Our (se)X-rated history
A titillating tour of nudity in Palm Beach County
The neighborhood uproar over a new strip club in suburban West Palm Beach is the latest chapter in Palm Beach County’s long, rich history of public squabbles over nudity, provocative public art and the law.
When the Double Dee’s Ranch and Saloon opens soon on Southern Boulevard west of Florida’s Turnpike, it won’t be the first time that the county has been simultaneously titillated, appalled, and amused by the collision of prurient and economic interests.
And for those who haven’t been here long, or have forgotten our libidinous tradition, it might be worth taking a little journey down mammary lane through our sordid, comical, and sometimes uplifting past.
You can go back to 1969, when the Lake Worth Playhouse used to be called the “Playtoy”, and functioned as the area’s most notorious movie house for smutty cinema. So much so, that a state appellate court sided with Palm Beach County prosecutors who got a court order to prevent the screening of a movie there called “Hot Spur,” which was described by TV Guide as “a rancid ‘western’ which is basically an excuse for lots of sick sex and bloody violence.”
Police, in an effort to discourage the X-rated theater’s patrons, would stand outside and pretend to snap photos of customers entering and leaving. And when the movie “Deep Throat” played there in the 1970s, police raided the theater, confiscated the prints and charged the employees with misdemeanor crimes.
“Lake Worth has become known as the skin-flick capital of the country,” then-city commissioner Dennis Dorsey grumbled.
Palm Beach County would distinguish itself in many other ways, too. T’s Lounge, a strip club near Palm Beach International Airport, is credited as being a pioneer in nearly naked contests of creamed corn wrestling.
And any short list of county civil rights icons must certainly include the lawyer Allen J. DeWeese, who bravely ran through Palm Beach without wearing a shirt in the mid-1980s, in clear violation of the town’s prohibition against topless male jogging.
“The human body is an artistic medium,” DeWeese’s lawyers argued in federal court. “DeWeese maintains that by refusing to wear a shirt, he communicates a philosophy to members of the public who observe him about health, fitness and the oneness of mind and body.”
And would we ever have answered the question of how much rear end is too much rear end, if it hadn’t been for the thonged hot-dog vendor Gloria Gonzalez distracting Palm Beach County drivers with her roadside cart?
Or more recently, whether Art in Public Places money in Wellington ought to be spent on mermaid statues that are so anatomically endowed that they make Playboy magazine?
We have answered many questions here in Palm Beach County, from the viability of topless doughnut shops, to nudist political candidates, to the trumpet as a marital aid. And let’s not forget our clothing-optional restaurant that’s open to the public.
We have had naked theater on the beach by activist T.A. Wyner, who now, at age 69, plans to return to Palm Beach County’s shorefront this winter for a new production.
“I’ve written 10 plays,” she said. “The one I’m doing in February is called, ‘Sex is not the only word in the language of nudity — nudity speaks volumes.’”
What other community has its own nude playwright?
So here’s a timeline of some of our greatest hits, from the Roxanne Pulitzer divorce trial to the opening of the latest strip club.
1985-1987: Trumpet, topless jogger and doughnuts in the raw
June 1985 — This month’s issue of Playboy magazine features an eight-page nude photo spread of Palm Beach’s celebrity divorcee, Roxanne Pulitzer. Pulitzer’s tabloid-chronicled divorce trial in 1982 featured sensational testimony of infidelity by both partners, and included the husband’s claim that Roxanne took a trumpet to bed with her.
“I used the trumpet only once, as a religious symbol, an instrument to talk to the dead,” the wife explained.
But it led to her nickname as “The Strumpet with the Trumpet,” which she satirized in her Playboy shoot by posing with a trumpet on the cover.
January 1987 — Dandy Doughboy Donuts gives up its yearlong battle to operate as a topless doughnut shop in West Palm Beach. Owner Jerry Gallagher had enlisted the help of flamboyant celebrity attorney Ellis Rubin, the last of three lawyers who tried unsuccessfully to turn the serving of doughnuts by topless female waitresses into an inalienable right.
A year earlier, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Richard Wennet ordered that doughnut shop waitresses couldn’t be topless, but could wear see-through blouses. But the county and the landlord continued to push for eviction, saying the business violated its lease by operating as an adult entertainment business.
“They don’t dance and sing,” Gallagher said about his waitresses. “They serve coffee, food and doughnuts — that’s it.”
March 1987 — An eight-year legal fight over a Palm Beach ordinance that makes it a crime for men to jog topless in town ends when a federal appeals court in Atlanta finds the law to be unconstitutional.
“After careful study and thought, we conclude that the Town’s assertions of generalized interests in history, tradition, identity, and quality of life are in truth a mere circumlocution for enforcing the town fathers’ view of the proper fashion for personal dress in Palm Beach,” the opinion said.
1990-1994: Nude play, walk-a-thong, and private peeps at Madonna’s ‘Sex’
July 1990 — Nude activist T.A. Wyner is arrested at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park on Singer Island for disorderly conduct. She appeared at the beach wearing only two placards depicting the Bill of Rights. The charge was later dismissed.
February 1991 — Wyner and three other nudists are arrested at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park on Singer Island while performing a play in the nude. Wyner’s 13-page play “The Man and the Beach” was about MacArthur, a billionaire skinny-dipper. The actors surrounded the performance area with 135 feet of fabric to create a privacy area for anyone who didn’t want to see the nudists.
February 1992 — Palm Beach County has its first and last strippers protest march. The First Annual Walk-a-Thong to Benefit the Homeless of Palm Beach County ran into some early problems when the county’s homeless groups said “no thanks.” The Presidents Day spectacle was the brainchild of Barry Silver, the lawyer for Gloria Gonzalez, the thonged hot-dog vendor.
The idea was that strippers dressed in thongs would stage a 3-mile protest march on a triangular route between T’s Lounge, the Mermaid Lounge and the Landing Strip — the strip club equivalent of the Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. A small number of women participated. No vehicle crashes were reported. It never happened again.
August 1992 — Palm Beach County Judge Peter Evans issues a 13-page ruling dismissing the county’s complaint against Gloria Gonzalez, the thong-bikini roadside hot-dog vendor at the corner of Military Trail and Forest Hill Boulevard. The county had contended that Gonzalez needed to screen her mostly uncovered rear end from passing traffic by working at her wagon behind a 4-foot enclosure.
Evans found the county ordinance too vague. “This court finds that the phrase ‘substantially covers the buttocks’ lends itself to variant interpretations,” Evans wrote. “It is impossible for ordinary persons or this court to determine the legislative intent.”
October 1992 — Liberties, an independent book store in Boca Raton, sells $1-per-minute views of Madonna’s new glossy picture book entitled “Sex.” Owner Vald Svekis constructed a privacy booth in the middle of the book store, very much like a voting booth. The book sits on a table inside the booth. Patrons who want to see the nude photos of Madonna in the book estimate how much time they will need, then pre-pay a store employee, who starts an egg timer to let the patron know when time is up. The money raised went to an AIDS charity.
March 1994 — Kathy Willets, a Tamarac call girl who unsuccessfully pioneered a nymphomaniac defense, is arrested at T’s Lounge strip club in West Palm Beach for performing an act deemed to be obscene. The charge is eventually dropped.
1995-1997: Naked statues, strip club slipups
February 1995 — Six human-form statues by artist Itzik Asher go on display in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park. The city’s Community Development Agency finds the lone male statue (with its wedding tackle fully displayed) inappropriate for the shopping plaza. Asher is ordered to place a metal fig leaf over the male statue’s groin. He bangs one out, then affixes it to the statue. He isn’t happy.
“My nudes are so innocent,” Asher complains. “And nude is part of the concept of my sculpture. You cannot describe simplicity with clothes. My heart cannot have clothes.”
Asher finally couldn’t take it. He climbed a pedestal to get to his statue in the park, and personally ripped off the metal fig leaf, saying, “Let my people go!”
February 1996 — After a 5-year intermission of court battles, nude activist T.A. Wyner revives her nude play at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park. Under the court agreement, the play has to be performed at least 100 yards north of the beach’s northernmost boardwalk, and a bolt of cloth must be placed as a perimeter around the performance.
The settlement acknowledged “that nudity, subject to reasonable restrictions on time, place and manner, is generally protected as speech when combined with some mode of expression which itself is entitled to First Amendment protection.”
June 1996 — Self-proclaimed nympho Kathy Willets, free from jail after serving a sentence for prostitution, takes her “Let the Flashlight Shine Tour” to T’s Lounge, in an act that also involves pingpong balls and Lee Greenwood’s song, “Proud to be an American.”
May 1997 — A patron of Tiffany’s Cabaret in Boynton Beach files a lawsuit claiming that he injured his back due to a lap dance from a heavy stripper.
2000-2003: Nude politics and a naked restaurant
March 2000 — Nudist finishes third in three-way race for Tequesta Village Council. Jim Kamen did not highlight his business experience running No Pockets Yacht Charters, or show his on-the-job photos hanging out in the hot tub or on deck with his clients.
“It’s the type of thing some people can get excited about,” he said. “They think there’s going to be fornication on the front lawn. I didn’t want to detract from the campaign.”
November 2000 — The Mermaid Lounge — a strip club across the street from the county building used to recount ballots for the contested presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore — gets in the spirit of the times: Show your voter card and get a free drink.
May 2001 — Palm Beach County begins its short-lived program to require all strippers to have a county-issued photo ID with them while they work. The county registered the strippers in the same place used to recount the ballots for the 2000 presidential election. Makes sense: Chads are dangling, either way.
June 2002 — Palm Beach’s County’s nudist camp, Sunsport Gardens in Loxahatchee, opens the Sunsport Cafe, a clothing-optional restaurant open to the public. “We’ve found that most customers feel more comfortable when the cook has clothes on,” said Cathy Bolick, one of the owners of the restaurant.
January 2003 — T’s strip club in West Palm Beach installs defibrillators and teaches strippers how to revive men’s hearts if they give out during lap dances.
2005-2007: More naked statues and ‘nice breasticals’
July 2005 — Local artist Norm Gitzen installs The Siren, a voluptuous mermaid statue, in front of the Wellington Cultural Center as part of the village’s Art in Public Places Program. Residents immediately start complaining that the oversized bosom on the statue makes it inappropriate to be installed so near the family-friendly community center.
March 2006 — Gitzen asks Wellington Village Council permission to put nipples on his bronze mermaid statue, The Siren, a month before its scheduled return in front of the community center. Instead, village council bars Gitzen from bringing back The Siren, with or without nipples.
July 2006 — Harold, a 1,200-pound, 7-foot-tall anatomically correct gargoyle sculpture, goes on display outside T’s Lounge in West Palm Beach. The statue draws the interest of code enforcers, who consider whether T’s should be cited for putting the statue’s fully formed groin on display to passing motorists on Congress Avenue.
In a gesture of conciliation, club owner Gary Odle hires Gitzen to create a hinged metal fig leaf for the strip club gargoyle, which would allow curious pedestrians to inspect under it, if desired, while shielding the anatomy of the statue from passing vehicle traffic.
July 2007 — A vengeful ex-girlfriend secretly videotapes Palm Beach County Judge Richard Wennet as he wades in landshark-infested waters around Peanut Island, where many people are cavorting in and out of their bathing suits.
“There are some really nice breasticals,” the judge says on the video. “God bless them all, one and all. And I realize how much more I really do appreciate the joy of reconstructive surgery.”
When the former girlfriend, Julie Ann Domotor, published the videotape on YouTube, Wennet had her thrown in jail for videotaping him without permission. Wennet’s no stranger to breastical matters. He was the judge in the topless doughnut case 21 years earlier.
September 2007 — Art committee for Town of Jupiter rejects local artist Cynthia Grey’s photograph of Michelangelo’s David statue for display in the town’s Gallery of Art. The photograph, shot looking upward, emphasizes the statues groin too much, the committee decided.
“I know being against David is like being against motherhood,” said Faye Schrecengost, the art committee coordinator. “If we hung it, we would have received comments and would have received complaints.”
October 2007 — Rachel’s strip club in West Palm Beach announces it will provide free flu shots to patrons who are 55 or older.
2009-2012: On stage: Naked extras, celebrity strippers
September 2009 — South Palm Beach Mayor Martin Millar is thrown out of Rachel’s after displaying his mayor’s badge and shining a police tactical flashlight at the dancers.
June 2010— Finding actors willing to strip on stage for a performance of the musical “Hair” at Boca Raton’s Caldwell Theatre was a problem for producer Vicki Halmos. Until she was introduced to Lake Worth’s radical environmentalist community.
It turned out that members of the Everglades Earth First movement had been making money for years by moonlighting as nude art models for painting classes at The Armory Arts Center in West Palm Beach. They all lived together in Lake Worth in a house called “The Canoe,” and were happy to make some money by appearing as nude hippie extras.
“We have a knack for being theatrical,” one them explained. “And we didn’t have to quit our day jobs.”
November 2010 — The infamous Siren statue, banned from Wellington, takes up temporary residence outside T’s Lounge. The top-heavy mermaid statue, sporting a pink sash, was placed in front of the strip club as part of its breast-cancer awareness campaign. “It’s an obvious tie-in with my business,” club owner Gary Odle said.
Although, in this context, the upraised arms of The Siren look less like triumphant exaltation, and more like a strip-club mermaid learning to work the pole.
August 2011 — Sunsport Gardens, the naturist resort in Loxahatchee, holds its first nude 5K run. Participants of the Streak Sunsport 5K each get a commemorative T-shirt. And no, it’s not transparent.
December 2011 — Amy Fisher guest-strips at T’s Lounge. Fisher, is better known as the Long Island Lolita, the 17-year-old girl who became notorious in the early 1990s when she tried to kill the wife of her 36-year-old boyfriend, Joey Buttafuoco.
July 2012 — T’s Lounge goes to court to order Octomom to make her nationwide stripping debut in the West Palm Beach club, rather than in Broward County. Nadya Suleman, the California woman who gave birth to octuplets after having six previous children through in-vitro fertilization, decided to turn stripper after her reality TV opportunities evaporated. She had signed a contract with T’s Lounge to strip there for eight shows in conjunction with the release of her solo-performance porn video: “Octomom: Home Alone.”
Suleman refused to strip at T’s, though, after a local TV news report quoted a club bartender saying, “She must be a little crazy. Normal people don’t have that many children.” The courts refused to bar Octomom from taking her act to Broward. But she did dance at T’s Lounge the following year.
2013-2016: A new strip club, a resting spot for naked mermaid
July 2013 – The estate of Marilyn Monroe sues West Palm Beach strip club Monroe’s Elite Adult Club & Steakhouse for using the name and likeness of the dead actress without permission.
January 2015 — The Palm Beach County Commission votes 5-2 to allow the Double Dee’s Ranch and Saloon to serve food at its Southern Boulevard location in suburban West Palm Beach.
A company managed by John Staluppi, a car and yacht magnate once accused by the FBI of having mob ties, bought the Double Dee’s site and transferred it to a company managed by his son-in-law. Three years earlier, a company managed by Staluppi bought another area strip club, now called Monroe’s, from a firm tied to Thomas Farese, a convicted felon described in a federal indictment as a legal counselor of the Colombo crime family.
Neighbors had tried to stop Double Dee’s from getting a zoning change to operate in an industrial area. They worried that it would attract crime. The club’s lawyer argued that “intense landscaping” will make the club practically invisible to passersby on Southern Boulevard.
February 2016 — Sunsport Gardens holds its 28th annual Mid-Winter Naturist Festival, drawing hundreds of nude tourists from around the country.
September 2016 — The Siren statue resides on a trailer in the side of artist Norm Gitzen’s yard in suburban Lake Worth. “She’s a good saleswoman for me,” Gitzen said. “I’ve made some bronze miniatures of her, and I’ve taken her out to several cancer walks.”
November 2016 — Double Dee’s Ranch and Saloon expects to hold its grand opening.