Black history month
This Week in History
West Palm Beach
World War II
Monday is the centennial of the death of South Florida pioneer Henry Flagler. Other sections of The Post have been, or will be, doing special reports on the anniversary. We thought we’d have some fun with the story of Flagler’s ghost.
First, this: “There are no ghosts, there never have been ghosts, and there never will be ghosts at Whitehall,” said John Blades, executive director of the Flagler Museum, in the Halloween 2007 Post Time column.
In 1974, John Roth, a night watchman at Whitehall, Flagler’s former mansion, had said he saw the man “just as plain as daylight,” in a hallway.
“He was just standing there, wearing a dark suit and tie,” Roth said at the time. “I had a good look and then he vanished.”
Also, silver settings reportedly moved from a top shelf to a bottom one inside a locked cabinet. A ceiling lamp and the top to an urn crashed to the floor and plates inexplicably broke.
And another watchman, since retired, said he saw Flagler’s wife, Mary Lily, many times on an upstairs porch.
Roth later allowed as how he’d seen Flagler only once, when he awoke from a nap at about 3:30 a.m.
Finally, retired director Grant Bedford, blaming the sightings on overactive imaginations, said he’d give $1,000 to anyone who could show him a ghost. But, Roth argued , “I can’t make him appear any time I feel like it.”
Bedford said if Flagler’s spirit had made an appearance, it would not have been in the 1970s, when the estate had become a museum, but in the 1960s, when his former mansion was a hotel and Flagler’s belongings were stuffed away in attics. “It would have infuriated him,” Bedford said.
Henry and Mary Lily Flagler around 1910 (Photo courtesy the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
Call to readers: After our April 25 column on the World War II-era Wert’s restaurant in Palm Beach, longtime resident, and sometime Post Time contributor, Wayne Miner of Belle Glade wrote to ask about two other institutions. The first, called “Terry’s,” was in Glen Ridge, the tiny community south of Palm Beach International Airport, which Miner believes permitted the place to be one of the few drinking holes in Palm Beach County to be open on Sunday mornings.
The other was “Al’s,” an oasis out at 20 Mile Bend, the spot about halfway from the coast to Belle Glade. Jeff Barwick, who grew up in Pahokee and headed Pahokee’s and Clewiston’s Chamber of Commerce and curated at the Clewiston museum, recalls Al’s being “on the east side of the ‘tee’ where U.S. 98 came into U.S. 441/State Road 80. He had beer and some food.”
Tags: Henry Flagler, Palm Beach, restaurant
Most of you aren’t old enough to remember that, in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, World War II was not a far-away event. Between February and May of 1942, U-boats sank 24 ships off Florida, 16 of them from Cape Canaveral to Boca Raton.
George Payne Marshall of Singer Island, born in 1921, wrote of that time: “I was not only in radar maintenance training but was assigned to a secret intelligence group by the Provost Marshal at Camp Murphy.”
That was the facility just over the Palm Beach-Martin County line that housed the Southern Signal Corps School. It’s now Jonathan Dickinson State Park.
“I spent New Year’s Eve in 1943 at Werts with three of my army buddies from Camp Murphy,” Marshall wrote. “I will always remember the sign over the door carved in wood that read ‘Everybody Goes from Bad to Werts.’ This was kind of a secret hang-out that I and my buddies did not tell too many GIs at Murphy about. Most always one of the rich Palm Beachers would always pick up our check, as they did on this New Year’s Eve. One time we were told it was OK to dance with their wives. The Palm Beachers were very appreciative of all their military in the area and it was a good place for service personnel to be during WWII.”
George wasn’t kidding about Wert’s. At 456 S. Ocean Blvd. in Palm Beach, it was a hot spot for decades.
But during the war, it was especially popular with local servicemen and their dates, lured by its live music and 50-cent meals. They came not just from Camp Murphy, but also from the Boca Raton Army Air Field — now the Boca Raton airport and Florida Atlantic University — and of course from nearby Morrison Field, now Palm Beach International Airport.
The place also played an indirect role in the U-boat wars. Officials quickly figured out that the establishments lining Florida’s coastline back-lit freighters, making them even easier targets. So Wert’s east-facing windows were darkened and its entrance was moved from the oceanfront to the side.
“Uncle Sam darkened my front, but my rear is a blaze of glory,” “Wert” quipped in an ad.
“Wert” was Lionel Wertheimer, a Wisconsinite who had opened a lunch stand in 1924. It came down in both the 1926 and 1928 hurricanes and was rebuilt. After the war, the place expanded and the price of a turkey dinner shot up to an outrageous $1.50.
The colorful raconteur died at age 57 in 1948 while touring through Arizona. The family sold the place in 1973 and it became Willoughby’s.
It later closed, then reopened in 1980 in its current configuration: Charley’s Crab.
Jim and Gimmy McNalley, Josephine Quinn Guenther and Frederick Guenther (left) at Wert’s. Guenther was the sister of Dick Johnson’s mother. Jim McNalley owned two bars: The Music Box and The Alibi. (Photo courtesy of Ginny Lippincott)
For decades in Palm Beach, Wert’s restaurant, once located at the oceanfront location where Charley’s Crab is today (456 S. Ocean Blvd.), was a hot spot, boasting weekly entertainment and this logo: ‘The Best You’ll Get Here is the Wert’s.’ (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
Carved in the pavement by the entrance to Charley’s Crab is “Wert’s.” (Palm Beach Daily News staff file photo)
During World War II, Wert’s, pictured here in the 1930s or ’40s, was particularly popular, offering live bands and 50-cent meals to local servicemen and their dates. During the war, its east-facing windows were darkened to comply with blackouts. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
Tags: Palm Beach, restaurant, World War II, WWII
Who doesn’t remember that wonderful icon of the 1950s and beyond: the drive-in restaurant? Sonic has brought it back on a national level, but the last local, mom-and-pop drive-in — T.C. Bumper’s — closed 25 years ago this week, on April 5, 1988.
In a column from that time, now-retired Palm Beach Post editor and writer Bill McGoun recalled growing up with the Starlite, on the corner of Dixie Highway and 13th Avenue North in Lake Worth. By then it was a drug store; it’s now a convenience store.
The most famous drive-in in Palm Beach County could well have been the Hut, which stood where Phillips Point is now in downtown West Palm Beach. It was so All-American the Saturday Evening Post of June 22, 1946, featured a photograph of it.
“The Hut is where you went,” actor Burt Reynolds once recalled. “If you were lucky enough to have a friend with a car, you parked by some girls, your arm hanging out against the door so that it looked like you had a bicep.”
McGoun also recalled Fitz’s, at Dixie Highway near Good Samaritan Hospital, Pizio’s on Dixie Highway south of Southern Boulevard, and an A&W stand at Okeechobee Boulevard and Military Trail.
But a 10-minute oil change place now stands at the southwest corner of Southern Boulevard and Parker Avenue in West Palm Beach. Before that was Bumper’s. It had started 32 years earlier as an A&W Root Beer. It featured the usual unhealthy, but beloved fare: dogs, fries, onion rings, root beer, all brought to your car window by “carhops” who worked the 12 parking spaces. Or you had the option of chowing down, in no hurry, at a shaded open-air table.
Owner Thomas Fink had named it for his first and middle initials and the bumper of a car; the logo was a license plate.
Hot dogs, once five for a dollar, were up to $1.25 each at the end, although Bumper’s cut the price to 69 cents on Tuesdays.
But changing lifestyles — the most prevalent of them being the love of the air conditioner — doomed drive-ins, and while lunch traffic at Bumper’s had been steady, dinnertime business had fallen off. So one regular after another came by for one more meal before the “closed” sign went up for good.
“It was an emotional day,” Thomas Fink recalled last month. “It was an icon in the county.”
T.C. Bumper’s, West Palm Beach’s last drive-in restaurant, was originally an A&W drive-in. This location (above) was on Broadway in Riviera Beach. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Fink)
Manager Ruth Place of T.C. Bumper’s pauses during lunch hour under a sign announcing the last day
for the last drive-in root beer stand. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
Employees from the A&W drive-in on Broadway in Riviera Beach, which became T.C. Bumper’s, owned by Thomas Fink, of Palm Beach Gardens, and wife. Fink’s son is on the far right. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Fink)
Thomas Fink, former owner of T.C. Bumpers, West Palm Beach’s last drive-in restaurant, poses with memorabilia from the restaurant, including newspaper clippings, a visor, and photos. (Jennifer Podis/The Palm Beach Post)
In 2010, we asked Ineria Hudnell, the unofficial historian for black West Palm Beach, about how current generations are amazed there was a time when segregation once was the law. She said that’s really good, but also really bad.
Some victories were long in coming.
Some were paid in blood and pain. Other barriers fell with little fanfare.
That was the case 50 years ago this week. Back in the 1930s, before McDonald’s and Burger King became ubiquitous, a chain of hamburger joints dotted the South, mostly in Florida.
It was Royal Castle.
The name still sparks nostalgia for its small burgers and its birch beer.
But it also was part of the segregated south, and well into the 1940s and 1950s, blacks had to order from a side window.
On Sunday, Aug. 26, 1962, about 30 black teenagers converged on a Royal Castle at 502 N. Federal Highway, just north of Boynton Beach Boulevard and adjacent to a city fire station.
The teens were said to be high school kids from Fort Lauderdale
Without incident, they filled every seat, the counter man served them and they left.
The occurrence sparked only a small story in The Palm Beach Post. It quoted a local man — “a Boynton negro” — named Willie Miller who said some local blacks were on hand to give the teens “moral support.”
Boynton Beach police told the newspaper they’d heard of the incident but it never was officially reported to them.
The event was by no means the quietest in the local desegregation saga.
One weekend in the 1960s, Lake Lytal, who would serve a record 32 years on the Palm Beach County Commission, summoned workers to the county courthouse, where they painted over signs at drinking fountains that read “white” and “colored.”
The following Monday, when workers showed up, the facilities had been integrated for good.
The old Royal Castle site now is a vacant lot. The Royal Castle chain is long gone, side windows and all.
Update: After our June 28 column on the George Zapf beverage bottle — misspelled “Fapf” — Laura Thayer of Jupiter wrote to say she too had such a bottle, having found it in 1998 in the Intracoastal Waterway: “It would not have been easy to correct this error, so there are probably a lot more like them out there,” Thayer wrote.
Tags: African Americans, Boynton Beach, restaurant
Please let us know in the comments below if you have any more information about these images. Thanks!
Gentleman Jim’s Restaurant in Boynton Beach:
Christmas decorations at the Hamlin residence on High Ridge Road west of Lantana:
Tags: Christmas, postcards, restaurant