How Palm Beach Became Palm Beach, As Told by David Patrick Columbia


Dale Coudert of Coudert Institute welcoming guests  

Dapper David Patrick Columbia, chronicler of the scene and social historian in New York, engaged a packed audience at The Sailfish Club, Palm Beach, with his knowledge of that august Island, often portrayed on the pages of the New York Social Diary, his well-known publication (Think New York "Shiny Sheet", with more history.)


The lunch crowd arriving

At a luncheon sponsored by the Coudert Institute, Mr. Columbia took listeners back to the nineteenth century, willing them to imagine the gorgeous island as an unpopulated jungle – with wildlife.  After that visualization, he told of the arrival of railroad man Henry Morrison Flagler, who had a vision of a Monaco - like retreat for the wealthy from the north. His building of his Florida East Coast Railway was the auspicious beginning.  Later he constructed The  Royal Poinciana Hotel, importing black workers who he housed in a shantytown (later burned to the ground upon completion when the residents were taken to West Palm Beach for a picnic.)  Then he constructed The Breakers , a now-historic hotel.


Mai Hallingby pondering some information



First known as The Palm Beach Inn, it was opened on January 16, 1896 by oil, real estate, and railroad tycoon Flagler to accommodate travelers on his new railway.  Mr. Flagler went on to form the trés exclusive Everglades Club on Worth Avenue, (taking the building over from Paris Singer,who originally owned it.)



Other entrepreneurs became interested, and Mr. Singer, of the sewing machine fortune, brought Isadora Duncan and others to the Island, and Addison Mizner, who began designing. One of the draws was that Florida had, and still has, no income tax, and Mr. Mizner constructed many of the architecturally distinguished houses, most in the Mediterranean style.


Augustus Mayhew, author, introduces Mr. Columbia


Mr. Columbia introduced some of the women who were the social leaders (or aspirers): Names like Stotesbury, Marjorie Meriwether Post, Gloria Swanson, Isadora Duncan, and others were women of power and interest. and quoted his friend, the late society columnist Liz Smith, “there is no such thing as society.” He told amusing stories of Joseph Kennedy, the "bootlegger", who settled on Ocean Drive and conducted business on the phone by his pool in the "altogether".


Mr. Columbia ponders a question reiterated by Jeffrey Hirsch

Moderated by Jeffrey Hirsch, photographer and assistant for New York Social Diary, the discussion allowed questions from the audience, which included Dale Coudert, founder of The Coudert Institute, Arthur Houghton, author and former Curator of Antiquities at The Getty Museum, PB Author and screenwriter Alan Shayne, who presented Mr. Columbia with his novel, "Finding Sylvia", Robert Meyer,  Mai Hallingby, and a host of Palm Beach literati.


                                                      -- L.P.


For books by Augustus Mayhew, "A Greater Grandeur and "Reflections on Palm Beach"  go to .  A new book about Palm Beach society by Beatrice Cayzer, "Tales of Palm Beach", will be available in hardcover shortly on

Speaking about the famed denizens of Palm Beach


Mr. Columbia post-talk with Newport Seen's Linda Phillips




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