By Steve Pike
New directions and construction mask some of it now, but there was a time — not that long ago — when Delray Beach truly was a Village by the Sea. Sandy Simon knows all about that. Simon, whose grandfather immigrated to Delray Beach from Lebanon in 1912, probably knows more about Delray Beach past (and present) than any other living resident — and it shows in his new book, Delray Beach: The Renaissance of a Village by the Sea.
The book is filled with pictures, stories and names that date back as far as 1894 when David Swinton and William Linton arrived from Michigan on land they purchased sight unseen. That 160-acre tract of land — a quarter of a section bounded by what is now the Intracoastal Waterway and as far north and south of Northeast and Southeast Fourth streets, and once owned by railroad magnate Henry Flagler — became the foundation for Delray Beach. The price? Five dollars per acre.
Simon, who was reared in Delray Beach and developed Atlantic Plaza and several luxury neighborhoods in Delray Beach, takes readers on a journey — through words and pictures — that includes the city’s founding, the Great Depression when Delray Beach billed itself as “Ocean City,’’ the important roles of African-Americans in the city’s development, the emergence (between 1988 and 2014) of East Atlantic Avenue as a South Florida entertainment mecca, to today’s controversial proposed development of iPic theater.
Simon sometimes gets a little bit too “inside baseball,’’ in regard to the workings of agencies such as the Community Redevelopment Agency and Downtown Development Authority, but those are the worlds he lived in for decades. For those interested in such matters, the book is an excellent history of those agencies and how they have shaped the city.
Simon also includes a copy of the Greater Delray Beach “Visions 2000’’ Assembly Policy Statement as well as a copy of the city’s official “All-America City’’ Award entry in 1993.
Moreover, the book is a great history of what Simon identifies as the three assets that set Delray Beach apart from its South Florida neighbors. Those are the city’s two miles of clean, accessible beaches; Atlantic Avenue; and a citizen’s sense of ownership that dates back to the city’s earliest days as a farming community.
“I can’t find another town on the Eastern Seaboard that was settled by people who owned their own land,’’ Simon said. “Boca Raton and West Palm Beach (were settled) by tenant workers; Lake Worth was owned by a developer who gave you an acre of land to the west if you bought a lot. It’s just not the same.
“The DNA of a small village and a sense of ownership sets Delray Beach as unique. And that DNA continues, because everybody who comes to Delray Beach wants it to stay the same as the day they arrived.’’
The book is available for $29.99 at Hand’s Office & Art Supply Store in Delray Beach and through Simon’s website (www.sandysimon.com). He will be presenting the book on Jan. 21 at 2 p.m. at the Delray Beach Public Library.