- Special Event: Florida Highwaymen Exhibit in Boynton Beach
- Holiday Magic: Remembering the National Enquirer Christmas Tree
- After 40 years, Jim Torchio’s Finer Meats & Deli closes its doors
- It’s a Wrap: The Sunday Brown Wrapper Weekly History Vignettes
- Jean Rider Pipes: From 1930s “Sister Act” to Boynton Civic Leader
My favorite childhood memories include the enchanting department store Christmas displays in downtown Chicago. The Marshall Field’s vignettes featured vibrant animated scenes. That special treat and its holiday magic is firmly etched in my mind. New York, too, does not skimp on the holiday sparkle. The festive annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade kicks off the season, and Rockefeller Center erects its signature tree, said to average 75-90 feet in height.
Families residing in South Florida during the 1970s and 1980s witnessed its own annual Christmas miracle when publishing mogul Generoso Paul Pope, Jr. brought holiday tradition and magic to Lantana. Pope, known to his friends and family as Gene, began the tradition in 1972 when he ordered a freshly cut 55-foot balsam fir for his newly relocated National Enquirer offices situated along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks at 600 S. East Coast Avenue.
At the inaugural tree lighting on December 11th, children of all ages tilted their heads back to view the majestic glittering tree and “oohed and aahed” when Senator Edward Gurney pressed the button illuminating over 7,000 twinkling lights. More than 400 red and green ornaments, 100 red bows and 50 three-foot-tall candy canes decked the tree. The New Directions choir from Riverside Baptist Church in Miami serenaded the enraptured crowd with Christmas songs and hymns. Amid the balmy 80-degree weather that Monday evening, South Floridians indulged in a few hours of authentic holiday magic. For weeks afterward, passersby along Federal Highway (known then as U.S. 1, the main route through Palm Beach County), gawked at the tree and pulled over to take photographs.
Most National Enquirer Christmastime attendees knew little about Pope’s six-month struggle to locate and retrieve the big tree. Since trees that size don’t grow in the United States, the tree came from Canada. He had it specially crated and shipped by rail to the coast, then transferred onto a freighter and delivered to the Port of Miami to begin its trek north to Lantana. Pope, his wife Lois and their six children could see the six-foot lighted star atop the Enquirer tree from their home in nearby Manalapan.
People enjoyed the tree so much Pope continued the tradition, and both the tree and the holiday cheer grew in size and scope with each year. Once word got out about the magnificent Christmas tree and enchanting displays, lines to enter the grounds wrapped around the block, sightseers in tour busses came from places like Miami, Orlando and Tampa, and pilots from Lantana Airport advertised sightseeing flights over the attraction. The town brought in extra police, and lucrative entrepreneurs hawked soft drinks and souvenirs.
Perhaps even more mesmerizing than the tree were the impressive animated displays and the seemingly endless trains weaving through an irresistible land of toys. Pope brought in Burl Ives to croon “White Christmas” and delight children with songs like “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Eventually, the tree topped 126 feet and has been dubbed “the world’s largest Christmas tree,” although it doesn’t officially appear on record. A biker group labored to unload, install and decorate the tree, which arrived most years vial rail in boxcars and had to be reassembled. Once Interstate 95 came through, motorists could view the tree from the highway. The tree was visible to the sport fishing boats that frequented the Atlantic Ocean just outside the Boynton Inlet.
At times neighbors and local businesses deemed National Enquirer tree and its crowds a nuisance. Although Pope offered free parking, traffic snarled Federal Highway and cut off entry to neighborhoods, shops and restaurants. One year someone called in a bomb threat. Actor Burt Reynolds, who owned a horse ranch in nearby Jupiter, and fed up with the tabloid for exposing his private life, reportedly rented a pilot and a helicopter and dumped a sizable load of horse manure on the tree. Despite the stink from the manure and some neighbors, Pope and his Christmas extravaganza continued to deliver holiday cheer.
A heart attack claimed the 61-year-old Pope in October 1988. Months later, his widow Lois hosted the Christmas tradition in his absence, but that would be the last year crowds pilgrimaged to the little town of Lantana to see its noteworthy tree.
A year later, Gene Pope’s estate sold the the National Enquirer for $412 million to MacFadden Publishing and Boston Ventures. The tree’s decorations, which included three-quarters of a mile of garland, 250 red bows, 1,200 multicolored balls and 150 candy-cane and snowflake ornaments, along with its six-foot lighted star adorned a Christmas tree in Bayfront Park in Miami.
Generoso Pope is buried in Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery in Royal Palm Beach. His epitaph describes his legacy as the man who made millions and millions of people happy. No doubt any kid who grew up viewing Pope’s National Enquirer tree can still recall the festive displays and fondly recall and describe that old-fashioned “Christmas magic.”
Bill Newcott posted an eight minute video of the 1985 display on YouTube.
Paul David Pope reposted an interesting story about the last Christmas tree.
This 1987 Sun Sentinel article provides more insight into the operations choreography for the tree.
Pope’s widow, Lois Pope, continues to live in Manalapan.
Eliot Kleinberg’s Post Time column about the Lantana Christmas tree tradition.
Stay tuned for an upcoming blog about Generoso Paul Pope, Jr. (there was too much interesting information to fit into this blog about Christmas).
On October 26, 2018, a hungry would be shopper stopped by Jim Torchio’s Finer Meats and Delicatessen and found a hand-written note scrawled on what looked like white butcher paper: “Torchio’s is no longer open for business. Thank you for shopping here over the years. It is time for us to move on. Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause anyone. Sincerely, The Torchio Family.”
The news spread like wildfire though social media channels. Some people were outraged at the lack of notice, others were concerned about the family. Customers and friends left well wishes. Facebook posters reminisced about the food and the friendly family service. They wrote mouth watering tributes to their favorite delicacies: pastrami and mozzarella sub sandwiches, Taylor ham rolls, antipasto party platters, stuffed pork chops, filets, and other choice meats. Even vegetarians professed their love for the small store located in a strip mall on Woolbright Road just around the corner from Palm Beach Leisureville.
I remember the store well, its spicy aroma and busy atmosphere. Cases of meat – prime rib, hamburger, veal cutlet, and sausage—fresh ground homemade Italian sausage. Dry goods and vegetables displayed on shelves, in baskets and refrigerated cases, some homemade pies, and a full service deli counter. My mom used to refer it to it as “the stinky store,” a term of endearment that goes back to the Italian butcher and delicatessen we used to visit in Chicago.
This made me wonder who the Torchio family was, where they came from, and how they ended up with a successful 40-year business in little old Boynton Beach? It’s not exactly the meat packing capital of the world—although there was a time, back in the late 1920s, and early 1930s when livestock, namely cows, outnumbered people. Alas, the cows in Boynton were dairy cows, not Brahman bulls. Boynton’s plentiful dairy farms – Melear, Knuth, Goolsby, Keatts, Weaver, Bell, White, Benson, Muggleton, Rousseau, Fideli, etc., supplied milk and cream to Southern Dairies. Dairy cows blanketed the Boynton landscape until the early 1980s.
It turns out that Jim Torchio, a New Jersey born son of Italian immigrants, only owned the Boynton butcher shop and deli for about two years, if that. Torchio, his father Guiseppi, and younger brother Frank were all Jersey City butchers. Jersey City had large stockyards to supply New York City with fresh meat. James Torchio owned and operated an independent butcher shop in Jersey City by 1940 and had a son and a daughter with his wife, the former Angelina Loori. Tragedy struck in 1963 when their 22-year-old son Joseph died suddenly. A few years after Angelina’s 1969 death, Torchio gave up his New Jersey butcher shop and headed south to Palm Beach County with his second wife, Mary Jane Swayze.
Torchio, a successful businessman as well as meat carver, served as head butcher/manager at The Flame Meat Market and delicatessen in North Palm Beach. The butcher shop supplied fine meat cuts to The Flame Restaurant. He incorporated Jim Torchio’s Farmer’s Meats operating his business at the West Palm Beach Farmer’s Market on Congress Avenue in the mid-1970s.
In 1978, Torchio opened a friendly, neighborhood Italian butcher shop and delicatessen in Leisureville Center.
The land the strip mall sits on was part of a failed 1920 boom time development, and before that it was a fresh water lake. The colorful real estate developer K.D. Purdy planned a large, opulent neighborhood around the partially filled in lake.
The hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 slowed progress, as contractors couldn’t get building supplies to meet the boom time demand. The real estate bubble burst…and the land sat mostly undeveloped for years, until Caldros properties developed it in 1968 into a 2,000 home adult community and golf course.
In June 1981, Worley E. Walker, a retiree from Tennessee, applied to operate under the fictitious name “Jim Torchio’s Finer Meats, Inc.” Walker, along with sons Steven, Richard, Terry, and their families, were the friendly faces who operated Torchio’s delicatessen. Jim Torchio, the Italian Jersey City butcher who lent his name to the deli, continued to live and work in Palm Beach and on the Treasure Coast. He was the butcher at Pinder’s Seafood in Jupiter until 1993. Torchio passed away in 1996, but his name will always conjure up mouth-watering memories for generations of Boyntonites. Torchio’s, the landmark, and the Walker family kept Boynton residents and visitors well fed.
While the cows of Boynton have all vanished, so has the family butcher shop. Each generation covers over the previous one with another layer of history. Patronize your local merchants, especially the family operated ones. Some day they won’t be there. You’ll be lucky if there is a kind note left on the door.
Do you remember the Sunday Brown Wrapper history pages published in South Florida newspapers during the late 1970s and 1980s? These history pages, resembling a brown grocery sack and sponsored by First Federal Savings of the Palm Beaches (The Big First), were written by local authors and contained short history vignettes (much like today’s blog posts). The accounts weren’t foot-noted, but delivered interesting information on a variety of local news topics with the Sunday newspaper. The history section was wrapped around a thick bundle of advertisements and the popular “funnies.”
Many of the Brown Wrappers are available online in their entirety via Google News, and more are being scanned by local historical societies and libraries for your reading pleasure. The Wreck of the Coquimbo, shown here, from the July 27, 1980 edition of the Palm Beach Post and the Palm Beach Daily News, was written by James H. Nichols.
Jim Nichols graduated from FAU with a Master’s Degree in History and served as a historic researcher for the Boynton Beach City Library. Mr. Nichols was also a photographer and a member of the Boynton Beach Historical Society.
Ronald Tee Johnson created the Sunday Brown Wrapper format in 1975, initially as a monthly special advertising campaign produced by First Federal Savings ad agency. The weekly Sunday Brown Wrappers ran for seven consecutive years in The Palm Beach Post – Post Times and were also packaged with the Ft. Lauderdale News and the Sun-Sentinel Sunday newspapers. The reverse side of each Brown Wrapper contained a full-page advertising First Federal’s services.
The most prolific writer for the Sunday Brown Wrapper series was Judge James R. Knott. Judge Knott, a Palm Beach County circuit judge from 1956 to 1977, served as the President of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. His passion for history resulted in several books on the subject including Tales of Tallahassee Twice Told and Untold: A Reminisce.
Many of Judge Knott’s Sunday Brown Wrapper stories are available in book format, The Mansion Builders, Historical Vignettes of Palm Beach, Palm Beach Revisited: Historical Vignettes of Palm Beach County and Palm Beach Revisited II: Historical Vignettes of Palm Beach County. While now out of print, several local libraries have copies of these books. You can also occasionally purchase copies on used book sites such as Half and AbeBooks.
Some of the Sunday Brown Wrappers currently available online are about Boynton history.
Breakfast Poetry (about poet Edgar Guest wintering at the Boynton Oceanfront Hotel) by James Hartley Nichols, September 12, 1982.
The Story of a Pioneer Woman – About Little Pierce Voss and Charlie Pierce
And others that are simply of general interest.
November 15, 1980 – Daddy’s Bicycle Carried Five People
Daddy’s Bicycle Carried Five People
January 4, 1981 – The Currie Map of West Palm Beach 1907.
The Currie Map of 1907
Since the brown grocery sack paper the history accounts were printed on was thick and durable, many of the original copies have survived and can be viewed at libraries and historical societies throughout Palm Beach County. The ongoing digitization efforts ensure preservation of this important facet of Palm Beach County history and will make research and reminiscing easier than ever.
I first saw her infectious smile in 2005. Randall Gill and I, who were working together on a book “Images of America: Boynton Beach,” did not know her name. We did however recognize that the small, brown haired woman in the checkered shirt laughing as she posed holding up the sailfish epitomized the flavor of Boynton Beach in the 1950s. Our editors agreed, and out of several hundred photos considered, this ended up as the book’s cover. It helped that rugged and tan Capt. Homer Adams, well-known in the Boynton community and from a pioneer family also graced the cover. The backdrop of the fish board framed by waving palms added to the joyful scene.
At our first book signing, appropriately held at the Boynton Beach City Library, where the book was “born,” someone excitedly announced “That’s Mrs. Pipes! She was married to Mayor Pipes.” We had a last name, but not a first. In the 1950s, many women were still referred to as Mrs. So-and-so, and only their family and friends knew their first names. In 2005, few newspaper collections were available in digital format, so learning more about the pretty lady took time, and involved good old crowd-sourcing.
At another book event, someone remembered that Mrs. Pipes taught swimming lessons. Another person revealed that Mrs. Pipes had a large in-ground swimming pool and invited neighborhood children over to swim. One of the boat captains eyed the book cover and declared “Jean Pipes, she was a wonderful lady angler and won many fishing tournaments.
A display of photographs of past mayors hanging in the Boynton Beach Commission Chambers indicated that J. Willard Pipes was Boynton mayor in 1962. An Internet search revealed that Pipes, of Chicago, retired as vice-president of Pepsi-Cola and moved to Boynton about 1948.
Mrs. Pipes, or Jean as we now knew her, previously led the the dazzling life of a vaudeville-like entertainer – dancing and singing with her sister Loma as a sister act. Jean and Loma performed as The Rider Sisters and tap-danced and sang their way around Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. The duo had gigs in theaters, night clubs and county fairs. They were famous.
Once in Boynton Beach, Jean didn’t totally hang up her dancing shoes, but she channeled some of her energy and vivaciousness into transforming the sleepy bedroom community. She quickly got to work championing for a hospital (Bethesda) and organizing the Royal Palm Republican Club Federated. She helped found the Boynton Lantana Business and Professional Women’s Club and served on the board for the Palm Beach County Libraries and numerous other affiliations.
She enjoyed the outdoors, and the thrill of landing “the big one.” She opened her swimming pool to the neighborhood children. She positioned her husband Willard to become mayor of Boynton. It’s somewhat surprising that she didn’t run for mayor herself.
Rider Road and Willard Way east of Federal are named after Jean Rider and Willard Pipes. Jean Rider Pipes lived in Boynton until her 1999 death, and newspapers from the previous fifty years in Boynton are peppered with her contagious smile. News clips from the 1930s portray the “double pleasure” entertainment of the Rider Sisters. Jean’s obituary claimed that her motto was “Invest in People.” She lived her life well, and left an indelible mark and a little bit of her sparkle upon Boynton Beach.