West Palm hotel: 50 years of change on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard

The spring training baseball stadium on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard is long gone. So is the auditorium that once drew hundreds of thousands of event-goers a year to the busy corridor.

But the roadside hotel that served both of those venues is thriving, even as other businesses along Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard have faltered.

The Best Western Palm Beach Lakes Inn will celebrated its 50th anniversary on Thursday, a milestone company officials attribute to the hotel’s old Florida charm and the staff’s great service.

Roughly 100 people are expected to attend a celebration planned at the hotel Thursday evening. West Palm Beach officials this month also issued a proclamation to mark the hotel’s anniversary.

“We have had great years and we have had not so great years,” said Michael Wood, vice president of DR Palm Beach, the company that owns the hotel. “But we have been steadfast in our product.”

The hotel was a hot spot when it opened in 1968. The property, then known as the Ramada Inn on the Green, boasted 200 rooms with a restaurant and an 18-hole golf course.

The West Palm Beach Auditorium, remembered by many as the “leaky teepee” for the cone-shaped roof that couldn’t keep all the rain out, was just down the street. Many of the national acts and celebrities who preformed at the auditorium would stay at the hotel after their shows.

“That hotel saw a lot of entertainers over the years,” said Cinde Martin, who worked as the auditorium’s marketing director from 1989 to 1992. 

Among those who stayed at the hotel: Conductor Lawrence Welk, wrestler Hulk Hogan and other WWE stars, famous ice skaters and members of the circus, Martin said.

The West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium, with a seating capacity of 4,200, was just behind the auditorium on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard. The stadium was the county’s spring training hub from 1963 to 1997. The inn served as a team hotel.

Across the street from the hotel, the old Palm Beach Mall was home to 87 stores and air-conditioning, a luxury in those days.

“It was a very active area,” Martin said. “Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard was the gateway to the city.”

And the inn was the only hotel along the corridor.

The hotel was originally owned by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, but the nonprofit put it on the market in 1987 to comply with federal tax regulations. A year later, the foundation leased the hotel property to Della Ratta Inc., a Maryland-based development firm.

Della Ratta created DR Palm Beach to purchase the hotel property in 1994.

The developer changed the hotel’s flag to a Best Western.

The once-booming corridor started to cool when the stadium closed in 1997. The site is now a Home Depot.

In 1998 the city sold the auditorium to Jehovah’s Witnesses for $12.5 million. The Witnesses converted the building into the Christian Convention Center.

The Palm Beach Mall slowly began to fizzle as other shopping centers opened around the county.

“They were very challenging times,” Wood said.

Over the years, the hotel’s owners closed the golf course and the restaurant and reduced the number of rooms on the property. Today, the Best Western has 135 rooms.

The hotel has enjoyed new life since the outlet mall opened across the street three years ago. Last year, the hotel’s revenues hit an all-time high, Wood said.

“This new mall has really helped us and the whole area,” Wood said.

The hotel is in the middle of a “long and ongoing renovation project,” Wood said. The boutique-style hotel has a crystal chandelier in the lobby imported from Italy 45 years ago, a pool and courtyard, a gazebo, a giant chess set, and gardens.

“We are embracing our past and we are trying to restore a lot of the hotel to its original ‘60s and ‘70s look,” Wood said.

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