|by Augustus Mayhew
Twenty years since my last visit to Boca Grande and the good news is, not much has changed. The century-old resort remains one of Florida's authentic island experiences where pleasure and relaxation are still its prime attraction. Despite the three-and-a-half hour from Florida's East Coast, passing through the state's flat lands, scrub palmetto palms, sugar cane fields and exotic RV resort parks, once I drove onto Gasparilla Island's causeway paralleling the old railroad bridge, lost time was forgotten, now surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico and Gasparilla Sound framed with mangroves and Australian pines. Having a classic seaplane fly overhead as it prepared to splash in the sound, added to the locale's sense of inaccessible aloofness.
My return to Boca Grande makes for a flash of synchronicity. I have been sketching a feature on architect F. Burrall Hoffman, Jr.'s work on Palm Beach, Jupiter Island and Boca Grande. At the same time, I was searching for images to illustrate an upcoming NYSD feature on Standard Oil families in Palm Beach when the Tuxedo Park Historical Society director suggested I contact Eve Pell, whose great-grands, the Henry Morgan Tilfords, and her grandmother, Katherine Tilford Mortimer, were seasonal PB visitors.
|I contacted Eve, she forgave me for somehow having overlooked Michael Thomas' feature on NYSD about her book. It was then I learned she would be in Boca Grande, which somehow led me to the reading and reception. And only as I was leaving did I discover the serendipity in the small big world of Boca Grande, the house party was being held at a Burrall Hoffman-designed house.
Here is a look at my Boca Grande excursion.
|From the Bronx to Boca Grande: Eve Pell's "Memoirs of a Former Debutante"|
|The three faces of Eve Pell: author, mother-grandmother and descendant of the Pell-Mortimer-Tilford lineage. Her fascinating journey from Tuxedo Park debutante dance cards to reporting on California's Death Row makes for a rare insightful view on the expectations of social class. And then, to find herself warmly welcomed with open minds in the unlikeliest of places, Boca Grande.|
|Clockwise from above: Eve Pell's roommate at the Garrison Forest School, Alice Gorman, arranged the Boca Grande event; Gathering for the event at the Boca Grande Community Center, as moments later, every seat was filled. Sam Hirabayashi, Eve Pell's husband, is sitting left, in the first chair on the second row; More than 150 islanders attended the sold-out event benefiting the Johann Fust Community Library.|
|Although Eve Pell suggests that she "doubts socialites of today would have the slightest interest in my experiences," I think she may be surprised as many of the pages in her life are each generation's passages. It is the reluctance to communicate them with each other that is lacking. And maybe, her book can bridge the gap.
About Boca Grande, Pell said: "I found people there extremely hospitable and warm. I was surprised at the number of rather conservative men and women
from my same background who reacted favorably. I could not tell who was offended because they all treated me so nicely, But, I do think some men of my generation, and older still, have a hard time with any aspect of the women's movement."
Pell's book begins with a quote from her Uncle Bertie Pell, "We are a very small group of people who are by birth and not by possessions at the social head of the greatest and most important ...." She ends with "The years of contorting myself to fit the rigid bed of Procrustes took their toll. But I broke away from the seductive and crippling environment of privilege and dread in which I grew up. I have connected with the world that feels ..."
As Jane Fonda wrote of Eve Pell, "Hers is an unexpected and hopeful journey of rebellion and reconciliation."
Here are few of the guests who attended the event ...
|Francis Burrall Hoffman, Jr. (1882-1980)
An Ecole des Beaux-Arts graduate who apprenticed with Carrere and Hastings, Burrall Hoffman would have earned a place in the 20th-century's architectural pantheon solely for his design of Vizcaya, the Biscayne Bay mansion of industrialist James Deering. But instead, he became best-known for creating sublime living spaces within well-proportioned houses, rather than showplaces. Coming from a socially-established family and of independent means, among the architect's earliest commissions was a French Manor house for the E. H. Harrimans in Arden, New York (1909-1911). Following, he and his partner, Harry Creighton Ingalls, designed the Little Theater in New York, later known as the Helen Hayes Theatre.
While Hoffman worked on Vizcaya, the Phipps family commissioned him to design Palm Beach' earliest pre-WW I oceanfront houses: Heamaw for Henry Carnegie Phipps (1879-1953) and Villa Artemis for Phipps' sister, Amy Phipps Guest (1873-1959) and her husband, Frederick Edward Guest (1875-1937). In 1920, for Joseph C. Riter's North Lake Trail house, Bywater Lodge, Hoffman designed a large-scaled ballroom addition where many of the resort's first performing arts events were staged before the Society of the Four Arts was established. Hoffman's Palm Beach works have been demolished with only Villa Artemis's iconic pool pavilion remaining.
|In an interview for the Hoffman Family archives and later published by the Boca Grande Historical Society, Livingston Elder, the architect's draftsman for more than thirty years, recalled Hoffman's work ethic:
"He would arrive in New York in the fall. He had an elegant apartment on 63rd Street and a studio in a building he owned on 72nd Street. Right after Christmas, he went to Hobe Sound. Spring would find him at his apartment in Paris. And summer would find him out at his country place not far from Paris in Senlis. In the spring and summer, he would acquire a job, but made it clear, work would not start until he returned to New York in the fall, when he would give me his sketches and have me draw them up." Designs for Paradise: Architecture and Lifestyle in Old Boca Grande, February 2008. Boca Grande Historical Society.
Eventually settling on the more sedate Jupiter Island rather than Palm Beach, Hoffman's measured approach was appreciated among the colony's blueblood residents. At the age of 90, Hoffman designed his last work, Harlequin House, the C. Douglas Dillon house on Jupiter Island. Virginia "Dolly" Kimball Hoffman, Hoffman's wife, died in 1990. She was an interior designer in Washington, Hobe Sound and Paris. Burrrall Hoffman's younger brother, Murray Hoffman, was also a Palm Beach architect; the architect's nephew, Lindley Hoffman, lives in Palm Beach where he has been a practicing architect.
|A tile plaque accents the north fountain along the chapel's street-front entrance.||A distinctive round interior
|The Grande Tour|
|The Fust Library entrance doors are reproductions adapted from an Istanbul mosque.|
|The Crowninshields, the du Ponts, the Sharps and the Farishes|
|La Hacienda, 1925-1929. H. Rodney Sharp, Sr. & Isabella du Pont Sharp House
In a series of interviews with the Historical Society Bayard Sharp, H. R. Sharp, Sr. and Isabella du Pont Sharp's son, recalled his first visit to the island when his parents were in the midst of building La Hacienda:
"My parents were waiting for me on the station platform, It was very festive, with bright covers fluttering from card tables set up with refreshments, lemonades and daiquiris, fruit, finger sandwiches, shrimp and fresh oysters on ice. Someone had brought a small Victrola on which "Tea for Two" from No, No Nanette, the latest smash musical, was playing." — Connections, Spring 2003, Historical Society of Boca Grande.
And thus began Mr. Sharp's lifelong Boca Grande adventure.
|The Gasparilla Inn & Club|
|The Gasparilla Inn & Club is one of Florida's last remaining exclusive family-owned Gilded Age resorts, only most recently listed as a National Historic Landmark and among the Historic Hotels of America, and only in the past several years, began advertising to the public. What began in 1910 as a "rectangular box with twenty rooms" has evolved into a picturesque multi-dimensional 140-room venue with many accommodations located in vernacular cottages surrounding the property extending from the waterfront marina and golf course to the beachfront cabana club and tennis courts.
While "most of the Inn's visitors are grandparents who first stayed at the Inn with their grandparents," and J. P. Morgan and Henry Ford are no longer joined for the winter by John Singer Sargent, Cabots, Drexels and Biddles, in between tarpon fishing, bridge rounds and golf games, the hotel's 21st-century marketing program is geared on theme weekends, food and wine, yoga, croquet tournaments and children's activities.
"Florida as it was meant to be," is now the Inn's calling card, under the direction of the William S. Farish family.
|Sunset on Boca Grande|
|Photographs by Augustus Mayhew; Boca Grande Historical Society & Museum, www.bocagrandehistoricalsociety.com
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