About Palm Beach
The first pioneers arrived in what was later to become Palm Beach in 1872. This marsh and alligator infested area derived its current name from the shipwreck “Providencia” which washed ashore with a load of coconut palms bound for Barcelona.
In 1893 Henry Flagler, a co-founder of Standard Oil, fell in love with this “veritable paradise” and soon built 2 luxury hotels. The first hotel, The Royal Poinciana, was the largest wooden structure in the world. Then came The Breakers in 1901, which, after undergoing many renovations, remains a landmark and is still considered among the most admired hotels in the world.
To spur the growth of his beloved Palm Beach and bring wealthy northeast families south for the winter, Flagler built the Florida East Coast Railway. The railroad and hotels led to the development of the tourism industry, a mainstay of Florida’s economy. Separated from Palm Beach by the Intracoastal Waterway is West Palm Beach, settled in the 1870’s by a few hundred who called the area Lake Worth Country, so named for Colonel William Worth who fought in the Seminole Wars in 1842. Around this time Henry Flagler paid two area settlers $45,000 for the original townsite and developed it as a community to house the crews building his two luxury hotels and the servants who were working in them.
After incorporating in 1911, Palm Beach became world-renowned for its tropical beauty, luxury lifestyle and small town charm. Rapid growth followed as part of the Florida land boom through the 1920’s. Devastated by the hurricane of 1928 and the Depression that followed, Palm Beach began to flourish once again during World War II when Palm Beach Air Force base was built. The area reclaimed its status as a playground of the rich and a haven for tourists.
Through it all, Palm Beach is still known for its lavish lifestyle and breezy small-town charm.
A Playground in Paradise
Palm Beach’s year round population of 10,000 triples during “the season” – usually from January through April – when the wealthy descend on this delightful island and lavishly entertain guests, play golf and tennis at exclusive clubs, and attend charity balls.
The area’s extravagant points of interest include Worth Avenue – The East Coast Rodeo Drive – with luxury stores, galleries and trendy restaurants catering to the upscale shoppers; ideal for window shopping (who could afford those prices?) and people watching (so many ladies in their pastel Lilly’s walking their tiny dogs.) Most notable is the architecture seen here and throughout this charming town – chalk- white stucco facades with red barrel-tile roofs introduced by famed architect, Addison Mizner.
Whitehall – Henry Flagler’s mansion, now open to the public, is one of the grandest historic homes and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. The Mediterranean inspired Mar-a-Lago, the former estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post (cereal heiress) is better known now as the club owned by Donald Trump and used for corporate and private events. Palm Beach was also the winter home of President John F. Kennedy and his extended family. That palatial estate, like so many other lake to ocean family compounds, has been demolished and made into even grander mansions where many of the area’s ubiquitous charity balls are held. Because in addition to living the life of leisure, Palm Beachers are known for their generosity and philanthropy. Many charities and preservation societies have been the beneficiaries of this community’s largesse.
Make no mistake though, even the iconic Palm Beach is evolving to a modern beat.
Developments in a Gilded City
Recent developments, such as CityPlace have spurred the continuing growth of Palm Beach. This 600,000 sq. ft. lifestyle center has greatly contributed to the urban renaissance with its 50 restaurants, 100+ boutique stores, movieplex, and 500+ condominiums. Other outstanding attractions include the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, which brings world class performers, orchestras and Broadway shows to South Florida and the Lion Country Safari, the first drive through zoo in the United States.
In 2011, Pam Beach celebrated its Centennial Year. Henry Flagler would have been thrilled to see the development of his beloved “Paradise”.
A Condo Market of Sorts
The Town of Palm Beach does have some unique rules meant to sustain the area’s charm and reduce any urban sprawl. There are strict zoning laws governing the height of buildings, no residential buildings may be higher than five stories. Most new housing condo and/or apartment construction usually consists of 2 or 4 side by side “villa” style structures with the individual units having no more than 3 levels of living space. The greater Palm Beach area is a bit more lenient with zoning laws, and a number of traditional condo buildings are in development.
Spurred by its reputation for world-class luxury and amenities, Palm Beach real estate prices are expectedly high. While the condo market does not reach the stratospheric price levels of single family homes, Palm Beach condos did edge slightly higher year-over-year with median price at $552,500. However, high prices did not deter buyers as listing inventory dropped amidst a brisk sellers-market.
The condo market in the greater Palm Beach County is a bit more realistic for the average buyer. When including surrounding coastal communities such as Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, and Jupiter, median condo prices are in the much more affordable range of low $100,000’s. The Palm Beach market is sending a clear message …there are plenty of people willing to pay for a piece of “paradise”.