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History by the sea in Delray Beach

[Photo: Colony Hotel]
The Mission Revival-style Colony Hotel, built in 1926, is probably Delray Beach’s best known landmark.


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 19, 2000

This bustling southeast Florida community successfully combines traditions and trends.

In 1894, William Linton visited south Palm Beach County to search for property that he could carve into a settlement. Nobody will ever know what potential the Saginaw, Mich., postmaster saw in a mosquito-infested tract of swampland for which he plunked down $25 per acre, but it was a shrewd investment. He named the area Linton. Today, it's called Delray Beach.

Long gone are the pineapple farms and the 1920s land boom that propelled speculators to pay inflated prices for Florida real estate. But old-fashioned, uncomplicated charm still threads through the city's patchwork of historic neighborhoods such as Pineapple Grove and Old School Square.

A restored and revitalized Atlantic Avenue, the east-west gateway to Delray Beach, has become a magnet for people who like to stroll, browse, dine and shop. What defines W Atlantic Avenue is casual restaurants, shopping strips and seniors developments that are home to many of the city's 50,000 residents.

Along E Atlantic Avenue is a potpourri of antiques shops, outdoor cafes and art galleries, with brick-paved streets and plantings of colorful blooms accentuating the restoration. Buildings here date to the early 1900s.

The Colony Hotel is probably the best known landmark. It has been owned since 1935 by the Boughton family, who also own the Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine. The Mission Revival-style hotel was built in 1926 with matching domed towers and decorative shields and galleons beneath its barrel-tile roof.

Also Mediterranean-inspired is the former Arcade Tap Room, built in 1923. In the 1930s and 1940s, it was a popular meeting place for visiting presidents, financiers, polo players and artists. The Arcade Tap Room is now Peter's Stone Crabs, one of many restaurants on Atlantic Avenue.

The opposite end of the architectural spectrum has become Ellwood's Dixie Bar-B-Q, at 301 E Atlantic. Built in 1941 as the Flamingo Service Station, the Streamline Moderne-style building has a bar countertop that is actually an old oil rack, and the menu lists drinks as "lubricants."

Atlantic pulsates with crowd-pleasing events including Jazz on the Avenue, Summer Nights on the Avenue, Roots Cultural Festival, Harvest Fest, Gallery Stroll and Delray Affair (an arts and crafts festival).

From winter into spring, the Saturday Green Market features a cornucopia of fresh produce, entertainment and tastings. The USTA Men's Satellite Tennis Tournament is held at the Delray Beach Tennis Center, one block north of Atlantic.

And the annual Garlic Festival, two days of food samplings, cooking demonstrations and recipe contests, is held between Atlantic Avenue and Swinton Avenue. It has drawn an estimated 30,000 spectators.

Pineapple Grove and Old School Square are standout historic districts in Delray Beach and provide a tree-shaded stroll back in time. Bankers Row is a street of restored 1920s Mediterranean Revival-style homes in Pineapple Grove. Across the street, diminutive pastel bungalows, also restored, are tucked inside white picket fences.

Many of Delray's early settlers lived along Swinton Avenue in the pristine neighborhood of Old School Square. Joe Gillie, director of Old School Square, says, "There are some incredible old buildings along Swinton Avenue that were restored rather than being sacrificed, which has enabled us to celebate that opportunity."

The Sundy House, at 102 S Swinton Ave., is on the National Register of Historic Places. This Queen Anne-style house, built in 1902 by railroad baron Henry Flagler's foreman, was owned by John Sundy, Delray's first mayor. Sundy House is now a 160-seat restaurant set amidst a 3/4-acre botanical garden blushing with about 5,000 plants and trees, a pond and footbridges.

The Cathcart-Snyder House at 38 S Swinton was also built in 1902. It is the city's only remaining example of Bahamian architecture. For many years, local merchant William Cathcart lived here, but the house is now owned by Virginia Snyder, a retired private investigator whom some believe to be the inspiration for Angela Lansbury's character in Murder, She Wrote.

Cason Cottage, on N Swinton Avenue, is a craftsman-style house-museum dating to 1915. It was built by Dr. J. R. Cason Sr., a Methodist minister whose son became Delray's first physician in 1905. The interior is furnished in a post-Victorian style, and exhibits, artifacts and photographs reflect Delray's past.

Memorabilia and performing arts are also the main attractions of Swinton Avenue's Mediterranean Revival-style Old School Square, which combines the restored 1913 Delray Elementary School and the 1925 Delray High School. Both are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Old School Square's galleries of regional and traveling exhibits, the Cornell Archives Room, the Cornell Museum's collection of military miniatures displayed in 3-D panoramas, a formal tea room and the 320-seat Crest Theatre form the intellectual pulse and cultural heartbeat of Delray Beach.

Near E Atlantic Avenue, lectures and exhibits ranging from fine-art photography to digital imaging take place at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre. And at Blood's Hammock Groves, a sightseeing tram carries visitors through acres of orange groves. The prize at the end of the tour? Orange juice.

The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, off Jog Road, is believed to be the only such museum devoted to Japanese culture in the United States. It honors the Yamato Colony, an early 20th century Japanese pineapple-farming community in Delray. Festivals, fairs, lantern-floating, exhibits and tea ceremonies are held here.

The gardens are being expanded to 16 acres and will feature six historical styles of Japanese design when the project is completed at year's end.

Also near Delray is Lake Ida Park, a three-mile stretch of sand dunes and sea oats along the ocean. Inland, there is a narrated luncheon cruise aboard the Ramblin' Rose riverboat, on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Florida freelance writer Roberta Sandler lives in Wellington.


GETTING THERE: Delray Beach is on the Atlantic Ocean just north of Boca Raton, in southern Palm Beach County. It is 30 miles north of Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. To drive to Delray Beach, take Interstate 4 east to Interstate 95, and head south to the Atlantic Avenue exit in Delray Beach.

STAYING THERE: Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, P.O. Box 970, Delray Beach, FL 33447; call (800) 552-2363. Rates $139-$189 until March 21; $99-$149 from March 22 to April 30. Includes breakfast.

Delray Beach Marriott, 10 N Ocean Blvd., Delray Beach, FL 33483; call (561) 274-3200. Rates $269-$379.

ATTRACTIONS: Cornell Museum at Old School Square, 51 N Swinton Ave., Delray Beach, FL 33444; (561) 243-7922. Open Tuesday-Sunday; $5 admission.

Cason Cottage Museum, 5 NE First St., Delray Beach, FL (561) 243-0223. Open Tuesday-Saturday.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, 4000 Morikami Park Road, Delray Beach, FL 33446. (561) 495-0233. Open Tuesday-Sunday. Adults $5.25; seniors $4.75; children (ages 6-18) $3.

Palm Beach Photographic Museum, 55 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach, FL 33444; (561) 276-9797. Open Tuesday-Saturday; $3.

Ramblin' Rose riverboat, 801 E Atlantic Ave., at the Intracoastal Bridge; (561) 243-0686. Narrated tours. $15.95, lunch buffet $5.95 extra. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce, 64 SE Fifth Ave., Delray Beach, FL 33483; (561) 278-0424. The Web site is

Or contact the Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1555 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd., Suite 204, West Palm Beach, FL 33401; (800) 833-5733.

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