A Addison Mizner Architect of Dreams and Realities
0 5 T
^ Architect of Dreams and Realities
In the 1920's Addison Mizner was most certainly
the best-known and most-discudssed living American
architect. "He was emulated by many architects, an
emulation which continues in Florida to the present.
He was employed by the privileged few, for Mizner was
a "social" architect whose greatest testaments are
mansions and private clubs. Addison Mizner was an
architect with a philosophy and a dream. Personally,
he was an intelligent, articulate, and extremely well-
read, kind, sensitive man. He was a man with,a great
sense of humor of outspoken wit. It is this last
quality which many people remember foremost and
unfortunately often to the detriment of his architmctur-e
and decorative arts. Mizner could joke with and about
his clients. He was honest and courageous enough to
admit, "If an architect could chloroform his client,
the house would be more attractive and coherent." But,
as a designer he was not the buffoon which Palm Beach
folklore presents. It has become an accepted fact that
Mizner forgot kitchens, baths, staircases, and any and
all other essentials while remembering to include "forty
car garages" in his buildings. This is absurdity."1
"Every once in a while in the course of the world's
development some architect gets a supremely good chance
to impress his personality upon his local background.
That happened when Pericles passed over the adornment
of the Acropolis to his personal architect, and when the
Renaissance Popes entrusted the new St. Peter's to
Bramante and Michelangelo. And, if the comparison be
thought not too topheavy, a similar occasion was offered
by Palm Beach to Addison Mizner. Against the at times
tawdry and gingerbread meretriciousness of the pre-
Mizner Palm Beach background the solidity and opulence
of the Mizner architecture scheme stands out with a
definiteness which, to an almost justifiable degree,
is comparable with that of the Acropolis and St. Peter's
against their background."2
Architect of Dreams and Realities
Addison Mizner was born in 1872 in Benicia,
California. The family was well established with his
father, Lansing Bond Mizner, being a successful
landowner, lawyer and politician who had run for the
Governorship of California and lost by only a small
margin. Addison had four older brothers, Lansing, odgar,
William and Henry, each of which entered respectable
professions, and his only sister, Min, married to
advantage. It seems that at an early age Addison became
interested in the arts, and architecture specifically,
but his family frowned upon his goals. The outspoken
Addison, referring to his families attitude, wrote in
1893 : "When William took his first trip to China as
ship's doctor, I was sent along to prevent my becoming
an artist, which the family said was the lowest form
of long-haired, flowing cravat ass existence,"3
If we retrace a bit we will realize that Addison's
childhood was a cosmopolitan experience. Benicia is
located on the northern part of San Francisco Bay, and
at the time of Addison's youth was the capital of
California. In 1889, when his father was appointed
ambassador to the five republics of Latin America,
Addison made his first trip to the area and was so
impressed that he wrote "It probably was the greatest
day of my life, for there lying white in the sun was my
first Spanish town."
"From that moment Mizner was captivated by Spa;:.
architecture and the remainder of his life, with a few
moments taken out for fun, was dedicated to unde--',tand ":-n
the essence of-Spanish sixteenth and seventeenth
century architectural design reinterpreting, 1ynth'-i' 5,
and updating its aesthetic principles. The impact that
Guatemala had upon the impressionable, romantic .,':sor
can probably not be overstated..5
Addison studied at the National Institute in
Guatemala City and became fluent in Spanish, a tool
he found very valuable for the remainder of his
architectural career. He was able to visit all five of
the countries that his father was dealing with and
spent much of his time sketching with watercolors.
In 1890 Addison returned to San Francisco to atten':!
school and prepare for the architectural examinations
at the University of California at Berleley, but because
he had no foundation to build an education on he fP.led.
At the age of twenty, Addison was still in San
Francisco preparing to attend the University of
Salamanca in Salamanca, Spain. "In the late nineteenth
century aspiring artists and architects often matriculated
at European universities without any intentions of receiving
degrees, which were then still considered unnecessary
in the United States. American architecture schools
were new phenomena and were principally geared to
mechanical drawing and engineering rather than to
architectural history and design. Most Americans attended
the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, but others chose to
study in London, Berlin, Italy or Spain. Mizner
presumably went to Salamanca because of his interest
in Spanish architecture, his fluency in the Spanish
language, and the potential benefits from family connections.
At the University, Mizner would have attended courses
in the division of humanities receiving a heavy dose
of Spanish history, literature and philosophy. No
architecture per se was taught, but in Spanish humanities
education, art and architecture have always played
prominent roles. From his later architecture, des]igi
scrapbooks, and writings, it is apparent that Hizencr
was fond of Salamanca, well-versed in its simple
golden-stoned architecture, and influenced in his own
design by the city."6
9 Addison received his practical training from .,
1894 to 1896 in San Francisco with the firm of Polk
and Polk. It is almost certain that he did some designing,
although his primary responsibility was drafting,
"It is certain that Addison considered himself an
architect for in the city directory of 1895 he placed
the following listing, "Mizner, Addison C., Architect,
residence) 1520 Clay." And the point which must be
made is that the rest of the world considered Mizner as
an architect. For turn-of-the-century people Mizner
had completed all of the requirements necessary to be
an architect, and in fact his credentials would have
been considered quite prestigious. No degrees were
required. No examinations were given. No licenses were
issued. Demanded was a thorough knowledge of architectural
history and practical training in drafting. Whatever
buildings Mizner may have designed and drafted with
Willis Polk remain unidentified, largely in part to
the loss of archival materials and actual buildings
in the fires of the 1906 earthquake."7
Mizner's salary at this time was microscopic,
and half of the time he went unpaid. Even so, the time
that he spent with the Polk firm was well worth the
effort. "The experience of working with Willis Polk
must have been a most positive one for Mizner. He
mingled with the young intelligentsia and was a part,
although to what degree it is no longer known, of the
avant-garde movement, architectural, artistic, and
literary of the 1890's in San Francisco. It was a
provocative learning experience, exactly the non-
academic impetus that Addison needed."8
It was also at this time that Addison, along with
a few close friends, got together and worked on a
publication titled the "Lark". It was a delicate
combination of spoof, cynicism, and avant-gardism.
The Lark was a whimsical but ingenious little maja,ine,
and, although the publication was relatively short-
lived, it did receive national attention and Addi"on
must have been in his glory.
In November of 1897 Addison, along with his
brothers William and Wilson, went up to Alaska in an
effort to strike it rich in the gold fields. This was
all a result of the families dismal financial situation.
Addison returned in 1899 with a sizeable "purse".
Soon after, he moved to Honolulu with the promise of
a large architectural commission but when this deal fell
through he left Hawaii and moved on to Apia, Samoa, and
another round of new experiences.
"In 1904 Mizner recognized that working as a
draftsman didn't seem to be getting him anywhere and
every successful architect was a doddering old man.
He decided to return to Guatemala, supposedly to
negotiate lucrative coffee contracts. Once again
Guatemala captured Mizner's romantic mind and he
reimmersed himself in Spanish Colonial Architecture. The
country was in a state of political, economic, and
religious upheaval. Catholicisim was all but defunct
with churches and monastaries in abandon more often
than in operation. Mi.zner, loving the Spanish Colonial
artifacts, purchased them with1the prospect of resale
in the United States. Spanish had become quite the
vogue in New York and priceless Guatemalan church
vestments, silver, choir stalls, and all other religious
accouterments were being pilfered by the natives or
left to rot in the natural elements. Exportation was
preservation as well as profit. Mizner carefully and
correctly explained his actions, "I mean no disres;Act
to the church, and it should be understood that it was
legitimate at this time for the priests to sell, and
that they were near starvation." There is no doubt that
Mizner bought in quantity with the idea of resale, but
he was only participating in what was an acceptable
trade for Americans until well after the second World-
War. Perhaps the description of an old monastery Mizner
purchased will enlighten everyone as to his intent and
vision. He wrote, "The reason I wanted it was that eight
of the side chapels of the church were intact and in
each stood, thirty feet high, carved wood alters
with heavy gilding. I could see in my mind's eye a
beautiful panelled room made from them."9
At the end of 1904 Mizner returned to the United
States and went to New York to start his new career,
Architect of Dreams and Realities
"New York was the glittering city a place
difficult to brave but essential to confront the r.ucial,
cultural, architectural center of the United States. In
the fall of 1904 Mizner took an apartment in the Old
Livingstone House at 24th street and began to sell
his Guatemalan treasures. Assured of an income from
these sales and his old Klondike investment, he felt
able to struggle with architecture again."10 A .:'t
turning point for Mizner came in 1905 when he was
introduced to Stanford White of McKim, Mead and White,
the great architectural firm. White allowed Mizner to
handle some of the minor details of the larger fSir'\s
commissions and for this Mizner was very thankful,
"Mizner's admiration for Stanford White cannot be
overstressed and it is unfortunate that more cannot be
discovered about the friendship. Years after chi vi
success Mizner wrote in his autobiography, "I got to
know Mr White very well and as I was not pushing for
jobs, he used to like to sit and talk architecture
to someone who knew so little about it. I worshipped
him, for he was my God."11
Mizner considered his first significant commission
to have been the completion and interior decoration
of a townhouse at 154 East 70th street for Mrs Stephen
Brown. "In claiming this as his first major achievement,
Mizner did himself some disservice, although it may have
been the first commission for the social set who were
to be his main patrons. In 1907 he had supervised the
refurbishment of the Hotel Rand, also known as the
Mizner and Barnes Hotel, at 142 West 49th street. In 1910
Mizner had restored and altered a Colonial clapboard
house, The Old Cow Bay Manor House, at Whitestone
Landing near Port Washington, Long Island for his own
residence. An early article on the house in Architectural
Record is most revealing, for although Mizner made
alterations to the building hehad respect for its
historical place in American architectural design.
The original portion of the house dated from 1673 with
additions in 1795, 1812 and in 1910 by Mizner who
did not touch the old portions of the house, retainer:
its neo-classical front door, its wainscotted dining
room, and its formal stair set in a narrow hall. He
added a kitchen and a pantry and extended the front porch
to three times its original width while keeping the
old columns and their capitals in a portico effect.
i 'Among Mizner's known architectural commissions, and
there are countless which will never be known in this
period, is a residence for Mr and Mrs John Alley FDrker
of Sands Point, Long Island. The extant drawings for
that house bear the following stamp, "Addison iizner
Architect, 103 Park Ave., New York" and are dated in
January and September, 1912. The residence has details
which anticipate Mizner's later style."12 The side
facades are austere and reveal an influence in fenestration
from McKim, Mead and White, while the rear facade is
crowded and disjuncted. Mizner was still formulating
his thoughts and learning his profession; there is no
doubt, but, the pattern of design focal point,
personal scale and a shift to grand scale is typical
of his work. His architectural practice was progressing
smoothly until the outbreak of World War I when there was
a tremendous national slump in building and his practice
dwindled to almost nothing.
Projects 1905 1917
1907 Alterations to the Rand Hotel, 142 W. 49th street, N.Y.C.
1910 Alterations and additions to the Old Cow Bay -iianor House,
Port Washington, Long Island.
1912 Completion of Town House for Mrs Stephen Brown,
154 E. 70th street, N.Y.C.
1912 Residence for William A. Prime, Roslyn, Long Island,
1912 Residence for Mr and Mrs John Alley Parker, Sands
Point, Long Island.
1914 Residence for Raymond Hitchcock, Great Neck, Long Island.
1914 Residence for Bourke Cochran, Sands Point, Long Island.
1914 Chineese Tea House for Mrs O.H.P. Belmont, Great
Neck, Long Island.
1914 "White Pine Camp" for Archibald White, Adirondack
1915 Beach House for Mrs O.H.P. Belmont, Great Neck,
1916 Residence for J. Townsend Burden, Greenvale, Lor.;
1917 Residence for Mrs Stephen Brown, Piping Rock,
Architect of Dreams and Realities :
Mizner came with Paris singer, as his house
guest, to Palm Beach on January 3, 1918. He found the
architecture satisfactory but completely out of place
in a semi-tropical setting, he said "Northern architecture
didn't register. I couldn't get away from that fact,
There was one New England Colonial house that was
placed in the midst of cocoanut trees and it was an
abortion. The house wasn't bad it had good simplicity -
but in florida it was out of the picture. It couldn't
hold its own in that strong color and light, and, with
the cocoanut trees hanging over the front door, it
certainly looked absurd."13 Wealthy Americans for
almost one hundred years had traveled to the world
famous hotels and spas of the south coast of France
and of Monaco. With this playground inaccessible,
Americans turned to Palm Beach and its Flagler hotels.
The community grew and prospered while merchants
and hostelers alike struggled to develop the image
of Palm Beach as the American Riveria.
Paris Singer was among the wealthy Americans
ousted from Europe by the War. Originally Singer
hired Mizner to design a war hospital for wounded
6 soldiers to rest and return to health in, but the war
ended and the concept for the Everglades Club emerged.
"Mizner wanted to design in his Spanish mode for Florida.
He had ideas for Palm Beach. He threw himself into the
design and construction of the Everglades Club teaching
men to make tiles, others how to read plans, flagging down
passing dredges and .weet-talking their operators into
a little job on the sly. He turned Joe's Alligator
Farm, a muddy, mosquito-infested quagmire into the
Everglades Club in six months, a phenomenal undertaking
with unskilled labor and with severe wartime shortages
of construction materials."4
SHe was doing a thing which the natural beauty
of the place cried for. Construction was of hollow
tile with stucco walls and red* tiled roofs. The interior
of the club provided spacious rooms with boxed pecky
cypress beams which were internally supported with
steel, bowing therefore being an aesthetic ruse rather
than a structural deficiency. The building is typical
of his spatial and detailing concepts as a thorough striy
/1 will prove.
"Mizner wanted to transform Palm Beach. He
disliked the wooden buildings, finding them northern,
alien, and unsuited to their tropical surroundings.
He overlooked the modern Villa Zilla which Frank Lloyd
12 Wright had designed on the ocean in 1912. Mizner was
at heart a nineteenth century classicist who admired
refinement and gracious elegance in architecture. He
was pragmatic enough to realize that modern society
had demands not answered by sixteenth and seventeenth
century buildings. He also recognized that to copy
was to stultify and nowhere in his architecture did
Mizner ever copy directly. At times it can be said
that he was inspired by specific architectural parts.
To describe all of Mizners architecture 1 .Lween
1918 and 1933 would be excessive. It is much more
important to understand Mizner's design philosophy
and then, informed, look ar Mizner's buildings with
the philosophy in mind." 15 To spend time searching
for historical precedents is to miss the point and
beauty of his design.
q "Mizner succinctly stated his'architectural
philosophy in an interview for Arts and Decoration:
There should be no mechanics in art. Art should be
a restful thing a state of mind where one has
forgotten a T-square and the dividers. Ninety percent
of the beautiful old things in Europe were done
before machinery was invented. In those days architectural
forms were cut out by hand and by eye. Everyth.i.- in a
house should be made a part of the harmony of restful
,c pleasing lines. Mizner has been chastised for "changing
things when building" and "working without plans",
The latter accusation is untrue. Extant draw,,-- i>-:cat>
that each building had an extensive set of planT;.
It seems that Mizner would do a watercolor, g .u'cho,
or quick pencil sketch of an idea for a build' rnrd
turn it over to be further designed, drawn, pn'.m-..,
and orchestrated by his very competent architectural
staff. Mizner might consult his design scrapbooks
Io for ideas. One of his chief architects has c.r-'itd' "Mr
Mizner had innate perspective. He worked with his
imagination from pictures." Initial plans and elevations
would be drawn up, usually for Mizners personal inspection.
When approved, and there are frequently correctIon,- or
changes written in by Mizner, the architects and r'flsr.
assigned to that specific job drew up finished elevations
and plans and did drawings for important architectural
details, often to one-quarter inch or even full scale,
Construction would then begin with Mizner
frequently visiting the site, teaching skills, s -.'ervising
delicate work, and making, usually minor, design changes
as the building was going up. Windows might be lowered,
16 a balcony added, or in one instance an entire floor
was inserted. But changes in buildings under construction
are never uncommon when the architect is present on
the site. It should also be realized that construction
was extraordinarily quick. Building for a forty-room
residence usually began in March or April and the house
was to be open, completely decorated and landscaped,
by the following Januart. This was an enormous feat
for Mizner who was sometimes working on six major
residences at once and who often had to rely upon
unskilled labor with building materials in short supply.
It is primarily for these reasons as well as hic love
for handcrafted products in a building that '.izner
10 formed Mizner Industries which supplied him with roof
and floor tiles, stonework, furniture, wrought iron,
pottery and glasswork.
The reasons for Mizner's selection of the old
architecture of Spain as a basis, and he himself used
the word "basis", are clearly stated in the Arts and D.coC.rtion
interviews I based my design largely on the old
architecture of Spain with important modifications
to meet Florida conditions and modern ways of livh~ig
I studied the architecture of Spain itself and re'.' co,'.h.at
on my knowledge of Spanish tropical America. Architects
') today try too much to copy from each other, insw'a
of absorbing the best of the old world and letting it
run out of their pencils. The old art has withstood
the criticism of centuries."
Mizner knew that his clients who were either rV'lMe r-
of the aristocracy or of the nouveau riche were consev,-tive
2 in their tastes. But that is precisely why Mizner was a
success in Florida. He too was conservative. He recognized
the pleasure the wealthy took in nostalgic, romantic
images of Europe because he shared their same memories.
But, Mizner's love of Spanish architecture went far
deeper. His personal library, which remains intact at the
Society of the Four Arts Library, is one of the
q best possible on Spanish and Spanish Colonial architecture
and decorative arts. Mizner was brilliant at his own
version of twentieth-century Spanish because he innately
understood Romanesque, sixteenth, and seventeenth century
design. He knew it so well that it was a part of
his mind, heart, and soul.
Wr' Mizner also had analyzed the peculiarities of
designing in Florida and he stated some of his resp ,nes
to those peculiarities: ...I adapted Spanish architecture
to Florida with color, lots of color. There is a
very strong light down there, reflected from the sands,
and the ocean glistens like an opal, with pinks,
blues, and greens. I used all sorts of pastel colors
; on the exterior of my houses to kill the glare -
nearly always choosing light and transparent rather than
sombre colors of the north. Mizner is a master of color
which was an essential component of his architecture.
Watercolors were always used to create delicate hYuu'
which changed with the light."17
"Since after fifty years no original paints remain
on the exterior of Mizner buildings, an original
ceiling gives the most accurate glimpse at Y .:nr.er's
color sense. The native pecky cypress is highlight- d
26 by soft celadon and moss green with accents of umber
and sienna. The result is powerful but not oppre.s ve.
Facades of Mizner buildings are simple and flat,
usually pierced by almost haphazard groupings of windows
2qyof different styles. Flatness is emphasized. Shallow
set-backs range across a long facade to create a quiet
.,movement along the surface. The only distraction is a
strong architectural motif, sometimes an ornate entrywayy
as in the Casa de Leoni or a mirador with the top floor
heavily windowed as in the Villa Mizner or an external
stair as in the Rasmussen and many other residences,
These architectural attractions are focal points which
3 are meant to intrigue and involve the visitor in the
structure. Lester Geisler described the Rasmussen stair
I remember Mizner's sketch. He started
with a big circle. Why he did I don't know. Maybe he
had talked with Mrs Rasmussen and sold her the big stair.
But he started with a circle. Then he worked his rooms
around it, I was the office steerer for that particular
job. It came to me then, being the engineer, to make it
stand up. The workmen who put up the stair were afraid
it would fall down. It hasn't yet. There is no central
support. You don't need it. You build around in a circle.
Its like building an arch, every step holds up every other
step. It's confined with concrete and steel or it would
fly out. Your reinforcement is a spiral.
Mizner found Baroque architecture overornamented
for Florida and thus he concentrated on special attractions
played against flat, tall facades. Just as the background
for architecture intrigued him in Guatemala, so too it
was a concern for him in Floridas
...Florida is flat as
a pancake. You must build with a strong skyline to give
your building character, you must get effects with changes
in level of a few feet, as in the case of gardens and-
..,in a flat site, a house must have stronger
interest than where it is a spot against a big landscape
background. The landscape gives you no help in Florida.
You must make your own."18
"The typical Mizner residence had an austere
facade with an architectural detail as a focal point
and an interior courtyard, designed on a. very human scale.
This courtyard or patio usually had several entrance
points from public rooms which ranged along one or two
sides and from a hallway or cloisterway which gave access
3g: to groundfloor bedrooms. The public rooms were spacious,
light-filled with many windows which opened for breeze
and view. Almost every residence had a living room, a
loggia room, a dining room, and a library with the
orientation discussed above. The loggia room usually
had windows which recessed completely into floors or
walls on three sides. The room could become almost
an enclosed patio and it could be considered the forerunner
of the Florida room. Houses were designed for entertaining
u^ with public rooms adjacent and accessible via wide
doorways. Most residences were used as beach houses and
thus Mizner design-,i baths, often with showers, to either
side of the main entrance door. The loggia rooms, double
baths, and cloisterways with heavily-glazed columed
q walls can be considered trademarks of Mizner interiors."9
"To Mizner architecture meant far more than the
exterior and plan of a building. He saw architecture
as an integration of the structure, its interior decorations,
ij. and its landscaping. To ensure that the interior furnishinrs
harmonized with his architectural design, Mizner require'
that clients permit him to decorate at least the first
floor of their building. Mizner Industries, which is discussed
later, played a key role in the decoration,
t^ Landscaping, which was often sub-contracted,
was still initially planned by Mizner and the architectural
firm. Swimming pools, garden fountains, garden walls
and gates, coral stone patios and steps, flowered terraces,
all emanated from the architect. Native plants and trees
were used against pecky cypress, brain coral, and patterned
Spanish and Mizner Blue tiles. The whole idea was to
accent semi-tropical Florida and to fortify the indoor/
outdoor aspects of Mizner's buildings.
Mizner's busiest design years were 1921-1925, although
5 he never suffered for commissions after the Everglades
Club. It is impossible to fully reconstruct the T.Miner
Yi6 firm, but there were a few chief architects and several
trusted draftsmen over the years. Lester Geisler, who later
designed the Hialeah racetracks, was a designer for
Mizner from 1923 to 1926 and an "associate" from 1928
to 1931. Byron Simonson, who was later responsible
for much of the development of Hilton Head, worked for
Mizner in the mid-1920's and returned to design for him
in 1931. Principle draftsmen, including structural
advisors, and possible designers were; Adrain Barragan-
Dorcas, Luis Barragan-Dorcas, A.E.R. Betschick, and
T.P. Davis. In 1925 there were no less than twenty-one
41e different draftsmen's signatures on drawings from the
In 1924 and 1925 Mizrne completed the Via Mizner and
the Via Parigi respectively. These two shopping alleys
at the west end of Worth Avenue are perfect examI 1-l .'
of the functionalism of Mizner's architecture,
fundamentally unchanged after fifty years. 2he combination
of public walkway, commercial space,_ and private residenceV
creates the excitement of the Vias. At each turn there was
a new discovery a garden spot with a restaurant, an
overhanging balcony laden with bougainvillea, a tl'.r- stairway
surprisingly tucked beneath a bridge, and always little
shops to tantalize.L-
Mizner's own residence occupied the mirador or
tower on Worth avenue.The Bridge over Via .Uiizner corn:utepd
the hallway of his home to the drafting studio, The main
floor of Mizners villa is on the second floor with access
by elevator and stair from a massive doorway and porch
on the Via Mizner. The paneled dining room and the larg.
living room are joined by a vaulted hallway. A totally
private terrace overlooked Worth Avenue. Bedrooms occupied
the third and fourth floors, while in the single fifth
floor room Mizner had spacious accommodations for study
and designing and relaxing. Structurally, the building
is very sound, with extremely thick walls to hold the
The genius of the Vias is that they not only create
intimacy but also generate movement. The visitor is
immediately at ease and no matter how frantic upon entrance
to a Via he slackens his pace and begins to stroll
at leisure.'The Vias and the shops within the cloistered
arcade on Worth Avenue seem separate from the rest of
Palm Beach. They become their own village. The builIn.
are tall, then low; with intricate stonework, then .tt. :y
plain; and all seem compressed and condensed. li-,er
described their quintessence:
This is the charming Via
Mizner a row of tiny shops at Palm Beach, with the
picturesqueness of Old Spain the narrow st"ee'ts of
Granada. Characteristic also, are the light stucco
walls, in pastel tints, topped with the tile roofs arnd
weathered cypress woodwork, and the inevitable, cc'.*:,.nut
tree with its decorative tufted shape and ploy of light a~d 1. .e
against the stucco wall."20
Projects 1918 1924
1918 The Everglades Club, Worth Ave, Palm Beach,
1918 1926 Maisonette Buildings, Everglades Club,
Worth Ave, Palm Beach, Florida.
1919 Residence for Mr and Mrs Edward Stotesbury,
Palm Beach, Florida.
1919 Residence for Mr Harold Vanderbilt, Palm
Charles Munn, Palm Beach, Florida.
Gurnee Munn, Palm Beach, Florida.
W.L.Kingsj-ey, Palm Beach, Florida.
H.C.Clark, Palm Beach, Florida.
Edward Shearson, Palm Beach,
for Leonard Thomas, Palm Beach,
for John S. Phipps, Palm Beach,
George Sloan, Palm Beach, Florida.
W.S.Kilmer, Palm Beach, Florida.
Barclay Warburton, Palm Beach,
for Joseph Cudahy, Palm Beach,
for Edward S. Moore, Palm Beach,
for Mrs and Mr William Gray Warden,
Palm Beach, Florida.
1922 Residence for Mme Jenette Gais, Palm Beach,
1923 Residence for DeGrimm Renfro, Palm Beach,
1923 Residence for Mr and Mrs George L. Mesker,
Palm Beach, Florida.
1923 Residence for Dr Preston P. Satterwhite, Palm
1923 Residence for D.H.Carstairs, Palm Beach, Florida.
1923 Residence for Joseph Speidel, Palm Beach,
1923 Store Building for H. Bendel, Palm Beach,
1923 Residence for Angier Duke, Palm Beach, Florida.
1923 Residence for Arthur B. Clafin, Palm Beach,
1923 Residence for Joshua S. Cosden, Palm Beach,
1923 Residence for William Woods, Palm Beach, Florida.
1923 Gulf Stream Club, Gulf Stream, Florida.
1924 Residence for Wilson Mizner, Palm Beach, Florida,
1924 Via Mizner and Villa Mizner, Palm Beach, Florida.
1924 Singer Building, Palm Beach, Florida.
1924 Residence for Ysabel Chase, Pebble Beach, Calif.
1924 Residence for Mr and Mrs Neat Spingold, Palm
1924 Residence for John F. Harris, Palm Beach,
1924 Residence of the honorable C.T. Wynn, Palm Bach,
1924 Residence for John Magee, Palm Beach, Florlida.
1924 Residence for George Rasmussen, Palm Beach,
1924 Residence for Paul Moore, Palm Beach, Florida.
1924 Residence for Rodman Wanamaker, Palm Beach,
1924 Residence for Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Esq.,
Palm Beach, Florida.
1924 Seaboard Railroad Station, no location.
1924 The Plaza Shops, Palm Beach,'Florida,
Architect of Dreams and Realities '
"The dream lay in Boca Raton. Mizner, frustrated
by the rapid development of Palm Beach and lured by
the prospect of designing his own complete town,
developed his dream for Boca Raton. The scheme for
Boca Raton was ideal, but not idealistic, at least
not for the boom year 1925. Mizner had had tremendous
successes in Palm Beach, was known nationally as an
architect, and had the financial support of some of
the richest people in the country.
Mizner development corporation, the legal
developer of Boca Raton, advertised
Boca Raton is not an addition however worthy -
to an already existing community. It is not a suburban
development however distinguished of a crowded
commercial center. It is a cosmopolitan world-community -
destined to be the world's most architecturally
Mizner envisioned a luxury hotel with golf courses on
the mainland side of the Boca Raton Inlet, large homes
and a second hotel along the strip of oceanland,
and a splendid highway to approach this opulant community.
6S He also planned his own castle home for a small island
to be reached by drawbridge. There was to be a jockey
club, polo fields, an air strip, and even a floating restaurant
designed as a Caravelle. A magnificent cathedral dedicated
to the memory of "Mama Mizner" was to be the best
work Mizner had ever done. Dreams must be made before
they can become realities.
The Distrito de Boca Raton was to be a restricted
residential community. Requirements for this area were
quite stringent acceptance for property purchase was
theoretically by a social committee, ocean houses had
to cost $40,000, second tier homes $30,000 and all
But Mizner was also pragmatic and realized that
his hotels and mansions needed a support system. He
planned housing for the service staff, a residential
development (Floresta) for the management and community
leaders, a water tower, two railroad stations, a town
hall, a radio station, and he even reserve a section
for factory, presumably a subdivision of Las Manos.
56 The plan was a comprehensive one. All buildings were
to be in the Spanish style an architecturally
Mizner recognized that he could not design all
g of Boca Raton, but as Mizner Development Corporation
advertisements pointed out, "No structure, large or
small, can be erected in Boca Raton without the .pprov. 1
of Addison Mizner. Acreage had to be sold to the small
home developer as well, and even small investors
wanted something for their money."21
"The dream was partially fulfilled. El Camino
Real, a 160 foot wide highway with a central canal
patterned after the Botofago in Rio de Janiero, was
completed. The Boca Raton Ritz-Carlton on the oceanfror.-
was never begun, but the Ritz-Carlton Cloister on the
mainland was opened in February, 1926."22
ig "The Distrito de Boca Raton, the exclusive
ocean, lake, and inlet property, had sold well and
Mizner had completed designs for several houses, although
none were ever constructed. The Administration Building
which housed the sales office and chief architects,
"' engineers, and personnel working on the project was
completed. It was patterned after El Greco's house in
Toledo, a building which even a novice in architecture
in the Spanish style could recognize, particularly
after being politely slipped the information. The
selection was a politic one, although from his design
60 scrapbooks it is apparent that Mizner generally admired
the artists home.
Sales to smaller home developers must have been
healthy. One article reported for the Corporation, "We
signed up three different contractors for lots for
house building. One bought fifty lots, another sixty-
five, and the third two hundred and twenty." Mizner
designed small homes for the Drucker Development, which
was apparently never built. He also designed and
constructed a section of Boca Raton called "Floresta",
The Reverend Henry Mizner, Addison's older brother,
had a two-story house in "Floresta" which was more regal
and more customized than those of his neighbors.
The houses of both developments relate to ome*
designed by Mizner and published in a Ladies Home
Journal article,"Bungalows in the Spanish Manner Adapted
to American Ideals" of 1927.23
"While undertaking his own development at Boca
6 Raton, Mizner was also designing Paris Singer's new
project for the uninhabited island across the northern
inlet from Palm Beach. Singer had sold his home and the
Everglades Club in 1924 to amass capital for his project.
g Presumably Singer planned a residential development, as
well as the Blue Heron Hotel, which was the only building
to even begin construction. It was approximately seven
stories tall and bizarre in plan, probably a result
of Mizner's effort to provide all of the rooms with
ocean views. Most interesting in the Singer Island
project was Mizner's design for an aerial ferry to
cross the inlet and connect Palm Beach to Singer Island.
It was a;visionary idea and doubtless an impossible one.
Without tongue in cheek it was reported:
The ferry, copied after a famous structure in
Europe and similar to a bridge at Duluth, is to cost
approximately three-quarters of a million dollars. The
span is a hundred and thirty six feet above the water,
and suspended from this is a transporter ferry accommodating
Both Boca Raton and Singer Island failed when
the Florida land market broke in 1926 and the hurricanes
of 1926 and 1928 assured their financial failure. It
should be realized that, almost without exception,
economists and land speculators believed, until the
last moment, that the Florida land market was sound,
albeit inflated. Mizner was the most respected developer.
In 1926 reputable economic commentators wrote, "..,
Mr Singer is developing Palm Beach Ocean, and a few
miles farther south Mr Mizner is projecting at Boca
Raton, a resort community which is planned to rival
Palm Beach not only in beauty but exclusiveness" and
"Florida's boom has only begun" Charles Donald Fox in
The Truth About Florida proclaimed
I know Addison Mizner. I know the high ideals
which have guided his every activity, and being familiar
with his work I know that all who locate in Boca Raton
will see promises fulfilled....I am convinced that
Boca Raton will rise to a well-merited prominence imon.g
the delightful settlements which dot the lower ea:,
coast of the newest golden state. Where the rare talents
of Mr Mizner are loaned there development must come.
Addison Mizner is a genius, and though his great gifts
have always been known, it is in the role of empire
builder that he shall gain his greatest fame."24
"Although Mizner was deep in debt and naturally
depressed by the failure of his dream, his career was
far from over. After 1926 he remained in Palm Beach but
made more frequent trips to Carmel, California, where
he had purchased a small ranch and built a large home
for his niece, Ysabel Chase, Lester Geisler was an
"associate" in the firm from 1928 to 1931. Among the
many architectural projects in this later period are
designs for several clubs, most notably the Sea Island
Club in Sea Island, Georgia and the Embassy Club in
Palm Beach. There were also plans for the Beauville
Beach Country Club ib Pittsburgh. Residences across
the country were commissioned. One of Mizner's finest
Florida Spanish houses was built in 1929-1930 for
the Dietrichs in Monteceito (Santa Barbara) California.
Mizner had more national commissions than at any
other time in his career. Of course, due to the statewide
land crash and the stigma of failing at Boca Raton,
?Mizner's building in Florida was seriously curtailed,
but not stopped."25 4 1s e v .,: f,4 P/305 0 1 ':- ,
"In 1931 Byron Simonton rejoined the Mizner firm
and was responsible for much of the designing. From
this period most remarkable are designs for the Palm
Beach Post Office, for a complex oft movie theater,
hotel, and restaurant in Belle Glade, and for the
Williams residence in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mizner
died in February, 1933 and the firm was dissolved after
accepted projects were completed.
Mizner's contributions to the architecture of Palm
Beach and of Florida are significant. With his
innovative architecture which was romantic and yet
conservative, witty and yet functional, people began
building private residences on a grand scale. Mizner
provided the conviences his clients demanded. He
designed with the wealthy in mind. He had an ability tO
create a building at once hospitable. Each building was
distinctive and unique, but never theatrical. As his
chief architect observed, "His work fit the place. It
did not become tiring. It has an abiding quality.
Palm Beach was transformed. By 1925 Palm Beach
had established itself as the resort community of the
United States. As Arthur Roche attested;
Palm Beach is the most delightful place in the
world. I have traveled abroad and seen the French
and Italian Riviera. There is no comparison to be drawn
between the Cote d'Azur and Palm Beach...To compare it
to the Mediterranean resorts would be to their great
More importantly, however, Mizner set the finest
example for building in a Spanish style in Florida.
Architects and contractors alike copied Mizner,
not original Spanish, because Mizner had created a
style appropriate to modern Florida. The loggia room
has survived as the Florida room. The changing room
is now an essential. The focal point, now swimming pool
with bridge or hanging basket chair, creates the
necessary element of excitement. Native building
materials are touted. Red tiles remain a precious
commodity. Pastel colors prevail. Meandering streets with
boutiques are today's key to a successful commercial ovrlnuur':.
The advantages of mixed residential and commercial
space have become obvious. And all of this still
created in the Mizner style, as the real estate
advertisements and developers' brochures will attest.
In the 1920's Carol Kennicott of Main Street
and H.L. Mencken, the outstanding observer and wit,
agreed on one thing. Carol, depressed by the u;lin'si
of her mid-western town pleaded, "Get a great architect
and have him plan a town that would be suitable to the
prarie. Perhaps he'd create some entirely new form
of architecture. Then tear down all these shambling
buildings...." H.L. Mencken acerbically remarked "I have
seen, I believe, all of the most unlovely towns of the
world; they are all to be found in the United States."
Addison Mizner tried to oblige them by contributing
romance, beauty, and unity. For this we owe him our
Projects 1925 1933
1925 Residence for Mrs William K. Vanderbilt,
Palm Beach, Florida.
1925 Boynton Town Hall, Boynton, Florida.
1925 Woman's Club, Boynton, Florida.
1925 Ritz-Carlton Cloister Hotel, Boca Raton,
1925 Administration Building, Boca Raton, Florida.
1925 Hotel Garage, Boca Raton, Florida.
1925 Town Hall, Boca Raton, Florida.
1925 "Floresta" Housing Development, Boca Raton,
1925 Residence for Mr and Mrs Halpine Smith,
Palm Beach, Florida.
1925 Via Parigi, Palm Beach, Florida.
1925 Bridge for Boca Raton Inlet, Boca Raton, Florida.
1925 Housing Development, Boca Raton, Florida.
1925 Residence for Anderson T. Herd, Esq. Boca Raton,
1925 Residence for Countess Bai-Lihme, Palm Beach
or Boca Raton, Florida.
1925 E.B.Davis Office Building, Boca Raton, Florida.
1926 Las Carreras Jockey Club, Boca Raton, Florida.
1926 Apartment Building for W.H.Dunagan, Esq. Boca
1926 Residence for Dr Maurice Drucker, Boca E-ton,
1926 Small development houses for Dr Maurice Drucker,
Boca Raton, Florida.
1926 Whelan Villa, Boca Raton, Florida.
1926 Residence for Mme Frances Alda, Boca Raton,
1926 Residence for Mrs H.Marshall Taylor, Jacksonville,
1926 Riverside Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida.
1926 Blue Heron Hotel, Singer Island, Florida.
1926 Boat House for Alice DeLamar, Palm Beach,
1927 Bradley Ranch, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
1927 Renovation for Mrs Glen Hodges, Palm Beach,
1928 Residence for Mr and Mrs J.D.Gedney, T.analapin,
1928 Beauville Beach Club, Windsor, Canada.
1928 Residence for Dan Murphy, Los Angeles, Calif.
1928 Nurses Lodge, Good Samaritan Hospital, West
Palm Beach, Florida.
1928 Embassy Club, (now the Society of the Four Arts)
Palm Beach, Florida.
1928 Sea Island Club, Sea Is4and, Georgia,
1928 Office Building for Harris Winthrop, Miami,
1928 Residence for John F. Harris, Miami Beach,
1929 Residence for Percival Foerderer, Bryn Mawr,
1929 Memorial Fountain, Palm Beach, Florida.
1929 Fox Chapel Country Club, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvainia.
1930 Residence for Mr and Mrs A.E. Dietrich, Santa
1930 E.F. Hutton Brokerage Co., Palm Beach, Florida.
1930 Residence for Hugh Dillman, Grosse Point.
1930 Residence for Mr and Mrs Alex Camp, Dallas, Texas,
1931 Palm Beach Post Office, Palm Beach, Florida.
1931 Residence for Mr and Mrs F.C.Williams, St. Petersburg,
1931 Bonsack Shopping Complex, Miami Beach, Florida.
1932 Residence for Mr and Mrs K.D.Alexander, Boca
Raton and Palm Beach, Florida.
1932 Hotel and Theater Building, Belle Glade, Florida.
.... Architect of Dreams and Realities.
With the construction o*f the Everglades Club in
1918, Addison Mizner was faced with a decision. Should
he compromise his architectural design philosophy
by building in those shabby materials available to
him or should he extend himself as had the Medieval
architect to make his own tiles and brick, metal and
stonework, to serve as craftsman and designer?
The World War I shipping embargo prevented Mizner from
importing handmade roof tiles from abroad and the
comparable American roof tile was unacceptable to
Mizner who wrote "All the commercial ones were stamped
out and looked like painted tin when they were laid
and were a horrible, lurid color, that made a roof
look like the floor of a slaughter house." The solution
to the dilemma must have been an obvious one for
Mizner who had geared his architectural education
around observation and for whom inquisition was as important
a scholarly tool as the proverbial architectural text.
His biographer and friend Ida Tarbell wrote
In all of his wanderings over the world, studying,
buildings, looking, sketching, he had never been content
until he knew how the thing that attracted him was made....
How did the Spaniards get these irregular shapes for their
roof tiles? The color of these glazes? That rough surface
in the plaster?
Mizner, feeling assured of his expertise, purchased,
with the financial aid of Paris Singer, "The Novelty
Works" and began his own manufacture of roof and floor
tiles with a sideline production of ironwork and! furniture.
The company was rudimentary, struggling to
produce even the quantity of materials necessary
for the construction of the Everglades Club. Las Manos,
the Spanish word for "handcrafted", was the name for the
firm, which was situated in West Palm Beach just east
of the railroad.
Clay shipped from Georgia arrived in great quantities.
A hoist, kilns, and drying sheds had to be constructed.
Workers had to be trained,"27
"Mizner was also producing light fixtures, andirons,
and ornamental gates and grilles on a limited basis.
With the completion of the Everglades Club, Singer's
direct need for Las Manos ended. In 1919 Mizner bought
the buildings and equipment from Singer, speculating
that his own architectural commissions would cover the
costs of production and that Mizner clay products, beiri.
first-rate, had a sales potential to other architects
and individual clients. He commented, "There was no way
of figuring out whether it was a winner or looser, as
we were making something that could not be bought in
the United States."
The adventure was successful. By 1925 the firm
had been considerably expanded with quarter-million
dollar net profits. Mizner Industries, Incorporated
was formed, buying out Las Manos, Addison Mizner Industries,
and Antigua Shops, Inc, Mizner Industries, Incorporated
advertised itself as "Manufacturers of pottery, roof
and floor tile, period furniture, wicker, upholstering,
antique millwork and hardware, bronze sash, wrought iron,
stained and leaded glass windows, reconstructed and
ornamental stone, and imitation marble." A sales office
was opened on Via Mizner and sales brochures were widely
"Mizners name was associated nationwide with two
colors which he had popularized; Mizner blue, a turquoise,
and Mizner yellow, a soft lemon. The colors were in vogue
"Another important product of Mizner Industries
was ornamental pottery. The pots were produced in
plain clay or in solid glazes.4 The styles were numerous,
but all were designed "to follow as nearly as possible
the original productions of Old Spain." Most popular
was the "Ali Baba" which came in at least two sizes; one
which would have provided ample hiding space for a man.
Most jars were named after cities in Spain, but the
styles were so generically Hispanic that naming them
was merely a convenience for the client."30
"Stonework also came to be an important division
of Mizner Industries. Quarry stone, brain coral, was brought
via railroad from a Mizner-owned quarry on Islamadora
in the Florida Keys. Quarry stone was used principally
for outdoor terraces and stairs, but Mizner used it
in a rough cut form as the foundation for the Paul More
Artificial or cast stone was developed by ,izner
and Mizner Industries to decrease building construction
time and to keep down costs."31
"Immediately it must have become apparent to
Mizner that even if his clients could addord to pay
the charges for authentic Medieval and Renaissance
doorways, columns, and windows, there was not a sufficient
number available for import from Europe and Latin America.
Shipping was slow. Reconstruction was difficult. Since
native Florida stone was scarce, the experimentation with
poured stone was undertaken. Although the specific
contents remain undefined, the material poured was
a mixture of coquina shell, lime, and a cement compound,
Mizner Industries designed its own pieces and it copied
examples from Spain. Moulds were made and poured at the
factory. The pitting and slightly brown coloring in
cast or poured stone is a result of voids made by gasses
escaping from bicarbonate of soda, another ingredient
of the final casting compound. Chips, cracks, and breaks
in the authentic pieces came out identically in the
finished products. Soon even original production
moulds were made with realistic mars and fractures.
Workmen, under Mizner's instruction, did intentional
damage to their finished products in order to make
the pieces look antique. One stoneworker whose story is
I got so mad once when Mr Mizner came along,
He said the job was good. "Do you have a hatchet?" I
thought that he was kidding me, so I went and got a hatchet.
He knocked corners off my pieces here and there.
Then he told me to patch them on again but so that the
patches were noticeable from 25 feet away. I couldn't
The production of the stonework division was
extensive in diversity and in quantity of products.
Available to the interested buyer were all items
imaginable from small medalions to sixteen-foot cloister
windows. There were columns, capitals, crests, fireplaces,
fountains, doorways ad infinitum. One of the major
difficulties in identifying Mizner buildings is the
presence of Mizner Industries stonework on non-Mizner
buildings. All local builders and architects purchased
from the factory."32
"The craftsmanship of the wrought iron was exceedingly
fine. The metal shop included machine tools, but much
of the finishing was by hand. In a grille for example,
soldering was avoided and banding, the traditional method
of linking parts together, was used. The latter is much
more difficult and time-consuming, but the product
is much finer structurally and aesthetically. It was
the small touches which assured the superior quality of
An aging process was used on the ironwork
products because Mizner disliked the highly-polished
black surface of new wrought iron. A workman described
one such process, "At Mizner's we let the ornamental
wrought iron rust. We dipped kamps or whatever in an
acid solution and overnight they would rust. Then,
we'd rinse them off and put regular floor wax on them
and then rub them with "rotten stone"."33
"After 1924 Mizner Industries began producing
doors and room paneling in woodite, a composite
material of wood and a cohesive compound which could
be poured and cast. Woodite could be painted, stained,
nailed, and sawn like regular wood. The woodite process
was patented and Mizner Industries was seeking ways
to make production even more economical. Woodite
reproductions made from moulds taken from original
Spanish doors and dados were reasonably cheap, in
comparison to the original, authentic in details,
highly believable in appearance, and moreover permitt'
the paneling of a complete room without an extensive search
in Europe for a room suitable for re-installation.
Mizner Industries remained solvent after the
1926 land crash and still prospered after the two
hurricanes. It was financially a significant help to
Mizner when he was struggling to recoup his losses.
The plant was sold from Mizner's estate and continued
to operate until the mid 1950's as Mizner Industries,"34
Mizner, Addison. Cynic's Calendar of Revised Wisdom,
n. p., San Francisco, 1903-1909
Mizner, Addison. Cynic's Calendar Revived, n. p.,
San Francisco, 1917
Mizner, Addison. The Lark, Willis Polk et al., San
Mizner, Addison. The Many Mizners, Sears Publishing Co.,
New York City, 1932.
Mizner, Addison. Untitled, Incomplete Manuscript, ca. 1932.
Orr, Christina. Addison Mizner, architect of dreams and realities,
Norton Gallery and School of Art, Palm
Beach, Florida, 1977
"Bungalows in the Spanish Manner Adapted to Meet American
Ideals", The Ladies Home Journal, February, 1927, p.36.,
"The Florida House", an interview of Addison ..izner by
John Taylor Boyd in Arts and Decoration, Vol. 32, January,
1930, pp. 36 40.
Johnson, Alva, The Legendary Mizners, Farrar, Straus, and
Young, New York City, 1942 (1950, 1952, 1953). (A relatively
accurate book written in entertaining journalistic language.)
Johnson, Alva. Profile on Addison Mizner, New Yorker,
Vol. 28, November 22, 29, December 6, 13, 1952.
"The Old Cow Bay Manor House", Architectural Record,
March, 1917, n.p.
"A Spanish House in Monterey", Architect and Engineer,
Vol. 80, February, 1925, pp. 50 51, 92 95.
Tarbell, Ida M. Florida Architecture of Addison Mizner,
William Helburn, Inc. New York City, 1928.
1 Addison Mizner, Architect of Dreams and Realities,
by Christina Orr, Norton Gallery of Art, Palm Beach
Florida, 1977, P.5
2 Addison Mizner and Florida, a review by Curtis
Patterson, International Studio, 1928, Vol. 90
3 Addison Mizner, The Many Mizners, Sears Publishing
co. New York City, 1932, pp 64-65
4 Ibid, p.45
5 Addison Mizner, Architect of Dreams and Realities,
by Christina Orr, Norton&Gallery of Art, Palm Beach
Florida, 1977, P.7
6 Ibid, p.9
7 Ibid, p.9-10
8 Ibid, p.10
9 Ibid, p.11
10 Ibid. p. 14
11 Ibid, p. 14-15
12 Ibid, p. 16
13 Ibid, p. 18
14 Ibid, p. 19
15 Ibid, p. 20
16 Ibid, p. 20-22
17 Ibid, p. 22
18 Ibid, p. 24
19 Ibid, p. 27
20 Ibid, p. 37
21 Ibid, p. 40
22 Ibid, p. 41
23 Ibid, p. 43
24 Ibid, p. 45
25 Ibid, p. 46
26 Ibid, p. 46
27 Ibid, p. 52