“Meditation and water are wedded forever.” Herman Melville

Having originally been founded in Palm Beach in 1890, the Palm Beach Yacht Club was re-chartered in 1911. It is currently the oldest established business in West Palm Beach, Florida. Initially organized for boat racing and “promoting camaraderie among yachtsmen on the Intracoastal Waterway,” the Club has evolved over the years to become the most active private club in the Palm Beach area.

  • FOUNDING 1880
    • Founder Edmund Munger Brelsford (E.M.) had come from Ohio in 1880, became the first postmaster of Palm Beach and the first Commodore of the Palm Beach Yacht Club.

      E.M. arrived on the shores of Lake Worth in May 1880 on a hunting and fishing trip with his brother John Hale Brelsford (Doc). In the fall of 1880, he returned to Lake Worth with his widowed mother and his sister, Minna. They brought the first music to the lake. E.M. played the violin; Doc played the cello, and Minna, the piano. When the Palm Beach Yacht Club erected a Clubhouse a short way south of the Cocoanut Grove House, they put together a seven-piece orchestra to play on opening night with the Bradley brothers, Lyman, John Cleminson, Henry Sanders, and Henry’s son Will.

    • Charles and Louisa Clarke spent the winter of 1890- 1891 at Elijah N. Dimick’s Cocoanut Grove House, Palm Beach’s only hotel; on the property was the Palm Beach Yacht Club. The following winter, Clarke bought the Hotel and the Yacht Club buildings, along with about 50 acres of land from the Lake Trail to the Ocean. The Palm Beach Yacht Club was on the lakefront of his property. Clarke then either sold or rented Cocoanut Grove House (no records remain) to Henry Flagler, who used it to house the workers building his Royal Poinciana Hotel (now known as The Breakers). Mr. Clarke retained the Palm Beach Yacht Club building and became Commodore in 1892. Forevermore, until his death, C.J. Clarke was always referred to as The Commodore or Commodore Clarke.

      Commodore Clarke became a well-known figure in Palm Beach with his jaunty hat and umbrella. He and Louisa entertained distinguished Pittsburghers on vacation, including Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Phipps who, of course, visited his beloved Palm Beach Yacht Club. Henry Flagler was a frequent visitor to the original Palm Beach Yacht Club as well.

      In 1897, Commodore Clarke donated the two-story wood-framed Palm Beach Yacht Club Building to West Palm Beach for a library called The Reading Room. Henry Flagler donated $100 for a barge to move the building from Palm Beach to City Park, on the lakefront at the east end of Clematis Avenue, where it sits today.

  • CLUB RACING HISTORY 1927 – 1950s
    • The following notes are taken from the 1927 Washington’s Birthday Regatta Program…
      (spelling and grammar have been reproduced as originally printed.)

      “Although this regatta is considered officially the fifth Annual, the Club and its predecessor, the Lake Worth Yacht Club, actually started racing many years ago. A clipping from the “Tropical Sun” published at Juno on March 22nd, 1894, described a regatta held that year on Washington’s Birthday. The racing was started from the steam Yacht “Alba” owned by Commodore C. J. Clarke.”

      The first Cruise that we have record of was February 1st through 4th, 1905 and was connected with a carnival on Lake Worth. There is very little printed information about these early events. In April, 1911, the Palm Beach Yacht Club was incorporated and the "re- charter" was issued by the State of Florida in Tallahassee. It took another 11 years for the Club to find a home.

      On March 22nd, 1922, at 8:00 o’clock in the evening, a special meeting of the Palm Beach Yacht Club was held on Captain W.H. Reddy’s houseboat “New River.” A reorganization was effected and Commodore M. B. Carmichael was elected. During his year in office, a great deal was accomplished. During this year the first dock in West Palm Beach was erected at the foot of “Sixth Avenue” (currently “8th Street”). A temporary clubhouse was built on Flagler Drive across the street (now Rosarian Academy Auditorium) and the membership was materially increased.

      Text from the Annual Publication ...

      “During the last three years the Palm Beach Yacht Club has erected a clubhouse which is one of the finest in the South. It has revived the Washington’s Birthday Regatta, which is now deemed a yachting event of considerable importance, and has increased its membership to something over 400.”

      “While the first Washington’s Birthday Regatta in the Palm Beaches was held in 1894, the real history of the annual race as now staged dates to 1923, when a special committee composed of Herbert Margerum and Frederic Barlow went to New York and enlisted the aid of several nationally known racing men in bringing to Palm Beach a number of the famous 151-class hydroplanes.”

      “The Venetian Night parade staged on Sunday evening made a picture long to be remembered. Gorgeous with colored lighting effects, they paraded slowly up and down the lake in front of a double shore line illuminated with red flares and various colored lights on the hotels and buildings. The annual drivers’ dinner and presentation of trophies at the Clubhouse was a most interesting event because it brought together one of the largest assemblages of racing men from all sections of the United States ever assembled in the South.”

      In 1952, Rosarian Academy purchased the Palm Beach Yacht Club for $75,000. The Yacht Club then relocated to its current location on the dock while their former clubhouse was razed and rebuilt into Rosarian Auditorium and eight music rooms.

    • Thomas Keller, the youngest of five boys, was born on October 14, 1955, at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, to Edward Keller, a Marine Corps officer and his wife, Betty. After his parents divorced, Mrs. Keller moved east with her sons, eventually settling in Palm Beach, Florida. She supported the family by managing restaurants in the affluent town of Palm Beach and its considerably less glamorous neighbor, West Palm Beach.

      Thomas, a genial but somewhat reckless teenager, attended Lake Worth High School. He played basketball and baseball, but was not an ambitious student, and somewhat engaged himself in less wholesome pursuits common among teenagers of the early 1970s. His mother ended these pursuits when she put him to work washing dishes at the Palm Beach Yacht Club in West Palm Beach, where she was the general manager. This was his first restaurant job: dishwasher. Dishwashing is how many American chefs begin.

      One afternoon Betty Keller nodded toward the Yacht Club’s Chef and said to her nineteen-year-old son, “Watch him. Watch what he does.” Mrs. Keller sensed that her club chef was about to quit; Thomas was out of high school and ready for a real job. Thomas Keller had given little thought to what he would do with his life, never dreaming he would become a cook, let alone chef.

      “I called up my friend Przempko (pronounced Shempko),” Thomas Keller said of the day the Yacht Club chef gave notice. “He was out of work, and I asked him if he wanted a job and he said, ‘Yeah’. So, we went out and partied that night. We both had a job. We were going to become chefs.”

      The Yacht Club served uncomplicated lunches and, on weekends, dinner. “We did everything,” Keller said. “We cleaned the whole restaurant. That was the first thing – bathrooms, dining room-- the whole thing. Then we’d get ready for lunch. Hamburgers, French fries, sandwiches, eggs Benedict.” When Keller didn’t know how to cook something, he’d call his older brother Joseph, who was then a cook at La Petite Marmite, a fashionable, classic restaurant in Palm Beach. Joseph would walk him through making a sauce, cooking a whole prime rib, and broiling a lobster tail. Keller smiled at the memory and said “I remember the first time I made a hollandaise. I was so excited. I ran out and told Captain John. Captain John was the dock manager. I was twenty years old. I had never made a hollandaise before.”

      That year Mrs. Keller gave Thomas his first cookbook, Mary and Vincent Price’s A Treasury of Great Recipes, inscribing it “To my wonderful son/God bless you always.”

      Thomas was inspired. He would make his first fancy cookbook dish, Tagliatelle Verde con Proscuitto, one of Vincent Price’s favorite dishes from Harry’s Bar. “I couldn’t find any spinach pasta,” Keller recalls, “This was 1975. No one had spinach pasta. So, you know what I thought I’d do? I’d dye it green.” The final dish, with neon green fettuccine, was not as appetizing as he hoped it would be. The prosciutto, (which he over-cooked), released all of its salt, rendering the dish inedible. A kind Club member, a regular and a fan of young Keller’s, tried to eat it, really did try, but had to tell Thomas he just couldn’t eat it. “That was my first venture into trying to create something for myself,” he said, “being inspired by a recipe and trying to create it.”
      Thomas Keller remained chef of the Yacht Club for two years. “Making hamburgers,” he said, “and trying to make things nice and neat, and trying to keep things as they should be, making eggs Benedict every day, making the hollandaise, which was really the high point of every morning, perfecting the hollandaise.”

      Member Patricia Dehon remembers "Tommy" traveling to France to intern in fine French restaurants under the tutelage of celebrated chefs; he thrived throughout the regimented training. Keller visited Florida occasionally and would apply his skills at the club, when he picked up some kitchen shifts for his mother.

      According to Mrs. Dehon, “the food was so superb no one could believe it!” Ultimately, Keller was eager to try his hand as an entrepreneur and left for New York to begin his career. His meteoric success is now legendary and many now consider him to be the "Best Chef in America.”

      Thomas Keller mastered the standard for the renowned food and service at the Palm Beach Yacht Club and Chef Robert Lalli assumes the mantle of culinary integrity and rich traditions established.

    • The 2004 hurricane season in central Florida was one for the record books. Charley, Frances and Jeanne were a trifecta of cataclysmic weather events. Frances was a super-hurricane, stretching almost from Cuba to Georgia. Starting as a wave off the coast of Africa, the storm headed straight for the United States. In September, 2004, deceptive, destructive Hurricane Frances seized Florida on Labor Day weekend in a stranglehold of water, wind and sheer persistence. The destruction seemed endless--whole apartment buildings had their roofs ripped off, the beaches were torn up and homes thrashed. In West Palm Beach, the storm left knee-high water in parts of West Palm Beach, boats were tossed around like toys and it battered the coastal areas.

      The storm's painful grip doused parts of the state with more than 13 inches of rain, buffeted some areas with winds of up to 95 mph, and pummeled some places for hours before crawling off. It left more than 4.5 million people without power. President Bush declared the entire state of Florida a federal disaster area, setting the stage for help ranging from heavy equipment to food and water. The Florida National Guard activated 5,000 troops. The estimate of total property damage from Frances was near $9.5 billion (in 2004 dollars). The storm's name, Frances, was retired in 2005. Despite the thrashing, Palm Beach Yacht Club continued to thrive.

    • Thomas Keller, who got his start at the Palm Beach Yacht Club in the 1970s, is an American chef, restaurateur, and cookbook writer. He and his landmark Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry in Yountville, California, have won multiple awards from the James Beard Foundation, notably the Best California Chef in 1996, and the Best Chef in America in 1997. The restaurant is a perennial winner in the annual Restaurant Magazine list of the Top 50 Restaurants of the World.

      On November 23, 2011, the team at Palm Beach Yacht Club was exceptionally honored by the visit of renowned Chef Thomas Keller to celebrate the Centennial Anniversary. Son of General Manager Elizabeth Keller during the 1970s, Chef Keller began his culinary career by washing dishes in the Yacht Club kitchen. By his teen years, he eyed the cook's line and soon convinced his Mom to let him try his hand at food preparation. The rest is history!

  • 2012 – PRESENT
    • Palm Beach and the town's affluence and its "abundance of pleasures" and "strong community-oriented sensibility" were cited when it was selected in June 2003 as America's "Best Place to Live" by Robb Report magazine.

      Since the Centennial, the Palm Beach Yacht Club has continued to thrive, attracting visitors and boaters from all over the world. In late 2017, Hurricane Irma, a serious Category 5 storm grazed the SE Florida coast, but overall, hurricane activity has been barely existent for Florida. However, a whirlwind of global attention amped up in January 2017 with the establishment of the Winter White House and Palm Beach’s most intriguing resident, President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. Palm Beach has been on the map like never before. Visiting dignitaries, global media, and thrill seekers of all sorts converge in swells into the Palm Beaches. Always a beacon in the waters of West Palm Beach, the Palm Beach Yacht club continues its legacy of a dignified and iconic member experience. It’s smooth sailing into the next generation of Mariners.

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