The city was founded by Henry Flagler in 1894, as a community to house the servants working in the two grand hotels on the neighboring island of Palm Beach, across Lake Worth. The original spelling was "Westpalmbeach", but it was feared that the 13-letter word would be an ominous omen for the fledgling community. During the 1920s, the city boomed and was a rival to Miami, leaving it with many historic structures and neighborhoods. The city quickly declined thereafter, however, due to hurricanes, the Great Depression and rampant suburbanization.
The Palm Beach Mall was Palm Beach County’s first enclosed shopping mall.
In the 1960s, Palm Beach County’s first enclosed shopping mall, the Palm Beach Mall, and indoor arena were completed. These projects then led to another "prime-time" for the city. However, West Palm Beach then declined again a decade later. Crime was a serious issue due to racism and vacancy rates. But following the 1970s to the new millennium, the city had undergone a tremendous renaissance as newcomers have rediscovered the city's historic areas, graceful new high-rises including Donald Trump's elegant “Trump Plaza”, and a resurgent downtown entertainment and shopping district called CityPlace. But, Clematis Street, West Palm Beach's historic shopping venue feared it would lose popularity. To keep that from happening, the Clematis Street district was extensively renovated and refurbished. It is now home to Clematis by Night, an outdoor event held on the street with live music and food. It is also home to West Palm Beach's nightlife, along with CityPlace.
As of the censusGR2 of 2000, there were 82,103 people, 34,769 households, and 18,253 families residing in the city. The population density was 574.9/km² (1,488.9/mi²). There were 40,461 housing units at an average density of 283.3/km² (733.8/mi²).
There were 34,769 households out of which 22.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.3% were married couples living together, 13.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 47.5% were non-families. 37.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 3.02.
In the city, 21.3% of the population is under the age of 18, 9.8% from 18 to 24, 31.5% from 25 to 44, 21.4% from 45 to 64, and 16.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 97.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 94.8 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $36,774, and the median income for a family was $42,074. Males had a median income of $30,221 versus $26,473 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,188. About 20.5% of families and 23.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 29.2% of those under age 18 and 14.8% of those age 65 or over.