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Florida Architecture of Addison Mizner
By Donald W. Curl
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1992 Donald W. Curl
All rights reserved.
Addison Mizner and Alice DeLamar
DURING THE 1920s, American publishers discovered the reading public's interest in architecture and brought out numerous volumes on individual architects' work and various architectural styles. One of the most lavish of these books, Florida Architecture of Addison Mizner, published in 1928, presented 184 photographs of 40 of the architect's creations in Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Jacksonville, reproduced in the rich sepia tones of the rotogravure process.
Mizner personally autographed 100 copies of a special deluxe, gold-tooled, red-Morocco-leather-bound and slipcased "Edición Imperial" of Florida Architecture of Addison Mizner for friends and clients. In one copy of the deluxe edition the architect wrote: "To Alice / My Lorenzo the Magnificent / Addison." Certainly Alice A. DeLamar well deserved the tribute. She had conceived of the idea for the book, aided in the photography, edited its copy, designed its pages and, after securing a publisher, subsidized its production. Calling the book a monument to Mizner—"flowers to the living instead of the dead"—DeLamar also helped sell $300 subscriptions to almost a hundred friends and clients of the architect for the deluxe edition.
When Addison Cairns Mizner (1872–1933) arrived in Palm Beach in 1918, Henry M. Flagler's Royal Poinciana and Breakers hotels dominated both the social and architectural life of the resort. Although a few pioneer resorters had built their own houses, the hotels still served as the center for society, providing the facilities for golf and tennis, and for swimming at the oceanfront Breakers' casino pool and beach. Moreover, afternoon-tea dances at the Royal Poinciana's Cocoanut Grove, multicourse dinners at both hotels and elaborate parties dedicated to special charities or marking annual observances, such as the Washington's Birthday Ball of February 22 that officially ended the season, drew hotel guests and cottagers alike.
Architecturally the Colonial Revival detailing of the wooden frame hotels, painted "Flagler yellow" with white trim, in no way reflected their semitropical setting. Theodore Blake, a draftsman for Carrère & Hastings, the New York firm that designed Flagler's St. Augustine hotels and his Palm Beach mansion, drew up the plans for the Royal Poinciana in 1893. Flagler insisted that the St. Augustine buildings should reflect that city's Spanish heritage. But although Blake had come to Carrère & Hastings from the St. Augustine concern of McDonald and McGuire (the contractors for all of Flagler's Florida buildings), there was no hint of the Spanish in his Palm Beach project. Over the years, Blake's original six-story hotel on the shores of Lake Worth grew to become a vast sprawling structure that could house 1,200 guests and seat 1,600 in its immense dining room.
The Breakers opened as the Palm Beach Inn in 1896 and proved popular with hotel guests from the first. After a 1903 fire destroyed the L-shaped four-story building, Flagler built a much larger U-shaped five-story hotel in its place. These hotels attracted America's captains of industry and its social elite. By the turn of the century, newspapers were referring to Palm Beach as "the winter Newport."
From the beginning, some vacationers preferred to own their own resort houses. Built for use only a few months of the year, the generally unpretentious shingle-style or Queen Anne cottages lined the shore of Lake Worth. Although Flagler completed Whitehall, a million-dollar white-marble mansion, in 1902 as a wedding gift for Mary Lily Kenan, his third wife, most resort cottages remained small and unostentatious until just before America entered World War I. In those years a number of winter visitors decided to build more opulent mansions and to situate them on the oceanfront. Henry Carnegie Phipps and his sister, Mrs. Frederick Guest, both had F. Burrall Hoffman, Jr., design large houses for them on the ocean. Their brother John also built a house in the same area, as did his father-in-law, Michael P. Grace. All were impressive mansions with columned porticoes and other Beaux-Arts features, but they showed no Spanish influence and would have seemed at home in any Northern resort.
By the time Florida Architecture of Addison Mizner was published, just a decade after Mizner came to Palm Beach, the town had been transformed both socially and architecturally. Mizner came to Palm Beach in January 1918 as the houseguest of Paris Singer, the heir to the sewing-machine fortune. Singer quickly became bored with the hotel-centered social life and decided that Palm Beach needed a private club. He had spent most of his life in Europe, and had converted houses in France and England into military hospitals as his contribution to the Allied war effort. He now commissioned Mizner to design a hospital for convalescents that could easily become a club at the war's end. When the new Everglades Club opened in 1919 the war had ended, and no veterans volunteered to recuperate in remote Palm Beach. As its owner, Singer selected a group of the most socially prominent resorters as a board of governors for the new club, and together they decided upon the applications for membership. So many applied that by the end of the season Singer announced a membership limit of 300.
From the beginning, the Everglades Club became the exclusive center for the most prominent members of resort society. The club's dramatic setting directly on the shores of Lake Worth, its romantic Spanish Revival style, with sources ranging from Alhambra courtyards to Colonial mission churches, and its innovative adaptation to the South Florida climate also made it an immediate architectural success. In typical Spanish style and as befitted an exclusive private club, the Everglades turned its back to Worth Avenue. Its major rooms opened onto secluded courtyards and the broad terrace that seemed to float over the shoreline of Lake Worth. Arcades of French doors provided both cross-ventilation (in an era before air-conditioning) and convenient access to these outdoor spaces.
Some resorters associated the Spanish style of the Everglades Club with their reason for vacationing in Palm Beach: the enjoyment of Florida's tropical winter. Others were attracted by the club's exclusive membership. This was confirmed when Eva Stotesbury, the wife of Morgan partner Edward Stotesbury and already recognized as the grande dame of Palm Beach society, commissioned Mizner to design El Mirasol, her new seaside mansion, in the Spanish style. Mizner brought to El Mirasol, his first residential commission in the resort, the innovations he had first employed in the club, and El Mirasol's plan would serve as a model for most of Mizner's large oceanfront villas. Large French doors opened onto the oceanfront terrace and the arcaded cloisters that surrounded the sheltered patios. His one-room-deep, U-shaped plan allowed for complete ventilation. He filled the courtyards with plants and grass (unlike the typical Spanish patio), allowing the vegetation to become another cooling device. He placed all the major rooms on the high ridge for the view of beach and surf; entry to the house was from the floor below. A broad staircase with elegant low risers led up to the cloister on the east side of the patio, which gave access to the dining room, living room and library. Mizner arranged the service rooms and kitchen in the northwest wing of the house; as the prevailing winter breeze came from the southeast, this prevented cooking odors from permeating the house.
By the time the 1919–20 season opened, Mizner had completed houses for the Stotesburys, Charles Munn, his brother Gurnee Munn and himself. He quickly became identified as the fashionable architect for Palm Beach society. Commissions for additional resort villas, new clubs, shops, office buildings and apartments quickly followed. All of Mizner's buildings in the resort could be labeled "Spanish," or, as the purists prefer, "Mediterranean Revival." He used barrel tiles for his roofs, though as he thought most American-made tiles had "the color of a slaughterhouse floor," he insisted on those imported from Europe or made in his own factory. Most of his buildings had rough stucco walls that provided depth and texture. He used ornamental ironwork, as well as cast-stone window frames, doorways, arches and columns, which he also manufactured. Towers and chimney pots on his roofs gave his buildings a distinctive skyline and projected height, as he found Florida "flat as a pancake." Overall, while he might borrow ideas from many sources and even different historical periods, his taste kept him from slavishly copying a design.
Mizner's style became the style of Palm Beach society. When new architects such as Marion Sims Wyeth (1889–1982), Maurice Fatio (1897–1943), Howard Major (1883–1974) and John L. Volk (1901–1984) opened Palm Beach offices, they found that clients expected them to design Mediterranean-style villas. When Mizner had arrived in 1918, Palm Beach could have passed for a New Jersey seaside resort; by 1928 it had taken on the air of a Spanish town.
Alice DeLamar first met Mizner in January 1920 through his nephew, Horace Chase, Jr. She first saw this young man on crutches, with numerous ugly red scars on his leg, leaping exuberantly in and out of the waves on the beach. Her companions immediately assumed he had suffered a serious war injury, but someone informed them that he had recently been attacked by a shark. Horace Chase and Alice DeLamar became fast friends, and before the month ended he took her to meet his uncle.
Mizner then lived at 720 South Ocean Boulevard in the first house he designed for himself, which he later sold to Harold S. Vanderbilt. DeLamar later called it an altogether charming small oceanfront house with red-tile roof and "parchment bluff" painted stucco walls. Mizner received her in a small brick-paved patio, in a jungle of banyans, cabbage palms and other wild tangled trees. A small fountain and masses of plants in assorted earthenware pots convinced Alice she was in a Mediterranean garden. She found the library-living room "a rare treat to any one who appreciated unusual taste." Spanish and Italian antique furniture, placed informally throughout the rooms, made the six-month-old house seem as if it had been comfortably inhabited for several generations. Mizner's "zoo" of chow dogs, pet raccoons, small monkeys, and parrots and macaws had complete run of the house and the patio.
DeLamar, a very sensitive woman who had a developing appreciation of art and beauty, was the product of a broken home. Moreover, her own father had died less than two years earlier. Captivated by the house and setting, and particularly by the cosmopolitan Mizner, whom she perceived as "a man of great dignity, and a very great gentleman besides being a person of great taste," she said the architect and his nephew soon "were like my own family."
Alice DeLamar's father, Captain Joseph Raphael DeLamar, was born in the Netherlands in 1843. The name was originally Spanish, an ancestor having gone to Holland as the Spanish ambassador where he married a Dutch woman and settled. Captain DeLamar came to Boston as a young man in 1859. There he became a sea captain and eventually started a marine salvage and wrecking company in Martha's Vineyard. After a near-fatal diving accident in the late 1870s he quit the sea, sold his ships and headed West. In Colorado, Nevada and Idaho he put together a mining empire.
In the early 1890s he sold these interests for approximately $20 million and moved to New York City. There he became a stock and bond investor, who was once described as "the Mystery Man of Wall Street." He also married Nellie Sands, a New Yorker who was much his junior. Alice was born on April 21, 1895, and shortly afterward the family moved to Paris. There the DeLamars divorced; Alice lived with her father, visiting her mother, now remarried, only on weekends. In 1900, when Alice turned five, she and her father returned to New York. It would be ten years before she again saw her mother.
Back in America, Captain DeLamar began construction of a very large mansion at 233 Madison Avenue on the northeast corner of 37th Street. Designed by the distinguished New York architect Charles P. H. Gilbert, the Beaux-Arts French-style palais was the largest on Murray Hill. At this time Captain DeLamar also began construction of Pembroke, a neoclassical "manor house of the most titanic proportions" at Glen Cove on Long Island. Though both houses had large, elegantly decorated rooms, designed for entertainment, Alice DeLamar later remembered that, with the exception of her yearly birthday party for a few school friends, neither she nor her father had many guests. By the time he finished the town house, Captain DeLamar had reached the age of sixty-two and, according to Alice, "had taken to his carpet slippers." She added that in this period she was "ready for rebellion" and "got along very badly with my father," who neglected her education. When she was twelve, her godfather, William Nelson Cromwell, took her education in hand and enrolled her in the Spence School. She later wrote, "It brought me the first sense of security I felt since I was five." The Spence School offered an art-history class, which kindled her lifelong interest in painting and art. In 1910 Cromwell and the school's headmistress insisted Alice be allowed to spend the summer in Paris with her mother.
After graduating from the Spence School, Alice DeLamar and a schoolmate, Evangeline Johnson, volunteered for service in Europe in the Red Cross Motor Corps, which provided ambulances to carry wounded soldiers from the battlefields of World War I. Just days after the war ended, Captain DeLamar died. Alice, his only heir, inherited the Glen Cove estate and $10 million. (Her father divided the balance of his estate of over $30 million equally among the medical schools of Harvard, Columbia and Johns Hopkins.)
Since the 1915 season, Alice DeLamar had been making regular winter visits to Palm Beach, and after her father's death she decided to make a pied-à-terre in the resort. An account in the Palm Beach Post said that her decision sent all the local realtors to French dictionaries in "an effort to ascertain whether it is something on a menu or a type of architecture." During the 1920 visit she and Evangeline Johnson leased a small cottage on Sunset Avenue, near the beach where she would first meet Horace Chase.
She later wrote, "With Horace and myself there was never any flirtation, or any thought of it.... I never failed to welcome any girl that Horace took a shine to, but he seldom specialized for long.... I felt myself to be a member of the family, and Horace my favorite brother; Addison my favorite uncle." Horace worked as manager of Mizner's Las Manos potteries, which the architect first established to supply Spanish-style barrel roof tiles for his many projects. DeLamar often visited the workshops and came to know Mizner's drafting rooms and the young draftsmen who worked there.
After a thorough search of the island, she bought a large ocean-to-lake tract just south of the Bolton estate. Although South Ocean Boulevard cut through the center of the land, she had 330 feet of private ocean beach and equal lake frontage. Moreover, she claimed that though "some people thought I was living way off in the jungle," she had found the "highest piece of sand dune that there was on the whole island."
She picked up drafting from watching Mizner's draftsmen work, as their activity fascinated her. Mizner drew floor plans on ruled paper and made sketches, sometimes with watercolors, of facades, and then turned the job over to the draftsmen to prepare the finished plans. "I caught onto the idea too," and with the help of the draftsmen she designed a small Venetian villa directly on the shore of Lake Worth.
A photograph in the Palm Beach Post in July 1922 showed the small house completely framed and roofed. The caption credited Mizner as the architect and said, "Miss DeLamar is now in Italy, making her headquarters at Florence while she selects tiles, cornices, and doors and windows for her Palm Beach place." The plans for the small villa, now in the Mizner Collection at the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, show the two-story structure with ornate Venetian Gothic windows and balconies. The ground floor included slips for a gondola and a motorboat, and service rooms, a kitchen and a garage. On the second floor, very small bedrooms surrounded a loggia that served as living and dining room.
DeLamar and the contractor had had several disagreements over design during the building of the villa; therefore, when she subsequently decided to build a small oceanfront pavilion, she drew up the plans and then found an engineer "who did not think he was an architect" to build the new house. She began the first section of what would become her large beachfront house in the mid-1920s. (Until after World War II it remained only a pavilion for bathing and picnicking by the ocean. In 1947 she completed a large wing with a master bedroom and numerous guest rooms. After she sold the lakefront half of her property, the new owners demolished the Venetian villa, and the site became the setting for an elegant Georgian-style house designed by John L. Volk.)
Excerpted from Florida Architecture of Addison Mizner by Donald W. Curl. Copyright © 1992 Donald W. Curl. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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