By Ron Hayes
Sometimes there are towns before there are town halls.
Ocean Ridge was incorporated — as Boynton Beach — in 1931. But its first Town Hall wasn’t built until 1937.
As Gail Adams Aaskov recalls in The History of Ocean Ridge, the first town meeting was held on May 16, 1931, in a private home — one of 12 in the town at the time. And when Ocean Ridge finally built its own Town Hall in 1937, the building was only 10-by-10 feet — but it served the purpose until 1962.
The town of Gulf Stream was incorporated in 1925, but Town Clerk Rita Taylor can’t find a record of a real Town Hall meeting before 1950. Until then, government met in private homes or the golf club on the beach.
“Our first Town Hall was nothing but a little bathhouse,” says Mayor Bill Koch. “When a bunch of people came to meetings, they had to stand outside and talk through the screen door or the window.”
Whether the bathhouse was, in fact, an actual bathhouse is unclear, but Koch has called it a bathhouse for so long that it’s now known as such.
Either way, the bathhouse served until 1962, when the town took up donations to build a genuine building. “We didn’t even go into bonded indebtedness,” Koch boasts. “I went around with some of the other people and got it donated.”
When a bigger Town Hall was constructed in 1986, the donated building became the current Police Department.
As for the original bathhouse, it’s long gone, but a photograph hangs proudly in the present building. Delray Beach never had a Town Hall on the beachside, reports Dottie Patterson, archivist for the Delray Beach Historical Society.
“Before 1911, when the town was incorporated, a group called the Ladies Improvement Association had a clubhouse in the 400 block of Atlantic Avenue, next to what is now the Arcade Building,” says Patterson. “Between 1902 and 1911, they used that.”
Before Briny Breezes built its present town hall in 1991, the council met in the old ocean clubhouse, a former restaurant called the Seascape.
“Christmas dinner was $1.98,” remembers longtime resident Joan Nicholls.
Manalapan Town Manager Greg Dunham held the same post in Ocean Ridge in 2000, on the night the Manalapan Town Hall didn’t blow up.
“I was in bed about 3 a.m. one night,” he recalls, “and my phone rings and it’s the Ocean Ridge dispatcher. She said, ‘Sorry to bother you, but the Manalapan Town Hall just blew up.’ I said, ‘That’s probably an item you should call me about.’ ”
Actually, it wasn’t the 20 year-old Town Hall that exploded, but a propane tank in a vacant home behind the Town Hall. No one was injured, but the blast scaled a 6-foot wall and blew out all the glass and framing. “We had to put a new roof on it,” Dunham said, “but we took advantage of the situation to remodel some offices and build some new walls.” And then there’s the glory that might have been. Incorporated in 1921, the town of Lantana was about to erect a real showcase of a Town Hall in 1926 when the Florida land boom went bust.
“It was going to be a grand affair,” says Town Manager and amateur historian Michael Bornstein. “Sort of Mediterranean, two stories — and the town went bankrupt, so it was never built.” During the 1930s, the Chamber of Commerce building at Iris Avenue and Dixie Highway was the Town Hall, and in 1962, the current Town Hall on Greynolds Circle was built on the site of the intended 1926 structure. “The original footprint was kept, and two large beams that were to be part of the original building, they were incorporated. They’re still there.”
And so, too, he added, are real estate booms and busts.