Northwood Hills has a rich history dating back to 1884 when Elbridge Gale, a professor in horticulture, settled this area and began experimenting with tropical fruit. He called his community Mangonia, presumably after his experimental grove of mango trees, the first in the US. His work led to the development of important mango varieties such as Haden and Springfels. Many of his original mango trees are still here in Northwood Hills today.
In 1920, the land was sold to Pinewood Development Corp. who platted out the neighborhoods and business districts of Northwood. Old Northwood was the first to be marketed starting in 1921, followed by Northwood Hills in 1925. This was the peak of the Florida land boom, the gilded-age, and prohibition. Northwood Hills was full of wooded lots, was far away from the city in those days, and had spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth. All of this made it a prime spot for bootlegger activities. This is evidenced by the 3-story castles, rumored to have guided rum-runner ships ashore, and by the basements and tunnels that are still present in some of these early homes. Prominent members of the city, such as Postmaster General George Smith, also commissioned homes in the neighborhood. Since Florida was such a popular destination at this time, smaller Spanish bungalows were also built for middle-class families. In 1926 and 1928, two hurricanes hit South Florida. Coupled with the beginning of the Great Depression, this was the end of the land boom and building activities all but ceased for a decade.
Interest in Northwood Hills picked up in the second half of the 1930’s and development boomed. During this time, prominent members of West Palm Beach society were moving here. William Manly King, an architect who designed most of the county’s early schools, lived and built homes here. Maurice Fatio, one of Palm Beach’s most celebrated architects, designed one of his last homes right here, on Westview Avenue. Development boomed throughout the 1950’s as Northwood Hills became the premiere neighborhood of West Palm Beach. This is evidenced by the originality and quality of the architecture, during a time when cookie-cutter houses were the standard. Many houses along the circular streets were oriented in such a way that the front yard, porch, and door were open to the street, giving a very welcoming feel as people walk by.
Today, Northwood Hills is still a small, community-oriented neighborhood. However, as the city and county have expanded around it, our neighborhood is now at the heart of the action. The community is an eclectic mix of people with positive energy and ideas. We have one of the strongest organizations of any neighborhood in West Palm Beach and are leading the way in neighborhood planning and community building. In 2003, neighbors’ efforts resulted in a historic designation for the neighborhood, protecting its architecture and character for generations to come. Since then, the large Banyan tree on Westview Avenue has been given a historic designation, and 36th Street was dedicated as “Jim Ponce Way” after our late neighbor who was the foremost expert on West Palm Beach and Palm Beach history. If you are looking for a neighborhood where originality will always prevail, and where your neighbors become your friends, come check out Historic Northwood Hills.
During the height of the 1920’s Florida land boom, architectural style was dominated by ‘Mizner Spanish’. Addison Mizner, a local architect of Palm Beach became the most famous architect in the country, building homes that took cues from Spanish churches and adding Moorish elements of southern Spain. He adapted these designs to Florida by drawing from the outdoors with an abundance of windows and loggias and by painting them in pastels so as to be easy on the eyes in the bright Florida sun. West Palm Beach benefited greatly by his influence on local architects, artisans, builders and even building materials. What resulted was a charming yet grand take on Spanish architecture, not seen elsewhere in the country. Northwood Hills has many Spanish homes, however, the unique topography inspired fantastical castle architecture. There are several homes that we consider castles, but you will also find architectural elements of castles through the neighborhood, which make Northwood Hills even more unique.
During the Great Depression and post-war recovery, homes were built in the minimal traditional style. This was a time when excess consumption was looked down upon. However, many ornate and unique variations of this style were built in Northwood Hills. One of the most common building materials during this time was wood from ancient Bald Cypress trees logged in the Florida swamps. Many of these homes proudly showcase this beautiful wood on the walls and ceilings of the main rooms. Today, this wood is highly coveted and very expensive. The construction of basements continued into this era, due to the high elevation and dry ground.
A huge shift in architecture happened around 1950. Concrete slabs topped in terrazzo replaced crawl spaces and wood floors, and CBS walls replaced wood framed houses. Design tastes were shifting, and Northwood Hills was a sandbox for many of these new ideas. This was a time when new neighborhoods like Lake Park and Palm Beach Gardens were being erected by the block; house after house of similar design. But here in Northwood Hills uniqueness prevailed. Split-level homes were erected alongside ranch homes and modern designs with bold roof lines. Furthermore, since this neighborhood had such a strong tradition of fireplaces, some of the mid-century homes in Northwood Hills also incorporated this element which is very rare for this period in Florida.
No matter the architectural style or period in which it was built, many of the homes in Northwood Hills are incredibly unique. Step inside one and you are sure to be blown away by something you did not expect.