Just before the roaring 1920’s, at the age of 46, architect Addison Mizner moved for his health to Palm Beach right at a time when the vast resort hotels were becoming less fashionable. He met Paris Eugene Singer, heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, who was also in Palm Beach for his health.
Both thought they were dying and as the saying goes, misery loves company.
They became very close and eventually, when they didn’t die, they decided to work together to develop Palm Beach. Singer paid the architect a $6,000 a year retainer for life if his work was confined exclusively to the Palm Beach area.
Mizner’s Mediterranean Revival designs won the attention and patronage of wealthy clients, who preferred to build their own individual ocean-front mansions rather than stay in the hotels.
Constructed of stone, tile and stucco, pecky cypress wood finishing’s, his buildings were better suited to Florida’s semi-tropical climate (and threat of hurricanes) than the wooden shingle-style resort architecture imported from the Northeast.
His houses were generally one room deep to allow cross ventilation, with kitchens located in wings to keep their heat away from living areas. Other characteristic features included loggias, colonnades, clusters of columns supporting arches, French doors, casement windows, barrel tile roofs, hearths, grand stairways and decorative ironwork.
Mizner founded Mizner Industries in West Palm Beach to manufacture the tiles, cast stone trim and columns, wrought iron and, eventually, furniture for his buildings. At the factory, he is known for “aging” the furnishings to make them look like the originals that he collected from homes and churches in South America and Europe.
The 6-foot-2-inch (1.88 m), 250-pound bon vivant epitomized the “society architect.” Rejecting modern architecture for its “characterless copybook effect,” he sought to “make a building look traditional and as though it had fought its way from a small, unimportant structure to a great, rambling house.”
Mizner’s first major Florida commission was the Everglades Club, a Spanish-mission-style convalescent retreat for military veterans, built in 1918, that became (and remains) a private club. It stands at 4 Via Parigi (off Worth Avenue) in Palm Beach.
Mizner designed the 37-room El Mirasol (“the sunflower”), completed in 1919, for investment banker Edward T. Stotesbury, head of the town’s most notable family of the time. It included a 40-car garage, a tea house, an auditorium and a private zoo. The mansion stood at 348 N. Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach, but was demolished in the 1950s.
Another fanciful Palm Beach mansion, Villa Flora, was built in 1923 for Edward Shearson. It stands at 110 Dunbar Road.
La Guerida (“bounty of war”) was built in Palm Beach in 1923 for Rodman Wanamaker of Philadelphia, heir to the Wanamaker’s department store fortune. It was later purchased by Joseph Kennedy in 1933 during the depths of the Great Depression for a paltry $120,000, and eventually would become President John F. Kennedy’s “Winter White House”. It stands at 1095 N. Ocean Boulevard.
Mizner’s own Palm Beach home was built in 1925. It was called El Solano after the hot, oppressive wind which blows off the Mediterranean Sea in eastern Spain, but also for Solano County, California, his birthplace. Sold to Harold Vanderbilt, the estate was later purchased by John Lennon. It stands at 720 S. Ocean Boulevard.
All together, Mizner built 38 homes in the Town of Palm Beach.