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How John D. MacArthur started Palm Beach Gardens 65 years ago

Updated: 1 day ago

The MacArthur-era entry to Palm Beach Gardens. (Palm Beach Gardens Historical Society archives)

On June 20, 1959 — 65 years ago — the city of Palm Beach Gardens came into existence. 

The news was not heralded with fanfare in local newspapers. Looking back now it’s hard to find a mention of the state Legislature’s action.

But the new city had gained some notice in March, after Chicago banker and insurance executive John D. MacArthur announced plans for a 4,000-acre city to contain 55,000 residents. (Palm Beach Gardens now tops 61,000.)

He wanted to name it Palm Beach City but the West Palm Beach City Commission had been eyeing that name for themselves and opposed the move. 

“The name Palm Beach City connotes the central hub of the metropolitan area rather than a suburban community,” West Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce President C. Robert Burns said, as reported on March 29, 1959, in The Miami Herald.

MacArthur, saying he was “amazed at the commotion that was created,” quickly backed off. 

“I feel that I’m being regarded as a pirate. Actually, we would resign the name at any time if West Palm Beach or any other community wanted it,” he was quoted as saying in the April 1, 1959, edition of The Palm Beach Post.

“If anybody wants the title, they can have it.”

And so the Chicago insurance magnate, who had been instrumental in the development of North Palm Beach and Lake Park, named his new city Palm Beach Gardens, a name more in keeping with his vision for developing a garden city. 

The boundaries would run from Prosperity Farms Road on the east to the Sunshine State Parkway (now Florida’s Turnpike) on the west. From north to south, the city would stretch from Lake Park Road (now Northlake Boulevard) to Monet Road, about where RCA Boulevard is now.

John D. MacArthur, right, with comedian Bob Hope. (Palm Beach Gardens Historical Society archives)

MacArthur told the press he valued the city project at $210 million and expected it to contain 10,000 homes. 

The new city came with five City Council members approved by the Legislature, all representatives of MacArthur. 

They were: Paul Doolen, Charles Cunningham, Herbert Thompson, Horace Miller and Norman Rowland.

That same year, the Legislature also approved the creation of Royal Palm Beach and Atlantis.

MacArthur was determined to compete by attracting commercial development to create jobs to drive demand for homes.

“People will come to Florida,” he is quoted as saying in March 1959, “if they can find work to support them where they reside. We plan to get the commercial or light industry essential to this program and already have a force in the field seeking such enterprise.”

Industry had come to the area in 1958, with the opening of the Pratt & Whitney complex where it stands today west of Jupiter. 

In August 1960, MacArthur beat out sites in North Carolina and Texas to land Radio Corporation of America to build offices at Monet Road and State Road Alternate A1A, the current Northcorp Corporate Park. It would bring 2,000 jobs.

MacArthur had sway with RCA: He owned more than 10 percent of the company’s stock

— Joel Engelhardt

John D. MacArthur and Mayor Walt Wiley unveil the newly named MacArthur Boulevard in 1973. (Palm Beach Gardens Historical Society archives)

In July 1973, when the city decided to change the name of Gardens Boulevard, a main entry at Northlake Boulevard across from what is now Costco, to MacArthur Boulevard, MacArthur offered some telling insight into his feelings about the city he had founded.

In a letter to Mayor Walt Wiley, retained in the Palm Beach Gardens Historic Society’s archives, MacArthur wrote:

“I had no interest in having a street named after me or I would have done so when I named all the streets. I am not a shrinking violet and am proud of the city’s skeleton which I built. I think, if the future generations will approve of the original concept and wish to recognize and perpetuate the memory of the founder, I will be proud.”

John D. MacArthur's 1973 letter to Mayor Walt Wiley. (Palm Beach Gardens Historical Society archives)
John D. MacArthur on his cattle ranch in undated photo. (Palm Beach Gardens Historical Society archives)

Check out the Palm Beach Gardens Historical Society archives here.

And watch the videos of our panel discussions held earlier in 2024 to mark the city's 65th Anniversary:

Panel 1: How the MacArthur Foundation shaped Palm Beach Gardens here.

Panel 2: The Turning Point: Life After MacArthur here.

Panel 3: Growth and Traffic in Palm Beach Gardens here.

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