In 1998 when the West Palm Beach Historic Preservation Board discussed the property at 233 8th Street some members were almost gleeful when going over the details of its history, construction and condition. Few area homes have these elements so well connected. Historic designation was granted on the first vote. Not long after, the City Commission made this official.

The earliest recorded landowner of this property was E. M. Brelsford, one of the 19th century pioneers who lived on the island across the Intracoastal waterway. It was in Brelsford’s hardware store that he and other island homesteaders voted on the name “Palm Beach.” In time Henry Flagler came to the area and Brelsford sold the largest part of his island property to the industrialist. Flagler built his home, Whitehall, on the same spot that Brelsford’s hardware store had stood.

West Palm Beach was founded in 1896 as a place for Palm Beach workers to live, Flagler having a vision of the island as an exclusive resort with all the supporting players living away — across the water. People migrated to the area for jobs as the community began a rapid growth and it promised to be a fine place to live. In 1903 one of the arrivals was a teenage Alfred Sadler who had grown up at Jacksonville Beach where his father had been a sheriff. In

1907 Sadler joined the volunteer West Palm Beach Fire Department and in 1913 was voted as the Chief, a year later becoming a city official as its first paid, full-time Fire Chief. While little biographical information about him exists, it is clear from city and fire department records that he was a natural organizer who focused seriously on fire safety and making the city a safer place to be and build. He designed the city’s fire water grid system and worked closely with elected city officials to keep his department and city infrastructure in step with a booming population.

By the 1920s Palm Beach was a world-renowned resort and on the mainland West Palm Beach an especially desirable place to live. Fire was seen as the biggest threat to the building investments in the area, with stores and shops built just inches away from other wood structures, so Alfred Sadler held serious sway as the Fire Chief. He educated himself on the elements of construction, fast becoming expert at the best methods. By the mid 1920s Sadler and his wife Gertrude had saved enough to plan and build a house of their own. At the time Brelsford was a leading property insurance broker and still had land to sell. The area immediately north of downtown, owned by Brelsford and the Gruber / Carlberg partnership, was being developed and was already touted as the new “high end” neighborhood still within sight of the water. Years later it would be named Providencia Park.  In 1925 while lots there were being sold for thousands, Brelsford thought enough of Sadler to sell him the lot on 8th Street for a token $100.

As detailed in the Features section the house Sadler built was unique and made to the highest standard. The only other name associated with it was Jack McIntire, the contractor.  The house they built was like a fortress.  Sadler’s skill at overseeing this impressed WPB officials enough that they placed him in charge of building code enforcement throughout the city.  Construction continued through 1926 when the Sadlers moved in.  The Providencia Park neighborhood had a mixture of “frame vernacular” homes and frame-stucco homes like this one, with either Mission or Mediterranean Revival style.   Each home was larger than standard for the day and no two were alike. Residents were primarily professionals with Chief Sadler at the South end and the city’s mayor at the North.  Before there was a seawall, where Old Flagler Road is today, a beach existed where neighborhood children often went for a swim after school.  Sadler went fishing there whenever he could find the time away from his work.  As another pioneer later told this writer, the place was a paradise.

The young community suffered its first and most devastating blow in 1928 when a great hurricane, a Category 5, made a direct hit.  The early frame structures in downtown West Palm Beach were reduced to rubble and sticks as whole city blocks were flattened.  The death toll was the ​second-highest in US history after thousands drowned in floods around Lake Okeechobee.  Sadler’s  fire department assisted in the removal of hundreds of bodies from the Glades area to a mass grave on 25th Street.

In Providencia Park nearly every home had some kind of damage, particularly in the 400 block where many homes lost roofs.  Sadler’s sturdy house almost escaped harm but during the first half of the storm a single tile flew off the roof of a nearby house (at 229 9th Street) and punctured a window of a house across the street (at 234 9th Street). Then with the window blown-in wind filled that house until it lifted the entire roof off, which came crashing against the side of the Sadler house 90 feet away. Years later Sadler told of going out during the eye of the storm to see what had happened. As he stood in the carport and struck a match, he marveled that the air was so still the flame didn’t flicker.

The stucco repairs from that incident are visible on the Sadler house today. It is apparently the only physical trauma the house has ever endured.

The Sadlers figured regularly in local news and society, with the Chief frequently appearing before the city commission to address fire department needs or city-wide building issues. He led with thoroughness and exacting detail. His department personnel rules included one stating: “All members of the fire department must remember that they are gentlemen at all times, that is, they must refrain from the use of coarse, profane or insolent language or dis-respectfulness either to a fellow officer, superior officer, member or citizen.”  But his firemen knew him as more than an administrator.  He would drive-up to every fire emergency in his Chief’s car and stand by to lend a hand or charge up a ladder if needed.  Gertrude Sadler was an officer with the West Palm Beach Women’s Club and if for some reason the Club’s building on Flagler Drive wasn’t available (as after the hurricane) meetings were held in her spacious living room / dining area at 233 8thStreet.

Chief Sadler remained in charge of the WPB Fire Department for decades, a constant through a succession of Mayors and City Commissions, good times and bad, becoming an institution in the community.  In 1947 he tried to retire but the city prevailed upon him to stay a little longer. Finally he was able to leave the department in 1949 after over 40 years of service, to stay at home and care for his ailing wife. He was known as “Alf” to his neighbors and valued as a fine old gentleman with a keen sense of humor and lots of stories to tell.  Inside his house was a “trophy room” of his most spectacular ocean catches.  Near the back door there was a perch for his pet parrot, a creature that knew all the neighbors names and would screech them out at odd intervals. One day in the 1960s some neighbors looked up in alarm to see old Chief Sadler at the top of a ladder, thirty feet in the air, chasing pigeons out of his chimney.   Gertrude had died in 1956 and Alfred passed away at his house in 1971, age 83. They are buried at Woodlawn cemetery.  Some of the young people who grew up around them and this house were still living in the neighborhood to tell the current owners these details in the 1990s.   The experience of living in the house was enriched in knowing some of what had come before.

The house was purchased from the estate sale by Mr. and Mrs. Ionescu, with subsequent owners Karp, Campbell, and Sloane.   The Ionescu’s ran an antique store in Lake Worth and were kind enough to later pass a few of Sadler’s belongings on to the current owners.

The story and search for answers about this fascinating house brought a curious twist when in 1996, to commemorate the centennial of the West Palm Beach Fire Department, Battalion Chief Ron Johnson wrote the following words:

Chief Sadler virtually lived for the fire department. Other than his hobbies of fishing and hunting, there was not much else of interest to him. A bit of information about his personal life shows how dedicated he was to the department.

“Sometime in the 1920s Sadler found his income sufficient to build a new home. Wanting to be close to the action, he selected a lot in the 200 block of 8th Street. The house had one unusual feature that remains there today. The second floor had an outside stairway leading down to the garage so S

adler could rush to his car when the alarm sounded. He probably would rather have had a pole to slide, but his wife would surely have had none of that.

Stairs at rear of house.

In the late 1980s, the house was purchased by an inquisitive man who wanted to know about the unique stairs. After learning that the house had been owned by a former fire chief in West Palm Beach, he came to Central Station to find out more about the man. The visitor was shown the many pictures of Chief Sadler on the walls of Central Station and given a copy of The Fire History of the City of West Palm Beach.

Firefighters are not the only ones interested in such things.”