Northwood is a real jewel, a quaint, semi-pioneering arts district now but some big changes are in store. Developers are moving in, entire blocks are being razed and the city is providing major money and muscle to clean up the area around Broadway.
As an arts writer who has lived in and written about what happened to neighborhoods in NYC’S East Village, Miami Beach’s Art Deco neighborhood in the 1980s, East Nashville in the 1990s and Joshua Tree, CA in the 2000s, the writing is clearly on the wall. Now, change is blowing like the wind through Northwood Vilage. This is a pivotal, interesting time for the city, the arts and the players involved. It also means a parting with seamier areas of the district, something that takes a big effort to do.
I took a tour Saturday night as part of the Northwood Village Art Walk with gracious, peppy host Nickie Hennevelt who gave two sold out 90-minute tours that night. I wanted to see and hear how the hood is being presented now and for the future, and to get some insight on its history. We met at the OSGS Gallery for a glass of red wine and a demonstration of paper art. The gallery carries lots of local artists and has displays of paintings, jewelry, sculptures and ceramics. From there we took a curious route outside to see a new mural being made on the gallery’s outer wall (love to see this) and then past a few galleries that were closed for the night but kept their lights on for us.
Then we passed a great-looking painted Art Deco building that magically lit up as we stood outside. Bravo Nickie. That kind of building is pretty rare for Palm Beach, as most of the Art Deco landed in Miami in the 1930s after a hurricane leveled the beach. In the 1980s the city wanted to raze the entire district, something that is unthinkable now as it has become a billion dollar tourist and arts sandbar. We came to a block that had been completely leveled, the site of a future mix of stores and residences. “This came down really fast,” Nickie said. “It literally was all torn down in a matter of days.”
Welcome to the future of Northwood!
There will be lots of demolition and construction in this hood’s future, thanks to mega developer Jeff Greene who has been amassing property in the area for a few years now with the vision of unifying it into a sensible whole. The main problem with the streets is how some are one way and some zig zag, this confuses traffic and blocks the flow. They should think about creating totally closed streets with plazas for streets like Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. Keep the parking offsite and let this pave the way for street fairs and cafes and fountains. It also keeps cars and shoppers safer, while allowing for bicycles and pets.
We passed the Center for Creative Education, a great place for the neighborhood with art classes, but I was sorry to see the gallery space emptied of the last terrific show of photos and paintings curated by Bruce Helander and an empty courtyard that should be filled with sculptures. Keep the art coming CCE, there is certainly no shortage of it.
Malakor Thai Café is a lovely looking restaurant, as an added treat we ran into the owner Chef Noopy Areek in the community garden gathering herbs for his exotic recipes. The garden is used by several of the restaurants in Northwood, who contribute to the maintenance of it. You can’t get much more farm to table local than this. The garden has big beautiful murals of bees and sunflowers called Plight of the Honeybees by Eduardo Mendieta and in homage the gardeners have planted giant 7-foot sunflowers in one bank of the space.
The murals are no afterthought, as $10,000 from the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency was given to the district along Northwood Road and 24th and 25th Streets to fund them. “Murals are so important to this creative arts district; they bring art into the public sphere and cities benefit by the beauty of a work of public art,” CRA Executive Director Jon Ward said in a press release announcing the CRA’s launch of the project last year. “I want this project to beautify the neighborhood and bring art to everyday people. I also want to give artists an opportunity to show their work,” says West Palm Beach artist Eduardo Mendieta, project curator and manager. “I hope people will appreciate the murals and realize that you can transform a plain wall into a beautiful piece of art that will make an impact on the community and I hope it will help bring more people to Northwood.” In addition to Mendieta’s mural there is some great work by Amanda Valdes and Craig McInnis in the district.
There are lots of mom and pop thrift stores and hair salons but signs of a not so mom and pop future run by the rich kids are already there. In one storefront is a sales and design office dedicated to the Z Condominiums being built on Flagler at Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard. Starting at $2.3 million and going way up, these eco-friendly, state of the art residences sure sound like a dream for those who can afford them. And if you buy a condo you get a free $70,000 Tesla sports car. Nice perk.
The glitz and head spinning amounts of money being dangled here are foreboding of how the clock is ticking for charming small scale Northwood. In a few years this place will be unrecognizable, with high-end residences and chain stores that can afford the square footage that is sure to price out the artists and small business.
But this is the way it goes, and I have seen it go this way in cities all over the US. It’s not always bad and it’s not always good, like life is, you know? A new neighborhood will spring up out of the down at the heels’ flip flops somewhere else and the cycle will start all over again.
As the tour made a stop at the glass and mosaic gallery for a demonstration and some browsing, a torrential downpour opened up with lightning and wind that brought our nice little evening Art Walk to a crashing end. How fitting!