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'Surreal' plight of Gulfstream Hotel inspires Lake Worth Beach artist's satirical poke with brush

Artist Shannon Torrence tapped a Salvador Dali vibe to "paint about" the "surreal" frustration felt by Lake Worth Beach over the fact that the city has let the Gulfstream Hotel, once a downtown cornerstone, stay shuttered for nearly 17 years.

FOR THE PAST 17 years, as the six-story, 100-room Gulfstream Hotel sat shuttered and empty, Lake Worth Beach residents waited patiently for city leaders to get the downtown landmark back up and running.

They endured a change in hotel owners.

They saw their hopes raised and crushed as renovation plan after renovation plan fizzled.

They tolerated endless start-and-stops, delays from lawsuits, long city commission meetings and a pandemic.

All the while, they watched the once-thriving hotel wither like a flower, scarred with broken windows, weeds growing from cracks in gutters and concrete nearly six stories high, boards covering its grand 18-foot-high arches.

Once a cornerstone of Lake Worth society, the Gulfstream’s appearance lately is unbecoming of an architectural jewel built in 1924 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

A month or so ago, one resident said enough is enough.

Shannon Torrence decided it was about time someone poked city leaders in their collective sides. He figured it might as well be him.

As an artist tapping the city’s Keep Lake Worth Weird vibe, he decided to poke with his paint brush.

“It's surreal that it has sat there for a couple of decades empty,’’ said Torrence, 54, who misses the hotel’s elegant bar, one of his favorite hangouts when he moved to Lake Worth in 1989.

“I thought I would paint about it.’’

The result is a whimsical take on the collective frustration of residents perplexed about how their city could let such a beautiful landmark sit empty and disheveled for so long.

The painting shows artist Salvadore Dali, a puzzled chin-in-hand expression, standing in front of a bright pink Gulfstream Hotel.

With a purposeful Dali-esque title, “The Perpetual Preposterousness vs The Resurrection of a Cornerstone,” it can be seen through Feb. 20 in a new show called “Neighborhood” at mtn space, a gallery at 502 Lake Ave., a few blocks west of the Gulfstream.

The show features other paintings by Torrence as well as beautiful work by Nina Davidowitz and Massimo Mongiardo. But the mischievous “Gulfstream Dali,’’ as Torrence casually calls it, seems to have touched a collective nerve.

“Thanks to the artist and art culture of this town for speaking up,’’ Ricardo Martin wrote in one of more than 40 comments in a Facebook post of the painting. “Let’s push to get the Gulfstream Hotel project underway.’’

Since shuttering in 2005, the Gulfstream Hotel has lost its luster. Weeds grow from cracks in concrete and gutters. Windows are broken. Archways are boarded up. A fence surrounds the building.

The hotel’s latest suitors have raised hopes once again with a proposal that seems to have more traction than any of the city’s previous dalliances with developers who’ve pitched plans over the years.

Developer Restoration St. Louis is promising to deliver a $100 million-plus makeover that will include extensive renovations to the Gulfstream and construction of a new companion hotel building behind the original.

If remaining hurdles can be cleared, Restoration St. Louis expects a full opening in the spring of 2024.

Torrence said he has “high hopes” for that to happen. But he also remembers how residents over the years have gotten excited about other renovation proposals that never materialized.

Restoration St. Louis hopes to re-open the renovated Gulfstream Hotel by 2024.

Maybe the “Gulfstream Dali” will cast a spell or tap the necessary juju to return the Gulfstream Hotel to its glory — and put a muzzle on all the talk of its troubled past.

“It’s punchy. He‘s really expressing his voice. This is a way of him really speaking his political mind,’’ said artist and mtn space owner Melissa DelPrete, who noted the “Gulfstream Dali” is a departure from Torrence’s usual impressionist beach scenes.

“When he first came to me with the idea for the painting, I said, ‘Shannon, this is a little obvious. This is a little too punching-in-the-face.’ But I think he needed to do that,’’ she said.

“It's completely surreal that the Gulfstream is the way it is. It's pretty big statement of, What are we doing with this?’’

Visitors admire the "Gulfstream Dali" at mtn space, a gallery in downtown Lake Worth a few blocks from the Gulfstream.

If and when the hotel reopens, Torrence would love to see his painting permanently displayed in the Gulfstream’s original lobby, or maybe in the bar where he used to relax after moving to town more than 30 years ago.

‘It had a beautiful hotel bar with the high ceilings from another era,’’ he said. Outside the bar, outdoor lights strung across Bryant Park brought visitors back to the 1940s and ‘50s.

“This is our last little piece of the pie from that era,’’ he said, “and we just let it languish like this.’’

Artist Shannon Torrence in his Lake Worth Beach studio

Torrence certainly hasn’t been the only one in town calling for the Gulfstream’s renovation. A Facebook page called Gulfstream Hotel Now is among the social media forums offering renovation updates and outlets for residents to reminisce about fond memories of the hotel — from first dates, weddings and anniversary parties to proms, political rallies and a bar sighting of punk rocker Billy Idol.

The “Gulfstream Dali” has been one of the more creative calls for action.

“It's serving its purpose as a funny poke in the side,’’ Torrence said, referring to the sides of city leaders. “You know, like, 'Hey, now I'm making fun of it because it’s ridiculous.'’’

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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 in the newspaper business, 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.


1 Comment

Unknown member
Jan 23, 2022

Masterfully handled Mr. Capozzi. Elegantly woven together. Thank you for choosing to cover this topic and my work.

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