|"Winter Club" posted on Looking Back blog.|
Estimated taken in the late 1970s.
The mansion appears to sit alone on the top of the hill, shrouded by huge banyan trees. Saplings fight their way up between cracks in the foundation. Vines grow up the once proud stucco walls and the broken windows gape at the street like the vacant eyes of someone who has seen too much of the harsh side of life. Two young girls cautiously make their way up the north staircase. They hear skittering sounds coming from the second floor and grab each other’s hands in fear, but they still slowly ascend the stairs. Reaching the second floor landing, they jump in fright as thunder booms and lightning flashes through what’s left of the windows creating jagged shadows and illuminating a huge stain on the floor.
“This is where it happened,” one girl solemnly says. “This is where Sir Harry Oakes was murdered!” And the lightning flashes again.
The truth is that Sir Harry Oakes was in The Bahamas when he was brutally murdered in July, 1943, not in
North Palm Beach. His son-in-law, Alfred de Marigny, was tried for the crime, but found innocent and the murder remains unsolved to this day. Speculation continues among mystery buffs and suspects include a reputed gangster as a possible culprit.
As for the “
,” its real name was “The Palm Beach Winter Club” and it wasn’t built by Oakes. Harry Kelsey started construction in 1925 at the instigation of Paris Singer who wanted a golf course for patrons of the hotel he was building on Oakes Mansion . Kelsey hired Louis DePuyseger, a world-renowned French architect, to design a club house for the golf course he was building north of Singer Island Kelsey City ( ). DePuyseger didn’t disappoint. He designed a beautiful, Mediterranean-style club house of three stories with “gay orange and green awnings and old Cuban tile on the roof.” Lake Park Post 03/06/1926. Palm Beach
Articles from the Palm Beach Post archives describe an incredibly elegant and sophisticated club complete with dining room. The basement held locker rooms and the first floor included lounges. As the tale goes, Al Jolson once performed an impromptu concert in the men’s lounge which made him late for a scheduled performance further south. The third story had three bedrooms, although one article in the Palm Beach Post claimed it was twelve.
Oakes was an American who became a Canadian citizen, struck it rich in the gold mines of
and then, in an attempt to avoid Canadian taxes, became a British citizen. He was knighted by King George IV in 1939 after he donated a half million dollars to Canada St. George’s Hospital in . Sir Harry stayed in the clubhouse sporadically and moved the western fairways of the golf course to the south side to accommodate his children’s horses and stables--a move some said seriously impacted the beauty of the course. London
After Sir Oakes’ murder, the property was sold by his Tesdam Corporation and eventually made its way to John D. MacArthur and then the
. The library was located there in the 1960s and generations of children attended dance, gymnastics, art, pottery, and summer camp in its aging rooms. Village of North Palm
Unfortunately, you can’t drive by The Palm Beach Winter Club or “The Oakes Mansion” as it will always be known to the natives. Despite being named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, it was demolished in 1984, after huge controversy and bitter public debate. It had deteriorated to the point where repairs were deemed “too expensive” to undertake and an empty hill now sits at 951 U.S. Highway One.You can, however, sit on the stone steps that once led to the clubhouse from the east. On a calm night lit only by a full moon, if you turn and look at the grassy plateau where the mansion once stood, perhaps you’ll see the ghost of Sir Harry Oakes. Or maybe just hear spectral ice tinkling in ghostly glasses as men who played a good game of golf in 1927 relax in the lounge