May 23, 1995 – End of the Kennedy Era in Palm Beach, Florida


Florida’s most famous Irish-Americans, even if technically seasonal residents, were the family of Joseph and Rose Kennedy of Palm Beach.  The Kennedys and their famous offspring, including US President John F. Kennedy, US Senator Robert Kennedy, US Senator Edward Kennedy and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, brought glamour, excitement and political power to Palm Beach from 1933 until 1995.  The Kennedy Era in Palm Beach ended quietly on May 23, 1995, with the sale of the oceanfront estate that Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. bought in 1933 as a winter vacation spot, and that later became his son President John F. Kennedy’s winter White House.


The Kennedy estate, located at 1095 N. Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach, Florida

The President, First Lady and their children at Palm Beach


The estate became a historic landmark under an unusual deal struck by the Kennedys, the Palm Beach Town Council and the New York banker who bought the house and its furnishings, John K. Castle. The asking price was $7 million, although none of the parties would say what Mr. Castle and his wife, Marianne, paid.  For the Kennedys, it was simply time to let go. With the death of Rose Kennedy that year, the house seemed more a part of history than a practical gathering place for a family that had grown large over three generations. In the early years, it was where the patriarch taught the nation’s future leaders to swim, and where a young President chose his Cabinet.


Bobby, Jack and Teddy Kennedy in the surf at Palm Beach
 Home movie of the President and family in their swimming pool at Palm Beach

"Palm Beach is not a place where the youngest generation of Kennedys finds sustenance," said Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., a historian and a family friend, "They’re all off involved in good works of sorts, and Palm Beach is dedicated to frivolity."  No single event led to the sale, said a family associate who would speak only if not identified. The house was put on the market at the end of 1993, well before Rose Kennedy’s death at age 104. "It’s something that the family has looked at over a long period of time," the associate said, adding that no family members were talking about it.


Neither Kennedys nor Castles were present when their representatives made the sale official by exchanging papers that both parties had previously signed, said Ron Kochman, the Palm Beach lawyer who handled the purchase for Mr. Castle. As part of the deal, the Castles allowed the town to designate the house a landmark. In exchange, the Castles were allowed to make improvements, subject to town approval, that would otherwise have been prohibited for a building with landmark protection.  One of the most significant changes was to install air-conditioning in the home that the Kennedys had used as a huge beach house. "We’ve just got to bring it up to the life style of the 1990’s," said Jeffery Smith, the architect hired by the Castles to make the improvements, "The Kennedys kept up the plumbing and electric and stuff, but it hasn’t really been renovated in any manner since 1928."  Also under the agreement the town council designated as landmark the only parts visible from the street, the gate and part of the concrete perimeter wall.  The sale ended a 15-year dispute between the Kennedys and the town’s landmark commission.  The Kennedys had resisted designating the house as a landmark, arguing that the commission’s prohibition against major renovations would scare away buyers. In 1980, the board first tried to make it a landmark, but the family blocked that in court. The Kennedys stymied similar efforts in 1990 and again in 1994, when they brought a lawsuit that led to the settlement and sale.


The 87-year-old house was built for a member of the Philadelphia Wanamaker family by Addison Mizner, whose Mediterranean designs still define Palm Beach architecture. In 1933, the six-bedroom house was sold to Joseph Kennedy for $120,000, and over the years the Kennedy family installed a swimming pool and tennis courts on the two-acre estate that the Wanamakers had named "La Guerida" — bounty of war.  The scene at the house could soon match the Kennedy days, Mr. Castle said at the time, especially if his three Ivy League-educated sons start having families. But there will, however, be one important difference:  “The house will no longer be Democratic,” Mr. Castle said, "I’m a Republican."


SOURCE:  a NEW YORK TIMES article published on May 24, 1995



Filed under Florida Irish History

4 responses to “May 23, 1995 – End of the Kennedy Era in Palm Beach, Florida

  1. Pingback: O’Kennedy’s Ireland | Florida Irish Heritage Center

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