The Coastal Star

Around Town: Addison Mizner’s Town Hall turns 90; Boca Resort welcomes Joan Lunden, mermaids

In the early days, the building served as Town Hall and Fire Station.  Photo provided by Boca Raton Historical Society

By Thom Smith

With the Twenties roaring all around, Addison Mizner, who was as much entrepreneur as he was developer, turned his attention from Palm Beach to a little farming community an hour’s drive south.
    To develop Boca Raton, perfect for a world-class resort, he formed the Mizner Development Corp., a syndicate of investors that included T. Coleman du Pont as chairman, Rodman Wanamaker, Mizner’s close friend Paris Singer, Irving Berlin, William Kissam Vanderbilt II and Elizabeth Arden.
    The corporation bought more than 1,600 acres, including 2 miles of beachfront, and on April 15, 1925, announced plans for the “Venice of the Atlantic” — a thousand-room hotel, two golf courses, a polo field, parks and miles of paved and landscaped streets, with a 160-foot-wide boulevard called Camino Real from the train station to the hotel.
    Boca Raton was incorporated in May 1925, and on May 14 prospective buyers anted up $2 million in deposits for lots surrounding the Cloister resort hotel. By Thanksgiving, more than $25 million in lots had been sold, and on Feb. 26, 1926, guests began packing Mizner’s Cloister Inn.
    However, even as the corporation saw another $6 million in sales during the winter, the Boca juggernaut and the Florida land boom in general began to lose momentum. Du Pont resigned from the board; customers stopped making payments; Mizner was kicked out in July; the corporation declared bankruptcy in September.
    On Sept. 18, the 150-mph winds of what the Weather Bureau declared “probably the most destructive hurricane ever to strike the United States” applied the coup de grace.
    Mizner designed a few more homes before dying of a heart attack in Palm Beach in 1933 at age 60, but his legacy thrives: the Palm Beach estates, the smaller and much less ornate homes in Boca’s Old Floresta and the Cloister — now a small portion of the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
    And on Dec. 7, starting at 7 p.m., Mizner’s golden-domed Town Hall will celebrate its 90th anniversary. It’s home to the Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum,  and Kathy Dickenson, the society’s former president, plans to speak of the restoration of the building that will begin next year.
    To expand exhibit space, staff offices will be moved to the second floor. Each exhibit room will focus on a key period in Boca history such as Mizner, or IBM’s presence with hands-on displays of pioneering PCs and other hardware.
    “It’ll be crowded,” Executive Director Mary Csar said, “but we’ll adjust.”
    Admission is $5, free for society members. RSVP (395-6766) required.
                                 ***
     Mizner’s dream for “the world’s most architecturally beautiful playground” still lives. The Boca Resort recently hosted the Go Pink luncheon, for the Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s breast cancer programs.
    TV personality Joan Lunden challenged upward of 1,300 guests at the resort’s Mizner Center with humor and reflections on her battle with breast cancer.
Lunden, who has a home with husband Jeff Konigsberg in suburban West Palm Beach, joked that “tan fat is better than white fat.” 
    “It’s great to be here,” Lunden said. “Actually, after years of fighting breast cancer, it’s great to be here … period.”
    As the daughter of an oncologist and a well-informed TV host, she admitted, “I didn’t think it would happen to me. I didn’t think I would be that one in eight women” who gets breast cancer.
    Her first mammogram was negative, but she decided to go across the hall for an ultrasound.
“That was the wake-up,” she said of learning she did have cancer. “We must be vigilant with our health … and honest.
“There are two great days in our lives. The day we’re born, and the day we discover why. … That’s what keeps me going on my warrior journey.”

***
                                  Six-year-old Anna Kuhn met and interviewed mermaids Angela O’Rourke (l) and Elizabeth Erra at the Boca Beach Club thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, WPTV-Channel 5 and the Mermaid Academy of Orlando. Tim Stepien/ The Coastal Star


    Like Lunden, Anna Kuhn is a warrior, but with somewhat different battles. The 6-year-old from York County, Pa., has been through five open heart surgeries, four on her hip and one on her spine. More lie ahead. But those thoughts were far away as Anna walked toward the jetty at Boca Inlet in early October as a guest of the Boca Resort’s Beach Club.
    “I see one … I see one … over there!” she yelled, pointing toward two women on the rocks, dressed as … mermaids.
    Anna wanted to meet a mermaid, learn to become one, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which provides amazing experiences to children with life-threatening conditions, made it happen.
    The chapter in western Pennsylvania coordinated with the South Florida chapter to book a flight for Anna and her parents, Laura and John,  reserve rooms and team up with the Mermaid Academy. The Orlando-based business actually teaches children and adults how to be mermaids, complete with tails and elastic mono-legs.
    Anna, however, wanted to share her experience, so Make-A-Wish arranged with WPTV-Channel 5 for her to interview the mermaids for a newscast, asking them about their favorite food and music and if they can dance with tails.
    During their visit, the Kuhns visited Gumbo Limbo Nature Center and the Palm Beach Zoo. And one other plus: The trip marked the first vacation for the entire family.
                             ***
    So much for rust. When Gulf Stream Bath & Tennis pro Roger Ashcroft hired David McNamara four years ago, he took note of his new assis-tant’s people skills and teaching ability but noted he wasn’t fully fit. Thanks to Ashcroft’s intense fitness regimen and at his urging, McNamara decided to enter his first high-level tournament in more than five years, the USTA National Men’s 40 Clay Court Championships in Atlanta.
“I thought what the hell,” said McNamara, whose highest international ranking had been 431. “But because of who I am I didn’t want to just go play. I still have enough of a competitive ego that I thought I could win. I wanted to make sure I was ready.”
    McNamara dispatched the Nos. 5, 3, 1 and 2 seeds for the championship.
    But he wasn’t finished. In late August he traveled to Philadelphia for the USTA National 40 Grass Court Championships. After a first-round bye, he beat the top three seeds to win again.
    The national hard court championships begin Nov. 27 in La Jolla, Calif. McNamara is pumped.
    “The new national rankings came out today,” he wrote on Aug. 28, “and I am now No. 2 in the nation. Closing in on No. 1.”


                                 ***
    “It needed to be done,” Luke Therien said, so a couple of months ago the Boynton Beach restaurateur shut down the Banana Boat for renovations. “When you’re open 365 days a year, there’s a lot of wear and tear.”
    Therien opened Banana Boat in 1978 with a New England nautical look that was retained in do-overs in 1990 and 2000. Not this time, however.
    “We tried to sharpen our brand with a Florida Caribbean look,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re capturing all the people coming to South Florida.”
    He added sliding glass doors that bring in a lot more light and open up the place and a new boat-shaped bar. The expanded docks can handle eight boats. Florida and Caribbean artwork from local artists cover the walls, and live music continues every Friday through Sunday.
                                ***
Palm Beach County is among the most prosperous regions in the nation, yet almost 200,000 residents live in poverty. Every month the Palm Beach County Food Bank serves more than 100,000 individuals through food pantries, soup kitchens and other services. But that food doesn’t come for free and the money to buy it comes from a wide variety of activities and programs. One is Empty Bowls Delray Beach.
From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 3 at Old School Square, patrons will pay $25 for a specially decorated bowl they can fill with any or all of a variety of soups from at least 16 local restaurants and artisan bread from Old School Bakery. Soup providers, including Abe & Louie’s, Artsy Artichoke, Atlantis Golf Club, Bedner’s, Burt & Max’s, Cabana El Rey, Caffe Luna Rosa, The Colony Hotel, Deck 84, The Elks Club, Henry’s, Lucille’s BBQ, Purgreens, Salt 7, Sweetwater, and The Regional Kitchen will serve up a variety from chicken vegetable and potato bacon to red seafood chowder and split pea and coconut curry.
Barb Lentz, owner of the Art-Sea Living Studio in Boynton Beach, has hosted a series of “play and paint” events where guests have designed and painted bowls. For tickets or more information, visit www.oldschoolsquare.org/events/empty-bowls.
                                ***
    Hard to believe they’ve been performing for almost 50 years, but the Pointer Sisters are still jumpin’ for our love and they’ll no doubt be steppin’ out at the Nov. 4 gala for the Chris Evert/Raymond James Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic at Boca Raton Resort & Club. Playing celebs at the 28th event include musician David Cook, Dr. Phil McGraw, Robin Givens and race driver Helio Castroneves. (www.chrisevert.org)
                                ***
    Alex Dreyfoos and George Elmore have been making their marks in business and culture for half a century. Dreyfoos is the former owner of WPEC-Channel 12, entrepreneur, inventor and the force behind the Kravis Center. Elmore, founder and president of Hardrives, served as chairman of the Palm Beach County Cultural Council.
    Together they have moved and shaken the county into a cultural destination, and they’ll share behind-the-scenes stories and anecdotes from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 6 at “Putting It Together” for the council’s first “Culture & Cocktails” event of the season at The Colony Pavilion in Palm Beach.
    The Jan. 8 event will take a slightly different heading with “Heavy Perspectives: From Metallica to Modern Art” with former Metallica bassist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer-turned artist Jason Newsted. His paintings will be on display at the Cultural Council’s HQ in Lake Worth from Dec. 1 to Feb. 3. For reservations and ticket pricing, call 472-3330.
                                ***
    Jethro Tull … almost.  The classic rock band’s best-known member, Ian Anderson, plays Mizner Park Amphitheater Nov. 10.  Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra sets up at the Kravis Center on Dec. 5. At the podium: a promising young trumpeter out of New Orleans — Winton Marsalis. Ambrosia and Fly Amero (Orleans) perform at Boston’s Nov. 9.


                                ***


    Remember Liberace? Even on old black-and-white TVs, his costumes were outrageous. Now fans and those who are just curious can check out 15 of the flamboyant pianist’s outfits in all their sequin-tial splendor in “Bling: The Brilliant History of Glitz” at The Wick Theatre’s Costume Museum in Boca Raton. The exhibit, in collaboration with the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts, runs through May 20. (995-2333)
                                ***
    A familiar Palm Beach face has a hand in Forum Productions-Greenhouse Theater Center’s 2017-18 season opener at Mizner Park Cultural Center. Rose: The Untold Rose Kennedy Story was written by Kennedy family biographer Laurence Leamer, author of Madness Under the Royal Palms — Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach, and a winter resident. Performances are Nov. 29 through Dec. 23.
                                ***
    Speaking of Mizner Park, Festival of the Arts Boca is still more than two months off, but early bird tickets are only $39 and the lineup for Feb. 23-March 4 has something for everyone, opening with soprano Kathleen Battle (Feb. 23) and violinist Itzhak Perlman (Feb. 24). Other standouts include Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass (Feb. 26), X Prize founder Peter Diamandis (Feb. 28), a screening of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial with live orchestra (March 4) and the multi-talented T Bone Burnett (March 1).
    If they can obtain clearance from the Trump administration, Grupo Compay Segundo, the Cuba-based band that tours the globe and still plays Saturday nights at Havana’s Hotel Nacional, will play the festival Feb. 25.
    And for something completely different on March 2: How about New Worlds, an evening of music, poetry and prose? The ensemble features German cellist Jan Vogler, Chinese violinist Mira Wang, Venezuelan-American pianist Vanessa Perez and Illinois actor Bill Murray. Classical composers, Broadway, poetry, prose, heaps of Americana. Rave reviews.


Thom Smith is a freelance writer who can be reached at thomsmith@ymail.com.

    












































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