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Colorful art-deco makeover coming to Armory Art Center — 'It's going to be beautiful'

THE ARMORY ART Center in West Palm Beach is getting a colorful makeover.

The historic art deco armory building at 811 Park Place at the south end of Howard Park is undergoing a $2 million restoration, including repairs to the roof, windows, doors, heating and air-conditioning and a new paint job.

The first phase, $1 million for what a spokesperson called “a new energy-efficient exterior,” started this month. When that’s done, a second $1 million phase of renovations to the interior will get underway.

Portions of the art deco building will be closed to the public in the coming months as the year-long repairs move throughout the building. The brief interruptions will not impact summer classes.

The armory already is a cool-looking building, with blue-toned trim over a beige background. It will really pop once the new Benjamin Moore paint job is done. The main exterior will be Apricot Chiffon with Flamingo Orange trim and accents of Sea Mist Green and Lily Lavender.

“It’s going to be beautiful,’’ said Rick Gonzalez, co-founder of REG Architects, which is overseeing the exterior restorations. “We have the original historic art deco paint colors we will be using. It's going to be a fantastic project.’’

The armory was first built on the former site of the West Palm Beach Farmers Market, which for the part of the 20th century sold fruit and vegetables grown around Lake Okeechobee and transported to east-coast customers by barges along canals.

A short distance north of the market, a wide basin allowed barges to turn around to make the return trip back to The Glades. The basin is still there, located on the south side of Okeechobee Boulevard across from the Kravis Center and next to the Howard Park Tennis Courts.

But the market "lost much of its usefulness" when it was damaged in the 1928 hurricane, according a 1939 article in The Palm Beach Post about plans to convert the site into an armory.

The armory was constructed in 1939 under the Works Progress Administration, the largest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies that helped jump-start the American economy out of the Depression with public projects.

Designed by William Manley King, a prominent West Palm Beach architect who made his mark on homes in Old Northwood and on public buildings such as old Pahokee and Boynton Beach high schools, it served as a training center for soldiers and National Guardsmen until 1981.

It also hosted high school dances and other community events. But the building fell into disrepair, was closed and left abandoned.

In 1985, the Norton Art Museum closed down its art school, leaving a group of art teachers without a place to create. Those teachers set their sights on the old National Guard armory building.

Philanthropist Robert Montgomery and his wife Mary provided $100,000 to renovate the armory and the Palm Beach County Cultural Council and others chipped in. Volunteers swept out the cobwebs, chased the pigeons that roosted in the rafters of what is now Montgomery Hall and cleaned up the building to make way for teachers, students, and art exhibitions, according to the art center’s website.

In 1987, the founding members of the Armory Art Center restored the building for use as a visual arts school offering master workshops, a gallery space and a sculpture building.

The art offers 160 courses each year to more than 3,000 students ranging in age from preschool to retiree. Classes in drawing, painting, photography, jewelry, fiber & textiles, ceramics and sculpture are held in 12 studios. Its three galleries host 12 exhibitions each year along with lectures and special events.

The building, added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1992, is one of the finest examples of art deco architecture in South Florida.

“There is not as much art deco in Palm Beach County as there is in Miami-Dade County but this is one of the most significant art deco buildings in our county,’’ Gonzalez said. “To be able to restore it after 30 years is an honor and a privilege.’’

The interior renovations will include updates to the administrative offices, the jewelry and metalworking studios, the galleries and a new Armory Art Center Shop.

For more updates on the restoration, visit

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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.


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