In The News
PALM BEACH GARDENS
Don Kiselewski, Chairman of PBGHS, Presented Achievement Award
Congratulations to Don!
Don Kiselewski, the Chairman of the Palm Beach Gardens Historical Society, was presented with the Fannie James Pioneer Achievement Award by the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Established in 2003, this annual award recognizes the achievements of individuals or organizations which have significantly contributed to the preservation and sharing of the history of Palm Beach County’s pioneering days.
The award is named after the late Fannie James, an African American pioneer who served as the first postmistress of the Jewell Post Office (now Lake Worth) which was open from 1889 until 1903.
By Susan Salisbury
Special to The Palm Beach Post
Apr 30, 2019 at 9:46 AM
In the 60 years since its founding in 1959, Palm Beach Gardens has grown from one lone squatter to a city of 52,000. When John D MacArthur, late wealthy landowner and insurance magnate, purchased his first 4,000 acres in what is now Palm Beach Gardens, he thought no one lived on the land consisting of pine forest, swamp and cattle pastures.
“There was a chunk of land up here. He bought it and assumed it was pristine, that nothing was there. John had a big surprise. It turned out there was a squatter on it, Charlie Cooper. He had a trailer and a chicken coop,” said Don Kiselewski Sr., 83, who served on the Palm Beach Gardens city council for 12 years, including stints as mayor and vice mayor.
MacArthur, known as a frugal and eccentric billionaire, told Cooper he was moving him to Lake Park to a house he owned where he would have running water, a toilet and septic tank.
“Then he came out with a 5-gallon can of gasoline, poured gasoline all over the place and burned it down,” Kiselewski said. That’s just one story of the city’s history that the historical society, founded in 2008, is making sure isn’t lost.
Kiselewski is chairman of the Palm Beach Gardens Historical Society. Kiselewski and his wife Arline Kiselewski co-founded the group in 2008 along with Steve Cohen, Maria Mamlouk, Irene Pedrick and Linda Smith.
In 2012 the group published, “Images of America, Palm Beach Gardens,” a 127-page book packed with photos, written by the Kiselewskis and five other members.
On April 30, the Historical Society of Palm Beach County is honoring Don Kiselewski with the Fannie James Pioneer Achievement Award for 2018. The award recognizes individuals or organizations that have contributed specifically to preserving and sharing the history of Palm Beach County’s pioneering days, said Lise Steinhauer, the society’s membership coordinator and grant writer.
“In this year’s case, the pioneer days only began in 1959 for the City of Palm Beach Gardens,” Steinhauer said. The Kiselewskis arrived in Palm Beach Gardens in 1971 and have lived in the same house where they raised their four children ever since.
The society’s mission is to collect, preserve, and share the city’s history. The group holds free enrichment programs bi-monthly featuring speakers about area history and conducts field trips to sites of interest. For more information go to pbghistoricalsociety.org
Palm Beach Gardens, close to 60 square miles, has grown to be the largest city area-wise in Palm Beach County, surpassing West Palm Beach at 58 square miles.
“That just happened with recent annexation,” said Maria Marino, a Palm Beach Gardens council member who just completed a term as mayor. “When we were incorporated in 1959, and the forefathers were planning the city, they envisioned the city of Palm Beach Gardens as being 50,000 in eight years. So fast forward 60 years and we have just gone over 50,0000 people.”
Marino said the historical society’s mission is important. “Some of that history nobody knows unless someone is talking about it,” Marino said.
Kiselewski, a retired engineer, has also recorded about a dozen people who played major roles in Palm Beach Gardens’ development with the promise that the videos will not be shown until after their deaths. “I came to the conclusion that we don’t have a lot of history here, no old homes or battles,” Kiselewski said. “This is living history.”
Ed Eissey, who died in 2017, served as principal of Howell Watkins Middle School and Palm Beach Gardens High and as president of then-Palm Beach Community College. The video of him is the first one to be played for an audience, Kiselewski said.
Unlike older cities and towns such as Jupiter, West Palm Beach and Lake Worth, Palm Beach Gardens was carefully planned from the beginning. It was at first a “paper town,” that existed only on documents.
MacArthur’s first choice for the city’s name was Palm Beach City, but the state rejected that because it was too similar to the Town of Palm Beach. MacArthur settled on Palm Beach Gardens where the streets would be named after flowers and trees. He sought to preserve banyan trees, which became the city’s symbol. The first five council members, appointed by MacArthur, were his bankers at Banker’s Life and Casualty in Chicago.
MacArthur’s vision was to create a place for people to live, work and play. He sold raw land to developers, including as Arthur Rutenberg, Vince Pappalardo, Seymour “Sy” Fine, E. Llwyd Ecclestone and Buz DiVosta, but he was often directly involved, working to ensure progress was made.
One of the first things he did was to send his attorney to Dunedin on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where the PGA of America was headquartered, to speak to officials there. MacArthur convinced the organization to move to Palm Beach Gardens and loaned the PGA the money to build its first complex and built two golf courses.
Another coup was bringing manufacturer RCA to Palm Beach Gardens. MacArthur found out that General David Sarnoff, RCA’s board chairman, was going to build a facility to build computers on a site in Georgia. He asked him to consider Palm Beach Gardens instead.
When the bids for the Palm Beach Gardens plant came in $1 million higher than the similar plant in Georgia, MacArthur chipped in $1 million so the plant would be built in the city. The plant opened in 1961 and employed 3,400 in its heyday but withdrew from the general-purpose computer business in 1971. The company remained in Palm Beach Gardens with a smaller staff until 1986.
MacArthur also tried to get Walt Disney to locate Disney World in Palm Beach Gardens, but that failed, despite MacArthur’s offer of 320 acres along PGA Boulevard. The deal fell apart, and of course today Disney World occupies 25,000 acres in Central Florida.
While there are numerous stories about what happened, Kiselewski said MacArthur told him that Disney decided Palm Beach Gardens was too far south. Travel by airplane wasn’t as popular as it is now, especially for families.
“They were all driving. If you put Disney further down the peninsula, he would lose a couple of days at the park. That was the actual rationale. He could buy swampland up there or down here,” Kiselewski said.
Palm Beach Gardens continued its controlled growth, and by 1970 its population exceeded 6,000. By 2000 it reached 35,028 residents and by 2010, 48,452, according to U.S Census data.
“This is a planned city. That is one advantage of writing our laws to begin with,” Kiselewski said.
The city had two developments of regional impact, PGA National resort community, which broke ground in 1978 and the Gardens Mall, opened in 1988, Kiselewski said.
Through it all, ordinances Kiselewski wrote setting strict parking and signage rules have contributed to keeping the city’s clean look. Strip shopping centers and car dealers aren’t allowed.
“We watched pretty carefully how many living units we allowed,” Kiselewski said. The art in public places ordinance required developers to devote a portion of construction costs to art, resulting in large sculptures around the city.
Kiselewski said that the city has stayed true to MacArthur’s vision as a place to live, work and play.
“With the intertwining of the people with the same lifestyles, it feels like your own family,” Kiselewski said.
Marino agrees and says of the city where she has resided since 1985, “To me it has never lost that neighborhood suburban feel.”
Presenting the award, are (from left to right), Jeremy Johnson, President and CEO of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County; Dennis Grady, CEO of the Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce and Don Kiselewski.