By Thom Smith
In 1974, with much fanfare, the Boca Raton Mall opened on Federal Highway. With two big-box department stores as bookends, the middle consisted of chain stores, a multiplex cinema and a few restaurants.
The euphoria was brief, as Town Center opened in 1980.
Even as the mall’s last store closed in 1989, Boca developer Tom Crocker was already hatching plans to replace it.
Among those Crocker approached was restaurateur Dennis Max. With partner Burt Rapoport, Max had introduced California-flavored dining at Raffles in Miami in 1979 and more significant, Cafe Max in Pompano Beach in 1984. Come a few more miles north, Crocker urged.
Max’s Grille opened in 1991.
“That was 27 years ago,” Patti Max recalled of riding on a tractor with Crocker over the dirt that would be the main thoroughfare of Mizner Park. "Nothing was there. He said, ‘Which corner do you want?’ I said, ‘Where will the valet stand be?’ He said, ‘Right there.’ I said, ‘OK, I want that corner right there!’ ”
To finance additional restaurants, he used his equity in Max’s Grille for loans to finance other restaurants that opened and closed. He couldn’t pay off the loan and lost the restaurant to BankAtlantic, which was sold to BB&T, and then BBX Capital, a Fort Lauderdale-based holding company, assumed Max’s debt.
“It’s very sad,” Patti said, “but I think Dennis may be relieved because he no longer has this debt hanging over his head.”
The new boss is Jack Abdo, who Patti says is a “brilliant businessman” with a “great reputation.” Managing the restaurant is Rapoport, who also runs Deck 84 in Delray Beach and Burt & Max’s out west in Delray Marketplace. He’ll keep the chef and staff, and he’s already talking about refreshing the place.
That pleases Patti, who believes her little company, Patti Max Designs, is perfectly suited to the task — retaining the casual elegance but with a bit cleaner look, a la the new Restoration Hardware in West Palm Beach.
“I’m kind of excited about having this opportunity,” Patti said, “to remind my staff how special they are and about being a staple in Boca.”
Three cheers for James Patterson. The Palm Beacher who transitioned from a successful career as an advertising executive to novelist and philanthropic champion of literacy is expanding into …television. Children’s television.
Kid Stew premiered April 15 with four-episode marathons on South Florida’s Public Television Channels 2 and 42 before going nationwide on stations served by American Public Television.
Patterson supervises almost everything about the series, from script to final approval, but he does not host. That’s handled by a group of nine preteen performers who lead the targeted elementary-age viewers through sketches and mock newscasts.
A second group of four will be produced this summer and Patterson is encouraged that funding can be obtained to enlarge the Kid Stew pot.
Though Kid Stew is TV-based, it’s about reading, and Patterson knows that each year many children start school unable to read at grade level. Furthermore, many teachers are ill-equipped to assist their struggling students. So, teaming with the University of Florida Literacy Initiative, he’s kicked in $3 million to launch the James Patterson Literacy Challenge.
The money will expand support for low-performing schools, provide online assistance and education scholarships to teachers and foster more individualized instruction to students. Patterson also is donating $1 million in books to cash-strapped schools and youth programs.
The University of Florida also figured in Patterson’s January No. 1 bestseller, All American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez, the Superstar Whose Life Ended on Murderers’ Row. Before heading off to pro football, Hernandez starred in Gainesville.
Two months earlier, the 25th Alex Cross thriller hit the stands, but buzz is building for perhaps his most anticipated collaboration in June. The President Is Missing was co-written by former President Bill Clinton, of whom Patterson said, “It’s been a blast to work with President Clinton. He kind of knows everything about everything.”
Randi Emerman was back in town a few weeks ago, but her visit had nothing to do with the Palm Beach International Film Festival, which she shepherded for more than two decades. Now vice president of programming for Silverspot Cinema in Coconut Creek, the former Boca Raton resident was promoting a documentary … about Venezuela.
Amid conflicts around the globe, the chaos in Venezuela has received bottom billing. Women of the Venezuelan Chaos follows five women as they struggle for health care, food, employment and justice. Often filming surreptitiously, Venezuela-born director Margarita Cardenas, who attended the screening, risked her life to tell their stories.
Proceeds from the screenings in Coconut Creek and Silverspot theaters in Naples and Raleigh, N.C., where Emerman now lives, went to the Saludos Connection, a Venezuelan charity.
Screenings in Europe, including at the European Parliament and several human rights film festivals, have created international acclaim. Though the film can never be shown in Venezuela under the present government, Emerman still hopes it can have a positive, if indirect, effect. “Black Panther was awesome and Avengers is coming up, but how important is it to see a film like this on the big screen,” she said. “Especially here in North America where we’re so close to what’s happening, but we’re not talking about it.”
In past years, Cardenas might have been among the filmmakers and celebrities at the Palm Beach film festival, but its only activity this year was the Student Showcase of Films honoring Florida’s student filmmakers, with Burt Reynolds and Rob “Vanilla Ice” Van Winkle helping to present $12,500 in scholarships and awards.
After last year’s event, festival President and CEO Jeff Davis, who had taken over in 2015, abruptly resigned without explanation. The festival board voted to cancel the 2018 event.
Davis, who has some film production credits, had been brought onto the board by Emerman. He, in turn, orchestrated her departure, brought in new management and promised to improve the festival. It never happened.
Emerman sued the festival for the unpaid portion of her salary and won, but to date she said she hasn’t received a cent.
School’s out for summer. Maybe it was for Alice Cooper in 1972 (46 years ago) but today a college education is a year-round endeavor. Just look at Florida Atlantic University, a beehive of studying, teaching, performing, practicing and donating.
The donating first:
Since he arrived in January 2014, President John Kelly has diligently worked to improve fundraising, public and private. The most recent announcements — $1 million each — will support new programs at FAU’s Henderson University School and provide financial assistance for low-income, first-generation college students who otherwise might not be able to attend college.
The Henderson million came from Daniel and Debra Cane to establish the Cane Institute for Advanced Technologies, which will attempt to develop a world-class model for science, technology, engineering and math. Daniel Cane, a Lake Worth native and Cornell graduate and former co-chair of FAU’s board of trustees, co-founded Modernizing Medicine in 2010 to revolutionize the creation, distribution and utilization of health care information.
In 1997, while still at Cornell, he co-founded CourseInfo and a year later merged it with Blackboard Inc., to create e-learning products. In 2011 Providence Equity Partners bought Blackboard for $1.6 billion.
The second grant, from Aubrey and Sally Strul, will anchor the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program. With the initial investment, the couple hopes to provide on-campus mentors and summer job assistance for 20 students, who in their second year will become peer mentors at their former high schools.
Aubrey Strul, an industrialist, investor and budding bridge player, and his wife live in Boca West, where they are active in the community’s children’s foundation. It has pledged an additional $50,000 to the Scholars Program for four years.
Of course, what good would a college education be without a little controversy? Enter, or rather re-enter, James Tracy. The former tenured communications professor returned to the FAU campus April 5 to speak to a political science class about CIA attempts to influence major media.
Tracy ran into trouble more than two years ago after blogging that some mass shootings and the Boston Marathon bombing were hoaxes. He also allegedly contacted the parents of a Sandy Hook victim and demanded proof of the child’s death.
The university, however, sacked Tracy for repeatedly failing to properly disclose activities outside his job that might create conflicts of interest. He sued in federal court on First Amendment grounds, but after only three hours of deliberation, a federal jury upheld his dismissal.
Tracy, who has been unable to find a job, was invited to speak by political science professor Marshall DeRosa, a controversial Civil War scholar. Critics claim he supports white nationalism. His writings include essays that claim the Confederacy was acting legally, according to the Constitution, while ignoring its support of slavery.
DeRosa runs a prison education program, the Inmate Civics Education Enhancement Project at South Bay Correctional Facility, a private facility run by Boca-based GEO Group. The program was launched in 2013 with a $5,000 grant (up to $32,000 in 2016) from the ultraconservative Charles Koch Institute.
Mark Walter Braswell is a lawyer. He also plays a mean piano, and 20 years ago he realized that songwriting didn’t require a degree in music. Drawn to “poignant ballads,” he began writing in earnest, performing at cabarets, even performing at weddings in New York-D.C. corridor, before taking a stab at musical theater.
Paying the Price, workshopped at the Kennedy Center, chronicled his father’s plight as a World War II tailgunner who is shot down, held as a POW in Romania and nursed to health by Princess Catherine of the royal family.
His latest, Cuban Courage, will have its world premiere at Theatre Lab, FAU’s professional resident company, on May 11 and 12. The story was inspired by a friend who came to the United States in the early ’60s through Operation Pedro Pan. The program, devised by the Catholic Welfare Bureau in Miami after Fidel Castro assumed power, relocated more than 14,000 Cuban children to the United States. About half remained in South Florida, some with relatives, some with foster parents. Braswell’s protagonist, Carlos, settled in Iowa. (Tickets at www.fauevents.com or 297-6124.)
Up in Palm Beach, Charley’s Crab, a venerable restaurant with an ocean view since 1980, has abruptly closed. The last meal was served April 1, no April Fool’s joke.
It’s choice real estate. Palm Beach-based Frisbie Group paid $26.3 million for the 1.15 acres and plans to replace the restaurant with five townhouses and build a house on an adjacent lot included in the purchase from BCD Investors of Dunnellon.
Originally opened as Wert’s in the mid-1920s, it was bought by Palm Beach restaurateur Chuck Muer in 1980 and named Charley’s Crab. But in 1993, as a winter storm approached, Muer, his wife, Betty, and two friends tried to make it back to Palm Beach from the Bahamas. They and the boat disappeared without a trace. The surviving family members sold to BCD. It hired Landry’s to run the restaurant. Landry’s owns more than 600 properties, including 60-plus restaurant brands such as Morton’s and McCormick & Schmick’s.
Reuben Hale, a low-key but important force in the local arts community and beyond, died March 23. He was 90. Born in rural Mississippi, he served in the Navy in World War II, then headed to the Art Institute of Chicago. There he met Marie Stoner. They married and opened their first ballet school in Greenwood, Miss., and after Reuben earned an MFA degree at Southern Illinois University, the couple headed to Palm Beach County. Beginning as an art instructor at Palm Beach State College (then Palm Beach Community College), he advanced to chairman of the Fine Arts department, during which he acquired the Lannan Art Museum and transformed the auditorium into the Duncan Theatre.
Throughout, he continued to paint and sculpt, exhibiting his work internationally. His work included stage scenery, residential design, book jackets and movie posters, much of it focused on “the changing status of the female in society.” He was buried in Greenwood. Donations may be made to the Reuben Hale Endowed Scholarship Fund at Palm Beach State.
Thom Smith can be reached at email@example.com.