A LOOK BACK AT DELRAY BEACH HISTORY

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 An Artists’ Colony Among the Swaying Palms Submitted by the Delray Beach Historical Society DELRAY BEACH, FL – Is it the sun, sand and surf that beckoned them to our shores? Perhaps it’s the year-round balmy temperatures or charming downtown sidewalk cafés … or maybe the light is just right for artistic creation? Nobody knows for sure why so many artists ended up in Delray Beach over the years, but they’ve always been a part of our community fabric. Today, Downtown Delray Beach and the Arts District in Pineapple Grove and Artists Alley are home to numerous galleries and studios, displaying fine art and unique one-of-a-kind masterpieces. According to prominent local artist Vincent Cacace, who had a gallery for many years on Atlantic Avenue and was instrumental in establishing Artists Alley in Delray Beach’s Arts District, “The natural splendor, spectacular winter weather and an appreciation of local art continue to draw artists and collectors. There are cross currents of good energy in this town … a feeling of a cultural crossroads where all are welcome,” he said. “The current art scene remains strong in Delray,” he added. “In Artists Alley, we now have 15 spaces with 20 working artists. There is new work created and exhibited at each of our First Friday and Third Thursday event nights. The art lovers came out this summer and we expect a very strong season.” Just like today, in the 1930s-50s, Delray Beach was a winter mecca, originally for writers, such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, and then for artists looking to escape the cold winters in the northeast. Some liked it here so well, they became permanent year-round residents. These creative, sometimes outspoken residents made small-town life in Delray Beach colorful and exciting. As local historian Lora Sinks Britt writes in My Gold Coast, the building on Atlantic Avenue now occupied by Caffe Martier was the center of activity: “The Arcade building was a pleasant gathering place for the artists. They could rent office or studio space upstairs where they worked from midmorning until lunch, which they ate downstairs at the Tap Room after a refreshing Scotch and soda or whatever else they might drink. It was usually a long lunch with the artists going back to work an hour or so before leaving for a round of golf. How they enjoyed the convenience of their offices to the Tap Room where everyone of any note among the winter colony was almost sure to drop in for a drink, lunch or dinner. The lights burning late at night in the rooms over the Tap Room were indicative of magazine and newspaper deadlines that had to be met regardless of the enjoyable time that the cartoonists might be having by day.” In those days, local Delray Beach artists tended to be of the cartoonist kind. Drawing for newspapers was a lucrative profession, especially in the days before television. Delray’s resident cartoon artists also published books and were reported to be very highly regarded by the townspeople, even though locals suspected (and knew for certain, in the case of Herb Roth) they were sometimes used as models for characters. When the Gracey family (of Gracey- Backer Insurance) lived in Villa Abrigo (which means overcoat in Spanish) on Bankers Row during the 1930s, many of the artists attended parties there. Later, during the ‘50s and early ‘60s, Jim Raymond, who drew the characters for the comic strip “Blondie,” and his wife Bootie, a talented actress at the Delray Beach Playhouse, made their home there. The Raymonds’ parties at Villa Abrigo are still fondly remembered by some of Delray’s older residents. Much of the information in the Delray Beach Historical Society Archives about our famous winter season visitors is owed to a scrapbook put together by Wilma McNeece Prillaman, who worked in the Gracey family’s insurance office. Some of the artists drew directly on the pages. Wilma McNeece was in her 20s when she started the scrapbook. “I just told them I was making a scrapbook of ‘famous’ people in Delray. I would take the book to the cartoonists, ask them to draw something, leave it, and then pick the book up later.” The Gracey family donated the scrapbook to the Delray Beach Historical Society. “From its origins, Delray Beach has always been a community of interesting people, including writers, artists, captains of industry, athletes, etc. I remember my father speaking fondly of the cartoonists who congregated at the Arcade Tap Room for fellowship and a lively exchange of ideas,” said Barbara (Gracey) Backer, a lifelong Delray Beach resident and vice president of Gracey-Backer Insurance on George Bush Boulevard. “These early pioneers helped give Delray Beach the flair it’s had to this day.” A few of the more interesting tidbits inside this scrapbook were illustrations by Wood Cowan, creator of “Our Boarding House,” who drew Major Hoople with the note, “Major Hoople – the only man – because of his sweet potato schnozzle …who can smoke a cigar under a shower bath.” Also Charles Dana Gibson, who drew the “Gibson Girl” illustrations, stayed at the Sandoway East Hotel on South Ocean Boulevard. One of his illustrations from the Ladies’ Home Journal is in the scrapbook. Some of the more famous cartoonists and illustrators reportedly living in Delray Beach during the early to mid-20th century are: W.J. (Pat) Enright, 1876-1969 – Enright achieved fame as a cartoonist for the Democratic Party and major newspapers in New York. He claimed he could draw an elephant in 13.5 seconds. In 1934, he moved permanently to Delray Beach and commuted to Miami to deliver his daily editorial cartoon to the Miami Herald. Later he also drew for the Palm Beach Post. Enright first lived on North Ocean Boulevard, then on North Swinton, and from 1952 to 1969, he resided on Northwest 12th Street near Lake Ida, where he was highly regarded by neighbors. Enright also wrote and illustrated children’s books; one an ecological plea titled Al Alligator. He personally donated three of his original cartoons to the Delray Beach Historical Society; local residents have donated others. H. T. Webster, 1885-1952 – A nationally syndicated cartoonist who drew “Caspar Milquetoast, The Timid Soul,” and “Life’s Darkest Moments,” Webster’s been described as the “Mark Twain of American cartoonists.” He had a studio in the Arcade Building. Webster was big and handsome, but somewhat shy and retiring, not unlike his Caspar Milquetoast character. Webster, too, had a studio upstairs in the Arcade Building, which he shared with Herb Roth, his assistant and editorial cartoonist for the Delray Beach News. (Op edit) Some have called Webster “America’s Daumier” (a famous French satirist). Herb Roth, 1887-1953 – Roth recorded the World War II years of Delray Beach in cartoons, which appeared nationally. He first came to Delray Beach in the 1920s. According to historian Lora Britt, he was “a very popular, pudgy” likable man. He lived on North Ocean Boulevard, and began drawing his locally famous front-page cartoons for the Delray News in the ‘40s. Fontaine Fox – Fox first visited Delray Beach in the 1920s and later built homes here. He had an office above the Arcade Tap Room. Fox was nationally famous for his long-syndicated strip, “Toonerville Folks” and the “Toonerville Trolley.” In the mid-1930s, Fox commissioned local architect John Volk to design a house that replicated the trolley in his cartoons. That house still stands on North Ocean Boulevard. Longtime residents say they recall seeing Fox driving his Ford convertible from his beachside home to his office at the Arcade Tap Room. Sources: Delray Beach Historical Society Archives; Delray Beach News & Delray Beach Journal  Nostalgic Delray on Display  Delray Beach continues to be a haven for artists. Delray Beach Historical Society is in the midst of a three-month art exhibit entitled, “Nostalgic Delray,” in partnership with Plein Air Painters of Palm Beach County. This history exhibit displays beautiful new paintings of Delray Beach landmarks and historic buildings, secret gardens and cottages, and covers all of Delray’s historic districts. The paintings were created en plein air (outdoors) by the artists to capture the unique history and nostalgic essence of what makes Delray Beach unique. Alongside each painting are stories and actual historic photos from the archives. “Nostalgic Delray” is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., in two buildings at the historical society’s campus, 3 Northeast 1st Street.