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.


  1. I have been reminded of so many things from reading your posts this afternoon. I grew up in WPB during the late 50's. Moved away in the late 60's, returning every summer to visit Mother & Daddy up til they passed away in the mid 80"s. Mother was a bookkeeper for woolworths during the Kennedy years. One afternoon she was covering a register for one of the casheirs when Jackie & Caroline Kennedy came in. Caroline bought a small toy. As they left a Secret Service man asked for Carolines money and replaced it with his own.
    Oh, I graduated from Palm Beach High on the Hill-before it became the school of the Arts.
    Thanks for the memories!

  2. Anon: I'm so glad you've enjoyed this! It was quite a time back then, wasn't it? I hope you joined to follow this blog. I've been working on a book about growing up in Palm Beach County and I hope to be announcing its publication soon. Best wishes!


  3. I dont think the building in your photo is the Comeau building, unless there are two? The building in your photo is now Bar Louie, which is towards the east end of Clematis. The comeau building is more west across from Jimmy Johns. It is also next to Roxy's and the Wine Dive.

    1. Anon. Congratulations on the sharp eye! No one else has mentioned it! The picture is actually one of what I think is the Datura Building, but I have to go walk around down there again to be sure. I snapped it driving down Clematis one day and thought it WAS the Comeau Building. After a follow up talk with my Dad, my "go to" expert, I realized I had the wrong building. The content of the story has been re-written, but I was waiting to take a better picture of Comeau to change the picture. The one I have is a blur and isn't good enough to post.
      Thank you for your comment!