What better way to spend a crisp winter afternoon than at an old-fashioned street festival. The street in question was Tamarind Avenue, three blocks of which were blocked to traffic. And the occasion was the Heart and Soul Festival, a way to show off the historic neighborhood, the beneficiary last year of $2.3 million in streetscaping, property acquisition and marketing from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. Another $1.3 million is planned for the neighborhood this year.
Many of those who attended were able to walk from nearby side streets, lured by the melodious sounds of the Silver Stars steel drum band.
From there one walked a veritable gantlet of gastronomic delights, conch fritters, fried chicken, desserts and, of course, barbecue.
At the north end of the festival, near 10th Street, a band performed R&B hits while spectators swayed and danced. There were booths selling art, jewelry, clothing and flower arrangements. There were three bounce houses, no waiting.
Tomeeka Hayes of Tallahassee declared the conch fritters, made by Sisters in the Pot, to be delightful. She was visiting West Palm Beach with her friend, Ella Gilbert. Both are law students at Florida A&M in Orlando.
Georgia Gilbert, Ella’s mother, lives nearby and attends the 85-year-old New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, which along with Payne Chapel AME Church and Tabernacle Baptist Church donated their parking lots during the afternoon.
The full name of New Bethel had to include “the greatest church this side of heaven,” said Georgia Gilbert. The three churches have been anchors of the neighborhood for most of its history.
The Tamarind Avenue corridor, which runs from Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard south to Banyan Boulevard and from the Florida East Coast Railway tracks west to the CSX tracks, once was a thriving business district but grew seedy until the CRA and neighborhood civic organizations took charge of polishing its image..
The festival was put together by the Northwest Community Consortium, a not-for-profit organization of neighborhood churches, nonprofits and civic organizations.
Next up, a business recruitment block party on May 8 and a neighborhood picnic on July 20.
Neighborhood groups say the area has also been improved with better street lighting and signs, but there is still a need for businesses providing basic services.
In its heyday, the Tamarind corridor was home to the Sunset Lounge at 609 Eighth St., where Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington performed.