empty in the late 1950s; I attended a beach party there while a student at Palm Beach Junior College (now Palm Beach State College).

Bridges were lower, one was manually-operated

Getting onto Singer Island was a bit of an adventure. The Blue Heron bridge was a low-level wooden structure and the floorboards bounced as we rode over them. The Southern Boulevard bridge was similar, but in better shape. The Lake Worth bridge of that era was concrete; a part of it is in use today as a fishing pier.

South of the Lake Worth bridge, roughly where the Bryant Park boat ramp now is, was a wooden dock. This structure served two purposes. First, it allowed people to tie up their boats. Second, it concealed the pipe beneath that dumped raw sewage into the lake.

Lake Worth wasn’t the only city polluting the lake. When I was in the PBJC choir, we appeared on the Today show when it was broadcast for a week from the parking lot of the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. To provide a backdrop, water skiers were enlisted to ride on the lake.

People watching elsewhere probably thought that was a natural occurrence. We who lived in the area knew it was an anomaly. Ordinarily, no one in his right mind would ski on that cesspool.

The most interesting bridge was the manually-operated turn span on Ocean Avenue in Lantana. After lowering the gates, the bridge tender would walk to the center of the span, insert a long steel rod looking like a giant Allen wrench into a hole in the floor, and walk around it in large circles to open and close the span.

lantanabridge
James Willard Easton and two unidentified women manually crank the mechanism that opened and closed the Lantana Bridge. Undated photo provided by Lantana Historical Society.

Inlets haven’t changed much…

Palm Beach County’s four inlets were pretty much as they are today, except for the extension of the north jetty at Boynton Inlet to shield the waterway from the prevailing rollers out of the northeast. Those rollers could be treacherous and the narrowness of the inlet, which was cut originally to improve circulation of lake water and not for navigation, allowed little room for error.

Once I rode a charter boat through the inlet. The skipper positioned his craft northeast of the opening and watched the sea behind him. When he saw what he wanted, he jammed both throttles wide open and the boat almost leaped toward the inlet.

Charter boats could outrun the rollers, but drift boat could not. In 1964, a following sea capsized the Two Georges as it tried to get into the lake and swamped it. Five people died.

When I got my first bicycle in 1945 I celebrated by riding out to the ocean, south to Lantana, west to U.S. 1 and back north to our home via Dixie and Federal highways. When I got home I was exhausted and my parents, whom I had neglected to let in on my plans, were frantic.

By that time, with World War II nearly ended, the beach was open day and night. During the early years of the conflict, when German U-boats attacked the shipping lanes off Southeast Florida, the beach was closed at night and patrolled by mounted Coast Guardsmen.

There was a wooden tower on the casino from which volunteers watched for enemy activity. I had a book with silhouettes of German and Japanese airplanes so I would know right away if one flew over.
I never saw one.

…but the beach has changed

To people in Lake Worth then, the beach was theirs for the asking. If they wanted to hold a beach party, they could do it just about anywhere. No one dreamed that someday that beach would be separated from the road by a string of condominium buildings.

The beginning of the end for an open beach came in September of 1947, when a powerful hurricane roared ashore. The ocean road was so badly damaged that it was abandoned. Lakefront land was filled and the road moved westward to its present location. In the process, Sloan’s Curve was created.

The casino and the boardwalk also were hammered. The casino was rebuilt and expanded and the wooden walk and gazeboes replaced with concrete structures.

A look at a map shows that Sloan’s Curve lines up almost perfectly with the West Palm Beach-Lake Worth border and the Palm Beach-South Palm Beach border similarly lines up with the Lake Worth-Lantana
border. That’s because what today is Palm Beach south of Sloan’s Curve once was part of Lake Worth.

In what must go as one of the most short-sighted decisions in history, Lake Worth gave all that land, except for the casino property, to Palm Beach.

I should have got a hint of the future one day about 1950 when Herb Engelman and I started walking along the lakefront south of WWPG, where the first apartment building in the area was being constructed. Suddenly a man came from the building waving a handgun and shouting, “This is private property! Get off!”

We did. Looking back I can see that this was a foretaste of what was to come. At the time all I thought of was self-preservation.

The beach itself south of Sloan’s Curve remains public, because the old right-of-way abuts it, making the county the upland property owner. Unfortunately, Palm Beach County has never done anything to
improve access, bowing to the will of affluent oceanfront residents who do not want to share “their” beach.

sloancurve1981
This 1981 Palm Beach Post file photo shows a path that used to be State Road A1A along the ocean from Sloan’s Curve in Palm Beach south to the Lake Worth Casino. The stretch of road was washed out in 1947.

NEXT: The Wide-Open West

billmcgoun1
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 Flashback blog March 26, 2010 at 12:48 pm.

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Casino Murder Was Never Cold Case

This month marks the 50th anniversary of a sensational murder at the Lake Worth Casino.
On Sept. 29, 1957, someone called police after finding blood around the facility’s pool and walls.
Officers found night watchman Raymond R. Hoagland, 56, stuffed under the bleachers. He had been strangled and had a fractured skull and a broken neck.
Investigators surmised that Hoagland, a retired chemical engineer from New Jersey, had surprised a criminal trying to carry off the cash register.
He and his wife had planned a visit to Hoagland’s mother, and packed bags were in the family room when officers arrived to notify Mrs. Hoagland.
A bloody handprint helped link the slaying to Martin A. Harris of Lake Worth, then 25, a father of five and a recent parolee from Louisiana who’d crashed a dance at the casino that evening. Police had arrested him for
breaking into a car. He had bruises and a bloody eye, evidence of a struggle.
Harris’ statements helped convict him of murder. Circuit Judge Russell O. Morrow sentenced him to life in prison.
“You have exhibited selfishness, covetousness, a complete disregard for others and a fondness for liquor which have caused heartache for your mother and other members of your family,” Morrow intoned.
Nine years later, in 1966, Harris appealed his conviction, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Miranda ruling, which guaranteed a defendant’s right to counsel. Harris said he’d asked for a lawyer before questioning and been denied. His appeal went nowhere.
Harris was paroled in October 1967; his fate after that is not known.
Readers: The Aug. 15 column on the “golf ball” water tower in Juno Beach, and the Sept. 5 column on the West Palm Beach Auditorium prompted this note from Maureen Gately Conte of Palm Beach: “I enjoyed seeing the recent article on the ‘Juno ball.’ That was supposedly (and maybe still is) a ripe area for catching billfish. I caught my first sailfish off the Juno ball in the late ’70s and even had it mounted. I remember dragging that heavy mounted fish from apartment to apartment whenever I moved. I finally gave it to my brother for his pool house; after all, he paid for it! I also remember the ‘Leaky Teepee.’ The WPB Auditorium was the only place to go for top acts. I recall skipping the Elvis concert, thinking I’d catch him next time. But as we all know, there was no next time.”

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg September 26, 2007 at 1:28 pm.

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Lake Worth Casino Featured Slot Machines

Q: Was the Lake Worth casino ever really a casino?
A: Long before South Florida’s native people got into the act, the Lake Worth casino was offering gambling.
In 1919, the pioneer Brelsford family deeded a large tract of beachfront to Lake Worth. As a result, the city owns the 1,300-foot stretch, which bisects the town of Palm Beach. Earlier, in 1913, workers had hauled 1,700 feet of lumber and 17,000 shingles across the lake to build a two-story bathhouse just north of what is now Kreusler Park. The second story had a dance floor and gallery for bands. The first floor was divided into a dining room and dressing rooms.
The Old Casino mysteriously burned down in 1918. The city then built the structure whose core still stands today. The Lake Worth Casino and Baths, topped with domed towers and adorned with arched columns and wide-open windows, opened in 1922. The “casino” was only part of the entertainment complex, which included the ballroom, pool, restaurant and beach. Gamblers could play on slot machines until the city outlawed them in the mid-1930s.
The complex was pounded by the famous 1928 hurricane, plus years of rain and salt water took their toll. When the 1947 hurricane tore off the roof, the structure was rebuilt with a bland shoebox-with-windows look.
For the past two decades, the city has talked about revitalizing the 19-acre complex that includes the beach, a municipal pool, a strip of shops and eateries, a pier, and the for-rent ballroom inside the original casino structure. Each time deals have stalled.
Museum of the City of Lake Worth: (561) 586-1700.

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg April 27, 2005 at 12:27 pm.

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