By Amanda Festa
According to his biography, “Esteemed historian, James Ponce, knows more about The Breakers and the destination of Palm Beach than anyone else alive.” While this seems to be a tall order, anyone who has spoken with the affable Mr. Ponce, or taken one of his highly esteemed and entertaining tours, can vouch for the validity of this statement. Ponce has, in fact, spent nearly two thirds of his life sharing his extensive knowledge and love of Palm Beach with visitors of the gorgeous Florida community. This year Mr. Ponce celebrates his 95th birthday, as well as 60 years of service at The Breakers, a 116 year old resort destination listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It seems only fitting for Literary Traveler to honor this incredible man’s contribution to the preservation of the rich historical legacy of the resort and its surrounding area.
While Ponce officially retired from the resort in 1982, he has continued on as the official historian of The Breakers. One can find him leading weekly walking tours of the property, sharing his immense knowledge and passion with visitors. Dressed in period attire, he has continued to delight travelers with tales about the development of the island, the history of the hotel and its well-known guests, as well as offering up a charismatic impression of the resort’s founder, Henry Flagler. Adored by adults and children alike, in addition to walking tours, the amiable historian also lectures at local elementary schools, sharing historical yarns with eager and enthusiastic students. .
Ponce has always had an unquenchable enthusiasm for history, and now he is making it. In addition to his role as official historian of The Breakers, he is also the official historian of the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce. He has become a Palm Beach institution and in 1996 the island’s town council gave Ponce the title of “Palm Beach’s only two-legged, historical landmark.” The jovial historian’s love for the Palm Beach area is contagious and those lucky enough to participate in one of his tours will not soon forget the experience.
The Breakers itself is a prominent oceanfront resort. Aside from its ample historical importance, the AAA Five Diamond property also offers 36 holes of championship golf, a Mediterranean-style beach club, a half mile stretch of private beach and an oceanfront spa. There is no shortage of reasons to travel to Palm Beach for a stay at The Breakers, but now you can add one more reason to the list. No trip to the resort would be complete without experiencing the property through its own living landmark, who, at 95, can still be found leading guests through the luxurious grounds passing on his ample knowledge to eager ears.