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This Week in History
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World War II
Last week we started to tell you about Lake Worth City Hall’s previous life as an auditorium.
By 1961, one article said, the building housed “the city’s teenagers club (and) a radio club, and the Lake Worth Playhouse performs here. It has a recreation room and space is allotted to the Coast Guard for a boating course and to the Visiting Nurses Association. Several shuffleboard courts on the grounds receive daylong play, and folks wishing to just relax in the shade just use the area as a meeting place.”
In 1972, the Playhouse moved to the nearby Oak-ley Theater. The city had briefly considered razing the building for more parking. Instead, it voted to move over City Hall offices from 414 Lake Avenue. That building had served as an elementary school until June 1928.
The move to the auditorium building was completed in 1973.
The third-floor continued to be an auditorium. But in July 1979, city commissioners voted to chop it up into office space.
Now City Manager Michael Bornstein walks among file cabinets and boxes. He opens a door to a closet and points to green concrete and wood molding up a side wall. That was the proscenium, the arch that framed the stage.
“You can imagine the actors and roadies and everything,” Bornstein said during a recent tour. Pointing:
“This would be stage door left. This would be like standing in the middle of the stage.”
In what had been the third-floor foyer: an original glass lamp covering.
One stairway leads to what might have been a balcony or might have been the “colored section.”
Bornstein would love to move city hall — and, in the process, consolidate its far-flung offices — “and return this to public space;” bringing back performances on the third floor and perhaps moving the city’s museum from the old city hall site on Lake Avenue, now a city annex, to the first two floors of this complex.
Bornstein’s realistic; he worked on the project to save the old 1916 Palm Beach County Courthouse.
A $19-million project to remove the wraparound and restore the original courthouse led to its March 2008 opening as the Richard and Pat John-son Palm Beach County History Museum. That effort, Bornstein noted, took 13 years.
Tags: buildings, Lake Worth
Lake Worth City Manager — and renowned local history buff — Michael Bornstein recently invited us to tour his City Hall. Its claim to fame: It once was an auditorium. At least, the third floor was an auditorium that seated up to 350. The three-story “civic center” building at Dixie Highway between Lake and Lucerne streets still bears the words “municipal auditorium” on the outside, along with its Moorish towers and minarets.
It sits on a lot once called Pioneer Park. Built as a single-story framed clubhouse by early residents, it served as a meeting and recreation hall.
The civic center was, at the time it was built, the county’s first fireproof building and was built partly as a hurricane shelter; the great 1928 hurricane having made landfall in or near downtown Lake Worth only seven years earlier.
Total cost was $69,956. The 6,380-square-foot structure had reinforced concrete with 8-inch concrete slabs and a roof of 2-inch concrete slab over steel trusses. It was designed by G. Sherman Childs, an architect who came to the area in 1913 and worked for a decade for Addison Mizner before opening his own firm. With the Depression in full swing, the project stalled when it ran out of money and couldn’t pay workers. Area businesses agreed to accept “scrip” in lieu of cash in order to get it finished. It was dedicated Nov. 28, 1935. The basement and first-floor room were used for gatherings.
One conference room still bears a plaque listing 320 families living in Lake Worth on May 18, 1914, “the day the lights were turned on in the city.” The main floor also housed the Chamber of Commerce and, for a time, the Lake Worth police. And, city historian Helen Greene said recently, “The basement was also used as the Lake Worth ‘USO’ during WWII. Our prettiest young ladies were carefully chaperoned as they served homemade goodies and hometown conversation, dancing and games.”
Its most famous tenant could well have been the Lake Worth Playhouse, which began performing there in 1953. By the 1970s, it would be gone. Soon after, its venue also would be no more.
NEXT WEEK: The show won’t go on.
Lake Worth City Manager Michael Bornstein tours the a file storeroom in city hall where the stage was in the old auditorium. (J. Gwendolynne Berry/The Palm Beach Post)
The Lake Worth Auditorium on May 2, 1935, about five months after its dedication. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection at the State Library and Archives of Florida)
Tags: buildings, Lake Worth
Little things can speak volumes about history. On June 28, we wrote about a century-old bottle linked to West Palm Beach hotelier George Zapf. Soon after that, Todd Velez walked into The Palm Beach Post lobby carrying the little wooden house shown here. It’s a coin box distributed to congregants to raise money for a church’s 1916-1917 building. Velez is unofficial historian for the congregation at 301 First Ave. S., now Calvary United Methodist Church. It started April 14, 1912, making it older than Lake Worth itself, which celebrates its centennial in June 2013.
Here’s more from Velez and the church from a March story by the Post’s Willie Howard:
The Methodist church first met in a congregant’s cottage. In the fall of 1914, it began building a church at O Street and First Avenue South. It was that building for which congregants were encouraged to stuff coins into the bank, designed to look like the planned structure. But construction had started with a basement, which quickly filled with water. The congregation dismantled the building in 1923 and used parts to build a new sanctuary.
Help: The school year now is under way. We know many Palm Beach County public schools are named either for people or well-known places. Others have names that are a bit more mysterious. Conniston Middle School, at Parker Road and Conniston Road, just north of Southern Boulevard, is likely named for Conniston Road. But who or what was Conniston?
Earlier this year, Debi Murray, archivist at the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, checked city directories. She found no early families named Conniston. The earliest school reference she found was to “Conniston Road School” in 1932. A Dec. 14, 1931 Palm Beach Post story mentions a PTA-organized Christmas show at the school, which she said “indicates to me that it opened that fall.” A woman who had attended the school told Murray the first structure was a wooden building at Lake and Conniston.
We went to school district headquarters and searched the bound ledgers of the minutes of the school board, then called the “Board of Public Instruction,” but they provided no illumination, except some references suggesting Conniston originally was called “the South Palm Beach School.”
Readers, can you help?
This wooden bank was distributed to congregants of Lake Worth’s First Methodist Episcopal Church — now Cavalry United Methodist Church —to raise money to build their 1914 church building. (Ray Graham/The Palm Beach Post)
The original church under construction in 1913. (Palm Beach Post file photo)
Tags: church, Lake Worth
Architect’s sketch of the proposed Lake Worth theater from the July 1, 1939 Palm Beach Post. Click on the image to view a larger version.
The theater opened at 601 Lake Ave. on Feb. 29, 1940.
The Lake Theatre around 1971. (Mrs. Pollifax — Spy was released in 1971, and Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell in 1968.) (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
The Lake Theatre in the early 1970s (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
The theater in 1980, after J. Patrick Lannan purchased it. Lannan remodeled the building and opened the Lannan Museum there in 1983. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
The Cultural Council of Palm Beach County moved into the building in January 2012. Read more about the history of the building here.
Tags: Lake Worth, photos, theaters
The four-lane concrete bridge that currently spans the Intracoastal Waterway at Lake Avenue opened on July 10, 1973. A portion of the 1937 bridge it replaced remained beside the new bridge until 2011, when it was dismantled and pieces of it were sunk to create an artificial reef as part of the Snook Islands Natural Area just north of its original location.
Click on the image below to view a video of the 2011 demolition of the old Lake Worth bridge.
Visit our Palm Beach Then and Now photo gallery to see an aerial view of the bridge in 1938 and in 2009.
Photos below are from 1972, during the construction of the Lake Worth bridge. The bridge is known officially as the Robert A. Harris Memorial Bridge, named for a retired Air Force officer who was director of the Lake Worth Chamber of Commerce from 1961 until his death in 1969. The bridge that still stands was the third to be built there. The first was a wooden bridge built in 1918 to replace a rowboat that transported people across the Intracoastal Waterway. Dedicated on July 4, 1919, it was the longest toll-free bridge on the East Coast at the time. In 1937, a concrete bridge was built to replace the original one, which was damaged in a storm. (1972 Palm Beach Post staff file photos)
This August 1938 photo was taken from the east end of the then-new Lake Worth Bridge. That’s the 1925 GulfStream Hotel in the background, on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway. (Palm Beach Post file photo)
Tags: bridges, Lake Worth, photos, This Week in History