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Palm Beach County as it was: Changing times

By BILL McGOUN

Sixth 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

The first decade after World War II was not a time of big change as far as downtowns were concerned. Palm Coast Plaza, the first shopping center, was not opened until 1959, and Palm Beach Mall, the first mall, did not come on the scene until 1967.

In residential areas, however, change was the norm as the vacant lots and blocks of the coastal cities began filling in quickly. The two vacant lots across from our house on South O Street in Lake Worth became the sites of a two-story apartment building and a one-story prefabricated house.

The vacant lot at S. Palmway and 3rd Avenue where I often played sprouted a one-story group of apartments. In the southwest, new streets — C, D and E — were cut between 6th and 12th Avenues S., and
the Whispering Palms subdivision was built on the south side of 12th Avenue.

The same pattern would hold true in other coastal cities, as most neighborhoods filled up to reach their present configuration. The great leap west would come later.

As for the downtowns, there was some infill and some realignment. In addition to the department-store changes noted previously, downtown West Palm Beach would add the Surf Theater in the 300 block of Datura Street and Mike Pucci’s Bowlarama on Evernia Street between Dixie and the Florida East Coast railway. It was there that I did my first indoor bowling and had my first pizza.

surftheater

Back in Lake Worth, the chief change would be the demise of the outdoor bowling alley, replaced by a five-and-dime. Otherwise, downtown remained pretty much the same into the 1950s, when the Lovett’s and Margaret Ann chains were combined and both Lake Avenue stores were closed.

The new company, Winn-Lovett, built a Kwik-Chek store on the east side of North Dixie Highway just north of 2nd Avenue. Later in the decade, Winn-Lovett would merge with Dixie Home to form Winn-Dixie and the Dixie Highway store would be renamed.

School days

I spent six years at South Grade. The school was of such a size that occasionally it had too many students in a given grade for one class but too few for two. As a result, some classes were split. I attended fourth grade in a class that was half sixth-graders and sixth grade in a class that was half fifth-graders.

The school safety patrol was drawn from boys in grades five and six. I was on the patrol for all of the fifth grade and six days of the sixth. Why? Because South Grade had a new principal who was a hard-liner on any infraction of rules. Any lapse of attention and you were off the patrol. Ditto for being late twice, my Waterloo.

That was the year that South Grade got its first girls on patrol, a change born of necessity. By mid-year all the boys in grades five and six had been kicked off.

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The only field trip of the year was an excursion by bicycle to Sunset Ridge Park for a May Day picnic. This was before people got paranoid about celebrating May Day because the Communists made such a big deal
out of it. I would come home exhausted and sunburned.

In 1949 I headed to the hill on the west side of town to attend what then was Lake Worth Junior-Senior High School, housed in the two oldest buildings on the present campus. I was there for six years, graduating in 1955.

My youth included the usual mix of odd jobs, including what then were the two traditional ones, paper boy and bag boy, tasks now taken over by adults. I bagged groceries at the Kwik-Chek on Dixie Highway and was for a time one of the best paper carriers The Palm Beach Post ever had.

That’s because I was delivering The Miami Herald. I also briefly delivered the erstwhile Lake Worth Leader, a daily published out of a Quonset hut on N. G Street along the Florida East Coast railway.

The Quonset hut, a World War II innovation, became popular for low-cost construction after the war. When Lake Worth Junior-Senior High School added a metalworking shop about 1950, it was in the form of a Quonset.

Cities would adopt various strategies as they began to get built out. Some would aggressively annex while others, such as Lake Worth, were content to remain within their boundaries.

Boynton Beach and Boca Raton had more aggressive policies than did Delray Beach, which is why today Delray Beach’s city lines are closer to Atlantic Avenue than to either Ocean Avenue in Boynton Beach or
Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton.

As to high-school education, the byword was addition by subtraction. In 1950 the downtown high schools in Delray Beach and Boynton Beach were closed and replaced by Seacrest High School, built roughly halfway between the two downtowns. The same year Industrial High School, the African-American school in West Palm Beach, was replaced by Roosevelt High School.

The “race question”

Jim Crow still was the rule in those years. Like most white youths I didn’t have to think much about race, so I didn’t. If you are African-American you can’t ignore race, as it confront you constantly.

Larry Rivers, a Florida A&M University professor, once told me in regard to the Confederate flag, “I’d like to forget about it, but everybody keeps shoving it in my face.”

If you lived in Lake Worth then, the race question was all but academic. The only African-Americans lived in the Osborne section, which was physically separated from the rest of the city. They went to the Osborne school through eighth grade and then to either Carver High School in Delray Beach or Roosevelt High, if they could arrange transportation.

Lake Worth never had the separate water fountains, rest rooms or railway waiting rooms that West Palm Beach had. About the only time we ever went into an African-American neighborhood was to eat at Harvey’s, a Tamarind Avenue institution in West Palm Beach with some of the finest barbecue I ever have eaten.

Of course, we had to order takeout or eat in our car. Only African-Americans were allowed inside. The first time I ever was inside was in the 1980s, but that was after Harvey had died and the food was decidedly inferior.

The evolution of the two-car family

A watershed event in my life, though I didn’t realize it at the time, came in 1953 when the Blosseys, our landlords on S. O Street, were killed in a traffic accident in Indiana. The new owners had other plans for the property, so we had to find a new home.

Dad bought a house at 1603 N. O Street and we moved in the summer of 1954, as I was entering my senior year in high school. For the first time, we lived somewhere where Mother, who never drove, could not walk to shopping.

In a way, it was symbolic of the rush to the wide-open spaces that would engulf Palm Beach County, and the nation, the decades to come. The two-car family would become the norm, due both to desire and to
necessity. Like all downtowns, Lake Worth’s would decline and come back in specialized form, stressing dining and entertainment.

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Fortunately for my own mobility, by that time I had a car, if a 1947 Crosley could be called a car. It seems appropriate that it was built by an appliance firm, as it was about as large and as stylish as a refrigerator crate.

As I said in the first part of this series, I wouldn’t trade today for the “good old days.” I enjoy modern medicine and the Internet too much. Also, today’s society is a more just society, having excised the demons of Jim Crow for the most part.

I like to recall the days of my youth, but once around that block was enough.

- – -

A reader identified as Valesha corrected me on an item in the first part of this series. I had said the 1963 bus wreck in which 27 farm workers occurred when the bus missed the turn onto the old Six-Mile Bend bridge east of Belle Glade. In fact, as she noted, it happened when the bus collided with a truck. The wreck occurred several miles from the bridge on Brown’s Farm Road.

Memory can be a tricky thing. I tried to check my facts as much as possible but on this one I goofed. Valesha had a personal reason for remembering, as four of her relatives were among the 27 killed. Thanks for setting me straight.

billmcgoun

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 Black Palm Beach Blog and Flashback blog April 20, 2010 at 9:39 am.

7 comments

Palm Beach County as it was: Before the urban sprawl

By BILL McGOUN

Third 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

Lake Worth neighborhoods tend to be a hodgepodge of housing styles. That’s because the city was built in spurts. First, there were the original homes put up shortly after the 1912 drawing that kicked off the city. Then there were the houses built during the 1920s land boom. Finally, the remaining lots were filled in after World War II.

When we arrived in August of 1943, the first two phases had been completed. There were two vacant lots across from our home in the 200 block of S. O Street. Next to them was one of the oldest houses in town, home of Naomi Shipman Smith, one of the seven girls in Lake Worth High’s first graduating class in 1923.

Around the corner, at Palmway and Third Avenue S., was a palmetto-scrub lot in which I played as a child, and once got my foot speared by a cactus thorn that went through my sneaker. Such lots were common throughout the city.

The southwest was the least developed of the city’s quadrants. There was one big undeveloped tract bounded by B and F streets and 6th and 12th avenues, broken up only by a few sandy trails. The Whispering Pines subdivision south of 12th Avenue was yet to be built. The effect was that the Osborne section, then home to the city’s only African-Americans, was physically separated from the rest of Lake Worth.

What I remember most about the Whispering Pines land was how Dad would take me with him in December to cut one of the pines for a Christmas tree. These were slash pines and they were so crooked that the tree had to be tied up to keep it standing. In those days, we didn’t know slash pines would become endangered trees that no one in his right mind would cut today.

Undeveloped areas dotted the county

Other cities were similarly spotty in development. In the south end of West Palm Beach was a large undeveloped area bounded by Dixie Highway, Olive Avenue and Beverly and Gregory roads. The site of St. Juliana’s church and school was a golf driving range.

Driving down U.S. 1 in Palm Beach County there were several miles of open country between the villages of Jupiter and Juno Beach (today’s State Road A1A along the ocean was U.S. 1 then). After Juno Beach were several more miles of open country until you hit Lake Park.

From Lake Park through Lantana the highway as solidly urbanized. But there then were miles of open country between Lantana and Boynton Beach, between Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, and between Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

The first subdivision between Delray Beach and Boca Raton was Hidden Valley, which led to the observation that if there had been a valley in that area, it certainly had remained well hidden.

When sculptor Leno Lazzari and his wife were murdered in their U.S. 1 home in 1948, no one heard the shots and the bodies were not found until the next day. The home was at least a mile from any neighbors. It sat on the east side of the highway just south of today’s intersection with NE 20th Street and 5th Avenue in Boca Raton.

Most cities in those days were self-sufficient, and Lake Worth was no exception. Lake Avenue between Dixie Highway and L Street included three supermarkets, the chain-operated Lovett’s and Margaret Ann and the locally-owned Central Market. There were two movie theaters, the Fountain’s clothing store and two 5-and-10 cent stores.

centralmarket1

One of the latter was built shortly after the war on the site of an outdoor bowling alley with concrete lanes and duckpins as well as standard tenpins. Yes, those lanes were just about as crude as they sound. I did my first tenpin bowling and my only duckpin bowling there, with the expected degree of success.

Each September, Mother and I would trek to The Book Store — that was its name — between K and L streets on the south side of Lake Avenue, to get my school supplies. Evidently the schools had been in touch with the store beforehand, as everything needed always was on hand, from pencils to paste pots to protractors.

Once I was old enough to go alone, I would spend my Friday afternoons in the Worth Theater, the building that now houses the Lake Worth Playhouse. My mother would give me a quarter. The double-feature bill of a Western and often a Bowery Boys film, plus a serial, cost nine cents. A big mug of A&W root beer was a nickel and a big candy bar another nickel. Sometimes I had no idea what to with the other six cents.

On family outings we would go to see a first-run film at the Lake Theater, now a shuttered museum at Lake and L. There a child’s admission was higher, 14 cents.

Downtown West Palm Beach was the big city

When Lake Worth was not enough, there was always downtown West Palm Beach. Mother and I would catch a bus a block from our house that would deposit us at Banyan Boulevard (then First Street) and Olive Avenue. Here we had out choice of three major department stores within a block. Montgomery Ward was on the east side of Olive where the city parking garage now sits. Burdine’s was on the northwest corner of Olive and Clematis Street and Penney’s was just to its north on the west side of Olive.

burdines

Later, Burdine’s would move to Dixie Highway, to the site of the just-opened City Center. Penney’s would move onto Clematis east of Olive and Belk’s would take over and combine the old Burdine’s and Penney’s spaces.

West Palm Beach was big time to someone from Lake Worth. It had three 5-and-10s and four movie theaters. There was the Florida, in the wedge formed by South Clematis and Narcissus, the Rialto on the east side of Narcissus north of Clematis, the Arcade behind the Comeau Building and the Coral on the north side of Clematis between Dixie and the FEC Railway tracks.

The only theater building remaining downtown is the Cuillo Center. It was built as the new Florida Theater in the 1950s and the Florida was renamed the Palms.

I don’t remember ever going to a movie in West Palm Beach then. Generally, Mother and I went north just to shop for clothes, usually at Montgomery Ward.

montgomery-ward-west-palm-beach

I got my first and only baseball glove, a Johnny Pesky model that I still have, at the Montgomery Ward sporting goods store that sat on the First Street (now Banyan Boulevard) side of what now is the parking lot of the just-vacated City Hall.

When we were finished shopping, Mother and I would walk to First Street and Dixie, near the Firestone tire store, to catch the southbound bus home.

For a brief time, Palm Beach Mercantile, a store that had been a downtown fixture since 1896, would be somewhat of a tourist attraction. That was due to a major expansion in 1950 that included, among other things, the first escalator in the county. Apparently too many people went to look and too few to shop, as the store went out of business in 1957.

In fact, major changes would come to all Palm Beach County downtowns in the years following the big war. In the concluding chapter of this series I will deal with those changes.

NEXT: The Wide-Open Coastline

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.

Burdine’s photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. Montgomery Ward photo courtesy of Pleasant Family Shopping (http://pleasantfamilyshopping.blogspot.com/).

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Posted in Flashback blog March 19, 2010 at 9:45 am.

15 comments

Cater’s furniture owner knew customers’ tastes

This is part two of a guest column by business reporter Susan Salisbury, whose family owned Cater’s Furniture store in West Palm Beach. Read part 1 here.

It was fun to see new furniture that had arrived from North Carolina, where my Dad went each fall to see the new lines and determine what to order.

Prior to the North Carolina market’s existence, he went to the Chicago Merchandise Mart, and I remember seeing him off at the tiny Palm Beach International Airport as he carried a heavy overcoat and the type of formal hat men wore with suits then.

My dad had a knack for buying items that would sell well, even if they were not his personal taste. He somehow knew that the blue floral sofa he secretly did not like was destined to be a best seller. Or that a certain coffee table would be a hit.

People didn’t constantly buy new furniture. When they did, they wanted it to last. There were no credit cards, just Cater’s credit. Of course, computers did not exist. Each item in inventory was on an index card that had its number and its location at the warehouse or one of the three stores.

A highlight of a trip downtown was walking across the alley behind Cater’s to McCrory’s or Woolworth’s for an ice cream soda, Coke or maybe a grilled cheese sandwich.

The pace was slower. Downtown workers took morning and afternoon breaks at lunch counters where they drank lots of coffee from clattering, clinking white china and ate doughnuts, pies and other treats made from scratch. Cater’s closed its downtown location in the early ’80s after building a new store on Military Trail. The lot at 333 Datura St. where most of the furniture store stood is empty. The former fire station, which Cater’s also occupied, is now Datura Station. It’s important to note that two merchants that were on Datura back then are still there. They are Halsey & Griffith, an office supply store founded in 1921, and Bechtel Jewelers , in business since 1930 on the ground floor of the historic Harvey Building.

caterslw
Cater’s Furniture in downtown Lake Worth, looking eastward from Dixie Highway, was one of the store’s three locations. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg March 4, 2010 at 9:42 am.

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Cater’s Furniture store had a familiar touch

The passing of Cater’s Furniture magnate John Cater struck close to home. We already had asked our colleague, business reporter Susan Salisbury, to do a guest column just before her dad’s death on Feb. 7. She generously submitted this:

In the 1950s and 1960s, before the Palm Beach Mall opened, downtown West Palm Beach was booming. It was the area’s primary shopping destination for the average person who wasn’t wealthy enough to go to Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.

Many of the businesses were family-owned, rather than the more typical chain stores we know today, and their owners worked on the premises, not in a distant corporate office.

Among those was Cater’s Furniture at 333 Datura St. My grandfather started the company in 1925, farther north at 711 N. Dixie, and in 1935, moved to a two-story building on Datura Street next to a fire station.

The company’s main office was at the store, and that’s where my father, John Cater, worked.

Back then, change was not as rapid as it is now. Customers could count on getting waited on and having questions answered by a salesman who knew the merchandise, and probably knew them by name also.

Everything was very low-key. People knew they would see the same familiar faces when they walked through the door and might run into their neighbors there, too. People stayed in the same job for years, and the company had loyal people who spent their careers there.

There was a gigantic, ancient cash register that sat in the office, which was open to the showroom and surrounded by a wooden railing, later replaced by a counter. Nearby was a red and white, waist-high Coca-Cola machine which dispensed “ice cold” glass bottles from the top. I think they were 10 cents, but I was rarely allowed to drink one. As a child, my visits to the store were exciting; my sister and I zoomed around trying out the recliners and popping out the footrests. Sometimes, we ran up the wide staircase to the second floor, and tried to run across all the mattresses that were lined up in a long row before someone caught us. What fun, and what a great thing the security of life in a small city was.

Read part 2 of Susan Salisbury’s column here.

caterfurniture
Cater’s Furniture, founded in 1925, was first on North Dixie Highway, then moved to this Datura Street building downtown West Palm Beach. The owning family worked on the premises and many employees spent their entire working lives there. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

johncater2002
John Cater in his store in 2002, just before he retired. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg February 25, 2010 at 1:14 pm.

4 comments

Memories of the Palm Beach Mall

By Michelle Quigley

The Palm Beach Mall opened on October 26, 1967, as one of the largest malls in the southeastern United States. Gov. Claude Kirk and Miss USA — Cheryl Ann Patton of Miami — performed the ribbon cutting and 40,000 people visited the mall on that day. You can see the Palm Beach Post story about the opening here (pdf).

The demise of the mall continued as all but three stores in and around the mall were set to close by January 30, 2010. The Firestone automotive center in front of the mall would remain open, and the two remaining mall stores — JCPenney and George’s Music — would not be connected to the inside of the mall. JCPenney closed its mall entrance in 2009. You can read more about the mall on The Palm Beach Post Malled! blog and on Wikipedia, but let’s take a trip down memory lane here at Historic Palm Beach and see what the mall looked like over the years.

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Shoppers relax amid tropical landscaping near Jordan Marsh in the Palm Beach Mall in the late ’60s.

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Mall interior in August 1968. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

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Undated file photo of the parking lot outside Jordan Marsh; but that is an AMC Gremlin just to the right of center in the photo, so it must be after 1970. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

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Another undated file photo showing the exterior of Jordan Marsh and Pantry Pride. The grocery store opened in 1967 as Food Fair. That space became the mall food court in 1988. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

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View from the parking lot outside Woolworth’s and the Harvest House Cafeteria, from 1978 or 1979. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

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Christmas shoppers waiting for Burdines to open in 1982. The store left downtown West Palm Beach to move into the mall in 1979. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)


Nov. 25, 1983: Christmas shoppers at the Palm Beach Mall. (Palm Beach Post staff photo)


Nov. 28, 1981: Hoards of shoppers jam the Palm Beach Mall on the first day of the Christmas shopping season. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

We invite you to share your memories of the Palm Beach Mall in the comments below, and upload your pictures to our photo gallery. (See photos that other readers have shared here.)

Graham Brunk (who keeps the Palm Beach Mall article in Wikipedia up to date) contributed to this article.

Opening dates of malls in Palm Beach County:

Palm Beach Mall: Oct. 26, 1967

Town Center mall: Aug. 13, 1980

Boynton Beach Mall: Oct. 9, 1985

The Gardens Mall: Oct. 5, 1988

Wellington Green mall: Oct. 5, 2001 (grand opening; Burdines had a “soft opening” Sept. 27)

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Posted in Flashback blog December 10, 2009 at 10:40 am.

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