If you happened to be a highly prominent person of color visiting West Palm Beach in the first half of this century, chances are you would have stayed at Haley Mickens's house at 801 4th Street.
Mickens and his wife Dr. Alice Frederick Mickens, a well known civil rights activist, played host to dozens of African American athletes, musicians and political figures during the years they lived in their spacious two story wood frame house, in part because no local hotel would give black dignitaries a room. The celebs that slept in the Mickens's guest room included Coretta Scott King, Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Ralph Bunche, and Count Basie.
Now a local group of historic preservationists headed by attorney and historian Harvey Oyer III are
hoping to take over the 1917 house and restore it to its former glory. With the help of the Mickens's daughter, Dr. Alice Moore, who is now in her 90s, they plan to turn the entire block into a historic "Mickens Village." The plan would close the block to traffic and preserve not only the main house, but a row of shotgun shacks across the street, also owned by Moore and previously slated for demolition. An already pristine St. Patrick's Episcopal Church across the street would be another anchor for the project.
The houses in the neighborhood were being demolished one at a time because of code violations. Dr. Moore didn't have the funds to restore them. Oyer says a member of the West Palm code enforcement board sounded the alarm.
"He said, 'We've torn down two of these buildings, I see what's gonna happen. We're going to destroy the fabric of this neighborhood piecemeal' if something isn't done," Oyer recalls. Oyer met with Dr. Moore, who agreed to donate the properties for the project.
"There's a big gap in the history of West Palm Beach, and that's the major contribution made by African Americans," Oyer says. "We're not just saving these buildings for the sake of saving them. Their contribution reaches far beyond this neighborhood. Some of the leading civil rights leaders of the 20th century congregated here."