The name of Clematis Street, CityPlace

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Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in 2017.

The street names themselves were to be heady publicity for the tiny village across the lake from the posh resort of Palm Beach.

Hibiscus, Banyan, Gardenia, Sapotilla and Tamarind.

Who in the north in the 1890s had heard such exotic names before, like gentle breezes from an Eden under construction along Mr. Flagler’s new railroad?

On November 5, 1894 – 123 years ago – a small group of residents voted to make their fledgling town a town in what was then Dade County, where the streets were named for the tropical trees and flowers that new residents could grow crops in their own backyards.

But someone messed up the name of Clematis Street.

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The namesake of Downtown West Palm Beach’s Main Street is not a tropical flower, but a northern flowering vine that doesn’t tolerate our scorching summers. In fact, clematis is so foreign to the subtropics that we have mispronounced its name for over 100 years.

The flower’s name is pronounced CLEM-a-tis – even a crispy Clem-AYE-tis is okay, if you’re British – but never like we say, with that lazy southern syllable in the middle: Cle-MAAHH- c ‘ is.

“Everyone came from all over the place at the time,” said Debi Murray, chief curator of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, who grew up in Palm Beach County. “Because of that, we’ve always had our own weird way of saying things. “

And, it wasn’t always Clematis “Street”. In short, he had bigger aspirations.

“On the 1893 card, the year before incorporation, it is printed as Clematis Avenue,” Murray said. “It’s the only one called an avenue.

But Clematis Street, whatever its pronunciation or suffix, remains the main artery of the city.

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“Clematis Street is the heart and soul of the city,” said Rick Gonzalez, architect and historic curator who leads historic walking tours of downtown West Palm Beach and whose firm has restored several of its most famous buildings. older. “With Flagler Drive, that’s the very essence of who we are. Its buildings are an eclectic mix of architectural styles and periods from the 1890s to today that reflect the growth of the city.

He cites some of his favorite buildings on rue Clematis: the 1926 Comeau building at 319 Clematis, with its gracious interior courtyard; the old Anthony building from 1919 to 312; the Art Deco Woolworth building at 313; the decorated Venetian-style First American Bank building at 300, as well as the brick facade of the building housing the Tacos de Rocco from the 1890s.

West Palm Beach’s past

In its early days, the city was little more than a home for the workers who built the hotels and mansions of Palm Beach.

In the same year the town was founded, one local described the town as “a stretch of the whitest white sand, two steel rails, a few acres of pineapples, a few houses, and a ‘scrub’ on either side.”

Clematis Street, which extended west from a point of land jutting out into Lake Worth (the Intracoastal Waterway), became the town’s “first” street.

The town’s first business, a wooden hardware store, moved to Clematis Street in 1893 when the owner’s family lived in a tent next door. The first school (for whites anyway), the first post office, the first pharmacy, the first library all opened Clematis Street.

Many were destroyed when two large fires destroyed most of the small business district two weeks apart in 1896, prompting the city to require new buildings to be either brick or cement.

“It used to be that people would get off the train and then walk to Clematis, where they could find a job, buy a house, buy groceries, furniture, it was all there,” Gonzalez said.

It has always been at the heart of the city’s civic and commercial life.

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“One of the constants of Clematis is that this is where all the celebrations took place,” Murray said. “Parades, dances in the street during the old Seminole Sun Dances, the firefighters marched there in 1906, everything that was official was organized there.”

During the world wars of the 20th century, Clematis organized military parades and victory celebrations. Until the opening of the Palm Beach Mall in 1967, it was the main middle-class shopping street in Palm Beach County.

“There were always people everywhere,” said Murray, who remembers going shopping at Burdines and Belks, when a shopping trip always included lunch at Walgreen.

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Parking has been a problem on the street since the invention of cars. During the land boom of the early 1920s, photos show T-models parked diagonally in the center of the street, but a few years later the city designated diagonal parking on both sides of the streets. In the 60s, 70s and 80s, Clematis became a one-way street to the west. In the 1990s, the street was narrowed to create wider sidewalks, with parallel parking.

Clematis Street relaunched

After people followed the stores to the mall, Clematis Street became another desolate urban core in the 1970s and 1980s, until the historic preservation movement prompted a new take on Old Street in the heart of the city.

Following the demolition of the 1960s library at the east end of the street, the city built a civic plaza with an interactive fountain and open green space known as the Great Lawn, designed for festivals.

Clematis experienced a retail resurgence in the 1990s, when Gap, Loft, and Banana Republic opened at the turn of the century and then-developer Donald Trump told People it was “the hottest street in Florida”.

However, the opening of CityPlace a few blocks away in 2000 once again sucked commercial life off the street, leaving behind some century-old mainstays such as Myers Luggage, which opened in 1924 and Pioneer Linens, founded in 1912. JC Harris, a boutique men’s store, closed in 2013 after 100 years.

In the 1980s, entrepreneur Rodney Mayo began transforming the devastated West of Clematis into a center of cool for alternative music lovers by opening Respectable Street Cafe, a concert hall, in a former Salvation Army. These days, those great music lovers flock to Mayo’s five restaurants, some of which are owned by partners, that line Block 500, the only block on the street with a historic designation.

In the 90s and early 2000s, Clematis was teeming with nightclubs like Dr. Feelgood’s, whose loud bands clashed with the baby boomer crowd buying the new downtown condos raised by the skyline. from the city.

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Clubs have given way to restaurants and bars run by chains and chefs, opening and closing as the street experiences periodic boom and bust cycles.

Recent history includes the new Town Hall and Library open to Clematis Street and the town’s Greenmarket at the east end of the street, which draws large crowds on Saturday mornings from October through April.

Currently, the city is considering ways to make Clematis Street and the rest of the city center more shaded while getting people out of their cars and on foot or by bicycle.

While retail has never returned to full scale, Clematis is once again busy day and night with people drawn to an array of inventive restaurants tucked away in century-old buildings, whose alfresco tables dot the crowded sidewalks.

“It’s a street that’s been through thick and thin for 13 decades,” Gonzalez said. “Clematis is the official phoenix. He always comes back.

It doesn’t matter how we pronounce it.


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