Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Boca Grande

Following author Eve Pell's reading from her book We Used to Own the Bronx: Memoirs of a Former Debutante as a fundraiser for the Johann Fust Community Library, guests gathered for a reception at Greenwich residents Chris and Jim Cowperthwait's Boca Grande beachfront house, originally designed by F. Burrall Hoffman, Jr., the principal architect for Vizcaya and Palm Beach's earliest North End ocean-to-lake houses for the Phipps family, including the iconic Villa Artemis.
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.
Seen enjoying an idyllic wheelchair ride in Palm Beach, Eve Pell's great-grandmother, Mrs. Henry Morgan Tilford, with her daughter, Eve's grandmother, Katherine Tilford Mortimer. Photo courtesy of Eve Pell.
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.
Located on Southwest Florida's far-flung Gasparilla Island, about where the starfish is located, Boca Grande surprisingly maintains its authentic Old Florida charm.
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 ...
Chris and Jim Cowperthwait welcomed everyone to their beachfront house for the reception.
In 1938 Burrall Hoffman designed the Cowperthwaits' house for his brother, William Wickham Hoffman. In 1957 William Wickham Hoffman (1881-1966), a New York banker, published a genealogical family history, Eleven Generations of Hoffmans in New York.
Located in the town's historic district, the main house was designed with a high-ceiling in the second-floor living room, now the master bedroom. Facing west towards the gulf as a sunset reflects in the windows, the porches and the terrace were more recent additions.
The center hall runs the length of the house and opens to the pool, flanked by the old dining area to the left and the new dining room to the right.
The pool is on the north side of the house. The center steps lead into the entrance hall; to the left, the kitchen is on the other side of the french doors.
The Cowperthwait's guest house is east of the pool.
To the right, the original dining room fireplace, looking down the center hall towards the front entrance.
The new formal dining room is next to the kitchen.
The dining room overlooks the pool.
Standing guard on the dining room table.
The Florida Room is a new addition, lit by the late afternoon sun.
The Florida Room's stenciled beams add an intimate dimension to the large-scaled space that overlooks the beachfront terrace.
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.
Built in 1940 the Shaw House has two separate wings separated by a central courtyard and connected by a covered walkway.
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.
For the Mrs. Michael Van Beuren house, the daughter of Standard Oil president John D. Archbold, Hoffman designed a Southwest Santa Fe-inspired compound in 1938. The main house was centered around a patio
The Van Beuren compound's entrance.
In his article, The Florida Architecture of F. Burrall Hoffman, Jr., author Donald Curl describes the Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy as "a fitting capstone to the architect's island designs."
Burrall Hoffman's restrained Renaissance-styled chapel was the island's first Catholic church. A small bell tower rises above the Spanish oak doorway with a coral keystone surround.
With the chapel's ceiling is covered with pecky cypress, the chapel's apse features a four-part Gothic vault rising above the altar and its reredos.
A tile plaque accents the north fountain along the chapel's street-front entrance. A distinctive round interior
glass window.
The Grande Tour
First stop, the Boca Grande Historical Society. Their publication, Connections, contains authoritative essays on the island's history.
Much like these trees found in today's Boca Grande, a century ago visitors came to Palm Beach to have their photograph portraits done in front of these mammoth canopies.
Noted Boston architect Henry Richardson Shepley designed the island's Johann Fust Community Library donated by Louise and Roger Amory and dedicated in 1950.
The Fust Library entrance doors are reproductions adapted from an Istanbul mosque.
The doors open onto a breezeway leading to a courtyard beyond.
In the center of the breezeway, the library's entrance door features a pair of artful reproductions modeled from 18th-century Japanese panels.
To the left, the library's lower-level loggia shelters its shell collection; on the right, a shell-shaped fountain is the courtyard's centerpiece.
Before setting out the hooks for tarpon, Hudson's is one of the local must stops.
One of those charming everything buildings next door to Hudson's with Boca Grande limousines parked in front.
The Palm on Park is headquarters for all things from the Lilly empire.
Around the corner, Shana Perry, baker-owner of the Boca Grande Baking Company, spends all morning in front of the ovens.
A local church renovation appears to be undergoing a few touch-ups.
Where else in the world to live in grandeur.
Boca Grande's irresistible charm.
At The Temptation restaurant, where the lobster chowder was tasty, a wall mural enhances the 40s-50s setting.
Another view of the mural at the Temptation restaurant.
The Crowninshields, the du Ponts, the Sharps and the Farishes
First known as the Banana Patch, the Crowninshield studio was designed in 1927 by Albert Ely Ives for Francis B. Crowninshield and his wife, Louise du Pont Crowninshield. Avid tarpon fishing enthusiasts, the Crowninshields first bought a beachfront cottage before World War I. They were soon joined by other du Pont family members and Boston friends. Harry F. du Pont bought a house on Banyan Street. They were soon followed by other "beachfronters" who desired the anonymity the island's remoteness and isolation provided.
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.
La Hacienda's architect, Albert Ely Ives (1898-1966), was formerly associated with Palm Beach architects Treanor & Fatio and Addison Mizner. Later, he did prominent additions for other du Pont family properties at Winterthur and Gibralter. La Hacienda retains many original features, reminiscent of the era's great Palm Beach mansions that have since been demolished. The landscape architect was Marian Cruger Coffin. La Hacienda is situated on 550-feet of beachfront along the Gulf of Mexico. The enclave's several buildings contain 26,000 square feet of living area and 15 bedrooms. The estate remains in the Hugh Rodney Sharp family, currently owned by HRS Realty LLC of Delaware.
The estate's arched portal provides the entrance drive with a scenic perspective of the sky and the sea beyond.
A view of La Hacienda from the 8th Street beach.
La Hacienda's beachfront pavilion.
This appears to be one of those magical tableau vivant stage settings.
A pelican weather vane sits atop La Hacienda's tower.
Having sold their Gulf Stream house last year, William S. Farish & Sarah Sharp Farish built a new compound located at the north end of town on the grounds of the former Bayard Sharp estate, Mrs. Farish's late father who passed away in 2002. Known for his civic-mindedness as Mr. Boca Grande, Bayard Sharp bought the iconic Gasparilla Inn from the Collier Corporation in 1964. Mrs. Farish was the Sharp's only child and thus the Inn is now owned by the William Farishes. Mr. Farish is the former US Ambassador to the Court of St. James.
The Gasparilla Inn & Club
Owned by Barron Collier for many years, in 1961 the Collier Corporation sold the Inn to a syndicate that included du Pont heir, Bayard Sharp. Three years later, Mr. Sharp bought out the other members of the syndicate and formed Gasparilla Inn, Inc.
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.
The Inn's lobby keeps a historic ambience, the black table telephone looks perfect for texting.
Shelling is one of the island's passions.
The central staircase is between the dining room and the living room.
Walking though the Inn reminded me of my college summers spent working at The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport.
The early morning sun gives the Inn a serene golden glow.
Located across from the marina docks, the Pink Elephant is one of the Inn's most popular spots.
The crowd in the writing room.
Sunset on Boca Grande
 
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew; Boca Grande Historical Society & Museum, www.bocagrandehistoricalsociety.com
bghs@ewol.com or 941-964-1600

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