Black history month
This Week in History
West Palm Beach
World War II
Jimmy Williams is a Palm Beach High graduate and a longtime reader, and sometime contributor, to Post Time.
Recently he dropped off an original copy of The Saturday Evening Post from June 22, 1946. Of course, this is the edition with the lengthy feature story on, and iconic photograph of, the All-American drive-in known simply as “The Hut.” In its heyday, it was West Palm Beach’s premier teen hangout.
The magazine article stretches across five pages. Photographs show the interior and exterior; one of the restaurant’s outside signs called it “the Tropical Hut ” It even had a cheesecake/beefcake combo of “barbecue King” Mel Williams and his wife cavorting in the surf.
The Hall family opened the place in 1930 between Flagler Drive and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Williams, a Lake Worth native, had started there as night manager and when the Halls decided to return to construction in 1937, he bought it from them for $5,700. The Halls returned briefly to help run the place when Williams served in the Navy during World War II.
At The Hut, kids in convertibles could drive right up and get curb service: hamburgers, barbecue, and Coney Island hot dogs loaded with cheese, along with milkshakes from the local Alfar Creamery and frosty root beer. The average World War II-era check was 40 cents.
“The Hut is where you went,” the legendary actor and Palm Beach High alumnus 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.”
Reynolds recalled that The Hut was flanked by an asphalt apron accommodating up to 40 cars parked three-deep. For somebody up front to back out, he or she had to flash the lights and the cars immediately behind would back onto the two-laned Flagler. Perpetual musical parking was followed by musical car-hopping. Reynolds said seniors and football players got the front spots.
After the war, the Hall family opened Hall Hardware, which still active on Dixie Highway near Belvedere Road. The Hut went through a series of owners and finally made way for the Phillips Point office tower in the early 1980s.
Read the complete Saturday Evening Post piece below. Click on any image to view a larger version (and then click again to zoom in to a readable size).
Tags: restaurant, West Palm Beach
“All history is made of a mosaic of little pieces.” — Palm Beach County Historical Society archivist Debi Murray.
In 1913, two men feared that the young City of West Palm Beach was about to swipe land purchased by black residents for for an African-American cemetery and use the money for a white graveyard.
In a typewritten letter, attorney and former mayor George Currie asks George Potter, one of the city’s earliest pioneers, to recall the agreement for the two-acre site, whose location today is uncertain.
“…there was never a time that the city did not intend to turn over the two acres for colored cemetery purposes…if I remember rightly, and you are the only one who knows that for certain,” Currie wrote.
In elegant script at the bottom of the page, Potter characterized the city’s casual contempt as theft: “I have no personal interest in the matter other (than) one of protest against what looks like a plain steal.”
The letter was among a cache of documents from West Palm Beach’s pioneer days area historian Ginger Pedersen discovered one Sunday afternoon while trolling eBay for the old Florida postcards she collects.
Palm Beach Post subscribers can read the complete story on MyPalmBeachPost.com.
George Potter’s grocery bill for December 1911. (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)
Tags: historical society, West Palm Beach
The West Palm Beach Trailways station, May 12, 1967 (Palm Beach Post-Times staff photo)
Lake Worth Greyhound Bus Depot, June 15, 1966. The depot was at 20 S. East Coast Ave. according to the 1967 city directory. (Palm Beach Times staff photo)
July 26, 1971: This orange and white jitney-bus took its first busload of official passengers from Lake Worth City Hall this morning for an initial ride before heading out on routes which cover Dixie and Federal highways at 15 minute intervals and the Lake Worth Casino every 30 minutes. From left are Commissioner Max Kleinlein, Mayor F. Kenneth Bradley and Karen Sutherland, Miss Palm Beach County. (Palm Beach Times staff photo)
Oct. 5, 1973: This is “Electrobus,” a batter-powered, short-haul, public transportation vehicle that is pollution-free and travels up to 50 miles before recharge. It will be on display Monday and Tuesday at the Palm Beach Mall and Wednesday at Boca Raton City Hall. The bus in under consideration for use in Palm Beach County. (Palm Beach Post file photo)
Jan. 17, 1975: A little bit of the British Isles arrived in the Palm Beaches when a 1956 Leyland Omnibus was delivered to the Worth Avenue National Bank. Robert Thomas, an employee of Omnibus Promotions, Ltd., drove the vehicle to Palm Beach from Norfolk, Va., after its sea voyage from England. The company has sold 50 of the buses in the U.S. during the past year. (Palm Beach Daily News staff photo)
A Jan. 30, 1975 Palm Beach Daily News story about the bus said “Nude sunbathing may be on its way out, now that passengers sitting in the upper deck of Worth Avenue National Bank’s omnibus are getting a rare glimpse over the walls of Palm Beach estates.”
“Riding the bus when it makes a U-turn in front of Palm Beach Towers is an experience. The turn requires two back-ups, two forwards, and the assistance of (bus hostess) Dorothy and a parking attendant.” (Palm Beach Post staff photo)
Palm Beach Post staff photo
Tags: buses, Lake Worth, Palm Beach, photos, transportation, West Palm Beach
The square building at the center of this photo is the Palm Beach Post-Times building on Datura in 1926. The view is from Dixie Highway looking East down Datura. The Harvey Building, still under construction, is in the background, and the West Palm Beach Fire Department and their equipment are in the foreground. (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
Oct. 23, 1961: Demolition nears completion on the old Post-Times building at 328 Datura in West Palm Beach. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
The Palm Beach Post gets a new building
July 1960: Aerial shot of the new Post-Times facility on South Dixie Highway.
Nov. 13, 1960: About 2,500 people attend the grand opening of The Palm Beach Post-Times’ new building. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
About 1,000 members of the public tour The Palm Beach Post-Times’ new building. The hooks hanging from the ceiling carried copy to linotype operators. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
In the composing room in 1960 (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
L. Boswell works with a stereotype dry mat, part of the printing press process of the day. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
Journalists work in the newsroom as a maintenance man installs a sign. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
The copy desk the day after John F. Kennedy was elected 35th president of the United States. In those days the copy desk was also called the “U-desk” because of the shape of the desk (the boss sat in the middle to control copy flow). The term persists today. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
The Palm Beach Post-Times’ downtown Lake Worth bureau in the 1960s. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
Tags: buildings, newspapers, photos, West Palm Beach
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the day the courthouse was saved.
In 1916, when Palm Beach County had only 18,000 residents and Military Trail would have been considered “out of town,” it spent $135,000 — some $2.8 million in today’s dollars — to build its first courthouse, a 38,400-square-foot, three-story neoclassical structure that housed both courts and county offices. A 1927 expansion doubled the size of the complex.
By 1967, the post-war boom had expanded the county’s population. A study recommended a new courthouse. Instead, the county opted to expand. It tore down the courthouse’s iconic columns and plastered a “wraparound” that was finished in 1972, which created a 232,150-square-foot box. With more and more growth, the courthouse continued to groan under its added burden. A new complex opened in 1995.
But what to do with the old building?
As is often the case in a community with few roots, many endorsed just tearing down the monstrosity. Others begged to save it. In 2002, the county commission opted for the latter.
Over the next several years, workers painstakingly salvaged limestone, granite, marble wainscot, windows and mosaic floor tiles; even doorknobs. The original columns and capitals from both the 1916 courthouse and 1927 addition — 20 in all — had been moved to nearby Hillcrest Cemetery, in hopes that the courthouse would one day be restored. Stone carvers and masons hoisted the massive — up to 3 tons — columns back into place.
On March 15, 2008, the original courthouse, restored for $18.9 million, opened as the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum and home to the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
In the museum’s first year, it hosted 15,665 visitors. The 3,500-square-foot complex tells the story of Palm Beach County. The museum’s collection includes 3,000-year-old spearheads,fine hotel china, dioramas and a replica of a pioneer house.
The restored, historic 1916 courthouse in downtown West Palm Beach serves as the home for the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum and the offices of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. (C.J. Walker/The Palm Beach Post 2008)
The courthouse in 1916. (Palm Beach Post file photo)
Construction crew at the Palm Beach County courthouse, circa 1917. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
The Palm Beach Post published a photo timeline of the courthouse restoration on March 13, 2008. Click on the images below to view larger versions.
Tags: building, museums, West Palm Beach