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This is part three of a 10-part series dedicated to highlighting the many interesting facts found in cities across Palm Beach County. In Part One, we looked at Jupiter, home to mansions and moonshine. And in Part Two, we shared lesser known facts about Wellington, the swamplands turned stomping grounds.
PALM BEACH GARDENS — Most people know Palm Beach Gardens as the commercial hub of northern Palm Beach County.
So here are seven things you may not know about Palm Beach Gardens:
1. Palm Beach Gardens never reaches the ocean
While Palm Beach County residents may think of the northern part of the county as an oceanside expanse of land, Palm Beach Gardens‘ official boundaries stop just east of U.S. 1 and PGA Boulevard, meaning the city has no oceanfront properties.
The only other municipality north of Blue Heron Boulevard that doesn’t border the ocean is the Town of Lake Park, which is cut off from the ocean by Singer Island.
2. John D. MacArthur’s name and influence is everywhere
John D. MacArthur, the late wealthy landowner and insurance magnate turned philanthropist, is credited with essentially building out northern Palm Beach County.
He arrived in Florida in 1955 from Chicago, where he was selling insurance. No sooner than stepping foot in Palm Beach County did he begin to buy up land left and right.
MacArthur established Palm Beach Gardens in 1959 on 4,000 acres where cattle grazed and decided to stay in the area to see the city grow. The State of Florida denied his request to name the city Palm City because it was too similar to the Town of Palm Beach, so he drew a new name from his “Gardens City” concept and planted trees and flowers on the sides of roads.
Thus, Palm Beach Gardens was born.
MacArthur ran his empire from a corner of the coffee shop at the Colonnades Beach Hotel on Singer Island, which he’d bought in 1963. He had a stroke at the Colonnades in 1976 and died 14 months later. The hotel closed in 1987 and was razed in 1990, The Palm Beach Post has reported.
How ‘Old Man’ MacArthur bullied, bulldozed and built North Palm Beach County
Nearby on Singer Island, John D. MacArthur Beach State Park was established in 1989 and is the only state park in Palm Beach County.
3. Palm Beach Gardens was surprisingly close to becoming The Happiest Place on Earth
Longtime Palm Beach Gardens residents will know the story, but newcomers may not be aware that Walt Disney nearly reached a deal with John D. MacArthur to built the country’s second Walt Disney World right here.
Around 1959, Walt Disney decided it was time to build another park east of the Mississippi. He and MacArthur agreed to build the park on 320 acres along PGA Boulevard – twice as much land as Disneyland in California – not long after MacArthur created the city.
The agreement called for Walt Disney to provide the entertainment and MacArthur the land and the financing, The Palm Beach Post has reported.
Walt Disney’s brother, Roy, who handled the business side of the company, didn’t want the new park’s neighbors making money off its success.
His attempt to negotiate for more land provoked MacArthur’s infamous wrath, effectively killing the deal.
Walt Disney World and its related businesses grew to provide $18.2 billion in economic activity to the state of Florida. According to a Disney impact study the company paid for in 2011, the company at that time was responsible for one in every 50 jobs in the state.
4. Palm Beach Gardens is Palm Beach County’s largest city (by area)
At nearly 60 square miles, Palm Beach Gardens is 2 square miles larger than West Palm Beach and three times the size of neighboring Jupiter.
But it’s not nearly as populated as other parts of the county.
The latest census data shows Palm Beach Gardens’ population is 59,182, while Jupiter is home to 61,047 people and West Palm Beach has 117,415 residents.
Palm Beach Gardens had the county’s second-fastest growth rate between 2010 and 2020, according to the most recent census data. It’s likely to continue to grow as the city expands westward and adds residents in developments like Avenir, off Northlake Boulevard west of Florida’s Turnpike.
5. The Gardens Mall can be measured by the millions
Perhaps the most recognizable shopping area in the city, the Gardens Mall is on PGA Boulevard east of Alternate State Road A1A.
Opened in 1988, the mall is 1.4 million square feet.
But pandemic-era retail changes have decreased its value as brick-and-mortar retail shops struggle to keep up with online demand, according to recent city figures.
In 2021, the mall was appraised at $340 million – a $20 million drop from the year before.
The value still leads to benefits for residents, though. In 2020, the Forbes Company, based in Michigan and owner of the mall, paid $7.3 million in taxes on the property. That’s the largest tax payment on a single property in the city, a payment that’s just $2.8 million short of the Town of Juno Beach’s entire budget.
6. The city started with a squatter and a house fire
When John D. MacArthur purchased the land that is now Palm Beach Gardens, he thought no one lived there.
“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,” Don Kiselewski Sr., who served on the Palm Beach Gardens City Council for 12 years including stints as mayor and vice mayor, told The Palm Beach Post in 2019.
MacArthur told the squatter Cooper he would move him to Lake Park to a house 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.
7. Palm Beach Gardens residents have pro golfers as neighbors
Aside from shopping, Palm Beach Gardens is known for its golf courses. After all, Florida has the most golf courses of any state and Palm Beach County has the most of any county in the country – more than 160 courses. And the offices of the PGA of America have long sat on PGA Boulevard at the entrance of PGA National Resort and Spa.
But professional golfers themselves have long taken a liking to the city, too.
Dustin Johnson, the top-ranked golfer in the world, lived on the water off Palmwood Road from 2015 until April, when he sold the home for $16.5 million, according to public records.
Justin Thomas, who was 2017 PGA Player of the Year and is just 28 years old, lives just next door in Jupiter on the same street as fellow golfer Rickie Fowler, who won the 2017 Honda Classic at PGA National, the tournament’s home since 2017.
Staff writers Joel Engelhardt, Eliot Kleinberg, Sarah Peters and Susan Salisbury contributed to this story.
Katherine Kokal is a journalist for The Palm Beach Post covering northern Palm Beach County. She has reported on business, government and culture in her home state of Wisconsin, Missouri and most recently, the South Carolina coast. Contact her at [email protected]