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The 1960s

In the 1960s, a few new tourist attractions opened in Palm Beach County, as well as more cultural organizations. In 1959 Jean Flagler Matthews, granddaughter of Henry Morrison Flagler, formed the non-profit Henry Morrison Flagler Museum Inc., which purchased Flagler’s Palm Beach home, Whitehall, to save it from demolition. The mansion was restored to the extent possible, and a ten-story tower was demolished, which had been added as the Whitehall Hotel.

Less than a year later, the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum opened with a Restoration Ball, nationally acclaimed as Palm Beach’s society event of the season. Thousands of people attended the museum’s opening on February 6, 1960. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

Seven socially prominent women founded the Civic Opera of the Palm Beaches as a community ensemble in 1961. Its first production, La Traviata, was sold out, presented in January 1962 at the 1,200-seat Palm Beach High School auditorium. Maestro Paul Csonka was the company's first principal conductor and artistic director. In 1992 it was renamed the Palm Beach Opera. The opera has attracted international singers, including Beverly Sills, Jose Carreras, Luciano Pavarotti, and Placido Domingo.

The Junior Museum also opened in 1961, as a project of the Junior League of the Palm Beaches, with science and nature exhibits. Three years later, when museum officials asked NASA to send an astronaut to preside over the dedication of a planetarium addition, they sent Buzz Aldrin; the planetarium was named in his honor. During the 1970s, new exhibit space, an auditorium, and new collections were added to the museum, which was renamed the South Florida Science Museum.

The City of West Palm Beach opened the county’s first major performance venue, the West Palm Beach Auditorium, on Labor Day 1967. Among the artists to appear at the “Leaky Teepee'”—so named due to a chronic roof leak—were Count Basie, the Beach Boys, Tony Bennett, Johnny Cash, the Grateful Dead, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sesame Street Live, The Supremes, and Elvis Presley. The city sold the building to the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1998.

About 15 miles to the west off Southern Boulevard, the first Lion Country Safari also opened in 1967. The 500-acre animal and jungle theme park started with an investment of a half-million dollars, and another half-million in the next two years. By its third year, the park recorded a million visitors and opened a park in California, followed by Texas and Georgia. In 1971 the operation went public. By 1973, twelve similarly themed parks opened in the U.S. and Canada, and 15 more were in the planning stages.

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