Black history month
This Week in History
West Palm Beach
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That most glorious of arrivals — spring training — is now in full swing. Fifty years ago this weekend, spring training began in a new venue: the West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium.
Here’s an update of a March 2002 column:
When the stadium, capacity 4,200, opened in 1963, it was a modern step up from venerable Connie Mack field, now long gone and the site of a parking garage for the Kravis Center.
New England developer Louis Perini had bought the Boston Braves National League baseball team in 1947, moving it to Milwaukee in 1953. He came to South Florida in the mid-1950s to develop 6,000 acres of scrub west of downtown, and the match was a natural. In fact, he’d first planned to build a stadium for both the Braves and their American League counterparts, the Red Sox, but the Sox couldn’t escape a contract in Arizona.
When the Braves arrived at the $1 million park in West Palm Beach, it was still under construction and in the middle of nowhere.
Perini had to build a road from downtown. And with no trees or buildings around, blowing sand blinded the players.
But for a 23-year-old Braves ballplayer named Joe Torre, “It was a lot better than Way-cross, Ga.,” Torre — then manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and later skipper of the New York Yankees — recalled in 1993.
That small burg in Georgia was home to the Braves’ minor league spring training camp. This patch of dirt in Florida, as unpleasant as it was, was paradise to Torre. It was the big leagues.
The first game was March 9, 1963, against the Kansas City Athletics, who’d trained at Wright Field – later Connie Mack – for 17 years before moving to Bradenton.
The A’s won 3-0; the winning RBI came from the bat of, of all people, a youngster who’d grown up in Palm Beach County: Dick Howser. He’d go on to manage the Yankees and Royals before dying of cancer in 1987 at 51.
The Braves, who moved to Atlanta in 1966, began sharing the West Palm Beach stadium with the Montreal Expos in 1969. In 1997, the Jehovah’s Witnesses bought the facility, along with the West Palm Beach Municipal Auditorium. They kept the auditorium and knocked down the stadium. It’s now a Home Depot.
A night game at the West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium, believed to be from 1965. (Photo courtesy of THE CITY OF WEST PALM BEACH)
An aerial photo of the stadium from 1992, with West Palm Beach Municipal Auditorium (“the leaky tepee”) in the background.
Tags: sports, West Palm Beach
Junior Golden Gloves boxing in Palm Beach, around 1932 (Photo courtesy of Adele Gold)
Moe Mizell presenting the Junior Golden Gloves award to Martin Gold. Some have mentioned that the young man on the far left in this photo could be John F. Kennedy. What do you think? Please let us know in the comments below. (Photo courtesy of Adele Gold)
Not boxing, but another photo Adele Gold shared with us: Martin Gold and Palm Beach High class of 1939 classmates, left to right, Newell Brainard, Sam Hadley, Norman Griffin, Mizell Platt, Martin Gold, and Mike Testa.
Tags: photos, sports
Long-time Palm Beach resident and frequent Post Time contributor Robert Spain, 87, now of Jupiter, wrote to ask about boxing in downtown West Palm Beach.
Early in the 20th century, Palm Beach County was popular for small-club boxing, fueled by interest among winter visitors, including financier E.F. Hutton and others who sponsored “stables” of fighters. One such venue was the Oasis in Palm Beach. In West Palm Beach, the local American Legion held fights in an indoor arena built in the late 1920s on the north side of Clematis Street, near the Florida East Coast Railway crossing. Bleachers held as many as 2,000. Palm Beachers bought private boxes that framed the ring. Boxing on TV in the late 1940s killed local bouts.
One of the early West Palm Beach club fighters was a strapping University of Florida student who won 59 straight fights there and elsewhere and who, in 1931, just three months from finishing law school, was tempted by a $685 purse to enter the ring at New York’s Madison Square Garden. His 60th opponent broke his jaw in the first round, but he struggled through all 10. Later that year, he was elected a municipal judge in West Palm Beach, and Phil O’Connell would spend a quarter-century as Palm Beach County state attorney. He died in 1987.
Bob Spain recalled watching one of O’Connell’s West Palm Beach fights in the 1940s. He doesn’t recall much except that “I know that he won.”
Bob also said the old West Palm Beach Auditorium , the “leaky tepee,” held fights in the 1960s and 1970s.
Bob also mentioned that in the 1950s, he owned Regal Petroleum, with 14 service stations. One was across from the Colony Theater in Palm Beach. Gasoline was as low as 25.9 cents a gallon.
Nearby was a Sinclair service station on Royal Poinciana Way, next to where the famed Testa’s now stands. For you youngsters, Sinclair was a popular chain whose logo was a silhouetted green brontosaurus. The town said the Sinclair station was a Texaco by the time it closed.
Spain said he isn’t sure if the town still has any service stations. Yes, town building official Jeff Taylor said recently; a Sunoco station operates at 340 South County Road.
Bob also said an off-track horse betting parlor operated near his Palm Beach service station. But that’s for another column.
The weekly boxing matches and beefsteak dinner dances made the Oasis Club one of the most popular venues in Palm Beach. (Palm Beach Daily News file photo)
Phillip O’Connell Sr. (right), a professional boxer until 1931 and Palm Beach County’s state attorney from 1935 to 1961, kids around with Douglas Peach of Lake Worth in an undated photo. As state attorney, O’Connell successfully prosecuted a municipal judge accused of masterminding the 1955 kidnapping and murders of Circuit Judge Curtis Chillingworth and his wife. O’Connell died in 1987. (Palm Beach Daily News file photo)
Sometimes historical items show up in the strangest of places. Recently, this writer visited the Diamond Club, the private dining room at the new Marlins Park that’s used by patrons who buy the top-dollar seats down in front. The walls are filled with historical photos about both minor- and major-league baseball in South Florida. So are the restrooms. And that’s where I found this photograph of Joltin’ Joe himself.
Imagine my surprise when I saw the caption: “New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio showing 3-year old Larry Valencourt how to hold a bat. West Palm Beach, Florida.”
We later learned the photo was taken Jan. 13, 1948, at Bill McGowan’s Umpire School, which McGowan, a Baseball Hall of Fame member and a longtime American League ump, had moved that year from Cocoa to an area of Morrison Field, now Palm Beach International Airport.
There was just one thing to do: Find Larry Valencourt. We did. He’s now 67 and a safety engineer for the U.S. Army.
That day, DiMaggio had been vacationing in South Florida and stopped by the school, where he got an ovation from the 100 umpires and students — including Valencourt’s dad, Richard, a longtime minor-leagues and spring-training ump.
“Thus is the first time I ever got this kind of a hand from an umpire,” Joe quipped to The Palm Beach Post.
“I got my picture taken with him (DiMaggio),” Valencourt recalled from Delaware last month. “There were several other photos with me swinging the bat with Joe and nearly hitting him in the head, which would have been a catastrophe.”
Despite growing up in Delaware, closest to the Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles and Washington Senators, Larry would grow up a Yankees fan. He said DiMaggio “probably was the catalyst.”
To his umpire dad’s disappointment, Larry excelled in high school ball, but never progressed beyond that. Neither have his two grown sons.
And in all these years, while many friends and relatives have seen the photo, and it has floated around various archives and, more recently, the Internet, he had never had a call out of the blue about it.
The town of Gulf Stream, incorporated on May 12, 1925, was established as a sporting enclave for the wealthy when brothers John Shaffer Phipps and Howard Phipps founded the Gulf Stream Polo Club in 1923, and Paris Singer and other Palm Beachers built the Addison Mizner-designed Gulf Stream Golf Club the following year. The Phipps family sold the polo grounds in the early 1960s, and it later moved to its current location off Lake Worth Road west of the Florida Turnpike, where it’s now known as Gulfstream Polo Club.
Tags: incorporated, sports, This Week in History