Today I decided to spend time with a friend on an Urban Quest of West Palm Beach. It was a fun exploration of all the nooks and crannies of this unique downtown area.
We began our architectural scavenger hunt at the Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach. The library began as the West Palm Beach Reading Room in the Congregational Church in 1894. Soon after, Commodore C.J. Clarke, a Palm Beach yachtsman, donated a houseboat to the Palm Beach Literary Society. The collection from the Reading Room and a $100 donation from Henry Flagler created the first city library. The houseboat was anchored at a dock off of the city park where Clematis Street terminates. Residents were encouraged to visit the Reading Room instead of wasting time drinking on Banyan Street. After relocating to many locations over the years, the library was moved to it’s new location at City Center. In 2012 the Mandel Foundation awarded $5 million grant to transform West Palm Beach Public Library into world-class institution and encourage support for public libraries and renamed the Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach.
In the same City Center complex is West Palm Beach’s City Hall. Built in 2009, the new, 150,000 sq.ft. City Hall is defined by dramatic architecture and being energy efficient.
A few blocks away, at the Palm Beach County Courthouse lay 240+ tons of carved Grey Cloud granite barriers on both sides of the plaza. The granite is a light shade of grey, speckled with black and white flecks to suggest the flexibility of a legal system with “grey areas” best serves a free society. Inscribed on each of the granite blocks is a historic quote regarding liberty, justice or democracy.
After various efforts to save the historic courthouse from demolition, the Board of County Commissioners voted in April 2002 to preserve and share the building with the public, thereby committing to restore the building to its original neoclassical grandeur. Located across the street from the current Palm Beach County Courthouse, the historic building celebrated the grand opening of the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County Museum, the county’s first history museum in 2008.
Trivia Time: Did you know in 1878, a ship loaded with 20,000 coconuts came ashore during a storm. Settlers decided to plant the coconuts and create a crop. The groves of coconut palms are the reason why it’s called Palm Beach County today!
A block away from the historic courthouse, on N Olive Avenue, is the Historic St. Ann Catholic Church. This historic church was dedicated March 15, 1896, on the SE corner of Rosemary and Datura Streets. In 1902, it was moved to its current location which was donated by Henry M. Flagler and served the Catholic Community until 1913. When the new church was dedicated, the old church was then used as the forerunner of St. Ann School which was built in 1925. St. Ann Church is the oldest Catholic Church and parish in the Diocese of Palm Beach.
Located near the waterfront, is Centennial Square which houses the Centennial Fountain which can accommodate up to 100 people! There are also plenty of benches, tables and chairs, as well as a popular Green Market held in the park on Saturdays.
It’s a short stroll through the park down to the waterfront and public docks. The middle dock is the main pedestrian dock, and offers the perfect spot for families taking a walk, business people looking for a tranquil spot to enjoy lunch or visitors soaking in the downtown & yacht scenery. It features unique education plaques about the underwater ecosystems, planters with native plants, shaded seating areas for the public and day docking for boaters.
South of the city docks is the waterfront amphitheater. The Meyer Amphitheater boasts a 10,000 square foot band shell and hosts special events throughout the year. There’s a grass lawn to sit and picnic, benches, tables, a walking path, bathrooms, and a tree-lined knoll from which to look into the park or out to the intracoastal while attending an event. They were cleaning up after yesterday’s Autism Speaks event when I walked through today.
The last stop on this quest was the First Presbyterian Church of West Palm Beach, founded in 1922. A devastating storm on September 16, 1928, demolished the church structure. This was followed with a decrease in membership from 402 members to 275 due to extreme financial losses by members in the 1928 storm and the beginning of the Depression. The present Sanctuary building at the corner of South Olive Avenue and Evernia Street was originally built to house the Central Farmer’s Trust Company Bank.
I hope this narrative and the photos encourage you to get out and explore your city! To see my photos click here: http://emiling.com/photos/west-palm-beach/