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.

Wow.

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.

On This Train; Faith Will Be Rewarded

Historic and picturesque Newport, Rhode Island.

Happiness is found in life’s most ordinary moments. 
 
This week, I will be celebrating my 57th birthday.
And being in a reflective mood, I’m finding that as I get older I’m finally able to derive bliss from the simple things in life.
It has taken me awhile to get to this place.
But these days, these wonderful days, a beautiful sky, my wife’s laugh, a text from my sister, a call from a friend, a quick trip to  New England, watching my old dog sleep in his cozy bed, time with friends, a great book and the list goes on makes me happy to my very core.
 

Brené Brown once said, “We chase extraordinary moments instead of being grateful for ordinary moments until hard 💩happens. And then in the face of really hard stuff — illness, death, loss — the only thing we’re begging for is a normal moment.”

Ain’t that the truth!
Therein lies  the great irony of life — we are constantly pursuing the extraordinary yet when we lose someone, we’re willing to give anything to hear the sound of their voice even if it’s singing off-key in the shower just one more time. One more time.
In my case, Covid reminded me that each moment we’re alive is impossibly fragile.
I first learned that lesson when I lost my mother far too young to cancer. But I had forgotten that lesson.
 I was 34 and in a hurry in those days, consumed by ambition and anxious to make a mark. I lost sight of the beauty of the mundane. I was restless and impatient.
But the gift of some hard knocks and the passage of time is that we discover that simplicity has true meaning. 
When I came home from a 39 day stay at Bethesda Hospital this time  last year, my friend Connor Lynch called me. 
“Doesn’t the grass seem greener?” he asked. 
How did he know?
Yes, the grass seemed greener and the sky seemed bluer. I told Connor that during my trip home from the hospital, I never enjoyed seeing Lake Ida Road more.  Connor knew from experience so he wasn’t surprised. 
A road that I travel every day every day rushing around suddenly seemed grand, like a picturesque boulevard. 
I don’t want to lose that feeling. 
So when life gets me down, and of course it still does from time to time (that Old School Square lease termination really stinks my friends) I still get angry. But my pique is tempered by my appreciation for the good things in life. The simple pleasures. 
We went to New England last week for a long awaited vacation that happened to dovetail with my year anniversary of getting and ultimately surviving Covid and a wicked case of double pneumonia that still robs me of my wind. 
Through Facebook memories I was able to revisit the experience  through the kind comments of so many nice people. It was painful and interesting and touching to hear from so many people. And I felt blessed. Extraordinarily blessed. 
A kind word carries so much power and influence.
Kind words heal.
The opposite is true as well.
Harsh words wound. They leave marks. 
On my vacation, I soaked in the beauty of New England which is extraordinary. Everywhere you look is a postcard. 
My wife and I enjoyed the water views, we sailed, looked for puffins, explored charming villages and marveled at the history we found in every town. 
I’m drawn to New England for a lot of reasons, some mysterious to me. It does remind me of  my hometown Stony Brook, New York, so maybe that’s part of it. But there’s something intangible too that just calls to me. 
Of course, I love Florida too. My wife and I have given a lot of time and passion to Delray Beach and so have our friends who were hurting last week over the aforementioned decision regarding Old School Square.  
I felt compelled to listen to their hurt last week, to make calls I wouldn’t ordinarily make while  on vacation. 
I was calling and texting from various points in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island all of which felt like warm, inviting and friendly places even for this Yankee fan tooling around town with Florida plates on the rental car. 
My friends needed to be reminded that they mattered, that they did good things because they have been told the opposite.
 
I happen to believe that the truth matters.
And that even in a world filled with misinformation, propaganda and nastiness, the truth will eventually win out. 
It’s painful to wait, but you have to keep believing. 
In the past year, so many of my wishes have come true and so many of my prayers and the prayers of others have been answered. 
Amid the challenges, my faith has been cemented. 
I’m finally learning to be patient,  to be happy and to open my eyes to the beauty that surrounds us. Despite the noise, despite the nastiness, there is clarity, kindness and hope.
Always hope. Even in the darkest days. 

 

Wake Up Everybody

 

 

 

 

What’s happening at Old School Square is a microcosm of what’s been happening in Delray Beach for years now.

So I wasn’t shocked when the City Commission terminated Old School Square’s lease on a 3-2 vote ending a memorable three decade run by the non-profit. The decision was made without allowing OSS or the public to speak on the issue. OSS was not able to defend itself. The item was not on the agenda and the commission and city staff did not consider the ramifications of the decision.
Ready, fire, aim is not a good way to run anything. But it’s a really bad way to run a city.
But I wasn’t surprised. Disappointed for sure. But not surprised. The commission took over the CRA in similar fashion without discussion, public input or even an item on the agenda. It just happened —like that. And we’re supposed to believe there’s no coordination…hmmmm. See me about a bridge I have one for sale.
There’s been a full-press assault on the volunteer class in this city by certain political elements for years now.
It’s bad. It’s personal and it’s getting worse.
The people who give their time, money and loyalty to Delray Beach are being singled out, disparaged and disrespected. The institutions they support are also under fire. First they took over the CRA and now it’s Old School Square’s turn. But groups as disparate as the Beach Property Owners Association and the Northwest Southwest Alliance have also gotten tangled up in the mess. And a vast number of city employees have seem their careers and lives upended and ruined too. Record turnover doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens for a reason.
The problem is the division on the  City Commission and in the community itself. We are locked in a never ending battle that has made a once happy village a very unhappy place for those who want to be involved.
I can go chapter and verse on this subject. But it’s old and it’s tiring.
Let’s just say the nonsense is having real consequences.
We may have just lost the magic that made Old School Square. That magic was a volunteer/donor base that has given millions of dollars and countless hours to the arts for thirty years until they were called corrupt failures and asked to vacate the place they built.
This isn’t merely a management contract we are talking about. These people birthed the idea of Old School Square, they nurtured it, grew it and raised private money to preserve and enhance city buildings.
For decades, they were respected and acknowledged for their contributions and Old School Square was credited for launching the downtown’s renaissance.
When you have such a relationship and such a resource you treasure it. If there’s a problem, a question or a performance issue you sit down with your partners and you work it out.
You don’t take the organization and throw it in the garbage which is what has been done.
Sure, you can find a group or an entity to manage the facility. But it won’t be the same. It’s like when your favorite restaurant gets bought by a chain—it will look the same, but it won’t feel the same. The soul will be gone. And once it’s gone, good luck getting it back.
Friends, you can’t just find people like founder Frances Bourque and a who’s who of civic leaders by doing an RFP. These people loved the place, the mission and the city itself.
That’s what’s being lost here. That’s what’s not understood or respected.
My strong belief is that the issues being used to terminate OSS the entity are being manufactured in an effort to justify a personality conflict by two sides locked in a damaging Cold War.
Many of the issues being alleged are simply not true and were easily proven false by Old School Square’s board. Too bad they weren’t allowed to talk before they were terminated but when you are being set up it doesn’t make sense to let the target speak does it?
Sadly, brand new City Manager Terrance Moore allowed himself to be used to further a political agenda. That taints him in the eyes of many devoted citizens. He made a big mistake and that’s too bad because after 9 managers in a few years time we need him to succeed.
He will need to learn this community because he badly misfired on this important issue.
As an aside, with a pandemic still raging, a budget that needs adoption, positions that need to be filled, a police contract and a hurricane season upon us, it seems like a curious time to pick a fight with OSS. Especially when the organization just produced its biggest concert and landed its biggest ever private donation.
But here we are.
Oh yes, here we are.
We best wake up people. Delray is at stake. This is way bigger than even Old School Square.

History & The Human Touch

Old School Square

Sometimes buildings stand for so much more than bricks and mortar.

Historic buildings contain stories. So many stories.

They tell the tales of their towns.  If only the walls could talk.

In Delray Beach, Old School Square has the best stories.

Stories of civic renewal.

Stories of healing after tragedy.

And stories of celebration after civic achievements.

So many important moments in the history of our town have happened within the walls  or on the grounds of Old School Square.

That should mean something. That does mean something.

I thought about that fact last week as I was watching a debate unfold over the future of the organization.

I think the conversation is long overdue.

But the tone of the conversation distressed me greatly. And it ought to worry you too if you care about this community and this institution’s role in our past, present and future.

The best “tough” conversations come from a place of love, where all parties understand that while there may be disappointments, grievances, hurt, questions and hard feelings— at the end of the day there is love and respect. For tough conversations to yield the most value, there needs to be a foundation in place.

Historic buildings are important, and they are often beautiful, but it is the people who inhabit and care for those buildings that make the difference. They animate our buildings and they make or break our community.

I would argue that the people who have supported Old School Square over the past 35 years are some of the best people you can find here or anywhere.

They aren’t perfect. They have made mistakes. But they have also done amazing things—transformational things that have had an outsize importance to our city.

But before we talk about some of those amazing feats, here a few particulars:

  • The three buildings on the campus are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  •  The oldest, which used to be a two-story story public school, was built in 1913.
  • The second building, once a high school, was built in 1926 and enlarged in 1937.
  •  The third building, a charming gymnasium, was built in ’26.

The second and third buildings were designed by Sam Ogren Sr., a legendary Delray architect. They were lovingly restored under the watchful eye of another beloved local architect, Bob Currie, who passed away a few years back.

Both are gone but not forgotten—at least that’s the hope and how it should be. Special contributors should never be forgotten. Want to know if your community is healthy? Ask yourself whether the elders  are held in esteem or if they have been put out with the garbage?  It’s a fool proof test. But I digress.

Back in 1988, when the buildings made the National Register, the block was surrounded by a chain link fence and a non-descript concrete sidewalk—no paver bricks in those days. To the west, there was a whole lot of blight, crime and despair. To the east, there was vacancy. Downtown wasn’t quite on life support, but it was close.

My friends, vacancy and blight are not recipes for charm.

But if you study history, you will understand that towns go through cycles. When you’re up, you can’t imagine being down. And sometimes when you’re down, you have a hard time imagining how things could ever turn around. “Ya gotta believe”, as Mets fans used to say.

When the original buildings were built in ’13 and ’26 things were looking up in Delray.

The Delray High School cost $12,000 to build in 1913. And when it opened on November 28 of that year the entire town was in attendance, according to the narrative you can find on the National Register of Historic Places website. Now I’m sure somebody stayed home, but you get the picture, the opening of the school was considered one of the most important events in the history of the town.

But time passes and by the 80s, the buildings and the campus were a mess. Can you imagine a rusty chain link fence at main and main?

And that’s where we pick up our story when a visionary named Frances Bourque looked at those sad buildings and saw something else—a brighter future. She rallied the community and before you knew it, the eyesore on Atlantic and Swinton became a source of civic pride and inspiration.

Pride and inspiration are two things that should never be given short shrift in a city. Civic pride enables belief and belief creates trust which helps you to get things done.

Trust means you can go to the voters with a bond issue and ask them to go into debt and raise their taxes because there is a need to beautify your town, fix your parks and pave your streets.

Trust means they will vote ‘yes’ in resounding numbers. But if you don’t have pride, if you don’t trust your local government to deliver, you won’t be able to pass that bond or turn that blight into Old School Square.

Inspiration is also critically important.

Old School Square’s renovation was a catalyst for downtown Delray Beach.  It inspired others to believe in the future of the central business district.

And because the downtown is the heart of our community when it came back to life so did Delray. I would argue that Old School Square is the singular civic achievement in modern day Delray history. It sent a message to everyone who cared to listen: this town is serious about bettering itself. This town is aspirational. And aspiration is the best economic development strategy you can ever deploy.

Frances Bourque’s dream (disclaimer: I adore her) was brilliant because it addressed our past, our present and our future. Very few ideas touch on all three, but Old School Square celebrates our history, informs our present and has the promise to educate, entertain and inspire future generations.

When the fence came down and the buildings were restored our civic pride came back. We were no longer “Dullray”—we were a city on the move with vision, dreams, hopes and a bright future. What a gift the project that is Old School Square has been to all of us. Some of that gift is intangible–for instance the value of having a place to convene cannot  be measured, but it’s important nonetheless.

Look around South Florida and you will see that very few communities have a place to gather. Old School Square is our place to gather.

It has been an important convening space since it was restored. It is where we’ve hosted Town Hall meetings, it’s where we gathered to welcome the New Year, to celebrate All America City victories and talk about the future of our city during our famous charettes. On the stage, we have seen music, dance and even ice skating. In the beautiful Crest Theatre we have welcomed foreign leaders, authors, thinkers, historians and even a Supreme Court Justice.

Old School Square is also where we gathered to grieve and talk to each other after 9/11 , the Parkland horror and the tragic shooting of Jerrod Miller in 2005.

The beautiful spaces inside the buildings are where we held race relations meetings, where we had tough but important conversations and where we have seen 30 years’ worth of performances and art that has moved us. Yes, if only the walls could talk.

But luckily people do.

I have met local children who were inspired by performances and exhibitions at Old School Square. Some went to art school and one special young woman became a professional photographer after taking courses at the venue. This community came together and gave that young woman a scholarship—that’s what community is all about and it doesn’t happen without a place to gather.

A few months ago—in the wake of the gloom and stress of Covid– Jimmy Buffett—the legend himself– chose Old School Square’s amphitheater to re-launch his live music career. People loved it. They needed what Jimmy brought to us over four magical nights under the stars. Not everyone got tickets, but there were only 1,200 available. But he was here and some of the shows were broadcast on the radio. As Commissioner Adam Frankel noted last week that was a gift to all of Delray.

In a few months, Delray resident Max Weinberg, a member of the E Street Band and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, will host a concert and exhibit at Old School Square because he has fallen in love, like many of us have, with this town and our cultural arts center. Max, like many of us, has been inspired to serve and to give back.

Service and charity are what drives great cities.

You need good people to show up, roll up their sleeves and get to work. But those people need to feel supported and appreciated for their efforts. If they don’t feel supported, they will stay home or take their talents elsewhere. It’s just that simple.

Again, Old School Square is not perfect.

But it’s important to this town.

Old School Square has suffered, like every other arts organization, because of Covid. It needs our help and support now more than ever.

There is no doubt that many of Old School’s Square’s challenges pre-dated Covid and those challenges include funding, turnover among staff and board members and other organizational and financial issues. Some of those issues are really serious—nobody denies that.

As much as has been accomplished—and an awful lot has been accomplished—I think most agree that Old School Square can and should be even more. That’s not a knock on the organization, just an acknowledgement of its vast potential.

Last week, I heard some CRA officials bemoan the cost of Old School Square.

And it is expensive. No doubt about it.

But what about the return on that investment? That’s a good conversation to have and maybe that return can be better so let’s talk about that. But communities make mistakes when they only focus on costs not benefits.

Regardless, it’s important that the institution survive. Having a non-profit that raises private dollars and give citizens a place to volunteer and serve is a good thing. Can that non-profit improve? Absolutely.

It needs to.

Because if Old School Square thrives, Delray is a better place.

So it’s important for us to support the institution and to work together to fix its problems and realize it’s vast potential. Without giving you chapter and verse, the organization has hit a rough patch—rough enough that the powers that be realize the need for a broad conversation about the future.

The opportunity here is a huge one. It’s an opportunity to re-invent, re-set and build something even better. It is also an opportunity to improve how we handle things in this community when problems arise.

A long time ago, I sat on a dais with other elected officials.

For four of my seven years in office, I sat in the middle of that dais with a gavel and a nameplate that said mayor. It was a privilege and an honor and a responsibility. We saw ourselves as stewards. If a key segment of the community or a key organization had a problem, then we had a problem. We were in this together.

The people who have served this city have always viewed Old School Square as a treasured civic asset. They also viewed the relationship as a partnership and a collaboration. When things went right, we celebrated. When things got off track, we worked together to fix things to the best of our ability.

But we never lost the script, we were faithful to the basics. Healthy cities need places to gather. We were fortunate to have a great place to gather. Old School Square’s campus is beautiful, the buildings lovingly restored, the classrooms brim with possibility and the conversations that could be had within those walls are critical to our future.

Those are the basics, and they are awfully special.

We need to think about how we treat that place. And we also need to think about how we treat the volunteers who keep that place going with their time, money and talents.

There’s no doubt that we need accountability, there’s no compromising on that measure when public and donor dollars are at stake.  But we need sensitivity as well.

We need to remember that we are in this together. It is always better to help than condemn.

There is a great opportunity right now to re-invent and create a brighter future together.

 

Special Places Lift Our Spirits

 

 

 

 

Old School Square in patriotic splendor.          Let’s  start with the obvious.

This has been one horrendous year.
Let’s be honest,  if years were things, 2020 would be a smoldering dumpster fire.

I don’t have to or want to recount the craziness and tragedy, we know it all too well. We are engulfed by it.

What I do want to write about is what can soothe us during troubled times.
So here’s something to try— inspired by Yankee magazine—one of my favorite publications because it celebrates the best of New England.
Yankee’s basic premise is that places are special because they tell stories, have distinctive styles and personalities and that we ought to explore as much as we possibly can.
When I scanned the most recent issue it got me a little down because I know that at least this year, there’s no way to see any of the amazing places described in the magazine.
But then I had a thought, what are the local places that make me happy either because they are beautiful or trigger positive memories.
So I decided to take inventory of those places— first in my mind and then via a car ride—which is still possible even during this time of Covid.
I visited old homes and neighborhoods, cruised Atlantic Avenue, took a walk on Banker’s Row, went to Papas Tapas (love that place), cruised around the West Settlers District, swung by the Catherine Strong Splash Park, went north  then south on A1A, visited Lake Ida Park where I have walked all of my dogs over the years and parked across the street from Old School Square where so many of my “Delray memories” were launched.
I dropped by Knowles Park to visit the Intracoastal and took a drive west to the Morikami.
I drove the bridges at George Bush, Atlantic, Linton and Spanish River—for some reason I’ve always loved bridges. Maybe that stems from childhood when crossing the Whitestone Bridge meant we were visiting my grandparents.
Anyway, it did my soul some good.
It’s not the same as discovering a new place or going to Maine but somehow it was soothing.
I think it’s because the act of thinking about which places mean something to you triggers endorphins, memories and positive feelings.
I thought of the people I’ve met over the years at Old School Square, the photo shoot we did with my now 30 year old daughter at Morikami, great neighbors we’ve had, friends who live in certain neighborhoods and votes we took on the City Commission that led to new places and exciting things—-Bexley Park, Coral Trace, CityWalk, Ocean City Lofts, the public art program etc etc.
For a moment, I forgot about 2020 the nightmare and focused on the sense of place we enjoy.
This summer I had dreamed of going to New England, there’s something about the region that speaks to me. That dream has been dashed.
We’ve been grounded. At least for now.
So my visions of weather beaten cottages along the Maine coast will be replaced with drives around Palm Beach County.
Things could be worse.
And I promise they will get better.

Remembering Bob Currie

Bob Currie

A number of years ago, I had lunch with a retired city employee who said something that resonated deeply with me.
She told me that while Delray was a wonderful town, we didn’t know how to say thank you to people who contributed greatly to our community.
I’m afraid that might be true.
So many good ones get away without formal recognition.
It’s not right and we should do something about it.
In fact, one of the reasons I write this blog and one of the reasons I invested in a community newspaper was to say thank you to special people who have enriched our community.
We lost Bob Currie last week and he was one of those special people. Very special.
Delray owes him a heaping debt of gratitude because his accomplishments are vast and his influence was widely felt.
If you like our public library, Bob is one of the people you should thank. He served on the library board for years and was dedicated to making sure we got a new one on West Atlantic.
He lived near the beach and was dedicated to the Beach Property Owners Association whose leadership adored and respected him.
He was passionate about Pineapple Grove and dedicated thousands of hours to the district, giving special attention to the design of projects in the neighborhood and to the gateway arch. I was with him the night it was first lit. We sat with half a dozen volunteers at a nearby restaurant and toasted the future—a future that people like Bob envisioned. He was a believer. A true believer in this town.
He was passionate about historic preservation and was immensely dedicated to the restoration and success of Old School Square.
He loved the “bones” of the place taking special delight in the Crest Theatre.
He loved the people who were similarly dedicated to Old School Square, especially founder Frances Bourque. He adored her and she loved him.
Bob gave so much of his time to the betterment of what I believe is Delray’s signature civic project.
Bob was a talented and experienced architect. His firm’s stamp can be found all over Delray and throughout South Florida and parts beyond.
Bob’s dad was an architect too and he was deeply devoted to the field.
He loved to paint, golf and travel.
He was smart, not afraid to argue for a position and earned his place as the dean of Delray’s architectural community.

Bob was a throwback to a time when dedicated volunteers made Delray Beach a very special place. They were long term players, deeply committed to Delray and able to work with others. They were interested in the big picture. Hence Bob’s interest in Pineapple Grove, the beach, OSS, the downtown and historic districts.
I miss those days.
Delray misses those days.
And Delray will miss Bob Currie.
He was a wonderful man. We were blessed that this is where he landed and that he decided to give his time and talents to Delray Beach.
Rest In Peace my friend.

Thank you….

An Idea That Launched A Rebirth Still Resonates

Old School Square was the catalyst.

Leave it to the wonderful Frances Bourque for coming up with a novel way to stimulate conversation among old and new friends.
She’s really good at that kind of thing and whole lot of other important stuff too.
The founder of Old School Square is a personal hero of mine and I’m not alone in that assessment.
If she didn’t end up in Delray Beach, this would have been a far different and far less interesting town.
Last week, we took a fairly large group to La Cigale restaurant as part of a national search for a new CEO for the cultural arts center that Frances created thirty plus years ago.
It was a solid group of civic, business and cultural leaders—people who truly care and have given their time, passion, energy and dollars to not only Old School Square but to a slew of positive efforts that have made Delray Beach the special place that it is.
Readers of this space know that I’m a firm believer that the fate of a community depends on who decides or is encouraged to show up and contribute.
Communities succeed when talented and generous people are given opportunities to participate. They fail when talented and generous people are told to stay away or if they feel the atmosphere in town is too negative to bother.
Nobody wants to jump into a toxic pool, everyone wants to dive in when the pool is safe and inviting.
Delray has been blessed by so many special people. It really has been.
Old School Square has been blessed by dozens of special people over the years inspired by Frances’ vision and the idea that the arts can be used to build community.
Many of those special people were at La Cigale last week and at the Cornell Museum too to help find a special leader to take Old School Square into the future.
Three decades ago, the project helped to catalyze the rebirth of downtown Delray.
Today, it hosts weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, art exhibits (don’t miss Seven Solos and the 6×6 exhibit at the Cornell Art Museum), outdoor concerts, art classes, festivals and some pretty cool performances in the Crest Theatre.
What’s at stake is the future—but I have faith it will end up in good hands because of the special people dedicated to ensuring its future.
I think the community itself also appreciates the role Old School Square plays—although those of us involved realize we have a lot more outreach to do to reach a rapidly changing population and society.
So back to the conversation starter launched by Frances. She asked those of us willing to share what our best year was. It was interesting to hear that quite a few of the answers referenced Old School Square.
Whether it was a hard charging professional in a cut throat business who found solace in the arts or someone like me who married the love of his life at Old School Square and took his children to exhibits and festivals the memories were impactful and important.
Cities are so much more than bricks and mortar. So much more than budgets, taxes or fights over issues which will soon be forgotten. They are about relationships, ideas, service and dedication to making  sure that where we live is a good place for everyone.
Frances’ idea was brilliant because Old School Square addresses our past (through historic preservation),  our present (through programming) and our future through what we decide to create on its campus.
I know these things in my bones. I think we all do. But it sure is good to be reminded and Frances’ conversation starter ignited that feeling in me again. Just like it did 30 years ago.

Our Frances: A Most Distinguished Citizen

Frances Bourque is a legend…and we love her.

One of Delray’s heroes received much deserved recognition recently and I can’t let the opportunity to write about Frances Bourque pass me by.

Frances—the founder of Old School Square and the inspiration behind so much good in Delray Beach—was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award by the University of Florida. It’s a rare honor and truly a “big deal” as they say.

The award recognizes exceptional achievement and leadership that merits the special recognition of the University. While a committee on honorary degrees vets the nominees, winners have to be personally approved by the University of Florida’s President. Dr. Kent Fuchs knows talent when he sees it and I’m sure when the president reviewed Frances’ materials it was an easy decision to bestow the honor.

The effort to recognize the force behind Delray’s signature civic achievement was launched by Frances’ sister Judy who reached out to several of Frances’ friends, colleagues and admirers (which is just about everyone) to help write the application. I was honored to be included in the effort and it was truly a pleasure to write about Frances’ influence on the city we love.

Old School Square is the rare project that addresses our past, present and future. Its genius lies in the fact that it touches so many aspects of community building: historic preservation, adaptive reuse of buildings, art, culture, education and so much more. But perhaps its greatest value is that Old School Square gives us a place to gather as a community.

And you can’t put a price on that simple gift.

Old School Square is where we headed after 9/11. It was where we met to discuss the Jerrod Miller shooting in 2005 and where we gather for Town Hall meetings, special performances, speeches, art exhibits and scores of festivals.

It sits at main and main on Atlantic and Swinton—if you had to design a better location you couldn’t.

And yet….

And yet before Frances nobody saw the potential. They saw a rusted chain link fence, crumbling buildings and blight. But Frances saw potential and beauty. Some saw the need for new office buildings. Others saw the need for a downtown anchor store. Frances saw a place to gather and celebrate the arts—the best of humanity.

Pretty soon, everyone shared the vision. That’s Frances’ magic. She makes you see, she makes you believe and while you may have to work hard to get there you don’t mind the journey because she makes every step of the way fun.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the 100th anniversary of Plastridge Insurance and the leadership contributions of Tom Lynch and his family. Frances is yet another example of how a community can be blessed when an extraordinary individual decides to fall in love with a place and commit to a vision.

Back in November, when Frances received word of the award she wrote a few of us an email. She had just driven 12 hours from Highlands, N.C. and was tired. When she got home and saw the letter from President Fuchs she immediately reached out—and immediately sought to share credit. She was clearly elated, but she quoted Thomas Merton who said “no man is an island” and said the recognition belonged to “ALL (her caps) of us!”

Typical Frances.

The truly great ones are humble. They seek to share credit.

People like Frances don’t do what they do for the awards. But it is important to recognize them and to celebrate their achievements so that we too may learn, appreciate and be inspired to get to work ourselves.

For 32 years, I have hung on her every word. She remains an inspiration to all who are blessed to have crossed her path.

 

 

Things We Loved In December

Things we Loved in December

Florida Trend magazine released its annual Golden Spoon Awards in December.
The Golden Spoon recognizes some of the best restaurants in the Sunshine State.
Locals winners: La Nouvelle Maison and TwentyTwenty Grille in Boca Raton and Salt 7 and The Grove in Delray Beach.
Congratulations!

Andrew Carroll mesmerized a large crowd at the Crest Theatre. The best selling author is collecting one million “war” letters written by those who saw combat in every American engagement from the Revolutionary War through Iraq and Afghanistan.
His readings were enlightening and emotional and told the stories of soldiers on the front lines of America’s conflicts. It was a powerful evening and we recommend Mr. Carroll’s books.
Kudos to the Delray Historical Society and Old School Square for teaming up on this unforgettable event.

Keep your eyes on Delray’s Coco Gauff.

The 14 year old phenom won the prestigious Orange Bowl Girls Title earlier this month playing in the 18 and under division. She’s a star in the making.

A visit to Mathews Brewing Company in Lake Worth was a highlight of the month. Very cool spot.

The craft brewing movement continues to thrive nationally and in our community. Craft beer consumption now commands almost 25 percent of beer consumption in the U.S.

Watching a screening of “Springsteen on Broadway” with friends was special for this Springsteen fanatic.

We were fortunate to see the show at the Walter Kerr Theatre but happy to report that the Netflix production was outstanding. Don’t miss it.

We caught the final show of Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Marty Stuart’s tour marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark Byrds album “Sweethearts of the Rodeo.”
The show was amazing and we really like the Parker Playhouse venue. Stuart’s Superlatives Band is a can’t miss outfit. If they tour, run don’t walk to see them.

McGuinn is a frequent visitor to Delray’s Crest Theatre. Let’s hope he plays there again and soon. #legend.

Dinner on a rocking Atlantic Avenue at the superb Park Tavern. Highly recommend this lovely spot with the excellent craft beer menu.

Speaking of great spots,  I’m reminded of the enduring excellence of Boca’s Capital Grille. Yes it’s a chain, but it’s also superb.
We also had a Christmas Eve lunch at the terrific Christina’s where we got to hang with the restaurant’s adorable mascot: Vinny.
Spending the holidays with friends and family was the best part of a memorable month.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
We’ll resume the blog in 2019. Thanks for reading and sharing thoughts and ideas. Your time is deeply appreciated.

Things We Loved In November

Frances Bourque is a legend…and we love her.

Things we loved In November
Great to see children’s advocate and all around good guy Jack Levine featured as an “Icon” In November’s Florida Trend.
I got to know Jack thanks to our mutual involvement in Leadership Florida. He’s a frequent visitor to Boca and Delray and we’ve had some memorable dinners on the Avenue.
Jack is a prolific writer and shares his essays via email. He’s the founder of the 4Gen Institute which studies how our society now features four generations: children, parents, grandparents and great grandparents.
Being featured as an Icon is a fitting honor.

Also in Florida Trend, Delray’s own Felicia Hatcher who is featured in an article spotlighting women leaders.
Felicia is the founder of Code Fever, Black Tech Week and is a gifted entrepreneur.

The Boys

Dinner with my sister in law in Delray’s Country Manors. I love Country Manors. Something about it.
I also love my sister in law’s pasta and meatballs from The Boys.

Congratulations to George Elmore the 2018 American Free Enterprise Medalist. The nationally recognized medal is awarded by Palm Beach Atlantic University on American Free Enterprise Day which is Nov. 8.
Well done.

Happy birthday to a special friend

Happy birthday and thank you to Debbie Smith Stackhouse.
We enjoyed attending your party at the lovely Seagate Yacht Club but mostly we love having you in our lives.

The Kominsky Method and The Bodyguard on Netflix make us marvel at the quality of TV these days. BRAVÒ.

Don’t miss Bohemian Rhapsody and make sure to see it on the big screen.
The music is outstanding and the performances are amazing.
We saw it at Frank’s Theatre at the Delray Marketplace and the sound was excellent.

Delray is a tennis town

It was nice to see Delray’s Kevin Anderson playing in the year end ATP World Tour Finals consisting of the world’s best players.
A past Delray Open champ, Anderson held his own with the likes of Federer and Nadal reaching the semifinals. Very cool.
Speaking of the Delray Open connection long time tournament participants Jack Sock and Mike Bryan won the doubles event cementing their claim on being the top doubles duo in the world.

On a sad note, we mark the passing of Linda Lieberman.
Linda was a devoted volunteer and gave a lot to junior tennis in Delray.
I will always remember Linda for her work with the Delray Tennis Patrons and for always being there to greet fans at the Delray Open where she could be found every year selling programs.
She was a bright light who will be missed.

We were happy to welcome back Fran Marincola and Kim Thomas after their 78 day adventure traveling across the United States in an RV.
We missed you guys but loved the daily updates on social media.

Captain Fantastic

Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour was sensational.
Glad we saw the legend at BB&T before he retires from the road.
It’s also cool to see that our young friends (Lyle and Marisa) appreciate the music of the baby boomer generation. It makes us old folks feel good.

Congratulations Frances Bourque

Maybe the best news we received all month was when we got a letter from University of Florida President Kent Fuchs naming our very own Frances Bourque as a winner of the “Distinguished Achievement Award.”
The award is one of the most prestigious given by UF and honors people for exceptional leadership.
We can’t think of anyone more deserving. For those who don’t know, Frances founded Old School Square and is largely responsible for a whole lot of good in Delray.  A group of Frances’ biggest fans wrote letters of recommendation after prompting by Frances’ sister.
It was nice to see the effort pay off.
She will receive her award at a future commencement.
So cool!

See you next month! Thanks for reading and enjoy the holiday season.