Founded at the end of the Roaring ’20s, Claude D. Reese Real Estate — often referred to as the island’s oldest real estate firm — has sold the office condominium it had occupied for about 10 years at 140 Royal Palm Way. The agency has no plans to reopen, said David Reese, its longtime broker and son of the agency’s namesake, the late Claude D. Reese Sr…
David Reese acknowledged that much had changed in Palm Beach real estate over the years. The entrance to the marketplace of major corporate-owned real estate companies in particular has made it more difficult for independent boutique agencies to compete, he said.
“There are so many big firms here,” he said.
The Shiny Sheet overlooked the fact that David’s dad facilitated what was perhaps the key real estate transaction in the history of the town:
Mentioning the Palm Beach Country Club brings up another ongoing transformative aspect to Palm Beach life: the island’s Jewish community. Jews have come to Palm Beach since the beginning, in the early years readily mixing with their Gentile friends. (For numerous reasons I prefer my mother’s term for the non-children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob over Leamer’s “WASP.”) The whole saga of a Jewish community that is socially (and to some extent physically) separate from its Gentile counterpart began in 1944, three years before the founding of the State of Israel. At that time Jewish entrepreneur A.M. Sonnabend offered to purchase a large tract of land and buildings which included the Biltmore Hotel and the original Flagler mansion. Just as their Zionist counterparts needed an Arthur Balfour to facilitate their return to the Promised Land, so also did the Jews who wished to come to the island. They found one in Claude Reese, scion of a pioneer family in Palm Beach County and an eminent realtor. (The Southern Scots-Irish have always been the great interlopers between Jew and Gentile, and always with unexpected results.) The Gentiles were furious at such an invasion, so Reese, mindful of his commission, came up with a plan. Knowing that Sonnabend was undercapitalized, he offered to the residents the option to buy out his contract before he could come up with the money. They could not bring themselves to do so, and Sonnabend was able to make the purchase.
The subsequent quasi-two-state history has pretty much paralleled its Middle Eastern counterpart, albeit with more money per capita on the table and less bloodshed. (My brother did get a fractured jaw out of the conflict.) The Gentiles fulminate and moan about the Jews and their ways, but with each passing year the Jewish presence in Palm Beach increases and the Gentile decreases. Without enough fresh Gentile blood and money (and without the Palestinians’ death penalty for selling property to the Jews, we sold our house to a Jewish couple when we left in 1972) Palm Beach is transformed into a predominantly Jewish town, gripes about the Shiny Sheet looking like the Jerusalem Post notwithstanding. (Personally I think that the paper’s coverage of Jewish holidays and other religious events is one of the best things they do.) In the meanwhile Palm Beach life goes on with separate clubs, charity balls and other social events. It’s a situation that doesn’t fit into anyone’s “politically correct” paradigm and Leamer has received criticism for discussing it. But he is spot-on in his description. I first commented on this state of affairs in 2005; its perpetuation isn’t really a credit to anyone on the island.
Sometimes you make money, and sometimes you make history. It’s the rare bird that does both.