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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
JEWISH FEDERATION OF
PALM BEACH COUNTY
INTERVIEWEE: Mildred Kapner
INTERVIEWER: Anne Slotkin
DATE: October 6, 1981
S: I want to thank you, Mildred Kapner for agreeing to be interviewed for
the oral history project of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.
To start our interview, would you please tell me when you were born?
K: I was born July 27, 1910.
S: Did you live in another community before you came to West Palm Beach?
K: I lived in New York City, Manhattan.
S: What'prompted you to come to this area?
K: I was working in Saks Fifth Avenue. When the West Palm Beach store
opened, (the resort business was very new at that time), they wanted a
crew from the New York store to come down to either Palm Beach or Miami
Beach. I had a choice. I chose Palm Beach.
We came down in 1929, having left New York City in a blizzard, and
arrived here 4:00 o'clock in the morning, we found the entireiisland
bathed in silvery moonlight. It was enchanting. I could hardly
believe having left a blizzard and the snow, that I had come to such
a place of balmy breezes and rustling palm trees.
The crew that came down with me drove over to Palm Beach to have our
breakfast, and watched the sun rise over the ocean. After that we went
hunting for an apartment and that was no problem in those days.
S: Was there a Jewish neighborhood then?
K: No, there was no such thing as a Jewish neighborhood. There were about
25 Jewish families scattered as far as the Glades and as far as Delray,
to my knowledge, and they were very close knit.
There was a temple, a very small reform temple, most everybody belonged
to it, and they were all like one family.
S: What was the name of the reform temple?
K: Temple Israel, which we still have today. Shortly afterward there was
a conservative temple established--Temple Beth El on Fern Street. Since
we had friends in both temples, we belonged to both temples.
S: How did you make a living then?
K: I worked for Saks Fifth Avenue, but I had only come down for the winter
season which at that time was only six weeks long. You would come here
after Christmas, and then after George Washington's birthday, February
22nd, everything closed down. Actually there were probably only eight
people left on Palm Beach itself, and they were the caretakers. There
was nothing to be open for. Palm Beach at that time was the home of
very beautiful estates, large homes with many servants.
The next day after I came down we went to have lunch at the Irving
Company and that's when I first met my husband-to-be. Irving Kapner had
come down here in 1922 and by 1928, he had opened a gourmet-type of shop
called the Irving Company, which was at the corner of Royal Palm Way and
County Road. It had once been a bank, but now was a restaurant and a
fruit shop. They were famous for their fresh fruit sodas.
It was a gathering place for all the Palm Beach people after the movies.
There was only one movie then, or two probably: the Colony and the
Paramount Theaters. The natives in Palm Beach would dress formally to
go to the movies. Afterwards-they would come to the shop for the won-
derful sodas and freshly baked sandwiches, fresh turkey and meats of
After awhile, right next door to the corner store, my husband opened a
gourmet-type grocery and meat market which catered to the large estates.
That business grew quite large. It was all done on the telephone. We
had five phones going, and a fleet of trucks that would deliver orders
as far as Delray Beach and as far north as Hobe Sound.
That also was a short season, and having nothing to do the rest of the
time we opened a shop in Newport, Rhode Island. Many of the Palm Beach
people had homes in Newport. There my husband had other business
S: Tell us more about the Jewish life here in Palm Beach and West Palm
K: There was an odd mixture of older and younger people. If I recall prop-
erly, I was probably the youngest woman of that group at that time. To
this day some people refer to me as the bride.
We had a lot of good times. We formed a club. There were thirteen of
us couples that formed a club, and every week we had a different type
of party. We had treasure hunts, picnics, pirate parties, movie parties,
and so on and so forth, and we did have a good time.
S: When were you married?
K: We got married in 1932 in New York City. That was in May, so we went
directly to Newport, Rhode Island where we were until September. Then
we drove back to New York to stay with my parents until November, and
then we would come down here for the season.
That's the way it went until my children began to be of school age.
With my two sons being ready for school and with a war on the brink of
of the horizon, we had to decide to stay either in Newport, or Palm Beach,
and we decided to stay in Palm Beach.
S: Which year was this?
K: This must have been about 1937.
S: Were there many Jewish children in the public schools?
K: When my children went to school, to my recollection, there were my two
sons, their two cousins, Ilene and Edward Tisnower, and there were the
Cohen boys. The Cohens had a fruit shipping business on what we used to
call Main Street but which is now Royal Poinciana Way. They were the only
Jewish children in the shcool. We had no problems at all as far as any
S: Did you encounter anti-Semitism at that time?
K: Not at all. In fact, our business catered mostly to non-Jewish people.
My neighbors were non-Jewish, and we made friends with them. The
children never encountered any problems.
S: When you came, down there were no Jewish organizations except for the
two temples that you mentioned. When did other organizations start to
K: I couldn't give you the exact year.
K: Well, probably in the middle 30's.
A B'nai B'rith organization was started for the women and for the men.
It was quite active. In fact, a lot of our activities took place around
the conventions that the B'nai B'rith gave, the meetings they had and the
speakers that they brought in, and so forth and so on.
Now, in the early 40's, Hadassah was formed here. Twenty-five women met
at Temple Beth-El and we had a speaker from,Miami. Helen Bruckenfeld
was the first president and I was a Vice-President at the time. I was
also President of the Beth-El sisterhood. We brought speakers in -- I
remember bringing Pierre Van Passen. The women went around selling i
tickets. I organized that, and we sold over 700 tickets if I remember.
That was a great novelty to have a famous speaker like that come down.
In Palm Beach proper we had a few Jewish families. Otto Kahn, the banker,
was recognized as being Jewish. This was to my recollection. There
may have been more.
I remember Frederick Hausman, Frederick and Stella Hausman.
Stella Hausman was reputed to be the wealthiest Jewish woman in the United
States. And Frederick Hausman was a partner of Merrill, Lynch, Pierce,
Fenner and Bean. That was the way they were known at that time. He had
been written up in various past histories of New York City because he was
a great friend of Selig Baruch, and Diamond Jim Brady, and Warburg. He was
of the German crowd in New York. They lived very elegantly and we became
friends, not only as customers of ours but we became friends. They sort of
adopted us as they would grandchildren. We had dinner with them frequently
and they lived in a very lavish style, in a style that is not seen today.
S: Were there any Jewish families in the Glades at that time?
K: The family that comes to my mind was the Dobrow family. Ruth Dobrow I
recall very clearly and her husband too, They both passed away. They were
in the theater business. They also had retail clothing stores and many of
them had real estate and holdings, they were quite prosperous. The few
families that I know of that lived in the Glades.
The glades in those days was a rather harsh place to live. Streets weren't
paved and they had no amenities, so the Jewish people that lived there tried
to come into West Palm Beach as often as possible,
S: How about West Palm Beach and Palm Beach? Wasn't it pretty difficult living
here without air conditioning in the summer time?
K: Well, people like us who did business in Palm Beach in the winter season,
were never there in the summer. However, when my younger son Lewis was born,
May 21st of 1935, I was left here to wait till he got a little older before
we would travel. My husband already went ahead to open the shop in Newport.
You could hardly live here. They had thick mosquitoes coming down the street
in balls. You'd see this big black ball, furry black stuff, and if you just
ventured out of your house, they would eat you to pieces. As a matter of
fact, it was so bad that the maids that did the laundry would wrap themselves
in towels from head to toe in order to hang the laundry out.
These were vicious mosquitoes, the like of which I had never seen again.
When you let people come into the door, you'd have to stay there with a Flit
gun and spray. As they came in you would be busy spraying because a hoard
of them would come into the house the minute you opened the door. That was
because they had the salt marshes in the Everglades, and when they were
filled in, it did away with the mosquitoes. We are practically free of
The people that lived here soon learned that you never ventured out of doors
between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 plm. If you did, you went and sat under a shade
tree because the heat was quite hot. And we had attic fans. We managed to
keep cool. The houses in those days were built of thick Spanish type of
brick, hollow tile they called it, and that seemed to insulate the houses
beautifully because it was pretty comfortable inside the house. Also we had
Cuban tile roofs, the curl type of roof, and that also cooled the house down
Other than that, you would never go to the beach in the daytime, you would
go about five o'clock in the evening, and you might take a picnic lunch
there. At night the population used to go and sit by the ocean to cool off
and somehow or other we managed, we got along.
S: When you went north on a vacation, or when you went for a trip, how did you
K: We motored up most of the time. We.had a car and we just motored up. It
used to take us four or five days, we'd do it leisurely and sort of make a
holiday out of it.
Sometimes we would take the boat. We'd put the car on the boat in Miami
and cruise up the coast. That would take us about three days. Sometimes we
would take the train up,
We weren't flying in those days and the way we travelled was certainly differ-
ent from the time that my husband came down with his associates. Actually,
they had to take extra tires with them. In the early 20's when my husband
first came down they had a different problem there. Many of the places
which later had bridges over them used to have rafts and ferries. You'd have
to put your car on the raft and on the ferry. This was all through the south.
In some places, especially in Georgia with the red clay, the roads, were not
paved. They had to get out and push the car. They went through so slowly
that they used to have chats with the people that lived along the road. And
it was quite strenuous.
S: Did you in Palm Beach have any contact with any other Jewish communities in
K: Well, after the different organizations came in like B'nai B'rith and
Hadassah, we would have an interchange of meetings. Not very often though.
Delray still, had very few Jewish people. 'Traveling to Miami was not what
it is today on the Interstate. You would travel along with partly dirt road,
and partly paved road. If you rode at night --there were stretches where
you though you were in the jungle. No lights, no nothing. So people didn't
often make those treks until, maybe the early 40's, when roads began to be
built and there was better transportation.
S: Tell us about your sons and your grandchildren.
K: Well, I have two sons. Norman is the oldest and Lewis is the youngest.
Norman was born in Newport, Rhode Island, Lewis was born in West Palm Beach.
They were educated here, and they went to the University here. They had
their law school training in Florida. They were Bar Mitzvah in West Palm
Beach, both of them. Today, and my oldest son Norman is a practicing
attorney, and my younger son Lewis is Judge Lewis Kapner, Chief Judge of
the Circuit Court.
Lewis married a Miami girl, Dawn Kapner who teaches English and media in the
high school in West Palm Beach. My son Norman married Margaret Burnside from
Nassau. They have two children two girls. My son Lewis has four children.
Lewis probably was the youngest Judge in the State of Florida when he was
appointed probably fifteen years ago. Since then he has run for election and
been elected every time. We have six grandchildren and they have all been
educated in Temple Israel Hebrew School Sunday School. Two of them have
been Bar Mitzvah or Bas Mitzvah and some more coming up, all six of them. My
daughter-in-law is treasurer of Temple Israel at this time.
S: When did the Jewish community start to expand in Palm Beach?
K: After World War II. A great many people from all over the world, especially
a great many Jewish people, discovered Palm Beach, to come and live here.
They started a Jewish club in Palm Beach the first that we had there. It
was called the Palm Beach Country Club. I recall very clearly when that was
In the meantime, my husband and I, seeing untapped opportunities here in real
estate, spread out a bit from our own business and bought a tract of land in
Palm Beach on the ocean side. At that time there was no road in front of the
ocean. It was 768 feet frontage on the ocean by about 800 feet deep to the
lake and maybe went out about 250 feet into the lake which was called literal
rights which gave us the right to build out or to drain that part of the lake.
After we bought this tract of land, various people that we did business with,
in our own business from up north, would come down and say, "Irving or Mildred,
if you see anything that is worth buying, I wish you would let us know about
-it". And we said, "Well, we just buy for ourselves, but if you're interested
we know somebody that you can buy it through since we have no knowledge of
the real estate business per se as a business". And we said, "You should go
to see Maurice Brais", He and his family had come-down recently, and they
were real estate people and were buying properties all around.
The Brams were Jewish too, and they were members of Temple Beth El at that
time and Bess Brams and I became very dear friends. At one time we decided
to take a real estate license test, which we did, and we became associated
with Mr. Brams' business, the Atlantic Realty. From there we branched out
into buying land, vacant land, all over the State of Florida, until Atlantic
Realty was probably the largest land buying Real Estate Company in the State.
One of the first parcels that we bought, was adjoining what is now Century
Village, It was 1,750 acres. My first trip out there was with Leighton
Brams and Buddy Leibovit, in a jeep. The water would come up through the
jeep. It was so desolate. Wild turkeys were roaming that property, but it
was for sale and it was $42.00 an acre. And it seemed to me $42.00 an acre
for anything was very cheap. So I came back and reported to my husband and
I said, "I think we should buy it because it was so close to the city. It's
incredible that such a large piece of land is that close to a bustling city".
And so we bought it, of course. We subsequently sold it for a great deal.
As it happens the people that bought it, unfortunately ran into ecology
laws. He'd been fighting the county and the state and the ecologists ever
since then, and the land is still the way it was when we sold it, but we
did not know that at that time. It's a water catchment area.
S: Mrs. Kapner, I thank you very much. Thanks to you and your husband Irving
Kapner who are certainly pioneers in Palm Beach. Thank you.