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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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A look back: Palm Beach in 1913

Palm Beach Life magazine welcomes the 1913 social season: “The dawn of another season finds Palm Beach more beautiful than ever, and the glorious sunshiny days are enchanting to the many visitors who left their northern homes in snow and bitter cold. The Breakers opened its doors Christmas Eve, as usual, with many of its annual visitors just waiting for that day to come. President Taft and his party, returning from the Canal trip, were among the early guests, and many other well-known people are staying there for the winter.”

Other “distinguished visitors” include Rockefellers, Pullmans, McLeans and Drexel Biddles.

The sporting section includes news of golf, baseball, fishing, bathing (in the pool and in the surf), and the latest in dance, “the dancing particularly being of a decidedly gymnastic nature, with the 1913 innovations of turkey trotting, bunny hugging, chicken flipping, alligator wiggling, hippopotamus wabbling, and the tango.”

Palm Beach Life, Jan. 21, 1913

Other diversions are listed in the Daily Program: midday and evening concerts on The Breakers porch, upcoming golf tournaments, and excursions to Miami and “all points on Lake Worth, including Munyon’s Island, the Houseboat, Bethesda-by-the-Sea and Pineapple Plantation.”

Palm Beach Daily Program Jan. 21, 1913

“Long auto trip from Boston to Palm Beach” was a front-page headline in the Jan. 21, 1913 issue of the Palm Beach Daily News. The Boyntons of Wollaston, Mass., “completed one of the most notable automobile trips ever made in this country, covering 2,600 miles in a four-cylinder White car.”

Palm Beach Daily News, Jan. 21, 1913

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Posted in Flashback blog January 21, 2013 at 6:00 am.

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This week in history: New Southern Boulevard bridge opens

On Sept. 15, 1950, the new Southern Boulevard bridge over Lake Worth opened. It was renamed the Marjorie Merriweather Post Memorial Causeway in 1974, after the cereal heiress who built the Mar-a-Lago estate near the east end of the bridge.

It’s not every day that Hollywood stars attend the renaming of a road, but when the Post Memorial Causeway was dedicated in early 1975, actress Dina Merrill and then-husband Cliff Robertson attended the ceremony. Merrill, Marjorie Merriweather Post’s daughter, grew up at Mar-a-Lago.

Dina Merrill and Cliff Robertson at the 1975 causeway dedication. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

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Posted in Flashback blog September 10, 2012 at 6:00 am.

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This week in history: Royal Park Bridge reopens after collapse

In 1921, the masonry structure that was being built to replace the 9-year-old wooden bridge collapsed under the weight of a steamroller two days before it was scheduled to open. A temporary wooden structure was built, and on August 11, 1924, the new Royal Park Bridge was completed.
Undated photo of the Royal Park Bridge (courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

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Posted in Flashback blog August 6, 2012 at 6:00 am.

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Kenya Club beloved by blue-collar Palm Beach for 20-some years

Q: I would love to know the name of the bar on Palm Beach about one block north of Worth Avenue in the 1970s with the interior made out of concrete trees. — Sandy Bernstein Kornheiser, Boca Raton.

A: This took some doing, but we got the answer from Kevin O’Dea, longtime maitre d’ at Club Ta-Boo. The answer: The Kenya Club.

The club, at 204 Australian Ave. and County Road, “was like a jungle inside,” Joseph Bustani Jr., 76, said this month from Palm Beach Gardens. “The foundation was made to look like palm trees, with metal bars that stretched out and were covered with concrete.”

Joseph Bustani Sr., who died at 92 in 1996, opened the club around 1966. Popular with waiters, cabbies and laborers, it was perhaps the only blue-collar drinking hole in a town that’s anything but.

Amid a haze of cigarette smoke and waves of plastic flowers, stuffed animal heads stared down on patrons.

“I shot all the animals in Africa” a half-century ago, Leo Bustani, 85, Joseph’s older brother, said.

“The tree was a poinciana tree that spread 45 feet from one side of the Kenya Club to the other,” Leo said. He said the lion, a three-quarters mount, “was bursting through the bamboo. And there were spears stuck in the wall,” and “a cape buffalo that almost killed me and my guide.”

The club, he said, “was full, jampacked, all the way to the wall.”

Joseph Jr. recalls the 6-foot-3 doorman who wore a zebra skin and feather headdress and carried a spear. The Bustanis got complaints about racial stereotypes but insisted the doorman didn’t mind, and loved the big tips.

Not all went well. In 1981, the tavern, just a half block from Town Hall and the police station, was raided. Police confiscated more than $20,000 in alleged proceeds of a football gambling operation and arrested three. And in 1984, David Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy, spent a few hours there, then went two blocks back to his room at the Brazilian Court and died of a drug overdose.

Kenya Club closed in the late 1980s. Bustani briefly reopened it as the Safari and Polo Club.

Buccan restaurant now is at that corner.

A leaping lion, a water buffalo and other animals, which once graced the walls of the Kenya Club in Palm Beach, now live at Leo Bustani’s Central Florida home. (Photo courtesy of Leo Bustani)


Posted in Eliot Kleinberg July 19, 2012 at 3:05 pm.

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