Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What a Difference 26 Years Makes

I spend a lot of time in the past. Or, at least thinking about the past--I’ve not yet perfected time travel. I keep getting stuck in that whole time-space continuum thing.

My memories of growing up in Palm Beach County are often in my thoughts. Since I've started writing about my memories and the history of this area, I'm finding two things are happening. One is that my friends have started sharing their memories with me, which I absolutely love.

The second is that my friends are sending me some links and pictures. The YouTube link above is one of the neatest things I've seen. Uploaded to YouTube by MeMeVid, it can help those of you who didn't grow up here understand my fascination with the state and its history.

The first time I watched this video, I was spellbound. I knew Jupiter twenty-six years ago. Having grown up about ten minutes south of Jupiter in North Palm Beach, I knew it before then. A simple trip through Jupiter to Girl Scout Camp Welaka near the county line in Tequesta was a trip through wilderness.

By 1986, I was living in Broward County, but still came home to North Palm Beach from time to time. The part of  Palm Beach County I temporarily left seemed quite modern and built up to me. Looking at this video, I can see I was mistaken. The two lane roads! All those trees! It was still a wilderness in 1986.

I hope you enjoy this look at the rural area that was Jupiter Farms Road, alongside the developed area that now exists. If nothing else, this video should serve to remind all of us that we only have one chance to protect the close to pristine beauty of the place we call home - no matter where it may be.

Copyright 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tobacco Road

Tobacco Road Wikipedia
In the early 1980s, I lived in Coral Gables. My first job out of college was managing a nearby restaurant. I didn't much care for the job, but Miami was something else for a small-town North Palm Beach girl. It was the "big" city, even bigger than West Palm Beach. There was always something interesting going on and something fun to do.

One of my favorite places was Tobacco Road (626 South Miami Avenue). This is the oldest bar in the city and I was told it had the distinction of holding Liquor License No. 1. It opened for the first time in November 1912 and despite going through several different names and owners, it's still going strong. I went there one New Years' Eve in the 1980s for a party. The music roared from the second floor. It was fabulous - the band and the venue.

Of course, Tobacco Road wouldn't be as interesting to me without the history. Backing up to the Miami River, Tobacco Road was a speakeasy during Prohibition and illegal hootch flowed on the second floor. At least, until the law showed up and shut them down from time to time. Probably as much for appearance sake as anything else.

The Miami River along which Tobacco Road sits is loaded with interesting sights for someone who enjoys local history. From the Miami Circle, which is all that remains of a Tequesta Indian village, to the location of a tent city under I-95 where Cuban Marielitos lived temporarily, there's plenty to see and hear. I'm looking forward to taking the
Miami River tour offered by The Historical Museum of South Florida. Next one is on April 7 and another on May 12. I'm collecting my pennies.

Copyright 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Comeau and Clematis

Comeau Building (Yellow Building with Arches
at Street Level Behind Palms) 2012
            Before I started school in 1966, I frequently traveled to West Palm Beach with my mother to meet my father for lunch. We headed for his office in the Comeau Building which had that wonderful smell old buildings get, probably from decades of polish on wood trim and walls . We rode up to his floor in elevators that forty years before had been hailed as modern and swift and came complete with elevator operators. At age five, I didn’t notice them being particularly swift and there were no longer operators standing by in sharp uniforms, but the elevators were still impressive as elevators were few and far between in the North Palm Beach area in the mid-1960s. I was always fascinated with the mail chutes, too. One would put an envelope in the chute on say, the seventh floor, and it would disappear into the murky shadows. Heady stuff for a child and I used to beg my father for a piece of mail to contribute.

            The Comeau Building is still there on Clematis Street. It was built in a Classical Revival style from 1916 and was completed in 1925. The building withstood hurricanes (including the horrible one of 1928 which destroyed buildings all over South Florida) and a fire in the mid-1980s that gutted the 10th floor. The building, named after Alfred J. Comeau, an early entrepreneur of the area, has been through foreclosures and several owners over its eighty-six year life span, yet it still stands. It was named to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on September 6, 1996.

            At one time, a company was going to turn it into a hotel. That would have been something to see. I would have loved to stay there, but the hotel plans never materialized. The latest information in the May 4, 2011 South Florida Business Journal. AW Property “plans to completely renovate and modernize the 90,000 square foot icon with about $2 million in initial capital and tenant improvements. The building’s use will remain office, with ground-floor restaurants and retail storefronts.” I’m glad that building isn't being renovated out of existence.

            Being on Clematis Street itself is an odd feeling for me. In my mind, I have the pictures of how it looked when it was a big event to go downtown and fancy patent-leather shoes and socks with lace were required to go with a fancy dress to meet my dad. The buildings on Clematis are the same shape and size, but the facades are totally different. My memory takes me back and forth between what was and what is now. The last time I was on Clematis, 2010 or thereabouts, the old Woolworth store space was occupied by a design store. The lunch counter had disappeared as had the bins of ten and twenty-five cent knick-knacks that I loved to sort through while my Mom looked at more interesting things. 

            After dragging my dad out of his office in the 1960s, we’d head to the lunch counter there in Woolworth's to eat. I’d pester to sit in a booth by the front window so I could watch shoppers and businessmen walk by as I devoured lunch. I don’t think anyone in town made a grilled hotdog quite as good as the cook at Woolworth's and if I could find a way to time-travel, that would be one of the silly, little things I’d want to go back and try just one more time.