In retrospect, it seems a little funny to have wanted to gather all the facts about these next few photos, but there are some pretty fun stories surrounding a couple of Palm Beach landmarks that I wanted to get right.
The first landmark is shown above and in the next couple of photos, and was known as the Royal Poinciana Hotel. At one point in the early 1900s, this was the world’s largest resort hotel. Built in 1893, a year before Ivan was born, this was an impressive structure, as you can see. Henry Morrison Flagler, who built the hotel, was no stranger to building resort hotels in Florida. Having earned his millions with Standard Oil, and an earlier business in salt, Flagler purchased and expanded an existing railroad network to reach Palm Beach, Florida and had built many resort hotels. His railroad cars travelling the Northeast had beautiful pictures of Florida as advertising, and it paid off, big.
By the time these photos were taken, the Royal Poinciana employed nearly 1400 people, and boasted over three miles of hallways. Bell boys delivered mail and packages via bicycles in the hallways to distant rooms. It had its own bakery, ice cream shop, post office, and (I love this) it’s own power plant! Lake Worth is in the foreground, and the Atlantic Ocean is in the top background, for your bearings. Whitehall, (now known as the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum) the building to the south along Lake Worth, was built as a winter home, and is where Flagler died after falling down a flight of stairs, in 1913. Flagler built a little church and guaranteed its financial needs during his lifetime. You can see the tower of the church to the south of the hotel, behind Whitehall, in the aerial photo. In the background behind the Royal Poinciana Hotel, you can make out the Breakers Hotel.
If you look carefully, you can see that there was more than one Curtiss flying boat operating at Palm Beach. One is airborne, and the other is docked in front of the hotel. If you followed the link about Palm Beach aviation in a previous post, you already know this, of course.
Next is a photo that I had a lot of fun with. It’s actually two photos which were taken sequentially, and had just enough overlap to turn into a stitched panorama. This is on the ocean side of Palm Beach, and in the background you can see the Breakers Hotel. I don't see much in the way of ladies' swimwear in this photo. Can you imagine hanging out at the beach dressed like this? Why bother?
The Breakers also has a colorful history and a list of occupants included the richest and most influential patrons of the time. In the next photo, to the south of the hotel is the Breakers “Bathing Casino”. The square portion at the center is actually a huge pool. Further south are what my source site calls a “cottage community” owned by the hotel, where folks like “the playwright Eugene O’Neill, the Vanderbilts, the Munns, and the Stotesburys” stayed. Cottages, huh? Notice that the line of beach chairs seen from the air can be seen in the previous photo also. I thought it was curious that they weren't bathing right in front of the hotel.
A couple more photos of some places of interest, at least interesting enough for Ivan to have photographed. The first is the Bijou Theatre, and you can see that The Battle Cry of Peace is playing. I won’t go into detail about the movie, but it warrants a little research if you’re interested. Basically it was a wake-up call to the U.S. feeling of invincibility. An interesting commentary since Ivan will be flying in France within 2 years. I have no clue why there are a bunch of school kids out in front.
Finally, this photo of Alligator Joe’s. Although “Joe” had died of pneumonia in 1915 (not in Palm Beach, but at the Pan American Exposition in San Francisco), apparently the alligators were still an attraction. When he was alive, Joe wrestled with alligators to the delight of mostly lady patrons, dragging them out to the beach and subduing them in the surf, then dragging them back to gasping cheers. Amazing, but true.
As you may have picked up by now, I like connecting with my grandfather through these photos. To be honest, he and I weren't close. By the time I was old enough to have gotten to know him, he was pretty crotchety; and twelve-year-old kids and crotchety old guys don't usually form the closest of bonds. He did seem to enjoy telling me about flying, and he did tell me some funny stories, but mostly I thought he was a bit full of himself. I know better, now. He earned being full of himself, or at least, he was full of himself and he had a right to feel that way. Here he is, a young man in Palm Beach, Florida rubbing shoulders with some very, very wealthy folks, paying huge dollars to learn what very few people had learned to do, up to that point in history. The folks who had flown an airplane world-wide could probably number in the low thousands in 1916, and he was one of them.
I don't know about you, but I kind of "thrill" when I hear about people who did something cool early on, like the Wright brothers, or Glen Curtiss. To be around that energy that was early flight must have been... indescribable. I have soloed in an aircraft, and I know firsthand the amazing feeling of freedom. It doesn't matter how many have come before you, it's just exhilarating - even when you grew up around all sorts of aircraft. I guess that's why I felt it was worth examining what was going on at Palm Beach in the mid-1900s. I wanted to better understand the... zeitgeist, if that makes sense.
Most of the historical material from this post was gathered at this fabulous website chronicling the history of Palm Beach. Highly recommended!
We have some more photos of the Curtiss flying boat, some fancy-pants socialites, and more of Ivan's logbook entries coming up in the next post.