Palm Beach was an exotic wilderness with only one building and a lighthouse until about 1870. Around that time a handful of settlers constructed rudimentary housing with thatched roofs (great for keeping out the rain but attractive to flies, lizards spiders etc). The first settlements were along the shores of Lake Worth because the oceanfront was hostile territory. At the time there were no roads, stores, doctors, teachers or commerce.
In the 1880’s sportsman and boaters began to frequent the island and a small seasonal hotel was built. By the 1890’s Henry Flagler, a Standard Oil entrepreneur transformed the island from a sleepy sportsman’s paradise to a world renowned resort. Local lore has it that the first real house was a cottage built in 1886 by a retired Denver business man with a taste for the pristine hunting and fishing in the area. It is said that it had marble floors, stained glass, a mahogany staircase and a tower with views in every direction. The cottage, a lake to ocean front property, was later purchased by Henry Flagler. It was on this property that the first enormous hotel was built, the Royal Poinciana design by Carrere and Hastings. It became a focal point for Palm Beach social life with gold, tennis, parades, walking and bicycling and the whole island became a world famous destination.
The hotel boom created an opportunity for the development of a residential infrastructure. Subdivisions were laid out and speculative houses were built on interior streets in the Mission influenced Mediterranean style. Addison Mizner designed the first building in Palm Beach: the exclusive Everglades Club. It set the standard for Mediterranean Revival style for some of the finest homes and clubs. This style features Venetian Gothic windows, Moorish latticed wooden balconies and cupolas from the Spanish missions of the American Southwest. Mizner’s own factories created handmade tiles, wrought iron chandeliers and expansive murals for the clubs and houses he designed.
Mizner created two shopping complexes in the 1920’s in the style of a Mediterranean village complete with tight pedestrian streets, lushly planted courtyards and colonnades of covered arches leading to and from Worth Avenue. You feel completely transported to another time and place dining outdoors in one of the courtyards.
In addition to many large and beautiful residences and the shopping plazas, Addison Mizner designed the Memorial Fountain Plaza near the Town Hall Square Historic District to compliment the shops and apartments on South County Road. Now called mixed use commercial establishments, they occupy the ground floor and offices and apartments on the second floors.
One of my favorite buildings of Addison Mizner’s is the Society of the Four Arts Building built in 1929. Originally built as a private club, the building was bought in 1947 and modified for exhibition galleries and a large auditorium. Mizner was a prolific architect, with countless commissions in a style appropriate for the climate and the grand living that is Palm Beach. His decoration, materials, texture and color are all inspiration for me.
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