Highlights from the Book:
Chapter 1 - Palm Beach, The Beginnings
The Town of Palm Beach was incorporated April 17, 1911. Sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway, the tropical island was becoming one of the premier destinations in the world for the wealthy class.
In the 1920s Palm Beach was still a frontier town. A mere 30 years before it was nearly uninhabited until a railroad magnate by the name of Henry Flagler decided to bring a railroad southward from St. Augustine to expand his east coast hotel empire. After building the 540-room Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine in 1887 he envisioned a new resort even farther down the dismal Florida shoreline if he could provide easy access for the northern traveler.
In the early 1890s Flagler visited the area where the towns of Palm Beach and West Palm Beach would eventually rise.
Chapter 2 - Palm Beach Booms
The main entrance to the BC was on Brazilian Avenue from which the hotel received its name. Originally the building was touted as a "residential and transient hotel" with a plain wood sign “hotel” on the corner of the structure with an arrow to the entrance. There were 50 small one-room efficiency apartments each equipped with a kitchenette. Occupants ranged from those who worked on the island to prostitutes who serviced the rich.
A "kitchenette apartment" rented for $100 a month with amenities that included an in-a-door bed, bath and large living room. Ads promised hotel services "conducted to meet the needs of an exacting clientele and still retain a very reasonable tariff."
Chapter 3 - The Depression Years
here were three changes that Bishop insisted on making at the BC. One was to replace the aging roof. Two was to renovate the complete interior. And three was to take the kitchenettes out of the rooms. These were quite expensive alterations and when Mulford questioned Bishop about it Bishop replied, "a hotel can't make money when its clientele are trying to save money by cooking in their rooms."
Bishop advised Mulford that the entire image of the hotel had to change. "It is now known as the place where wealthy Palm Beachers keep their love nests." Mulford saw his points and told Bishop, "You are right!"
Bright Williamson Johnson
Bright attended Miami High School and worked nights as an usher at the Capitol Theater. After graduation he went to work at the McAllister Hotel as an elevator operator. The second day he was moved to bellman. After a year he was moved to clerk at the front desk for a year.
He then moved to the Hotel Good on Miami Beach where he worked as cashier, room clerk and even switchboard operator when needed. He worked seven days a week from 8 am to 8 pm. And when the night clerk or night auditor failed to show-up for work Bright would stay on all night. This is where he learned doing the books.
Chapter 4 - The War Years
The day before opening for the 1937 season Everitt Winkler, the assistant manager of the BC, had all of the toilet seats repainted. The first guests found the paint still wet. Fortunately there were only a few early arrivals.
When Bright Johnson first worked at the BC in the late 1930s there were three slot machines operating in a small room adjacent to the bar. Gambling was legal in the early 30s, but made illegal later. The law was highly ignored in Palm Beach until after the war in 1945.
Chapter 5 - 1950 to 1964
The outdoor courtyard dining is said to have been started by Col. Frederick Collins, retired U.S. Army. One day he was running late for an afternoon of polo and there were no tables available in the dining room. Using his military bearing the Colonel "ordered his waitress to bring his lunch out to the courtyard." Soon other guests were making requests to dine under the palms.
Chapter 6 - The BC Sells
The BC was sold to Bernard Francis Powell of the Belleview-Biltmore, Clearwater, Florida and Granville Morse of Palm Beach in 1963 for $500,000. Bernie's sister Katherine Powell was married to Morse.
During the 1940s and 1950s the BC became "the place to stay in Palm Beach if you wanted to keep a low profile." The new owner in 1963 Granville Morse attested to the "BCs reputation for keeping mum about its guests."
Citing one instance, Mr. Morse said, "I got a call one day from someone who said royalty was coming. He didn't tell me who it was, just said the person would be checking in under an assumed name, staying for a couple of days, and to send the bill to him." Morse believed the guest was Prince Phillip enjoying a private vacation.
Chapter 7 - The BC Takes a Downturn
On April 25, 1984, David Kennedy, the 28-year-old son of the slain Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was found dead in Room 107. He died from a drug overdose. The National Enquirer called everyone connected with the BC including me in an effort to get a photo of the room. The photo they finally did publish was a different room but only a few inside people realized it.
Chapter 8 - The BC Reborn
After some $4 million in renovations that reduced the number of rooms from 134 to 101, the hotel hired General Manager Michael Brown who had been GM at the Colony. The dining room was rebuilt to include a "kitchen theater" where diners could watch their meals being prepared. Also added were a beauty salon and barber shop. Kitchenettes, taken out in 1932, were added to all of the rooms. The next owner would not be allowed to add kitchens to their renovations. Palm Beach designer Tui Pranich, known for the understated elegance of his interiors, was hired to design most of the hotels main rooms.
In 2002 Leslie Schlesinger completely redesigned the interior in the makeover using a tropical colonial look with dark wood plantation shutters and sorbet-colored fabrics. Her husband Richard Schlesinger and son own Ceebraid-Signal which purchased the hotel. Her aim was "reestablishing the charm and grace of a hotel loved by generations of Palm Beachers."
Odds and Ends
Mike Armano, Head Waiter to a luncheon guest, "Would you like to sit at a patio table in the sun or shade?" Guest, "I'd like a medium." Mike, "I can give you a medium rare one." Guest, "What do you mean?" Mike, "I mean it's rare that we have a medium one."
If a guest was ever missing anything it always “the maid took it.” One elderly man checked-in one day and came in complaining the next day about a missing bourbon bottle. He fumed and complained for weeks and one day even fell down the stairs drunk. Finally at check-out he asked for help getting a suitcase from the upper shelf in the closet and found his bottle unopened.