Shining A Light On Old School Square

Don’t ever overestimate the power of love to change a place. In fact, it may be the only thing that ever does.

I’m surrounded by angels.

If my old city editor Tom Sawyer (yes, that was his real name) saw that sentence I would have been sent home for the day to think about my future in journalism.

But what if that sentence is true? What if we have people in our lives who appear at just the right time with just the right message?

I will argue that they are heaven sent. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s working for me.

I’ve been upset lately about the fate of Old School Square.

The organization and the place it birthed holds a special place in my heart. I’m not alone. Many of us love Old School Square.

Along with a slew of people (10,000 plus petitioners) I’m dismayed by the 3-2 City Commission vote to evict Old School Square from the home they created 32 years ago when the site was surrounded by a rusted chain link fence.

The non-profit is far more than a “management company” as some have labeled it—the people involved in the organization are the heart and soul of the place and I would argue are also the heart and soul of modern-day Delray Beach.

When they hurt, many of us hurt.

The people involved in this organization over the years are a ‘who’s who’ of Delray Beach.

But they are not self-appointed keyboard patriots, they are the people who roll up their sleeves and get to work. They are the people who give their time, talent and treasure to the community. They are the best people I know and the type of people who make a city go. They give us the gift of community. They are the secret sauce.

Elected officials come and go—and they certainly matter. Good ones can help you move mountains, bad ones can set you back decades. But successful cities cultivate, treasure and nurture their volunteers.

We removed their hearts with this decision.

When you remove the heart of something you better know what you’re doing. You better know what you’ve done.

Flaws in an organization can be cured, especially if you create a collaborative environment, which we currently don’t have.

But lost among the blizzard of accusations and misinformation is the human side of this decision. That’s where the magic lies. And the hurt too.

Ignore the people equation and that will surely bite you, sometimes in ways that aren’t immediately clear.

Maybe you can get a management company to come in and make sure the place is operationally sound. But where are you going to get a donor like Margaret Blume who just saw her generous multimillion dollar gift not only ignored but lambasted? Where are you going to find another Elise Johnson who gave OSS her all during a pandemic? And where do you find a Joe Gillie who ran the place so well and in his “spare” time helped the city win three All America City Awards?

The truth is you don’t find people like this on a shelf.

We were blessed in this town when special people showed up and decided to devote their lives and careers to this town. There was a time when they were appreciated, respected and adored. They didn’t do what they did for adoration, they gave and gave and gave some more out of an old-fashioned sense of civic duty and love. Don’t ever overestimate the power of love to change a place. In fact, it may be the only thing that ever does.

That’s why this decision hurts and why the hurt lingers. Because the people we should be thankful for have been tossed out on their rear ends for no good reason, without a real conversation and without an attempt to fix this situation.

Until that hurt is addressed, until it is acknowledged and fixed, we won’t really move forward.

Those buildings will go dark— for the time being. And that’s not a good thing. But some group will turn the lights on again. The property will not be developed. But the hurt and the stain of this harsh decision will linger.

Our hearts ache for Frances Bourque, the founder of Old School Square. She is a remarkable woman.

When Frances envisioned Old School Square, Delray Beach’s downtown was a far cry from the bustling place it is today.

One businessman that I know put it succinctly and graphically: “this town was circling the bowl.”

He was right.

But that’s been forgotten.

In the “new” Delray, history began yesterday and everything that was accomplished in the past has been discarded, disrespected and dumped on by critics and Monday Morning quarterbacks who wouldn’t know Frances Bourque from Robert Bork.

So Old School Square was labeled a failing organization—despite finding a way to operate in a pandemic.

Despite presenting a slew of national acts in recent months and landing its biggest ever private donation.

Despite a rich history of achievement and a long legacy of enriching lives through the arts.

Thirty years of hard work dismissed…without a conversation and without giving the community a chance to talk.


But political spin is really something.

If you listen to the city’s party line, the non-profit didn’t earn grants—it required “subsidies” — there’s a loaded word used by the brand- new City Manager who really ought to sign up for a history lesson before putting pen to paper. But he better hurry, because the local historians are fading fast and when they are gone nobody will be able to tell the story of how this town came back from a very rough patch. Lose your history and you lose your soul.


I was told by a sitting commissioner to cut the guy a break, after all, he’s been here 20 minutes and he’s the ninth manager we’ve had in just a few years’ time. And I will. So will others. There are still compassionate people in this town.

I sincerely hope the new City Manager succeeds. We need him to succeed. But I can tell you how he might fail—be seen as a partisan in a sharply divided town. Because when the worm turns— and it always does—your toast.


So Mr. CM you’ve got your mulligan.

Here’s hoping you get both sides of every story from here on out, because rest assured there’s another side to every story in this town.

I also understand that a CM must carry out the will of the majority of their bosses, but sometimes the majority will need some coaching when they stray off the reservation. We are counting on you to speak truth to power.

But let’s go back to Old School Square for a second. They deserve a better epitaph than the current narrative.

We are told to ignore that public funds are only 20-25 percent of the Old School Square budget with the rest earned through donations, sponsorships and ticket sales to things like a Jimmy Buffett concert, which was labeled a failure because not everyone who wanted a ticket got one.

Shame on the organization, we are told.

And shame on Jimmy too for thinking that Old School Square’s “pod” seating was an innovative way to keep people healthy during a pandemic. He could have made his concert return anywhere—but he chose the OSS Pavilion. In most rational places that would elicit civic pride. But not here. You have to ask, why?

Old School Square owned its mistakes and pleaded for a conversation. Their magnanimous behavior got them nowhere. And when the organization pushed back, they were blamed by some for failing to fall on the sword by meekly accepting their fate. I suppose they should have just said thank you to a commission majority that ended the organization’s life without a plan. As a result, brides have no clue whether they can get married in the Fieldhouse this winter.

But I digress.

I have faith that the truth still matters.

And as I said, I am surrounded by angels.

Unfortunately, I fall far short of that description myself; I take it hard when people I love and respect are treated like garbage. I have the urge to put pen to paper when I see things I don’t like.

These little essays make a few of my long-time critics uncomfortable. They wish people like me would go away.

Well, I’ll stop writing when I stop caring. I hope that doesn’t happen for a long time.

I have angels to serve. That’s how I feel about so many of the contributors in this town.

These  angels sometimes call me with messages that urge me to think differently and deeper.

I got such a call last week after spending a night wrestling with some of the emotions resulting from the Old School Square decision.

I was told to look at the lyrics to “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, particularly the opening line. I wasn’t sure what to think about that request, but I read the lyrics and they spoke to me.

“O little town of Bethlehem,


How still we see thee lie.


Above thy deep and dreamless sleep


The silent stars go by;


Yet in thy dark streets shineth


The everlasting Light.


The hopes and fears of all the years


Are met in thee tonight.”

Old School Square was the light that lit up a dark town back before it became South Florida’s hot spot.

It may go dark again…but one day that light will shine once more. But it won’t shine as brightly unless it is accompanied by a renewed focus on collaboration, community and yes… love.

That’s what I want to see, collaboration, community and love. I don’t think I’m alone.

If you love something—- you respect, nurture and protect it.

This was an organization made up of people who earned our respect, who deserved to be nurtured (not coddled) and earned the right to be protected.

We did not protect Old School Square.

I’m hoping against hope that it is not too late to do so.

I know I am not alone.


  1. Reeve Bright says

    Well said

  2. The City of Delray Beach is not what it was, and this administration certainly hasn’t helped. They work for the citizens of this city and they should listen to their bosses. This administration has done more harm than good and needed to be voted out as soon as possible! A lot of people who have taken pride in this city and worked hard to make it what it is today need to speak up once again against bad management by the current administration. Those that worked hard on making Delray Beach the example to follow efforts should not be in vain. OSS is an important part of this city as well as the Arts garage, and tennis center and other enterprises which bring people to this city and make it an exciting place to live, work, and play. Jeff, thanks for your on going efforts past and present to keep Delray Beach a great city!

  3. This was one of the most breathtakingly confounding decisions I’ve ever witnessed. A non-agenda, surprise vote to terminate Old School Square’s lease — without cause. The manner in which this was executed precluded the opportunity for the organization to defend itself, or for the community to weigh in. Adding to the appearance of this ambush having been possibly pre-meditated ahead of the meeting, Vice-Mayor Shirley Johnson announced that she had already been speaking with organizations that would be happy to take over Old School Square’s activities. We all wish our new City Manager the best, but besides the 30 years of institutional knowledge that will be lost, how can this be successful without the partnership of the generous donors and amazing, dedicated volunteers who made the magic at OSS possible? At the subsequent Commission meeting the following week, although many people turned out to speak about what OSS has meant to the community and to them personally, the Commissioners announced in advance that they would not speak to defend or further explain their decision (hiding behind the excuse of a potential future lawsuit as there was now a litigation hold on documents), nor would there be a motion to revote. Even giving the Commissioners the benefit of the doubt in the wisdom of the necessity of terminating the lease, at the very least this should have been handled differently. It should have been on the agenda, and what happened to the workshop that had been proposed? Let’s hope beyond hope that many of us are wrong, but I sadly believe, in the words of Don McLean, that August 10, 2021 it was “the day the music died.”

  4. Jeff, excellent, brave, passionate statement. Count me in for supporting your view.

  5. Nancy Stewart-Franczak says

    Jeff, as always you have a way of expressing the heart of every matter. I couldn’t agree more with every statement made in your article. Such an insult to the thousands of people in our community who have put their heart and soul into Old School Square. I weep for Frances and cannot imagine the impact this has had on her soul or how it has broken her heart. I can’t stop wondering how can this be addressed, how can we go back to working together as a community to address the commission’s concerns? I am in total agreement that processes and procedures can be fixed, staffing can be addressed, etc. Does anyone even care that the place kept afloat during a pandemic and brought some form of normalcy to us albeit with pods and masks? I’m here to support. I’ll be onboard for any committee. I just don’t know where to go from here.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Nancy, you have a big heart for this town. And you were one of the people we were blessed to have come here and rolled up their sleeves to make us a thriving community. I’m hoping this decision is reversed and that this is a wake up call for a new movement that can bring heart back to our town.

  6. So well written, Jeff!
    It was love that brought me to Old School Square in the first place: love of the arts, of education and of Delray Beach, all encompassed in one organization.
    Sometimes, when you look behind the scenes, at the widgets and bits that make up the armature the public never sees, there is a feeling of disillusionment. Not so in Old School Square: the staff, the volunteers and the board that made the place hum were all dedicated, hard working, enthusiastic and talented people that have been a joy to work with. So…what happened?
    Why the rush to abruptly end a chapter that was becoming the most successful in OSS history? That is the question.
    Who stands to benefit?
    As you wrote, only love will fix this. But love for who or what, exactly?
    My heart is with OSS.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      You have such a big heart and are certainly one of the special people who gave so much to the organization. Love will fix will. Love for community, neighbors and the arts. We need to rediscover the importance of leaving a better place for future generations. We need those kind of conversations and how OSS can play a key role going forward.

      • Alex Rosenberg says

        Jeff, your comments and your perspective and point of view are “right on” in questioning this terrible development, especially in light of the people who created, grew and sustained OSS over these past 30 years. Let’s hope, and even effect such a change. Thanks for bringing this discussion out into the open.

    • When I worked at Old School Square at the free Friday night concerts, I worked with the staff at OSS and NEVER met a more dedicated group of employees who poured their hearts and souls into it. They loved all they were able to produce, loved the building and loved being able to share this live with our community. OSS is the heart of our community, Delray Beach. Joe, Peggy, Mark, John , and many others…

  7. Scott Porten says


    As always…well said! It’s a very sad time in Delray Beach. Particularly for those of us who have volunteered for so many years. To your point, the commissioners come and go, but the volunteers are left to help carry on and facilitate the policies resulting from good governance. Only the worst of commissioners would seek to discard this group. I feel we have been told we are worthless and tossed in the garbage. It does not feel natural to be at odds with a City we have worked so hard to build.

    Thanks for speaking the truth.

    Your friend, Scott

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Thanks for all you do. I am sorry it wasn’t appreciated by this group. It was appreciated by others. Very much so.

  8. Hi Jeff,
    As usual, your article is spot on with the sentiment of not ONLY YOU but of the residents and friends of Delray Beach.


    Something is rotten in the state of Delray…..
    Denmark or Delray; IT’S ROTTEN.

    How “the three” can collaborate and push a commission vote through as has happened is rotten.

    What wasn’t really broken…..
    Does NOT need to be fixed!!!!

    I’ll put a song into your head now by CREAM….

    Substitute SAD for the word GLAD and sing to the rafters my friend…..

    I’m so sad
    I’m so sad
    I’m sad
    I’m sad
    I’m sad

  9. My heart is heavy… I supported this city in so many partnerships and activities… I am so tired of all the political agendas and backbiting I will NOT give up on Old School Square and I know the truth will prevail! I WILL NOT support the city and any of their programs any more! Good luck with that All America City run you have budgeted this year… talk about a waste of money!

  10. Man I wish I could express myself as well as you – fortunately we have you who do it so well for us.

    We hurt… for our city and, what was its brightest light (OSS) – for those volunteers who gave so much of their time – for the donors who believed in OSS as the focal point for the arts in our city – I especially hurt for Francis Bourque & Joe Gillie who put heart and soul into this facility – for all the artists and non-profits and others who had access to such a wonderful facility.

    At worst, this is the result of some personal vendetta – at best, an ill thought out reaction to OSS’s reporting issues. Either way – this commission vote should be revisited!

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Bill, even when you are nice to me, I still want to roast you.
      In this case, I will toast you. Because you nailed it. Frances and Joe…should be on our local Mount Rushmore.

  11. Another great article Jeff. This whole OSS issue boggles the mind of the reasonable!

    Until which time we have a City Manager that will stand up and run this City and not be pressured to do as told by a Mayor or commissioner things will not change.

    It’s sad, but we must still have hope. Thank you for your love of Delray Beach. Please don’t stop!

    And thank you to all those who have given so much to our City.

  12. Margaret Blume says

    Thank you Jeff. So well said. I want the City of Delray Beach officials to be held accountable for this horrible mistake. It really hurts. I can’t stop thinking about it.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Dear Margaret, I am so sorry. Your generosity deserved appreciation. Please know that so many of us are grateful for your support and saddened by what has happened.

  13. Is this commission’s three ignoring History & then hastily making a voting decision that should have been tabled and probably was but out voted. This commission’s hasty votes have created many lawsuits.
    Wisdom should come from learning from their repeated mistakes

  14. Jeff, thank you for stressing the need for collaboration, community and love. These needs have not been met in recent times. I’m hoping someone on the Commission speaks to these needs and propose some solutions, instead of tearing down and denigrating those that have given so much to put heart into Old School Square, making it a very special place loved by so many.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Thanks Susan. The leadership opportunity is obvious and I believe would be warmly received by a community that is tired of the infighting, division and instability.
      Here’s hoping someone seizes the initiative.

  15. Stacey Hallberg says

    Jeff, thank you for so eloquently expressing what so many of us are feeling, betrayed, bewildered and dismissed. Your leadership is always appreciated.

  16. Jessica Steinweg says

    I’ve cried many tears over this decision. For many, OSS is the pulse of history and culture for Delray Beach. For me, it’s a home.

    I first came to know Old School Square in 2004, when I was a senior in college. My husband and I had just begun dating, and he’d introduced me to OSS as a freelance employee of the Crest Theater. What began as an occasional professional relationship in my early twenties, quickly grew into a source of countless friendships and treasured experiences.

    In 2009, I was married there. In 2011, my father unexpectedly passed and we chose OSS to observe his memorial service. It’s rare, for me to present a meaningful memory through my adult life that isn’t somehow tied to OSS and the wonderful organization that is responsible for giving it magic.

    My heart aches so deeply over this decision. It’s unjust and gross.

    I’m grateful for your voice, Jeff. Along with Elise’s, Margaret’s, Joe’s…and so many others. Thank you all for being champions of OSS.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Your comments really touched me. I too, was married at OSS and my wife and I both purchased seats in the Crest to honor our late mothers.
      You are not alone in your heartache. It is unjust. Deeply unjust.
      I am so sorry for this, Jeff

  17. Lori Turrell-Neumann says

    These types of decisions are precisely why so many people who have grown up in Delray chose to leave. No longer a small town community – sad 😞
    We’re with you Frances!

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