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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
JEWISH FEDERATION OF
PALM BEACH COUNTY
INTERVIEWEE: Dr. Barney Blicher
INTERVIEWER: Mrs. Philip (Ann) Blicher
DATE: September 2, 1981
AB: This is Mrs. Ann Blicher in the home of Dr. Barnery Blicher in the City of
West Palm Beach. I want to thank you for agreeing to the interview for the
Oral History Project of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County. To
start our interview, will you please tell me, when you were born.
BB: 1906, in New York City.
AB: What prompted you to come to this area?
BB: My parents lived down here.
AB: Did you come here with your parents?
BB: No. My parents moved down here in 1925. I completed my schooling at New
York University College of Dentistry graduating in 1928. That year I
moved down and joined my parents in West Palm Beach.
AB: Did you start your practice in West Palm Beach?
BB: Yes, and I've been practicing continuously for 53 years.
AB: Were there many other Jewish men or women in the medical profession when
you arrived in West Palm Beach?
BB: I was the only member of the Jewish faith practicing in the profession of
dentistry. The Jewish physician did not arrive on the scene until possibly
four years afterwards.
AB: Was your practice confined entirely to West Palm Beach in those early years?
BB: I practiced in West Palm Beach exclusively until 1933. In that year I
established another office in Pahokee and travelled out there for the week-
ends, for Friday and Saturday. I continued in the practice of dentistry in
Pahokee and in West Palm Beach until I joined the armed forces in 1942.
AB: When you travelled out to Pahokee on your weekly visits there, you travelled
over what is now State Road 80. What kind.of a road was that?
BB: At that time it was also known as State Road 80 and it was just as good a
road then as it is today. It's just too bad that State Road 80 is in the
same condition that it was over fifty years ago.
AB: In your long practice as a dentist in West Palm Beach, did you hold any
offices in your professional association?
BB: Yes, I held the office of President of the Palm Beach County Dental Society
in the year 1946-47.
AB: What kind of Jewish life did you find here? About what was the size of the
BB: It was a small but very closely-knit Jewish Community that was very friendly.
We didn't have what you call a temple or a synagogue. We had what we called
a Jewish Community Center in which members of the different Jewish sects
AB: How did you find friends here?
BB: We found friends through -- through my dental society and also through my
affiliation with the Jewish Community Center.
AB: Were you married when you came here?
BB: No, I was married two years later.
AB: You were here in those early years when we had a few hurricanes. Did you
have any experience with the hurricanes?
BB: I don't think I missed a single hurricane that hit this part of the country.
And the only thing I can stress even today is that if you get a hurricane
warning, please take heed and do what they tell you to, because it is no
AB: Were you here during the 1928 hurricane?
BB: At the time of the 1928 hurricane, I was in New York completing a summer
job. I was booked on a steamer on a Clyde Line Ship which sailed between
New York and Miami. It was the best means of transportation in those days
between those two cities. And just before I was to get on the ship news of
the hurricane caused a cancellation of my booking. The hurricane struck in
September of that year, 1928.
My parents, my family were down here in West Palm Beach. For one week there
was absolutely no news. Finally I received a wire or cablegram that had
been transmitted from West Palm Beach via Havana, and then a cable from
Havana to New York. That was the first time that I knew that everybody was
AB: West Palm Beach must have been a very different place when you first came
here than it is now. Would you care to describe it?
BB: The population of Palm Beach County at that time I think was approximately
18,000 people. West Palm Beach was a real country town. Clematis Street had
two-way traffic and angle parking in the center of the street. Everybody was
friendly. It was a good little town. Nobody ever used a lock on their front
doors. You could go away for a month and leave your key out under the mat
and never worry about finding things when you got back. There was a lot of
activity going on. Let me go back a little bit.
When I first came down with my family in 1925, we drove down from New York
and that was an adventure. We had a good car, in those days. It was a four-
cylinder Dodge with a canvas top. The tires had inner tubes. Those tires
didn't last forever, and you had to know how to change tires and tubes
when the occasion arose.
Leaving New York, we drove south, and the moment we crossed the Mason-Dixon
Line, when we crossed the Potomac south of Washington, we hit dirt road. It
was dirt all the way down south no paved road anywhere.
It wasn't bad. There were no motels. The hotels were really fleabags in
the larger areas. It was the custom in those days to stop at farmhouses
that took in tourists. Usually they had tourist signs. You were given bed
and board for a nominal price, and believe me I think some of those places
were far better than a lot of these plastic hotels that we have today.
In Georgia the roads were good, but they were banked very steeply from the
crown to the side of the road. They were composed of clay which became
extremely slippery whenever it rained. Sometimes, no matter how expert a
driver you were, you just slid off the side of the road into the ditch, and
then you had to wait for a farmer to come around with a couple of horses
and tow you out. The usual fee was $10.00. But $10.00 in those days was a
When we hit Florida, the road changed. Instead of dirt, we had a paved brick
road wide enough for just one car. When you passed a car coming in the
opposite direction you had to yield half of the thin little strip and the
other half was off in the ditch. It was really an adventure. It took us
seven days of hard driving to get down into West Palm Beach.
In 1925, West Palm Beach was a scene of hectic activity. The land boom was
on and it continued into 1926. On every corner on Clematis Street there
were innumerable people all selling real estate. They were commonly known
as binder boys. That expression came from the fact that if they wanted to
buy your piece of land they would give you a binder. Let's say the land
was worth $1,000; they would hand you $100 as a binder which meant that was
a deposit, and they owed you $900, but you gave them title to the land. In
return they gave you this promissory note for the balance. Now, the binder
boy, gave you $100. He had your property, and he had your title. He took
that to the bank, and on this $1,000 bit of land which he had only placed
$100, the bank would lend him $900 so he could buy nine more parcels. He
kept pyramiding, and the banks kept putting up the money. And it kept on
swelling until one nice day the bubble just burst.
There was a run on the banks for the money which the banks did not have.
The result was that there was a panic. Every single bank, with one excep-
tion, closed its doors and went bankrupt. When I said every single bank,
I referred to the banks in Palm Beach County. Every single bank in the
county, with one exception, closed its doors forever. The only bank that
remained solvent and is in existence to this day is the Bank of Pahokee.
The bursting of the real estate bubble caused innumerable bankruptcies,
and mortgage foreclosures on residences. The mortgages were picked up for
a song. The Comeau Building in downtown West Palm Beach had been built
with money raised by issuing bonds which finally were sold at less than ten
cents on the dollar. I believe the final cost to the owners after buying
the bonds was about $80,000, and the building later was sold for over a
million and a half. There were quite a few suicides unfortunately. It was
a sad thing. The Harvey Building was the most prestigious office structure
at that time. And it was built on land-leased by the Chillingworth family
who repossessed the entire building at no cost to themselves.
The travel from the North to Florida was accomplished mostly by train, by
rail. The Florida East Coast at that time had trains which came down to
Palm Beach. Then the private cars rather, and there were many of those,
were shuttled over the Flagler Bridge and were parked in the area where we
now have the Post Office. The Flagler Bridge was a small wooden bridge,
barely wide enough for two cars that travelled across. And in the center
there was a turntable and then it- was one way traffic across there to the
other side of the turntable.
The season in those days, would start January the 10th and wound up on
Washington's Birthday, about six weeks. And the highlights of that was
the Ivy League Regatta down Lake Worth where crews from all the Ivy League
One of the most famous, you might even say notorious, structures, was
Bradley's. Bradley's was located on the area which is now a park just
south of the Biltmore Hotel. It was strictly for gambling. It was high
class gambling. And natives of Florida were not permitted to enter. I
guess that was in order to appease those who wanted law and order and
didn't want any Floridians complaining of being taken.
The Biltmore Hotel at that time was known as the Alba, a most prestigious
hotel. In addition to that, of course, we had the Breakers, and we had
the Whitehall Hotel. The Whitehall Hotel was a ten-story structure located
west of the present Flagler Museum. The Flagler Museum actually was the
hotel entrance and lobby in those days. Another hotel, now known as the
Mayflower was at that time known as the Royal Danielle. Across the street
from that hotel we had the Palm Beach Spa, and we had a movie theater
called the Beaux Arts. The other theater was the Paramount which still
exists. The Paramount in those days had a change of movie every Monday,
they ran for a week.
Monday night was the big social night where the Palm Beach Society would
gather to see and to be seen. Once a year, sometime in February of each
year, the Paramount Theater was taken over by the Kiwanis Club which staged
an entertainment which was absolutely great. We had people like Eddie
Cantor. Some of the other celebrates who performed were Irving Berlin,
Al Jolson, Anita Louise, and many, many more. As much as $25,000 was raised
at the one night's entertainment, and this was given to the Kiwanis Club
which sponsored a dental clinic located in the high school which is now the
Twin Lakes. This was to take care of the salary of a full-time dentist and
assistant, plus whatever else it took to run. It was to take care of the
needs of indigent children.
Let us digress for a moment and go back to 1928, the results of that terri-
ble hurricane in September of that year. Lake Okeechobee at that time had
a depth of approximately fourteen feet, there was no dike around it. The
wind came in from the east, piled up the waters on the far shore and then
when the eye of the storm passed over the lake, the waters receded with
such force that it leaped over the banks to the east side of the lake. You
can visualize two inches of water in a large tub or large basin. Tilt the
basin, then drop it and see how the water splashes back this is what
happened with Lake Okeechobee and returning, and overrunning the eastern
bank. It created a tremendous flood and more than 2,000 people lost their
lives. In 1928, 2,000 people represented a great, great many people of a
sparcely settled area. Imagine if we had that same situation today how many
people would absolutely be gone.
In West Palm Beach, I recall seeing a two-masted schooner washed up from the
lake on the shore right about where the Florida Theater and the Citizen's
Building is located. That would be an area just west of the present library.
And this schooner was up there high and dry. Buildings were torn down, blown
down, roofs off, and it was a devastating situation. No power for days.
This is what faced me when I arrived two weeks after the storm and it was
The severe storms that followed during my residence, during my living down
here, all of them have been bad. There's always been a tremendous amount-of
destruction. And I will repeat, whenever you are told to do, do it. Those
of you who live on the beach better get off, and get to some safe area inland.
Get to a motel or stay with friends, but get off the island. The ocean cov-
ered the island right over like a tidal wave, went right over into Lake Worth.
Trees were down, streets were impassable, bridges were locked, couldn't be
opened or closed.
My first office which I opened in 1928, was located in what was known as the
Schrebnick Building. That building is no longer here, but it is the site of
present Dick Hill Park just west of the Florida Theater. I was there for
two years and then I moved into the Comeau Building. My rent in the Comeau
Building started at $10.00 a month. As I took in more space I started pay-
ing $10.00, $12.00, $15.00 a month and finally just before I went off into
the army, in 1942, I had 1,000 square feet paying $40.00 a month. In 1930,
I was first married, and times were so tough that I had to marry a girl who
was able to work. She was a school teacher and was paid all of $90.00 a
My first automobile was a secondhand Model T Ford. It cost me $25.00, I
drove it for a year and got my $25.00 back the best buy I ever had with
In 1932, I rented a beautiful two-story home in Prospect Park located east
of the area where the Sears Roebuck had it's store. It was a lovely home
near the lake and I paid $40.00 a month. One unpleasant experience however
relating to that building was that for several months after I moved in,
late at night, 10:00 p.m., 11:00 p.m., midnight, and even later, there'd
be a knock on the front door. Somebody would say, "Is Joe here"? Who the
heck was Joe? Joe was a bootlegger. Bootlegging, maybe you remember was
very popular and I happened to hit the right house.
In 1935, I was the first occupant of the new subdivision in West Palm Beach,
it was called Hillcrest. Hillcrest is located just west of Parker Avenue
between Belvedere Road and Southern Boulevard, a very fine location. The
builders were patients of mine, they were anxious to get this place going.
This was the first piece of land that they were developing. These people,
Burnup and Simms became one of the great contractors in the nation. They're
on the big board today.
I made a down payment of $300, took back a second mortgage, and the sum that
I paid for that house, the price was $5,250. It was a two-bedroom, one-bath
concrete block bungalow with wood cathedral ceilings. The floor was Cuban
tile with a beautiful large fireplace. The roof was covered with flat white
Dutch tile. It was a beautiful well built home, and I enjoyed many happy
years in there until I moved in 1954.
At that time one of the leaders in the Jewish Community, was a man by the
name of 0. P. Gruner. Mr. Gruner was a successful merchant, and had a
lovely home in Prospect Park in West Palm Beach. He was the man who was
very, very active in Jewish affairs, very active in the community, and very
active in establishing the first Reform temple. This was located on Broward
Avenue. The building is presently occupied or has been occupied by the Greek
Catholic Church and since taken over by another sect.
In those days we had no air conditioning. It hadn't been invented yet.
Believe me the summers were hot and miserable. The mosquitoes were heavy,
and thick, and life was most unpleasant and difficult for those who stayed
here the year-round. It's my belief that Florida today would not be much
better than it was way back in those days, if it hadn't been for the inven-
tion of air conditioning, because who could stay through these hot summer
days without such relief. I sincerely do believe that the present Florida
that we know came about because of the presence of the beneficial effects
of air conditioning power.
After I moved over to this new place on Hillcrest, the location became very
popular. I recall someone saying to me when I first moved there, "What did
you do such a damn fool thing for, moving way, way out in the boondocks"?
Of course, we know right now that the property is close in, but that was the
size of West Palm Beach by comparison to what we know it today.
I had some interesting experiences in my practice in Pahokee, (remember I
started in 1933). I took care of blacks and whites. I had a back room for
the blacks. Once a month on Saturdays I provided dental care for the state
prison, which was located in Belle Glade, the State Correctional Institute,
or the prison, State Farm. The inmates in those days were dressed in uni-
forms with horizontal stripes. And those that needed any dentistry, (what
we meant by dentistry in those days was extractions only), those prisoners
who needed that kind of relief; were brought in by armed guard. Usually
they came handcuffed and the guards came along with shotguns.
I got along just fine, I never had the least problem. But one time they
brought in a young black, not only handcuffed but also in leg irons. He
could hardly walk. And I got him into my chair and I told the guards there,
"You don't have to stay around". "Oh, no", they said. "We're staying right
here. He's a bad one". Bit I enjoyed that contact with these people. I
felt I did them some good. The natives were all nice and accommodating, and
remember this dates back to 1933, so it's almost fifty years ago. I still
have some of those patients coming back into West Palm Beach, and I take
care of them and their families.
It was like a real wild west town. I remember one of the farmers coming in
on Saturday. He would go to the bank and draw money for his payroll for
his farm hands. He would stop by my office. He'd come in with two big
canvas sacks; one of them contained bills and the other silver, just molded,
and in his belt sticking out in the open was a loaded revolver. That's the
way they walked around out there, like the wild west days of old. But they
were nice people, who got along fine, and never had the first problem.
For transportation, in 1935, I bought myself a two-door Ford coupe with
overdrive for the price of $655. There were two houses in West Palm Beach
in the early 30's that were always the subject of curiosity. One of them
was called the Cuban Tearoom located in the south part of West Palm Beach on
Ellamar Road. The other one was on 44th Street and just across the railroad
near where St. Mary's is located. These houses were known as Houses of Ill
Repute; whorehouses. Now, the Cuban Tearoom had a sign out, "Cuban Tearoom",
and it was for the carriage trade. I think their price was $5.00. The
other one was for the peasants and that was a $3.00 house. I know this
because the Madams of both homes were patients of mine and they had no love
for each other. The cuban Tearoom, as the Madam told me, was lavishly fur-
nished. She invited me many times to come look at the art, but honestly,
(I'm not evading this), I did not go.
I hate to say this, but it's a fact, from the Jewish point of view, that the
Cuban Tearoom was owned and operated by the Madam and her boyfriend, her
Pimp, and both were of the Jewish faith. Nothing to brag about, but these
were the facts. When St. Mary's started to break ground, of course, they
had to close up this place in the northern part of the town and they went
out of business. During World War II, there was another place available
for the servicemen, (those who wanted to be serviced), on Clematis Street
near the railroad, and that was closed up after the army left town.
During World War II, it may be of interest for you to know that the Breakers
Hotel and the Biltmore both became hospitals for the servicemen. The
Biltmore was naval, and the Breakers was an army hospital. At that time
out at the airport, was an exceptionally active base known as Morrison Field.
It was a port of embarkation for our air force traveling from here to the
European zone. Usually their route was down to Brazil.
I was in the Army Air Force enlisting in January, 1942, and returned in April
of 1946. When I returned there were great changes. A lot of professional
men of the Jewish faith had located here. They had been members of the armed
forces who had been stationed down here in the hospitals and at Morrison
Field. They liked the country so much, or else they met some of the
daughters of our natives, and got married and settled here. Today I think
we will find that a great many of our professional people owe their living
in West Palm Beach to the fact that they had served Uncle Sam during that
For those of you who might be interested here are a few facets of my profes-
sional life. I graduated from New York University college of Dentistry in
1928. I established my practice in October of that year, opening an office
in the Shrebnick Building on Clematis Street which moved out of there two
years later. At that time the building was occupied by the Florida Power
and Light Company for it's local offices. And today that building, having
been torn down, is now the location of the Dick Hill Park.
In 1928, in July, I took my State Board licensing examination in Jacksonville.
The location of the examining area was in the basement of the State National
Guard Armory in Jacksonville. The month was July, temperature about 103.
I remember air conditioning had not yet been invented. Eighteen men out of
a total of thirty-six passed the examination, which the first day lasted
from 8:00 in the morning until midnight. The second day from 8:00 a.m. in
the morning until 6:00 p.m. in the afternoon. The third day, gratefully, it
lasted from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. Anyone today who complains about how
difficult the State Board examinations are, just get a laugh from me.
When I came down to West Palm Beach at that time there were only 18 dentists
in the entire county. North of West Palm Beach, the nearest man was in
Stuart. We had two in Lake Worth, and there was not another dentist available
until you got all the way down to Fort Lauderdale. There were no specialists.
In my practice of general dentistry, I did oral surgery, did about everything,
did root canal work. I took care of kids.
Talking of kids, I remember when I first started. I had a young mother who
came to me as a patient in 1928. She had a little 25-month old infant in her
lap because she could not afford a babysitter. That little infant today is
a grandfather. Whenever I think of it, it shakes me.
Because of the fact that the nearest specialist, an oral surgeon, was in
Miami, I had to do all that work myself --'I just had to. But thankfully
now, we've had an influx of specialties in this area who can do a lot of
things that we just were not able to do properly in those days.
When I entered the service in 1942, I turned over all my patient records to
a highly esteemed colleague of mine, Dr. Taylor Adams, (since deceased) who
helped take care of my people until I returned three and a half years later.
I had been a tenant of the Comeau Building, and the top three or four stories
had been taken over by the Army. There wasn't a vacant space to be had in
that building., When I came back there was a line, I don't know how long, of
applicants waiting for office space. The Cleary Brothers owned that building.
I'd been a tenant for quite a number of years and when they found out I needed
space, I was first on the list and I was taken in almost immediately.
Today, to keep the knowledge of dentistry in line with all the new develop-
ments, we have courses called continuing education courses, many of them
offered by the State University, the University of Florida Dental School,
and also by different organizations throughout the country who have the
meetings and conventions in other parts of this nation and also down here
in Florida. But in the 1950's this was not available and I felt that we
needed something in that area. So with nine other men we formed what we
called a postgraduate group, the first of its kind within the state. It
was called the Prosthetic Study Club. Several times a year we would invite
outstanding clinicians from all over the nation, and pay them a pretty high
fee to come down here, but these were things that we needed. This course,
one of the first in continuing education in this state was continued for
about seven or eight years. Then, as continuing education courses became
available, generally through the dental college, it was discontinued.
About fifteen years ago, when the junior college started out here, they
initiated a two-year course for the study of dental hygiene, and took in
classes for about forty girls. A lot of these girls knew what it would
cost them for two years. Although they were prepared for the families to
take care of them, sometimes it happened that maybe the breadwinner got
into an accident or suffered bad health or lost his job. These girls then
faced the possibility of having to stop their schooling. I started a series
of postgraduate courses for which I charged a fee, and continued this every
year for about twelve years. All the monies that I obtained from the par-
ticipants was put into what I called the Palm Beach County Dental Scholar-
ship Fund. And the money was used to give loans to those girls who found
they heeded money. It was given to them on the basis that it would be
returned after they graduated and secured work, and there would be no
interest charged. This became a revolving fund. In addition to this,
scholarships were given to the girls who showed the most proficiency, the
highest aptitude and the highest scholarships. These scholarships are given
every year and the fund is now self-sufficient. There is enough interest
returned on the money to be almost a perpetual fund. And I'm happy to know
this will continue after I'm gone.
Now, what I do with my spare time? Thank goodness I don't have much spare
time. I'm keeping busy with several hobbies. One of them is my piano, I
love it. I do some taping, recording of my music. I play golf, or rather
I play at it. I used to play a pretty good game in the low 80's, but now
if I play my age for nine holes, I'm doing good.
In the 50's I developed a severe case of extremely painful bursitis. I took
a week off, went over to the Bahamas to a little place known as Green Turtle
Key. I spent a week there in July out in the sun, and that did me more good
than anything else. The only way to get out there in those days was either
go over in a boat, in a chartered boat or by plane. There's no airport, so
we had to use either an amphibian or seaplane. I would travel there a
couple of times a year with a single-engine seaplane (which was a damn fool
thing to do, of course, over this water, but when you're young you do a lot
of things that you don't have any better sense to do).
One thing, at Green Turtle, it was great. We had a single-engine inboard
motor, 18-foot boat, one man to operate the boat, another man as guide. The
whole deal, $18.00 a day. We would start at sunrise and we wouldn't quit
till sunset. Sunset, I'd get back, take a bath -- no, I couldn't take a
bath, there wasn't any fresh water to speak of. The only drinking water they
had then and I think today comes off systems. So if you took a bath you had
to go out into the saltwater and use saltwater soap, so it left you still
feeling greasy. I had taken all my extraction instruments along with me, a
lot of anesthetic, and I set up shop on the veranda of the little bungalow
in which I stayed. I offered my services gratis to those poor islanders who
needed it. And, brother, their teeth were horrible. They needed me!
The only dentistry they had was twice a year when a dentist would come by in
a fishing boat from island to island. And if they had any real emergency
they had to fly to Nassau. So there I was, and I did a hell of a land-office
business. These people wanted to pay. I collected the money and donated it
to their church. Everybody was happy except the Governor who came over one
day and asked me to come over to see him. He told me he had received a com-
plaint from this dentist who travelled twice a year so I was out of business,
but it was a lot of fun.
Thank you very much.
AB: This is Anne Blicher. If I did not mention it at the beginning, we are
recording this on September the 2nd, 1981, at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Blicher
2600 North Flagler Drive, West Palm Beach, Florida.