Harvey and Clarke Help Develop Downtown West Palm Beach During Roaring 20’s

New businesses are opening up all over DowntownWPB these days. It’s a sign that our vibrant downtown area is alive and well. This swoon of new business isn’t the only time business has been booming here, though. In fact, many of the existing buildings in DowntownWPB were constructed during another robust growth period of our city: the real estate boom of the Roaring 20’s. So while we enjoy the present entertainment in DowntownWPB and look forward to future growth, we thought it would be appropriate to spend a little time reflecting on the past and remembering some of the people who (quite literally) built the foundation  for where we are today. Today’s #TBT post is dedicated to architects Stephen Henry Harvey and L. Phillips Clarke.

Teaming up to take on West Palm Beach

For as much impact as these two had on the landscape of West Palm Beach as we know it, it may be surprising to some to learn that neither of them were originally from here. Instead, they both hailed from Pennsylvania and were led to West Palm by their passion for architecture and the prospect of bringing a raw, tropical paradise to life in a modern era. Of course, there were several other factors at play as well.

Clarke knew firsthand the enormous architectural potential that the all-but-blank canvas of West Palm Beach presented because his family owned a seasonal home on Palm Beach. His dream was to return to that seasonal home and set up his own architectural practice, but at the time, he did not have enough job experience to secure a license of his own. Fortunately, he met Harvey, a licensed architect who had recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Equally intrigued by the potential of the Florida business boom and the financial backing Clarke could bring, Harvey agreed to train Clarke to pass the Florida architectural exam. Clarke eventually passed the exam, and in 1921 the partnership was officially formed.

Iconic West Palm Beach works by Harvey and Clarke

In a mere four years, Harvey and Clarke’s firm, which also included esteemed architect Gustav Maass, designed and executed $7 million of new construction in South Florida, ranging from homes and apartments to churches and commercial buildings. The partnership came to an end just a few years later, but not before Harvey and Clarke had created some of the most distinctive architecture of their time in West Palm Beach, some of which is still standing today!

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Their first work was the American National Bank Building at 114 South Olive Avenue. Not a bad first showing, as the building would be added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

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The duo followed that up with another historic site, the Guaranty Building at 120 South Olive Avenue, which at the time contained more square footage than any other building in the entire state.

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In 1925, Harvey and Clarke replaced financier Alfred J. Comeau’s modest cafe location with the 10-story, 100,000-square-foot Comeau Building at 317 Clematis Street.

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One year later they built the Pennsylvania Hotel at Evernia Street and South Flagler Drive. The hotel came down in 1995, but at the time it was nicknamed “The Breakers West” and according to The Palm Beach Post, it was considered one of the seven great waterfront hotels.

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Harvey and Clarke also designed St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in 1929, which is still open today at its original 418 North Sapodilla Avenue location.

Learn more about DowntownWPB architecture

The buildings we’ve highlighted are only a sampling of the work done in DowntownWPB by Stephen Henry Harvey and L. Phillips Clarke. If you want like to learn more about other West Palm Beach buildings they helped create, or other architects from that time period who helped build DowntownWPB, visit the Palm Beach County Historical Society. Of course, if you really want to get an appreciation for the architecture in DowntownWPB, come see it for yourself or hop on the Historical Trolley Tour or taking a History Walking Tour led by architect and historian Rick Gonzalez.