The Grand Hotels: The Breakers
In 1896 Flagler built a second hotel, this time on the oceanfront. Joseph Borman, who would become Palm Beach Town Marshal, was one of the laborers earning $1.25 per day. Originally called the Wayside Inn, and then the Palm Beach Inn, the Georgian Revival building was renamed The Breakers after a 1901 expansion, because guests requested rooms “over by the breakers.” Its guests were a virtual “Who’s Who” of society that participated in a daily routine that required up to six wardrobe changes. Palm Beach resident Amy Lyman Phillips later described “The Old Breakers Hotel,” including “its green-carpeted floors, its white wicker chairs, its wide porches and countless rocking chairs, its great dining room managed by a fleet of old-time darkey waiters, [and] its grass-carpeted bedrooms and baths with all plumbing visible.”
The Breakers cottage colony on the north and south ends of the hotel was occupied, often for many seasons, by notable names such as playwright Eugene O’Neill, the Vanderbilts, the Munns, and the Stotesburys. Each of the cottages had a name: On the north side were Ocean View, Surf, Wave Crest, Reef, Nautilus, and Atlantic; and on the south side, Oceanic, Seaside, and Spray.
The Breakers’ Casino boasted a salt-water swimming pool, where guests could watch E. B. Jennison perform diving feats regularly, or participate in events such as barrel racing and relay races.
During its fourth expansion, The Breakers burned on June 9, 1903, and workmen assisted in removing artwork and furniture from the premises. Although the East Coast Fire Department was quickly joined by a crew from West Palm Beach, the hopelessness of their efforts were evident after only an hour. To save nearby buildings, they used dynamite to blow up the verandas on the north wing. The fire was visible from Fort Pierce to Miami, but it was all over in about six hours. One of the cottages, the bathing casino, and a building with shops were lost.
Just ten days after the fire, Flagler ordered James A. McGuire to build a new Breakers hotel. Eight months later, it reopened on time, despite major changes midway through construction: a four-story, Colonial-style building with 425 rooms and suites, and once again, a wood frame. The new rooms started at $4.00 a night, including three meals a day.
© Historical Society of Palm Beach County.