August Urbanek – Thoughts On His Passing
After a dark and stormy night, especially after a dark and stormy night, somewhere between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m., even with the air conditioner humming and the overhead fan spinning, you could hear the stop-go of the car, and then the sound of newspapers landing. Plop, plop. Plop. Sometimes even three plops. The third plop would be The New York Times. This went up and down the street; practically every house had at least one plop.
That did not seem long ago, but it was probably 15 years, maybe 20. The plop of newspapers being delivered was as predictable as the sound of aircraft starting their day from the airport, and you knew that within a few minutes the sun also would rise. Last week it was different. The papers were late, and we were waiting on the porch. The car (actually it was a small pickup) eventually came by, with the sun beating it by minutes, and there was a plop-plop and the Sun-Sentineland Herald made their arrivals. Then there was silence, as the vehicle went down the street for a block or two, turned around and headed north. That covered about 15 houses, all inhabited by credit-worthy souls. Yet there was only one more “plop” within earshot. That was the big house on the corner, owned by a prominent banker-builder. His plop was probably the Sun-Sentinel, but it would not be surprising if it were the Times. The Times is an ego feeder, even if the ego rarely reads the whole paper.
This is the state of the newspaper business, here and over there. On our street almost nobody gets a paper, and that has something to do with the fact that the death of August Urbanek, which once would have been front-page news, was confined to the paid obits. August who? That’s the problem.
The story goes back to the 1980s, when Carl Mayhue, who made his money in the liquor store business, led a campaign to build a theater in Fort Lauderdale. People thought he was crazy; the location he was pushing was west of the FEC Railway tracks, in the oldest section of town. It had turned into a bum-in-the-doorway section. Nobody went there. And yet Mayhue saw a spot on the bend of the New River, which gave its name to the Sailboat Bend neighborhood, that would make a great site for this facility, which he thought could be a catalyst to revive the entire section.
August Urbanek, a Czech immigrant who had made a fortune in development, was a known philanthropist and a natural target for a contribution. When Mayhue called, Urbanek said he was good for $3.5 million, providing Mayhue first raised the seed money for the campaign. Mayhue did, to Urbanek’s surprise, and when Mayhue called to say he had the money, Urbanek delivered his check the next day. Thus was born the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, a remarkable cultural facility for a city the size of Fort Lauderdale. And, as Mayhue envisioned, the once-seedy neighborhood has turned into part of the Riverwalk commonly known as the Arts & Entertainment District.
Joe Amaturo, who was a major contributor himself (the Amaturo Theater), recalls a dinner related to the Broward Center when Urbanek asked if he could sit at his table. “Sit at my table?” said Amaturo today. “I would be honored to sit at his table. And when it came time to recognize people, nobody mentioned him. Well, I had been asked to say a few words, and when I got up I spent about three minutes talking about him. Without Augie Urbanek, I don’t think we would have the Performing Arts Center today.”
August Urbanek spent his last years in Boca Raton. He died at 92. You would not know it if his family had not paid for the obit in the paper. But then again, when the plop-plops disappear day by day, maybe it doesn’t make any difference.