JFK bunker nearing the end of its own Cold War


The Coast Guard house on Peanut Island.

For the past 100 years, Peanut Island has been an essential part of the history of Palm Beach County. Its very creation was a direct result of the opening of the Lake Worth Inlet, which transformed Lake Worth into Lake Worth Lagoon, a vital hub for Palm Beach County’s thriving maritime industry. Since its creation, it has served dutifully as a spoil dump, Coast Guard station, public park, and most famously as the site of Hotel Detachment, JFK’s personal fallout shelter during the Cold War. But in recent years Peanut Island has been caught in the midst of its own “cold war”, fought between Palm Beach Maritime Museum, Palm Beach County, and the Port of Palm Beach.

My own experience with the bunker and the museum started when I began volunteering there in April of this year. From the moment I stepped into the old boathouse that now serves as the museum entrance, gift shop, and only place to buy food on the whole island, I was enamored with the place, despite its obvious state of disrepair. It seemed to be frozen in time. The wooden, weather-beaten, old Coast Guard house had a scent reminiscent to that of an ancient library with volumes of knowledge to be discovered and absorbed. The bunker, a series of steel corridors buried out of sight, hummed with echoes of the past.

For more than 25 years, the Coast Guard house, boathouse, and bunker has been leased by the Palm Beach Maritime Museum from the Port of Palm Beach and operated through a non-profit company called Maritime Business. Through the years the Port has not allowed the museum to pursue any ventures on the island which would provide a secondary, more sustainable source of income, such as charity events and a restaurant located in the boathouse.

The direct result has been that the museum has not been able to make enough money to properly maintain the site. Its condition has thus continuously deteriorated. The county has declared the museum to not be up to code on multiple occasions, causing the port and the museum to take legal action against each other.

But it seems the battle may be coming to a close, after a deal struck between the port and the county. On October 31st, the county will take over the lease from the museum, effectively making the property a part of the public park on the island, something it tried to do once before in 2005. It is still unclear whether or not the county will immediately take over or allow the Maritime Business to continue operation of the museum for another year.

Without a doubt, stability for the museum is set to arrive with the change of management, but some, (myself included) are suspicious of the county’s intentions and of their ability to preserve the museum in a way that also preserves its history. Such concerns have manifested themselves in a plan by the Maritime Museum and Maritime Business to potentially move the Coast Guard house across the lagoon to the museum’s other location at Currie Park, where it would be better maintained and more accessible to the public.