Monday, January 31, 2011

We Thank You Addison Mizner for Worth Avenue!

Addison Mizner, architect and his patron, Paris Singer, the 23rd child of sewing machine magnate, Isaac Singer, invented Palm Beach style. Mediterranean revival architecture came naturally to Mizner, a Californian, who spent two years in Guatemala, studying and sketching Spanish colonial structures, during his father's tenure as the U.S. minister. Mizner apprenticed with the venerable Willis Polk in San Francisco, built estates on Long Island, eventually moving to Florida for his health. Paris Singer wanted to build a convalescent hospital for World War I officers, in sleepy Palm Beach.  Mizner, romantically translated  this commission within in the vernacular of an ancient nunnery with colonnades, towers and balconies sprouting.

"My ambition has been to make a building look traditional and as though it had fought its way from a small unimportant structure to a great, rambling house that took centuries of different needs and ups and downs of wealth to accomplish."
Addison Mizner

The West Facade along the inland waterway.
Photo courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County

Armistice made the enterprise redundant, and Paris quickly converted his dream, forming the famous Everglades club with Mizner as a founding member. The life of a bon-vivant is excellent for business and commissions piled up. The Ecole des Beaux Arts crowd cried fowl, and understandably so. The architecture, to my eye is delightfully whimsical, yet the facade uses 22 different window treatments and is anchored by a California-style mission tower. Mizner's work, despite his popularity, was controversial. When he commenced construction of the splendid vias along Worth Avenue, to blend in with the Everglades Club and recreate the medieval ramblings of the Mediterranean towns he carefully documented throughout his life, a petition was circulated to stop him from building "ugly foreign looking buildings!!"

Here we are entering the delightful Via Mizner to have a delicious lunch at Renato's. It is expensive and worth the price of each delicious bite. Here is a glimpse at the menu. 

Primi Piatti
Cocktail di GranchioJumbo Lump Crabmeat Cocktail, With Avocado and Citrus Vinaigrette
Vongole alla PosillipoLittle Neck Clams Steamed in Spicy Tomato, White Wine & Fresh Herb Broth
Salmone AffumicatoSmoked Norwegian Salmon With traditional Garnish & Toast Points
Torta di GranchioLump Crab Cake With Tomato Bruschetta, Lemon Aioli
Salsiccia & RappiniSweet Italian Sausage and Rappini Broccoli Served Over Soft Polenta
Timbalo Di MelanzanaEggplant Timbale filled with Smoked Mozzarella, topped with fresh Tomato Basil Sauce
Carpaccio di ManzoSeasoned Thin Sliced Filet Mignon, Arugula Salad & Shaved Parmigiano

The Mizner colonnade along Worth Avenue on the West side of the via.

Worth Avenue shopping is the antithesis of my trek through West Palm and the Dixie Hwy with Jane Schott of Empress of the Eye, however we remember my Father's adage: "Train your eye dear." Worth avenue is a perfect training ground. While Palm Beach has changed a great deal from its gilded era glamour, remnants still exist. 

The elegant Terry Van Lear Yates of Van Lear on Mizner's Via Parigi, creates classic bespoke clothing for women.

Many of Addison Mizner's gilded age houses have succumbed to the wrecking ball. However, his influence remains, is preserved, and is widely imitated in Palm Beach.

Mizner's Casa Nana was listed for over $70,000.000.00 with no takers to date. The Rivera never felt so close to American soil. 

Aerial view of Casa Nana

Casa Nana

El Mirasol, Mizner's first Palm Beach residence was built for Eva Stotesbury, wife of financier Edward (Ned) Townsend Stotesbury. It had 40 rooms, a 40 car garage, a zoo, aviary, a full time staff of 8 servants, which was supplemented during the season with their Whitemarsh Hall staff of 32.  The estate stretched the width of the Island from lake to ocean. Palm Beach architect, Jeffrey Smith said: 
"Mizner created buildings that simulated age and gave the young town a sense of history, interrupted the Florida flat landscape with roof lines of varying heights, softened the sun's glare with pastel-colored walls, and relieved the heat with fountains and cross-ventilation." 

El Mirasol

Street front views of Mizner homes were not obscured by the traditional Spanish gates and courtyards. They were the mullets of their time: Business (show) in the front, party in the back.


The scope of these vast houses required Mizner to create his eponymous Mizner industries, employing hundreds of woodcarvers, potters, iron workers and stone casters to create the finishings and furnishings that were increasingly prohibitive to purchase in Europe.  Many other of the Palm Beach gilded age architects supplied their commissions with the old world aura Mizner's work shops produced with great authenticity. 

Photos courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County  

Inspirations for Mizner's eclectic styles came from his meticulously documented trips through the Mediterranean, Central and South Americas. Scott Eyman of the Palm Beach Post wrote: "Mizner would take a cornice from the Doge's palace, an archway from the Alhambra and a wall from Seville and filter it through his decorative sensibility until it magically became a coherent whole incongruously located on a barrier island in Florida. "

The Mizner archives were acquired through the generosity of Mrs. Frederick Guest (nee Amy Phipps), and are suitably preserved at the Society of the Four Arts, a Mizner masterpiece. 

Embassy Club (now Society of the Four Arts), built in 1929, southern exposure. Photo courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

The Phipps famed Casa Bendita, built in 1921 and demolished in 1961 is sadly missing from the roster of the 44 remaining Addison Mizner projects left in Palm Beach.  Many tiles, ironwork, carvings and lighting still remain from the industries workshop. Here are some of my photos from Addison Mizner's fantastic Worth Avenue, where his artisanal crafts are preserved for the public. 

 Mizner tiles from the industries potteries

 Signature wrought iron

Sadly, Addison Mizner was ruined financially in his efforts to develop Boca Raton as an American Venice. The Hurricane of 1928 wreaked legendary damage to the East coast of South Florida. Coupled with the 1929 crash, Mizner's new leveraged gambit went down in flames. After his death in 1933, at the age of 60, his body was shipped to Cypress Lawn Memorial Park near San Mateo California, where it lies in an unmarked grave. 

Thank you Addison for providing the most beautiful setting in America, where we can watch celebutantes, felonthrapists, the old guard, and the new guard play out their fascinating lives. 

Special thanks to the well researched articles by Augustus Mayhew III


  1. Liz my goodness, a most well researched post about an amazing man!! Amazing images.

    He truly made his mark in a big way on the architecture of Palm Beach Style.

    Do come and join my amazing giveaway from Splenderosa!

    Art by Karena

  2. Dear old Palm Beach. They admire Mizner, but drastically remodel or demolish him down at every opportunity. But, oh, I'd forgotten what heaven Via Mizner...

  3. aargh. also meant to say what a handsome post---lots of lovely eye candy, nicely researched

  4. Wanted to stop by and thank you for following my blog. If you like Anthropologie ( I'll start a $100.00 gift card giveaway tomorrow. Hope you participate. Thanks again.

  5. Oh... this is fantastic, Liz!

    I love this post and how informative it is! Thank you so much!

    By the way, I love seeing your comments on my blog. Thank you for that!

    Have a wonderful week, my friend!


    Luciane at

    Post of the Day: A House in Malibu.

  6. So many beautiful things...where to begin...I am lost for words

  7. I absolutely love Via Mizner and Via Piaggi off Worth Av in Palm Beach. Many try but few succeed in achieving charm with a seemingly unordered assortment of architectural features like Addison Mizner did.

  8. What a brilliant post! Certainly not a bunch of pretty pictures. I applaud you for the care & content you have posted. We must, indeed, be kindred spirits. I'm following, absolutely !!

  9. I can see we are going to be friends....we think alike! Love this post and classic Addison Mizner as evidenced in Palm Beach is the hallmark for beautfiful design/architecture. Thanks for this fabulous post...loved all the visuals.
    I am new to blogging, glad to have found you! I started a blog on the building of our new home and my passion for fine decor/design. Would love you to stop by...

  10. When money is "no object" amazing things can be accomplished. I had no idea that Mizner's talent was so broad. His own furnishings, even tiles--definitely a genius. Thanks for the architecture tutorial. Mary

  11. Really wonderful post Liz!! Believe it or not, I have never really been to Palm Beach - only once VERY briefly and didn't get to explore. Of course love all your research and documentation, especially the Historical Society photos - love that Mizner industries one!! Now am just dying to go! I want a Van Lear jacket and to have lunch at Renato's!!

  12. Wow Liz, what a wonderful tour. We are going to be in Palm Beach in May, and I will definitely be looking at it with different eyes!! Thanks for the wealth of information ~

  13. Thanks for this. It takes me back. I used to go to Palm Beach when my parents were alive, and this is a nice way to remember those days.

  14. Hi Liz,

    Love your post on Palm Beach...I lived in Palm Beach for 3 years from 2001 - 2004. I absolutely loved it. My children who were 6 years old at the time went to Palm Beach Day School (now Academy). My girlfriends and I would take our children to Renato's every Thursday...loved it!!! One thing that people do not know about Palm Beach is that there are lots of young kids on the island and it is terrific fun for them, as well.

    Casa Nana, is now owned by the Terry Taylor family who have young kids. (It might be on the market, though.) You mentioned Jeffrey W. Smith who is the premier architect who follows in the footsteps of Mizner, if interested, he has a wonderful book on his work called Palm Beach Splendor". His wife, Nancy, is a gifted interior designer, as well. They are a lovely couple who are passionate about the preservation of the Palm Beach architecture and history. Love loving there!!!...wish I still did..but my husband's business brought us back to NYC area.

    If interested, stop by my blog post on our home in Palm Beach that I decorated and then is in the style of Mizner.

    Au Reviour

  15. celebutantes and felonthrapists....classic.........great post (as usual)...k

  16. What a great and fantastic post! You'll get your dream soon. Keep your hopes high.

  17. Thank you Kathy!! I've been waiting for two comments. Number 1: My great photo of Princess Grace with the reflection of Venus in the glass--no mentions. Number 2: Yes the 23rd, I've also read 24th child, of Mr. Singer. When I research a post, I digress down so many research twists and turns. I recommend a read on the founder of Singer Sewing Machines. He was a rogue and a devil. Can you believe a 23rd child had enough money to build The Everglades Club?? It is an out of control, crazy great story of madness and talent.

  18. O.K....back again for a look at know, when I first saw her I thought that the reflection was just that....nowww...I see...k


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