The gulf between Palm Beach and West Palm Beach is not entirely physical. Separated as the two communities are by the beautiful salt water sound known as Lake Worth, they are nevertheless connected by wide and substantial bridges over which anybody may travel. The warmth and durability of the visitor’s welcome in Palm Beach, however, depends upon several considerations which carry little weight at the western end of the bridge. If he goes to Palm Beach with a trailer hitched to the back of his car the length of his welcome is exactly one hour. At the end of sixty minutes the polite but firm Palm Beach police will hand him a cordial invitation to move on. Not that he may not be all right, y’know, but you never can tell.
That is not to suggest that Palm Beach does not welcome strangers and newcomers. Very definitely Palm Beach is looking for business. Its promotional literature is not as flamboyant as that of many other Florida communities. It is aimed directly at folk who inhabit the upper social and economic levels. When Palm Beach advertises it uses language like this:
“Social life of the western continent finds exclusive expression in Palm Beach, and the charm of southern hospitality is to be found here. It is estimated that in a single season representa tives of four-fifths of the wealth in the United States are to be found living in the palatial homes, gorgeous hotels or magnificent clubs of this community.”
The foregoing quotation explains in a nutshell why Palm Beach is the most widely-known winter resort in America, if not in the whole world. That one has been permitted to take a room in a Palm Beach hotel, to rent a Palm Beach villa or to own a home in Palm Beach is, in the eyes of the millions who are neither economically nor socially acceptable, something that puts one on a plane several niches above the common herd. Even to have been permitted to play golf on one of Palm Beach’s magnificent courses is something to boast about to the folks back home. In a democracy, few things give quite so much pleasure as to be permitted to rub elbows with the aristocracy of wealth and social prominence. That is one reason why a steady stream of motor cars rolls through the beautiful avenues and drives of Palm Beach all Winter, filled with tourists whose only hope is to get a glimpse of some millionaire or celebrity and to see what the homes of the rich and famous look like from the outside.
It is really not necessary for one to be either a millionaire, a social light or a celebrity in order to visit Palm Beach either as a transient hotel guest or as an all-winter resident. It is merely that Palm Beach has a permanent clientele, and is largely owned by people who, while not undemocratic, are in a position where they can afford to be “choosy” about their neighbors. They prefer to be surrounded by people who at least know how to wear their clothes and have good table manners. Given those qualifications and the means to pay the cost of living in Palm Beach, no one who desires to enjoy the beauties, comforts and luxuries of this, the most beautiful, comfortable and luxurious of all Florida resorts, need experience any difficulty in breaking through the ring of imagined exclusiveness and entering the charmed circle. Palm Beach is in the business of selling Florida’s climate in a deluxe edition, and welcomes anybody who fits, even temporarily, into that background.
Taking a hotel room or renting an apartment or a villa at Palm Beach, however, does not necessarily insure election or admission to the exclusive privileges reserved to members and their guests of some of the social organizations. Anyone may indulge in sea bathing at Palm Beach, provided he or she is content to use only that part of the beach not restricted to a selected few. The visitor is not permitted to play at the Beach Club unless that astute Kentucky sportsman, Colonel E. R. Bradley, is satisfied he is able to pay if he loses. In many more ways than appear on the surface, Colonel Bradley exercises a powerful influence, through his banking and newspaper connections, in the affairs of Palm Beach and West Palm Beach.
Palm Beach is, in short, a resort for those who can afford luxury and who know how to adapt themselves to the manners and customs of well-bred society. To describe its physical beauty and charm would take pages of descriptive writing. Royal Palmway, on which the visitor enters Palm Beach, is one of the most beautiful streets in the world. A center parkway lined with stately royal palms, and bordered by lantana, a colorful flower of the tropics, presents a vista leading directly to the Atlantic Ocean. Royal palms line both sides of this beautiful avenue and parkway flower beds add to its charm.
No words can adequately convey the atmosphere of wellbred gayety which envelops Palm Beach in the winter months. The facilities it offers for every kind of sport are practically unlimited. The Gulf Stream, flowing northward from the Florida Straits, swings closer shoreward here than at any other point along the Atlantic coast, bringing in its warm current the tropical game fish of southern waters, and deep-sea fishing is one of the most popular outdoor amusements. The waters off the coast at Palm Beach offer some of the greatest fishing in the world-that wonderful fighter of the deep, the sailfish, being the quarry of many anglers. Fishing for “sails” has been called the “Sport of Presidents”-because so many of the Nation’s chief executives have fished for and captured their share of sailfish off Palm Beach. A museum, showing an outstanding collection of fish caught in the waters around Palm Beach, is open to visitors without charge.
Yachts and houseboats of every degree of size and luxury cast anchor in Lake Worth every season. With the widening and deepening of the ocean inlet to the commercial port at West Palm Beach, ocean-going craft can enter the harbor, while the intra-coastal waterway, of which Lake Worth constitutes part, enables the tiniest motor-boat to make a safe passage from northern waters to Palm Beach.
Distinctive shops abound in Palm Beach. Shopping alleys with colorful Spanish names offer an Old World touch and a continental atmosphere. Palm-lined drives follow one another in profusion. Tropical trails, from which vehicular traffic is barred, are the routes followed by those who ride in “afromobiles,” or Negro-propelled wheel-chairs, or on their own bicycles.
Beginning in 1934, Palm Beach has experienced something of a building boom. More than a hundred new residences have been constructed, mostly in the newer style of architecture, adapted from Bermudan sources, which is displacing the traditional Spanish type of building in Florida’s favor. First developed as a winter resort by Henry M. Flagler, the pioneer railroad builder of Florida’s East Coast, the Palm Beach of today retains few traces of the Flagler period. Mr. Flagler built two enormous hotels, miracles of luxury in their time, but both built of wood. One of them, the Breakers, burned to the ground at the height of the resort season in early 1925, and has been replaced by a modern and even more luxurious fireproof structure. The other, for years renowned as the largest caravanserie in the world, the Royal Poinciana, was torn down in 1937.
By contrast with Palm Beach, the city of West Palm Beach describes itself in some of its promotional advertising as “this democratic resort.” It is peculiar among Florida cities in that besides being a winter resort, with numerous fine hotels and all the customary Florida resort facilities for the entertainment and enjoyment of tourists, it is at the same time the gateway to its more fashionable neighbor, Palm Beach itself, and in its own right a thriving metropolis and trading center for the vast area of Everglades back country which has already been described, and a commercial seaport of considerable present and potentially enormous importance. It is also becoming a considerable manufacturing center, especially in furniture and building materials and supplies.
The traffic in and out of the port of Palm Beach is still materially lower in volume than that of either of its nearby competitive ports, Port Everglades and Miami. Its commercial traffic is about the same in volume as that of Fort Pierce, despite Palm Beach’s handicap of having only a 20-foot depth of channel as against 30 to 35 feet in other East Coast ports which are not so well located as shipping points for the products of the North Everglades. There seems, however, to be logical ground for the belief that eventually the facilities of the port will be enlarged to adequate proportions as the volume o f tonnage increases. What it lacks in commercial traffic West Palm Beach more than makes up in its annual traffic of 25,000 pleasure craft entering and departing.
Port or no port, Palm Beach or no Palm Beach, the city of West Palm Beach, stretching for miles along the shore of Lake Worth and reaching back through pleasant areas be sprinkled with orange groves and dotted with attractive homes, is a delightful place in which to spend the winter season, as many thousands of visitors every year demonstrate to their own satisfaction.
Southward from West Palm Beach the exploring motorist has a choice of two highways. One of them, the Ocean Drive, leads along the coast, just above the breakers of the Atlantic surf, from Palm Beach itself; the other is the main highway, U. S. No. 1, which for the greater part of the 67-mile stretch between West Palm Beach and Miami is a four-track road. Even the added width does not prevent frequent traffic congestions between New Year’s and St. Patrick’s Day, so great are the crowds of motoring tourists flocking southward to the magic city of Miami, or returning northward from their all too brief vacations there.
This 67-mile strip is almost continuously built up with resort communities which to all intents and purposes are one. Lake Worth, Delray, Boca Raton, Pompano,-those are names of tourist stopping points along this strip of coast, every mile of which has attractions of its own.
Just before reaching Miami we pass through Fort Lauderdale, a thriving, prosperous go-ahead community, county seat of Broward County. Fort Lauderdale demonstrated its eco nomic stability by surviving the collapse of the Florida land boom and the national economic crash of 1929 with a smaller proportion of financial loss than almost any other community in South Florida.
Fort Lauderdale calls itself proudly “the fastest growing city in the fastest growing county of Florida.” Situated on the charming and somewhat mysterious New River, which flows through the center of the city, Fort Lauderdale has long been famous as a resort for fishermen and for yachtsmen. It accommodates between 35,000 and 40,000 tourists every Winter. The New River is the deepest stream in Florida, reaching a depth of 90 feet over a considerable part of its length. Its banks are lined with beautiful homes, many of them owned by wealthy families from the North who make Fort Lauderdale their year around residence.
A considerable part of the fruit and vegetable product of the Everglades as well as of Broward County, first in winter bean production, finds its way to market through Fort Lauder dale’s shipping facilities, while an extremely high percentage of the water-borne inbound freight destined for all of Southeastern Florida comes in through Port Everglades, on the southern edge of Fort Lauderdale.
Port Everglades in itself is an evidence of the civic spirit and financial resources of this region. It is the only one of the new seaports on Florida’s East Coast built and developed en tirely by local capital, without aid from the Federal government except in the matter of deepening and maintaining the harbor channel from the sea. With its 35 feet of water, Port Everglades is the deepest port between New Orleans and Norfolk. Its primary reason for being is to provide facilities for the concentration, shipment, receipt and distribution of heavy freight originating in and destined to Southeast Florida points.
Many of the large trans-Atlantic liners, when in service as cruise ships to the Caribbean and South America, make Port Everglades a port of call to give their passengers a day or two ashore in Miami. Since the destruction and abandonment of the East Coast Railroad’s line across the keys to Key West, Port Everglades has been the terminus for the huge car-ferries carrying freight-cars to and from Havana. With its extensive warehouses and refrigerating plants Port Everglades is able to handle an enormous tonnage of the fruit and vegetable output of its own back country, which includes one of the most productive agricultural areas in Florida. More than 10,000 carloads of freight a year are moved in and out of Port Everglades over the municipally-owned port railroad, which connects the Florida East Coast and Seaboard Airline railways with the piers. The total maritime tonnage in and out of the Port was in excess of three-quarters of a million in 1937.
One unique feature of Fort Lauderdale’s winter tourist season is the National Aquatic Forum, held during the Christmas holidays. For ten days four to five hundred swimming champions of both sexes from the colleges, prep schools and high schools of the entire country meet here in National swimming contests.
Just before the southbound motorist reaches Fort Lauderdale he passes an enclosure on his left bearing the intriguing sign “Lion Farm.” This unique institution proves to be just what the sign says it is, a farm whose only crop is baby lions. They are bred here for circus and exhibition purposes, amid surroundings closely simulating those of their native Africa, and here the early training of lion cubs begins. The animals are shipped to zoological parks all over the country, and most of the owners of wild animal circus acts obtain their performers here.
Leaving Fort Lauderdale behind us we come quickly within sight of the towering, miraculous skyline of Miami, “The Magic City.”
The magic of Miami grows upon the visitor with every successive hour that he spends in the exploration of the town and its environs, east, west and south. “Magic” is the word, when one considers that here are 130,000 people making their year ’round homes, and perhaps twice as many more spending their winters, in a community which, all told, hardly numbered 5,000 before the World War. In 1917, when Glenn Curtiss established a training school for military aviators on the shore of Biscayne Bay, Miami was hardly more than a somewhat overgrown fishing village, surrounded by orange and avocado groves, and a few fine estates in Coconut Grove, occupied by retired millionaires with a fondness for tropical greenery and surroundings.
On the peninsula now known as Miami Beach a farmer from New Jersey, John S. Collins, who had found coconut growing unprofitable, was developing an avocado grove, with the assistance of his son-in-law, Thomas J. Pancoast. West of the city the Reverend Solomon G. Merrick was growing vegetables on a 160-acre farm, and living in a modest house he had built out of what he believed to be coral rock, and which he had named “Coral Gables,” partly for the material and partly for the famous home of his political idol, Grover Cleveland, which was called “Gray Gables.” James Deering, immensely wealthy retired business man, had built to the south of the town the magnificent estate “Viscaya,” at a reputed cost of $10,000,000.
There was a road leading north, but in such bad condition that few motorists ventured to travel it at all, none if they were sober, at night. The only way except by boat, which one had to provide for himself, of getting in and out of Miami was by way of the Florida East Coast Railroad. In 1896 Henry M. Flagler, pushing his Florida East Coast Railroad southward to the tip of the peninsula to reach the freight that was beginning to develop in the farms and groves of the lower Everglades, had laid out a plan for a future city on the shore of Biscayne Bay. Following his custom, he had built a big wooden hotel, the Royal Palm, to create winter passenger business for his railroad. Though his efforts to develop a winter tourist business on Florida’s East Coast had made St. Augustine and Palm Beach famous, if not yet fashionable, only a meager scattering were attracted to Miami in those days before the War. Few people in the North had even heard of it unless some friend casually mentioned that he had been there and found it a quiet, economical place to enjoy the Florida sunshine for a winter vacation.
Came the War, and with it such an increase and redistribution of wealth as America had never known. Millionaires were made over night. Thousands upon thousands who had never expected to be rich found themselves with means enough to retire on their incomes. The year following the Armistice was a period of free spending on a scale never before experienced. After a short recession and readjustment in 1920 the industrial and business boom took a new upswing until by the beginning of 1922 everybody in America seemed to feel that there was no limit to the heights of prosperity. Paper fortunes were being made almost over night by the veriest amateurs in stockmarket operations. The speculators discovered that they could take down their profits in real money. The get-rich-quick fever had taken possession of the whole nation when Miami landowners sprung a new kind of gamble on an eager public.
The beginning of the Florida real estate boom and of the growth of Miami and Miami Beach into the Magic City of today was when the newspapers in important cities of the North began to carry, early in 1922, full-page advertisements of lots for sale in the then almost unheard-of city of Miami. These first advertisements were the product of a master word-painter, the late William C. Freeman, one of the ablest advertising men in the country, who had been employed by the promoters of one of the first of Miami’s real estate sub-divisions. The response of buyers from all parts of the country was so immediate, and the profits realized by the promoters so great, that the news spread like wildfire of this new and sure-fire way to get rich quick.