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Post Time: The rise and fall of Lake Park’s Harry Kelsey


Readers: L.J. Parker is a familiar name to readers of Post Time. In 2015, he received the Judge James Knott award, the highest honor bestowed by the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, for his work operating theLake Park Historical Society.

One can’t say Lake Park without saying Kelsey. After all, the town originally was Kelsey City, named for Harry Kelsey, its founder.

In the October edition of his monthly Lake Park Historical Society newsletter, L.J. mentioned a photo he received from a member showing Harry Kelsey “visiting Lake Park for his birthday March 26, 1948 or 1949.” By then, of course, Kelsey had left Palm Beach County, broken and discredited. Here’s more on Kelsey from a column way back in May 2001.

The dream town of the Massachusetts restaurateur incorporated on Nov. 16, 1923, as the state’s first planned community. He envisioned a metropolis of 100,000 people when he bought the land in 1919. He brought down his wife and children, pitched a tent on the Intracoastal Waterway and auctioned lots. The Olmstead brothers, the landscape architects of Central Park, provided the design. A gate over U.S. 1 that would last for decades welcomed visitors to the “World’s Winter Playground.” A 1922 newspaper ad featured this boastful acrostic: “Kelsey City. Elevation. Location. Scenery. Efficient management. Yacht basin. Causeway to ocean. Industries. Telephone exchange. Year round CITY.”

At his peak, Kelsey owned 120,000 acres and 14 miles of oceanfront between Miami and Jupiter. But by February 1925, Kelsey’s ads in The Palm Beach Times had a desperate sound to them: “We are obliged to sell our close-in acreage and waterfront properties to supply cash for the $2,000,000 development program at Kelsey City during 1925.” The 1928 hurricane and the real estate crash that followed did Kelsey in. He left his city in 1931, and eight years later it changed its name to Lake Park. The arch that greeted visitors turning into the town near Old Dixie Highway was torn down. Kelsey died in 1957.

Meanwhile, Kelsey’s former business partner, Sir Harry Oakes, who owned much of his Florida land, had moved to the Bahamas, where in 1943, while he slept, he was bludgeoned to death and his bed set afire. He was 69.

His son-in-law, Count Marie Alfred de Fonquereaux de Marigny, 33, faced the gallows. The motive: the two didn’t get along. Even as World War II raged, the trial became an international sensation; the Miami News sent Erle Stanley Gardner — writing as his creation, Perry Mason — to cover it. A New York detective showed local authorities had botched the case and a jury acquitted de Marigny in two hours.

Submit your questions to Post Time, The Palm Beach Post, 2751 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33405. Include your full name and hometown. Call 561-820-4418. Sorry; no personal replies.neighborhood@pbpost.com



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