Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sabal Palms and Ice Cream

                On a little one way street in Lake Worth, nestled west of Snook Island and north of Lake Avenue, is an old house. The fact it’s old is not unique in Lake Worth, but this is definitely not an average old house.  According to the City of Lake Worth website, Sabal Palm Bed & Breakfast is one of only two bed and breakfast accommodations in the entire city.

Colleen Rinaldi

I had heard of Sabal Palm Bed & Breakfast over the past few years, but had never done more than glance at the bright red door as I drove past on my way over the bridge. In the convoluted, wonderful connections made possible by Facebook, I “met” Colleen Rinaldi, who, with her husband John, owns this living piece of Florida history.

This summer, I met Colleen in person and enjoyed a nice lunch and a tour of the house. Our company that day was Karen Bain, a fellow writer who loves this kind of stuff as much as I do. We learned the main house, consisting only of the two front rooms, was built in 1936 for the Behr family. In those days, the Behrs owned every child’s dream—an ice cream factory! Charmingly named “Three Behrs,” it was located across town by the FEC Railroad tracks.

The original house was designed by C.G. Williams, and is all cypress with oak floors. It was expanded over the years and now has three suites.  Amazingly, the home still has the original fireplaces and oak floors.  The garage, separated from the main house by a brick patio filled with tables and chairs for relaxing with morning coffee, now has four comfortable bedroom suites.

Sabal Palm has the feeling that bed and breakfast aficionados look for. Walking through that bright front door, I felt like I was visiting a favorite great-aunt’s house—complete with a friendly little furry friend!

Karen and I followed Colleen through the rooms, oohing and ahhing and snapping pictures as fast as our cell phones would let us. When we said our goodbyes, Colleen surprised us each with a little bag of cookies. Do I have to tell you the cookies were gone by the time I reached I-95 (a five minute or so drive)?

Anyone for Tea?

I asked Colleen her thoughts about the house and the history of the surrounding area. Colleen says that we all need to look at the past, look at our history, and respect it. I knew we had a something in common.  Since Sabal Palm Bed & Breakfast is a beautiful, warm slice of history I can visit today and includes cookies—you can count me in anytime! 

Now, if the Behr's still had that ice cream factory.....

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge
Pictures by Ruth Hartman Berge 2012

Disclaimer: Since my great-grandfather's home is now a bed and breakfast in Delray Beach, Florida, I have a special place in my heart for B&B's and would spend all of my vacation time in one if I possibly could. Can you tell?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mosquito Coast

Rudolf Tomasello Photo from Town of Jupiter Website

     It seemed inevitable.

     As kids, my neighborhood gang was bound to do a few foolish things at least once or twice before we turned eighteen. 

     Our biggest “stupid kid trick” involved fog trucks.  These were trucks with mosquito misting systems attached to them that went all around North Palm Beach (and throughout most of Florida, I've heard) during the rainy season to try to keep the mosquito population down.

     Fog poured out the back.  That looked cool to us and we, totally ignorant of what was being sprayed, rode our bikes in and out of it, reveling in the novelty. It smelled odd, but the billowing white clouds were irresistible. Parents yelled, kids were sent to showers and then to bed. We gradually got the idea that riding through mosquito fog was not the brightest idea we’d ever had.

      South Florida has always had a mosquito problem.  Muck and marshes were, and are, perfect breeding grounds. After daily summer afternoon thunderstorms and the occasional hurricane, standing water adds to the problem. Those mosquitoes aren't just irritating, they can spread disease and they had to be dealt with swiftly.

     The Mosquito Information Site (yes, it really exists! Here’s the LINK!) states that many European explorers wrote about having to “sleep on the beach covered with sand” to escape the hordes of blood-sucking menaces.  There was even a Mosquito County created in 1824. You know it today partially as Orange County – home to Mickey and Minnie. It was split into several different counties over the years.

     The Mosquito Information Site says the first mosquito association was formed to do battle against the formidable foe in 1922. Good thing, too. The Spring, 2011 Lake Ida Current quoted long-time resident Haide Zelder as claiming that in the early days of the Delray/Lake Ida area, mosquitos were “so big and black, like a swarm of bees; we’d have to run!”

       I’ve heard rumors that in Jupiter as well as Delray (then Linton), settlors were careful not to leave their homes without long sleeves. In those days before mosquito repellants, it took mere moments for insects to swarm and land on unsuspecting skin to feast.  All mosquito feasting is not in the past, though.  I recently heard about two friends who, while visiting the Florida Oceanographic Institute on Hutchinson Island, were repeatedly bitten. The husband posted on Facebook, “It’s safe for everyone else to visit. My wife and I made sure the mosquitos have already been fed.”

Photo from ilovenewton.com

    Now that I have you itching in sympathy for our ancestors who braved the hordes, I’ve got to let you know that not only does Florida still use fog trucks, but we now have mosquito control from helicopters, too. There’s some controversy as to whether or not the spraying causes damage to other, less irritating, Florida wildlife.

     I can honestly tell you, I haven’t ridden my bike through mosquito fog in years. Of course, not having a bike may have something to do with it. As a child, I was always fascinated with the fickleness of the mosquito. The female mosquito will feast on a poor innocent person while nearby, someone else sits relatively unscathed. I’m one of the latter. Perhaps there was a benefit to riding through the mosquito fog after all.* 

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

*NOTE: I AM NOT ADVOCATING PLAYING IN MOSQUITO FOG. I really do NOT think it's responsible for my natural mosquito repelling ability. The fog is a pesticide and it's really not a good thing to play in, or allow your children to play in or around.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's Paramount

The Paramount Theatre
1933 Courtesy the Historical Society of Palm Beach County
            A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of dining at Bistro Chez Jean-Pierre in Palm Beach. The food was wonderful, company equally so, but as I sat and looked around the restaurant, it seemed vaguely familiar.

            How did I know this place? Our dinner companion said it had been Chez Jean-Pierre since 1991. Before that, it had briefly been “Alligator Joe’s” and before that “O’Hara’s.

And that’s when the light went on. I remember O’Hara’s! As a young college student home on spring break, my friends and I would go there for dancing and drinks after the movies.  I never did see any of the celebrities who hung out there, but the descendants of Vincent J. O’Hara, Sr. list “the duke and duchess of Windsor, Jack Benny, Merv Griffin, … and Pierre Salinger” among others. Not that I was there then, but O’Hara’s had been open since 1944 and only the front room was spared from a fire that devastated the restaurant in 1981.
            I had fond memories of dancing there, but once I realized where I was, my head swiveled to look out the window toward the building where we had enjoyed the blockbuster movies of the late seventies.
Original Interior of The Paramount
Photo Available for Purchase on Amazon.com
The Paramount Theatre opened in 1927 and was a beautiful theatre.  Designed by Joseph Urban, who also designed Mar-a-Lago and the Palm Beach Bath and Tennis Club, it had 1,236 upholstered seats from which patrons enjoyed over 2,000 films. It also had twenty-six private balcony boxes with six seats each. Dubbed the “Diamond Horseshoe,” they rented for $1,000 for the entire thirteen week season—in 1927! In todays’ dollars, that would be over $12,749. For movies! And we thought they're pricey now.
I remember murals that hung all the way from the ceiling to the floor. Designed by the architect’s daughter, they were muted by the time I watched movies there and the once brightly colored fish swam murkily through tendrils of seaweed, their blue, gold and green dimmed by age.
Paramount Currently
Photo Courtesy WallyG Flickr by Yahoo
The movies stopped in 1980, a mere seven years after The Paramount Theatre Building was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

It’s all been renovated now. The murals are gone. The building reopened in 1985, but the glorious interior was now two floors of office spaces. The original dark green colors are still there as well as the original columns and a portion of the ceiling, but the murals are gone.

            The Paramount Church now occupies where the stage, screen and orchestra pit were located. The stage where stars of the day such as Al Jolson, Ed Sullivan, Bob Hope, Barbara Streisand, Duke Ellington and Helen Hayes once performed no longer exists.
            Bistro Chez Jean-Pierre is located at 132 North County Road, but the entrance is off of Sunset Avenue. As for The Paramount, you can drive by anytime. Located at 145 North County Road in Palm Beach, the building is still there. There are photographs of the building in its glory days on the walls inside.

            This article appeared originally as the July, 2012, column of The Florida You Don't Know in the papers published by Seabreeze Publications, Inc. in Martin and Palm Beach Counties.

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jury Duty? On a Monday?

Palm Beach County Courthouse Photo from
Palm Beach County Bar Association
     Well, here I sit in the Jury Assembly Room at Palm Beach County Courthouse. It's the third time I've been called for jury duty. The first time, everything was resolved in the Courtroom and I was sent home. The second time, I was seated on a drunk driving case. It didn't take long, was fascinating, and I was released. This time, I was scheduled to start my new job this morning and instead am sitting here typing...
1916 Courthouse in 1947
Photo from PalmBeachCounty.org

     The Palm Beach County Courthouse was originally built in 1916. It had one courtroom and sat in splendor on the east side of Dixie Highway just north of Banyan Boulevard. In 1927, an additional building rose to handle the needs of the County as it grew. 

1969 Wraparound
Photo from PalmBeachCounty.org

     By 1969, the two buildings were encased in another building that went from sidewalk to sidewalk. This is the building I remember from my childhood. It was pale yellow and rose straight up from the pavement. It was neither impressive nor interesting.

     In 1995, the County opened a marble and stone Judicial Center directly across the street from the old Courthouse. This is where I'm sitting now and that's a picture of it at the beginning of this article. This building impresses you with the importance of the business being conducted within. The halls echo with footsteps and attorneys bustle about, briefcases in hand, talking in hushed tones with clients or discussing possible last minute settlement with other attorneys.

     It was 2002 when the Palm Beach County Commission decided to restore the 1916 Courthouse across the street. By 2004, Hedrick Brothers, the contractor, was salvaging anything possible and demolishing both the 1969 wrap-around and the 1927 building. The salvaged materials were used to restore the 1916 building.

Courtroom in 1916 Courthouse
Picture from pbcgov.com
     If you wander into the 1916 building these days, you get an impression of the grandeur of a different age. Wooden stair rails gleam and tile floors are cool and welcoming. It was in March, 2008, that the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum opened to the public. The building also houses one of my favorite haunts, The Historical Society of Palm Beach County. Not only can visitors enjoy the varying topics of Palm Beach County History displayed in the Museum, but are, after joining or paying a small fee, able to carefully dig through the archives of the Historical Society.

     And after touring the Museum, you can climb up restored stairs to the original courtroom. Standing on the polished wooden floor in front of the judge's podium as the sun pours through the windows behind, you can feel a whisper of cases that were heard in that Courtroom and imagine the lives that were changed here.

     As for me, I, and several others in the Jury pool, were kicked out of the pool and sent to the locker room when a trial was cancelled. I made it to the new job about an hour and a half late. I had mixed feelings about being released. Judicial proceedings are a fascinating process to watch and unless you're fortunate enough to have time to hang out at your local Courthouse, most of us don't get to see it in action. I'm kind of hoping I get a Juror Summons in the mail again next year so I can take another dip into the pool. Don't tell anyone, though. Apparently, we aren't supposed to enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sparklers and Moonshine

North Palm Beach Country Club (findthebest.com)

    I didn't want to write about the Fourth of July because I know lots of people will be writing about the holiday, but I just couldn't help it. The picture above is of the North Palm Beach Country Club where my family spent most Fourth of July holidays. We spread sheets out on the edges of the fairways as dusk approached and raided our coolers or raced back and forth to the clubhouse for drinks and munchees. The smell of mosquito repellent hung in the air as we sat waiting somewhat patiently, but prickly from sunburn from a day at the beach or pool, for the Village fireworks to begin. As the sun slowly set, sparklers were lit and kids carved patterns in the darkening sky. The moment the sun sunk below the horizon, the sky lit up. We leaned back onto the sheets and oohd and ah'd at the elaborate spiderwebs of light high above us.

Palm Beach Winter Golf Club Late 1920s
Photo from Lake Park Historical Society
"The Oakes Mansion" as it was known by the 1960s
was torn down in the mid-1980s.
     In the 1920s, decades before we gathered on the fairways to watch fireworks, the course was not only used  for golfing. Apparently, when the smugglers weren't slipping in cases of illegal hootch over the nearby waterway, they liked the clear open areas and would fly low over the golf course dropping little bits of illegal substances for their cohorts waiting in nearby woods to race out and collect. The area wasn't North Palm Beach then, but the far northern reaches of Kelsey City (now Lake Park) and lawmen were few and far between. It was rumored that some of those sworn to uphold the law were paid to look the other way. Times were hard in what was then a rough tropical paradise and it wasn't always easy to eke out a living.

     This year (2012), the Village of North Palm Beach is having a "July 4th Red, White and Boom!" celebration at the Country Club (901 US Highway One, North Palm Beach). Starting with a free swim in the huge Country Club pool at noon, festivities are scheduled to continue until 10:00 p.m. with fireworks at 9:00. Here's a link for more information: NPB Celebration.

    If you're lucky enough to live nearby and head over to watch the fireworks, bring your sheet, relax on the lawn, and enjoy! As you wave your sparklers waiting for the big show, take a look around and imagine how it all must have looked on a dark, dark night in the 1920s and 30s, no houses nearby and the uneven drone of a smuggler's plane swooping down to toss a package to the ground below.

Happy Fourth of July!

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge
Sparkler and firework photos from Microsoft Office