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Riviera and Riviera Beach 

Judge Allen Heyser

Judge Allen Heyser, owner
of the Oak Lawn House/
Riviera Hotel.

Judge Allen Heyser, whose wife, Mattie Spencer Heyser, ran the Oak Lawn Post Office from their Oak Lawn Hotel, changed the name of both in 1893 to Riviera. Six years later, Heyser moved to Miami when the Dade County seat returned there. 

Charles N. Newcomb bought the Riviera Hotel in 1901 and made such extensive improvements that Henry Flagler, Andrew Carnegie, various Vanderbilts, and the Astors were frequent visitors. Newcomb purchased another 200 acres, from Lake Worth to the Florida East Coast Railway tracks and 14th Street to 10th Street, and in 1913 recorded a plat with a vision of Riviera as a resort community. He sold about 30 lots that year by auction. Widow Dorothy Halsey bought a home, where she opened the Riviera Cash Grocery, served as postmistress into the ‘20s, and added the only gas pump in town.

Riviera Hotel

Charles Newcomb purchased the Riviera
Hotel and converted it in to his private
residence.

While Newcomb sold lots into the mid-1920s, other men developed sections of Riviera, including G. W. Bingham (east of Broadway from 20th to 23rd Street) and the Perry family (Inlet Grove and Inlet City). William Taylor and George Currie each developed plats settled by black families on the west side of Riviera.

Meanwhile, as early as 1906, a squatter’s community of fishermen and their families lived on the south end of Singer Island in a small community known locally as Inlet City. Many of these residents were from the Bahamas and nicknamed “conchs”—including the Moree, Pinder, Knowles, and Griffin families. Fishermen were attracted to the island as a place to dry the cotton nets that they used in those days, and for its proximity to the fertile Gulf Stream, which is closer to land in Palm Beach County than any other place in North America.

Annie and Joseph Griffin, from Eleuthera in the Bahamas, joined the fishing colony at the inlet about 1912 with their seven children. Their youngest, Olive Rowena, was the mother of former state attorney Zell Davis, Jr., who grew up in Riviera Beach. About 1919 the fishing colony moved to the mainland. In the 1920s, Riviera Beach was one of the largest suppliers of fish on Florida’s east coast, much of which was shipped to Fulton’s Fish Market in New York. Seventy-five commercial fishing families lived in Riviera by 1922, when 17 of 26 qualified voters decided to incorporate amid rumors that West Palm Beach planned to take it over; the town was renamed Riviera Beach in 1942.

 

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