Palm Beach, a 'period island' in Florida

2017-04-06 16:48Xinhua Editor: Mo Hong'e ECNS App Download

An emerald 1970 Mercedes-Benz enters a red-brick driveway lined with swinging palm trees, a gentleman in white pants gets out, puts on his hat, softly flips his blazer, and walks into a hall of splendor.[Special coverage]

This is a common scene at the Breakers, a top-notch luxury hotel at Palm Beach, Florida. If we call "Downton Abbey" a period drama, then Palm Beach is a "period island" of the Gilded Age.

Stretching 16 miles (26 km) from north to south, the island of Palm Beach is connected with the rest of Palm Beach County by three bridges. Looking from above, it is like a little gem floating on the turquoise waters. And it hangs on to its past glory.

"You don't wear white between Labour Day and Memorial Day, except on Palm Beach," goes a fashion saying in the United States. That speaks volume of the town's character.

Founded as a resort escape for the elites back in the late 1800s, the island saw a growing convergence of wealthy people in the 1910s and 1920s due to its warm winter.

"So this started the historical development of Palm Beach being the wealthiest community in United States," introduced Rick Rose, a local historian who lives in Palm Beach County, called by local residents Palm Beaches.

At that time, only the wealthy, or at least upper-class Americans, could afford to travel. They have built boutique hotels, golf courses, and mansions. Their way of life continues to this day. During peak seasons, there are extravagant balls almost every night.

"People here are more like old-money, established wealth," said Edwin Muniz, assistant front office manager of the Brazilian Court, one of the acknowledged boutique hotels on Palm Beach.

Guests usually stay at Brazilian Court for a long vacation, say four to five weeks. "The rates are high, and the guests are very demanding, they are expecting high-quality service," said Muniz.

This is true with other boutique hotels as well. The most affordable rooms in the Breakers, for instance, is around 700 U.S. dollars a night at this time of year, but the fastest sold have always been the royal suites and presidential suites.

The wine at the luxury restaurants flows the tale of wealthy Americans' life in early 20th century novels. The quality of living is delicately preserved by local committees. For example, a bar is set for brands hoping to open on Worth Avenue, the island's high street. A walk there will lead you to all kinds of luxury brands -- Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and more.

When Starbucks wanted to open a store there, said Rose, the company was not allowed to have their classical green sign put up on the avenue.

The Everglades Club is known for being the most restrictive, in terms of its entry and enrollment. Even to this day, the club does not have a website. Entry is out of the question if you were not a member.

There is a typical Palm Beach culture here, according to Rose. "The way you keep something exclusive is you limit the amount of that. As simple as that," he said.

"We can afford to say no to have tall buildings, we don't need tall buildings, we wanna have two-story, three-story buildings, we want lots of gardens. It's expensive to be able to do that," Rose added.

It is not Amish, though. The balance of preservation and modernization is carefully kept in Palm Beach. Despite the traditional clubs holding their head up high, time at Palm Beach is not frozen. And it has recently got a lot of attention because of President Donald Trump and his Mar-a-Lago estate.

Apart from affluent winter escapees and domestic visitors, there are also more international visitors.

"There is the authentic Florida experience here," said Ashley Svarney of Discover the Palm Beaches, a local tourism organization. She and her organization are inviting people from all around the world to "enjoy the vibe."

"When you need a break from the traffic, and lines, and congestion, you come here," she said.

The local tourism industry is doing more to attract Chinese visitors. Discover Palm Beaches is now working closely with Visit Florida to attract Chinese tourists, and build brand awareness of the county.

"With direct flights opening from China to Orlando and Miami, it is just so much easier to access Palm Beaches," said Svarney.


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