Yesterday was a big day in Palm Beach County. Someone seeking adventure could head to downtown West Palm to see the giant Christmas tree lit at Cityplace or drive across the bridge to Palm Beach where iconic Worth Avenue celebrated 100 years of being named after Seminole War hero Gen. William Jenkins Worth.
Worth Avenue has been voted on by USA Today Travel, as one of 10 favorite iconic American streets. The famed avenue is known for its upscale boutiques, such as Emilio Pucci, Jimmy Choo and Gucci. To celebrate there was live music performances, models, and a showcase of 40 Lamborghinis presented by Lamborghini Palm Beach. I even took a ghost tour of the avenue thought to be one of America’s most haunted locations.
The tour gave me the opportunity to explore antique sites and hear about Worth Ave’s scandalous past, legendary stories while drinking in the glamour of Palm Beach. Let me fill you in on what I learned …
Col. ER Bradley built the Beach Club, which was to be the world’s finest gambling casino even though gambling was illegal. Bradley circumvented that technicality by operating as a private club with security recruited from the mountains of Tennessee. Yes, he was raided several times, but had always been tipped off and would have everything was folded up within moments. Suddenly the guests were sitting down drinking tea at the tables.
Located across from the Beach Club, on the southeast corner of Worth Avenue housed Gus’ Baths, the only place open for year-round swimming by the beach. Owned by Gus Jordahn, it had shops, apartments, three saltwater pools and a tunnel to the beach. Jordahn also built a 1,000’ pier for fishing, and it’s here he started Cowboys-of-the-Sea, in which all members had helped save someone from drowning; membership was for life. He also patented a life preserver nicknamed the Palm Beach Roll still in use today.
Located west of the Beach Club is the famous Colony Hotel, the non-official capital of American royal-lovers. The most romantic couple in the history of late modern era, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, whose three year romance, and subsequent marriage, caused the most sensational scandal throughout the world, were yearly guests of the Colony. Though Miss Simpson was hated in Britain, their romance was very differently perceived in Palm Beach, where the royal lovebirds were warmly hosted by some of America’s greatest living philanthropists.
In Palm Beach County, there’s no more infamous tall tale than that of the Styx. The legend of the Styx has been passed down by oral tradition and is accepted as gospel by many. But the evidence all but dismisses it. The shantytown sprang up in the 1890s for more than 2,000 black workers at nearby hotels. The story is that Henry Flagler was eager to oust the residents so he could develop the land. He had it condemned on health grounds, then hired a circus to set up across the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach, gave residents free passes, and while they enjoyed the show, burned their homes down.
However, Flagler didn’t own the property, Col. ER Bradley purchased it in 1910. In 1912 Bradley ordered workers to move the residents out. He gave them two weeks to move across the bridge. After everyone left, Bradley cleared the land, pulled up the trash and burned it.
Beyond the Styx, lays the Everglades Club. Opened in 1919, non-members have speculated about what, and who, is behind the huge carved doors of this massive iconic building anchoring the west end of Worth Avenue, where America’s elite gathers in the winter. This is where famous architect Addison Mizner first created the romantic architectural styles known around the world as “the Palm Beach look” and is still very exclusive.
One of the rules of Palm Beach is that you cannot be buried, nor can you bury a pet, on the island. However, eccentric Mr. Mizner proved that wealth provides privileges and was able to bury his pet spider monkey ‘Johnnie Brown’. Today you can visit the tombstone which lays in a restaurant courtyard, just off fancy Worth Avenue. It simply reads: Johnnie Brown, The Human Monkey, Died April 30, 1927.
I encourage you to visit these sites and more if you’re in the area. Worth Avenue is a historically important place, sometimes referred to as the Rodeo Drive of Florida, only four blocks long it houses 250 high-end retailers from Cartier to Hermes and where JFK spent his last weekend. The street is also beautifully lined with 200 coconut palms reaching 32 -40 feet tall. It’s a sight to see.
Come, explore what Florida has to offer!