Palm Pavilion Celebrates 50 Years of Hamilton Family Ownership

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A Clearwater Beach, Fla. landmark, the Palm Pavilion has been owned and operated by the Hamilton family since 1964. This year marks their 50th anniversary.

Clearwater Beach, Florida, Restaurant, 50th Anniversary, Hamiltons, The Palm,

Palm Pavilion, Clearwater Beach, Florida - Circa 1950s

50 Years of Ownership

Established in 1926, the Palm Pavilion has been owned and operated by the Hamilton family since 1964. This year marks their 50th anniversary.

After repeated approaches by Howard Hamilton, Jessie Smith, one of the original owners who created the beach enterprise, sold the business on April 1st to Howard and his wife Jean.

"Announcements made on April Fool’s Day are often questioned if real or not," said Ken Hamilton. "If the family promoted April 1st as the start of their 50th year of ownership of the Palm Pavilion, would anyone believe the story?"

The Hamilton family's decision to take a delayed, low-key approach to this special day was because it also fell during the height of spring break. They've long believed the customer experience comes first and there would be plenty of time to celebrate later.

After assuming ownership, Howard, who passed away in early 2012, continued working as an engineer. Long-time staffers ran the daytime operation - a snack bar and bathing pavilion and selling retail merchandise and accessories. Jean stayed home to raise their four boys.

In the 1960s, vacationers were coming to Clearwater Beach to winter for two weeks in a mom and pop motel. After breakfast, they would spend their day on the sand. While there, Howard hoped they’d get thirsty or hungry. After dinner in their motel room, visitors would go the mainland to see a movie or get an ice cream. Day visitors would come to the beach, rent space at the pavilion, change into beach attire and store their clothes.

As the business prospered Howard and Jean became increasingly involved in the day-to-day. Each of their sons fondly remembers working at The Palm from a young age - sweeping sand from the wooden floor, keeping the beer iced down in large tubs, dispensing locker keys, taking food and drink orders and later flipping burgers in the shoebox-size kitchen.

As social formalities changed beach-goers arrived on the island wearing their swimwear. As visitor habits changed, the Palm Pavilion adapted. A miniature golf course was built on adjoining property around the late 60s or early 70s. In the early 1980s, Howard removed the bathing houses.

Recognizing the Palm Pavilion offered one of the most beautiful locations on the island for sunset watching and that visitors were dining out rather than in their motel rooms, the Hamilton sons took to convincing their father it was time to make more changes. Slowly Howard acquiesced to keeping The Palm open after five o'clock and expanding the menu beyond hamburgers and hot dogs. In 1995 an outside deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico was added. Guests could now dine outside, listen to live entertainment on the weekends and watch the sun set.

Within five years, due to its popularity, the outside deck was enlarged a second time. The tiny kitchen was moved into larger quarters. The vista on the west wall was now open, showcasing a panoramic view of Clearwater Beach and the Gulf of Mexico. Once again the menu was expanded. In true pavilion style, hot dogs and hamburgers remain featured items. Live entertainment is now offered daily year-round.

With every change the family sought to preserve the charm and architectural integrity, while keeping it a place all ages could feel welcome. A young couple that came in the 1960s, returning 50 years later, could still recognize the Palm Pavilion. And not just because some of the lattice work is still original, but because the Hamiltons have worked diligently to maintain the historic atmosphere and to keep the look, like the wooden floors that open to the sand beach, as well as the casual feel.

Today, Ken, the oldest of the four sons, oversees the business and is joined by his brother Wade who manages the restaurant's and inn's physical plant, as well as their beach umbrella and cabana rental concessions. One of the grandsons is working his way up the ladder, having served as bartender, bar manager and is now one of a handful of restaurant managers.

According to the state of Florida, the Palm Pavilion is the oldest operating beach pavilion in the state.

The Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill & Bar is located at 10 Bay Esplanade on north Clearwater Beach. For more information, call 727-446-2642.

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Lynn Fuhler
since: 02/2011
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