AN AVENUE BY ANY OTHER NAME...
While Royal Palm Way was developing its personality, Worth Avenue was slowly gaining fame for its international retail. The Everglades Club, built in 1918 at the foot of a dirt road, set the pace for the prestige that this strip of real estate would one day command. By 1923, tenant disputes over rising rents at the then-fashionable Beaux Arts Building on Lake Trail, just north of the Biltmore Hotel, prompted merchants to flock south. Fashionable condominiums now occupy this historic piece of lakefront property that was once the center of town.
Mizner's building boom continued and, well, the rest its history. The Everglades Club staged weekly luncheon fashion shows where the latest clothes from around the world were paraded on enormous runways. At a time when saleswomen acted as personal wardrobe designers for their customers, Worth Avenue "traffic" came to a virtual standstill to accommodate the crowds.
Among others, Elizabeth Arden, Sarah Fredericks, Martha's, Bonwit Teller and Saks would take turns outfitting the shows, representing the latest fashions from Paris and New York. Inspired by what they saw, those in attendance would afterward shop. These weekly "tombolas" (named for the lottery-cage apparatus used to select the winners of door prizes) served as a launch pad for designers like Valentino, Blass, Givenchy, Madam Greis and Pauline Trigere.
There was even a fashion that started in Palm Beach. It came in the '60s from Lilly Pulitzer, with her inventive line of colorful designed cotton print dresses, slacks, shorts and skirts. Pulitzer's clothes became an instant hit as ladies from Palm Beach to the Hamptons began sporting her signature togs. In 1995, Pulitzer's line was introduced to a new crop of Palm Beachers in a nostalgic relaunch.
But Worth Avenue's rich fashion history might have taken a different turn had its merchants not recognized the potential of this undeveloped street; in 1938, the Worth Avenue Association was formed, incorporating in 1961. Today, the Worth Avenue Association has a list of basic ground rules governing everything from flowers and parking to window displays and lighting of stores and street.
Worth Avenue now boasts more than 200 shops, offering everything from world-class designer jewelry, clothing and shoes to internationally acclaimed paintings and antiques. Among the oldest retailers on Worth Avenue is Kassatly's Linens, establishing their business in 1926 and still thriving today.
Maus & Hoffman arrived in 1961. Specializing in fine men's and women's clothing, Maus & Hoffman epitomized the longstanding traditions that the Association strives to maintain. John Maus, second-generation owner of the business his father started more than half a century ago, is a former president of the Worth Avenue Association, and says that while times have changed, the mission of the Association and the sentiments of its membership remain the same.
"The Association's purpose is to provide a common direction for the Avenue's merchants, all of whom are individual property owners who choose to remain self-governing in order to ensure the high quality of their shops," says Maus. "As a result, there aren't any cookie-cutter stores here. Each of the merchants here is a stand-out retailer in his or her own field. In addition, these are people who want to a part of this world-famous street. Remember, Worth Avenue originally operated in a city that wasn't all that interested in commercial enterprise. It was up to the retailers who came here to make Worth Avenue what it is today."
Working in concert with area businesses, the Association has a program that gives Avenue retailers a more focused opportunity to accommodate guests at The Breakers, Ritz-Carlton, Brazilian Court, Chesterfield, The Omphoy Ocean Resort and Four Seasons hotels. Participating merchants may extend their hours and provide additional services to hotel guests, making the magic of Worth Avenue more accessible to first-time guests as well as frequent visitors. Guests may make arrangements through hotel concierges.
"As a young boy I remember attending a merchants association meeting with my father and they were discussing planting flowers along the Avenue," says Maus, who recalls being impressed by their interest in such small details. 'It's those details that combine to keep Worth Avenue so unique, so special. Thankfully, some things never change."
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