April 22, 2024

How snickering Palm Beach’s Gilded Age families spot ‘new money’ amid furious battle to keep out ‘invading Barbies in pink Rolls-Royces who poach nannies and snap up top cosmetic surgeons’

By Mackenzie Tatananni For Mailonline

12:17 25 Feb 2024, updated 12:19 25 Feb 2024

  • Longtime Palm Beach residents insist newcomers from New York City are disrupting the culture
  • The ritzy island has long been seen as a haven for wealthy conservatives
  • Some businesses on the island are turning their focus – and ire – toward the new arrivals

A battle between old and new money is raging in glitzy Palm Beach, as longtime residents bemoan the latest arrivals who are shaking up the culture on the island.

The battle began during the first wave of Covid-19, when newcomers streamed in from areas like New York City in a bid to escape pandemic-era restrictions.

In addition to sandy shores and warm weather, many were charmed by Florida‘s famously low tax rate and the promise of scoring cheaper, larger properties.

The population of Palm Beach County grew by around 13 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. This includes the neighboring city of West Palm Beach as well as Boca Raton.

However, with the arrival of new blood came undeniable tension.

The population of Palm Beach County grew by around 13 percent between 2010 and 2020, as newcomers flocked from areas like New York City to escape COVID lockdowns
An example of ‘old money’ attire
An example of the ‘new money’ dress style
However, the new and old blood may not be as different as they think, particularly when it comes to politics; Palm Beach remains mostly Republican, with influential supporters of Donald Trump out in full force. (Pictured: Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Palm Beach estate)

‘Old Palm Beachers snicker as they watch women new to the scene arrive in pink, yes, pink, Rolls-Royces, like a battalion of invading Barbies – a shocking display in a town accustomed to understated wealth,’ journalist Daisy Prince wrote in a recent Vanity Fair piece.

‘This new migration has brought its share of horror stories – of newcomers poaching nannies, snapping up tee times and cosmetic surgery appointments, and emitting an overall tenor of rudeness and ruthlessness.’

Palm Beach was the 10th wealthiest city in Florida last year, according to a Forbes ranking, with an average household income of $332,764 and a staggering median home value of $1,523,100.

But while the newcomers may have money, they are lacking a certain element of class, longtime residents insist – while pointing to their flashy Lamborghinis and dark tans.

Arrivals from up north also brought their culture with them, prompting locals to turn up their noses. This includes a new batch of restaurants like Harry’s, a spin-off of the popular Wall Street eatery.

One local snarked to Vanity Fair that the northerners were ‘going about their lives without a clue or even curiosity about others who are not like them, associating only with other people like themselves.’

Some longtime residents have chosen to leave the island entirely. One real estate executive told Vanity Fair that he and his wife had been returning to the area for 50 years before deciding that they were never coming back.

‘Palm Beach always had a certain snobbery about it, but there was a gentility too,’ said the man, who asked to remain anonymous.

‘Ladies would go to their lunches, from the beach club to the Everglades to Ta-boo. But now it’s like they’ve been driven out and have had to recede into their homes.’

Some establishments on the island have learned to adapt. The Colony Hotel, built in 1947, has hosted events for Vogue and Gwyneth Paltrow in recent years in an attempt to appeal to the younger crowd
The building was recently repainted a cheery pink, making it an ideal spot for photo ops

Another man – described as an ‘influential figure in the arts’ – told Vanity Fair ‘I hate it now’ and added that he was thinking about moving to the Hamptons full-time.

‘Palm Beach has been overrun by newbies,’ he continued. ‘And the people are all paper thin, mentally. My wife and I are starving for a cultural and intellectual life.’

However, the new and old blood may not be as different as they think, particularly when it comes to politics. Many of the Covid refugees are Republicans who found themselves among the ranks of similarly minded MAGA fanatics.

And while there is nary a Trump sighting in Palm Beach – ‘He eats at Mar-A-Lago,’ one resident said – many of his supporters are out in full force.

Developer Stephen Ross, a billionaire real estate tycoon responsible for much of the reinvigoration in neighboring West Palm Beach, has been a major supporter of the former president.

The same can be said for Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, and investor Nelson Peltz, who heads the board of directors for Wendy’s.

Trump has hosted fundraisers for conservative groups on the island, but Democrats like California Governor Gavin Newsom and representatives from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have also dropped by.

Amid the rift between old and new money, some businesses have concentrated their effort towards targeting the latest arrivals.

The Colony Hotel, built in 1947, was recently repainted an Instagrammable pink. Patrons can also buy logo-embellished merchandise online.

In the past, the hotel has hosted dinner for Vogue, a party for Martha Stewart’s CBD gummies and celebration for the 15th anniversary of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop – all moves that could be seen as embracing pop culture and concepts familiar to younger generations.

Palm Beach was the tenth wealthiest city in Florida last year, with an average household income of $332,764 and median home value of $1,523,100
An example of ‘old money’ attire
A typical ‘new money’ style

‘The momentum started pre-Covid and then accelerated,’ owner Sarah Wetenhall told Travel and Leisure. The third-generation Palm Beach resident purchased the hotel in 2016 along with her husband Andrew.

‘Anyone who was thinking about moving down here came in full force during the pandemic,’ Wetenhall said.

Since taking command of the Colony, she has seen the community in Palm Beach become younger and more diverse. The average age of hotel guests has decreased by several decades.

‘To a lot of folks, the veil around Palm Beach has been lifted, and it’s more accessible,’ Wetenhall explained.

Another shift can be seen among the island’s private clubs, which serve as a  longtime symbol of wealth, status and connections.

A new name on the block is Carriage House, a club specifically targeting affluent Gen X-ers, that opened in April 2022.

Carriage House touts itself as ‘a modern conception of a classic English social club’ featuring gaudy decorations like leopard-print ceilings and brightly colored furniture.

The dining club is shuttered for half the year. It has yet to gain the status of older establishments and only has 231 members. Many hail from New York and Europe and have shelled out $250,000 to be at the epicenter of the social scene.

But despite scornful locals who remark that the club looks like it was made for social media, people are vying to get in – knowing there is nothing more humiliating than being left out in the cold.

This competition is reflected in rising membership fees across the island. As more newcomers fight to be included, certain clubs are raising the bar for entry.

‘Old money’ style
‘New money’ attired
Palm Beach’s sandy shores, warm weather and famously low property taxes drew thousands to the island during the first wave of Covid-19

‘Palm Beach has had a tension between new and old for a long time,’ said designer Celerie Kemble, who was raised on Palm Beach.

Despite others’ observations of a socio-cultural shift, she insists that the community has maintained its ‘inherent identity’ up to the present day.

Rather than be destroyed, cultural icons are being reimagined. A TikTok page titled ‘Class of Palm Beach,’ for instance, serves as a new-age version of the Palm Beach Daily News, a local paper filled with photos of the ultrawealthy.

The account aims to capture what people on the island wear day to day. Even online, they are not safe from scrutiny as shrewd commenters draw conclusions based on demeanor and style of dress.

About one woman: ‘This is old money. So classy.’

About another: ‘She seems like newer money, saying prices and all.’

The account is the brainchild of 28-year-old Devorah Ezagui, who lived in Palm Beach for part of her childhood and returned last year.

When scoping out people to feature, Ezagui looks for those who appear to have ‘really put intention into their outfit.’

‘People are trying to look for inspiration,’ she told the New York Times.

It is yet to be seen whether Palm Beach’s infrastructure will be able to accommodate the new flood of arrivals as available space continues to shrink
Bridges over the Intracoastal Waterway teem with commuters as people head to work in neighboring West Palm Beach (pictured)

It is yet to be seen whether the island’s infrastructure will be able to accommodate the new flood of people.

This strain is reflected in gripes from longtime residents, one being the difficulty to get kids enrolled in one of the few private schools.

Palm Beach has no public transportation system and available space is shrinking. Waterways brim with yachts and bridges over the Intracoastal Waterway teem with commuters.

‘Old wealth used to wake up on the island all the time and never come over to West Palm for jobs,’ said Kelly Smallridge, president and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.

‘The difference now is you’re not dealing with an average age of 75. You’re dealing with an Ivy League-educated 42-year-old with three kids who bought a home on the island for $8 million and needs to come over to West Palm for a job every day.’

Steps are being taken to diminish the congestion, albeit gradually. The Coast Guard and elected officials instated new rules to reduce the number of times one of the bridges could be raised during rush hours.

And it is not all doom and gloom. Some longtime residents are happy to welcome new blood to the neighborhood.

‘It still feels like home to me, and there are a lot more interesting people around,’ said Celerie Kemble, an interior designer and Palm Beach native of Palm Beach.

Nick Hissom, cofounder of Aktion Art gallery, echoed her point. 

‘There’s definitely been a lot more diversity, integration, young people, mixing of age, culture and industries,’ he added.

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