Monday, October 28, 2013

Sea Island Social Diary

Spanish Lounge, Cloister at Sea Island. In 2003, artifacts were salvaged from architect Addison Mizner's original 1920s Spanish Lounge before the demolition of the historic Cloister Inn on Sea Island. Three years later, those vestiges were reassembled as part of a more luxurious Cloister. The portraits of Sea Island founder Howard Coffin and his first wife Matilda were painted from the originals by Christophe Goodstein, especially for the restored Spanish Lounge.
High Life in the Low Country: Sea Island & St. Simons Island
By Augustus Mayhew

When Travel + Leisure magazine named The Cloister & The Lodge at Sea Island the 2013 top resort in the United States, the recognition most likely fulfilled the vision of the resort’s founder Howard Coffin who had commissioned architect Addison Mizner to design the original more restrained Cloister in 1928.  Already a Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond rated vacation spot, a recent New York Times feature christened Sea Island/St. Simons Island “A New Capital of U.S. Golf,” after the Sea Island Golf Club’s resident touring pro Davis Love III was named captain of the 2012 Ryder Cup team.

Although only fragments from the Mizner-designed 46-room inn were incorporated into the resort’s $500 million makeover opened in 2006, the renewed sense of place exudes an incomparable Mediterranean ambiance that now places it among the world’s best rather than simply a getaway for high-cotton Atlantans looking for an alternative to Sea Island’s nearby competitors, Hilton Head and The Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island. 

Howard Earle Coffin(1873-1937). An automotive magnate credited with the development of the Hudson Motor Company, Coffin settled along the south Georgia coast in 1911. He acquired Sea Island in 1926 and sought to build a hotel with a golf course to attract buyers who would build cottages on his 3.5 mile island.
Last week, I visited St. Simons and Sea Island as a guest lecturer of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society, the organization dedicated to preserve St. Simon and Sea Island’s historical and cultural resources.  A part of their summer Chautauqua Lecture Series, I spoke to a polite captive audience of 200 on “Ultimate Destinations: Addison Mizner’s Palm Beach, Boca Raton & Sea Island.” After my presentation, where I spotted only two audience members dashing to the doors, I went to an enjoyable dinner with Bill and Anne Stembler, the historical society’s president, Leigh and Thad Truett, and the society’s curator Mimi Rogers

The day of my lecture, Mimi and I went to lunch at The River Bar with Merry Tipton, The Cloister’s corporate communications director, who gave us an extensive tour of The Cloister’s various family-friendly pleasure-dome facilities where Southern Hospitality means unobtrusive service and “custom-made furniture from China, woven carpets from Turkey, draperies from English 18th-century looms, and antique hardwoods from shipwrecks at the bottoms of North American rivers,” according to published reports.  The following day, I explored St. Simon Island’s eclectic mix of oak-shaded commercial venues and varied low-key residential expressions, resisting a stop at the popular Southern Soul Barbecue restaurant. 

Then, I crossed the nearby causeway framed by saltwater marshes onto Sea Island, the private 3.5 mile residential enclave, where I was delighted to find traditional 1920s-1930s works by architect Francis Abreu.  Astonishingly, Cottage Ten, the house Addison Mizner designed for A. W. (Bill) and Katharine (Kit) Jones, appears to be in much the same architectural formation and arrangement as when it was built in 1928.  The Mizner house’s longevity is even more improbable when you consider the out-of-the-blue cottage across the street — Entelechy II, a 12,000-square-foot magnum opus modernum designed and built during the mid-1980s by Atlanta’s storied architect John Portman.

Here is a look at some of my moments on the barrier islands off the South Georgia coast.

St. Simons Island
The Coastal Georgia Historical Society arranged for me to stay at the Saint Simons Inn by the Lighthouse, located across the street from the A.W. Jones Heritage Center. However dramatic and magnificent the landscape and architecture, I wasn't prepared for a persistent fogging camera lens caused by the daytime August humidity.
At the A. W. Jones Heritage Center, pictured above, the Coastal Georgia Historical Society presented an August lecture series on architects John Portman, Addison Mizner, John Russell Pope, and James Hamilton Couper, sponsored by Wells Fargo Advisors.
Since the Cloister at Sea Island took its inspiration and name from Mizner's Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn, I spoke on the links during the 1920s between Paris Singer's development of Palm Beach, Addison Mizner's Boca Raton, and Howard Coffin's Sea Island.
For the most part, Sea Island Drive is a beautifully landscaped two-lane one-road lined with rows of attractive interpretations of picturesque architectural standards. The discerning low-key profile reminded me of many of the more than 600 Palm Beach houses demolished in the past 30 years during the "Make Every House a Mansion Movement."
Entelechy II, Cottage 428. Sea Island. Of course, there is always the exception. Thirty years ago, architect John Portman's otherworldly seaside beach house caused a kerfuffle when its columns were being installed to support a massive concrete sunscreen. In my opinion, Addison Mizner would have loved it.
Looking towards the pier at the end of Mallery Street, the walk along St. Simons Sound seems a continent away from the mainland rather than an eight-mile drive across the causeway from the town of Brunswick.
Addison Mizner on Sea Island

When Howard Coffin balked at architect Schultze and Weaver’s plans to build an eight-story “Palace by the Sea” as the main attraction for his Sea Island development, he sent his cousin, Bill Jones, and other  staff members to South Florida to look at other options.  In April 1926, Jones wrote to Coffin about Addison Mizner’s Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn:

“The orthodox commercial atmosphere is entirely lacking at The Cloister in Boca Raton. There is an atmosphere of absolute peace, content and calm.  It is like living in the most beautiful home in the world with a perfect personal service that has tremendous appeal. Boca Raton is the most beautiful place I have seen in Florida.  Add to that the fact Addison Mizner best understands just what to give people and you have the perfect solution.”

Coffin hired Mizner and the architect’s plans for Sea Island were announced in April 1928.  Since Mizner’s Boca Raton venture slipped into bankruptcy when The Boom went bust, and would be renamed the Boca Raton Club by its new owner, Coffin utilized the Cloister name at Sea Island.
Featuring a lakeside profile of the Ritz-Carlton Cloister in Boca Raton, the Mizner Development Company was first financed by a syndicate led by Rodman Wanamaker.
This architectural model under Plexiglas of Mizner's original Ritz-Carlton Cloister is in the lobby of the Boca Raton Resort.
Addison Mizner's plans for the Cloister at Sea Island appeared in Architecture magazine, January 1929.
Cloister at Sea Island, under construction. Fall, 1928.
The Cloister at Sea Island, 1928. Addison Mizner, architect. Lester Geisler, associate architect.
The Cloister at Sea Island opened on 12 October 1928 as a 46-room three-story inn set on 1,200 acres. Following Coffin's sudden tragic death in 1937, his cousin A. W. "Bill" Jones inherited his development holdings. By 2003, The Cloister had expanded into a 269-room complex when Jones' son, A. W. "Bill" Jones III, demolished the original and undertook a three-year reported $500 million makeover that transformed The Cloister into a world-class resort.
Cottage 10, East 26th Street (Spalding Lane)
Addison Mizner, architect.

During one of Addison Mizner's visits to Sea Island, Howard Coffin's cousin Bill Jones asked Mizner to design a cottage for him and his new wife Katharine. While not rendered like one of the architect's more recognizable Spanish or Italian motifs, Cottage 10 featured tabby construction, composed of lime, water, sand, oyster shells, and ash, as well as a spacious loggia looking towards the ocean, and a large living room. In a 1981 interview with the late Mizner scholar Donald Curl, Jones told Curl that when his wife asked for a fireplace mantle, Mizner said it was unnecessary because " … some
When it was built, Cottage 10's tabby construction blended in with the island's existing cottages.
Cottage Ten, entrance. For me, the house is reminiscent of Mizner's Old Floresta houses in Boca Raton.
Cottage Ten. The large lengthy living room separated the loggia, to the right overlooking the pool and facing the ocean, from the front entrance and sleeping rooms located above.
The Cloister at Sea Island
Peter Capone, architect - Vassa Cate, landscape design - Interior design, Pamela Hughes
Sea Island is a private resort and residential island.
A panoramic view of the saltwater marshes approaching Sea Island from St. Simons Island with The Cloister's Main Building, far right, elevation facing the Black Banks River.
The Cloister at Sea Island, riverfront elevation. The $350 million Main Building houses guest rooms and suites as well as the Georgian Room and the River Bar restaurants. Nearby accommodations offer oceanfront villas, townhouses, condominiums, and cottages.
The Cloister, porte cochere.
The Cloister, entrance.
Mimi Rogers, the historical society and the resort's curator, stayed ten steps ahead of me.
Colonial Lounge, view looking towards the river. The arcaded galleries provide access to the guest suites and overlook the spacious Colonial Lounge.
Colonial Lounge staircase leads up to the guest accommodations from the Colonial Lounge.
David Carrier, The Cloister's executive chef.
According to some reports, as much as $1 million was spent for each guest accommodation.
The Cloister
Solarium. Sea island mural.
Spanish Lounge

The Spanish Lounge is a re-creation of the original Mizner-designed lounge featured in the original 1928 Cloister. Three pairs of Gothic windows were salvaged, as well as a pair of Mizner-designed chandeliers, a fireplace plaque from Mizner Industries, and some furnishings. These architectural elements were integrated into The Cloister's new opulent Main Building.
The Spanish Lounge.
Original Spanish Lounge, Cloister Inn, c. 1928. Addison Mizner, architect. Furnishings by Mizner Industries. Courtesy Coastal Georgia Historical Society.
The Spanish Lounge, Gothic multi-colored leaded-glass window. Mizner Industries.
Spanish Lounge.
Spanish Lounge, fireplace plaque. Spanish Lounge. A wrought-iron chandelier manufactured by Mizner Industries.
Spanish Lounge.
Georgian Room

Georgia's only Forbes Five-Star dining experience, the carpet in the Georgian Room was handmade in Thailand. Weighing 2,000 pounds, it features the flora and fauna found on Sea Island.
The Georgian Room offers "Refined Southern" cuisine.
The Georgian Room, private dining room.
Cloister Spa

If a jaunt to Bali sounds too time-consuming, you might consider Sea Island's $65 million Balinese-styled spa. I was impressed. The facility features a woodsy soaring atrium, a cathedral-sized swimming pavilion, rivulets and koi ponds, and numerous treatment rooms. The fitness area includes three squash courts and a resident squash pro.
Spa, entrance.
A cloistered courtyard separates the Spa's treatment rooms from the fitness center.
The atrium features a heated whirlpool.
Spa, atrium.
1:47 p.m. and the staff at the Fitness Center is ready to serve.
Fitness Café, menu.
Spa, heated lap pool.
G8 Summit at The Cloister, Sea Island
June 8-10 2004

In 2004, The Cloister at Sea Island hosted the G8 Summit.
G8 Summit. You remember them, the players at Sea Island.
G8 Summit, 2004.
The Lodge at Sea Island

Said to be inspired by the architecture of English country manor houses, the $52 million Lodge and Retreat Golf Course opened in 2001 as a golfer's paradise on nearby St. Simons Island. The Lodge's 40 guest rooms are enhanced with 24-hr. butler service and a sunset bagpiper.
The Lodge at Sea island.
The Lodge, port cochere entrance.
The Lodge, living room reception.
The Lodge, living room reception.
The Lodge. The Colt & Alison restaurant was named after golf course architects Harry Colt and Charles Alison.
The Lodge, reception area.
From the Lodge's terrace, guests have a view across the fairway of Jekyll Island.
The Lodge affords a club-like sense of privacy.
The Lodge.
The Lodge.
In early November, resident pro Davis Love III hosts the McGladrey Classic, a PGA-FedEx Cup tournament.
Sea Island Scenes

Approximately one-fourth of the more than 600 homes and condominiums on Sea Island are available as vacation rentals. Residences range from three-bedroom cottages and condominiums to luxurious seven-bedroom homes. For further information contact:
Sea Island Drive is an approx.. 3.5 mile road extending from the security gatehouse to the tip of the island where a two-acre marsh front estate recently sold for $8 million.
An eight-step walk-up to the front door of this low-country classic.
An understated discreet façade with substance and style.
This reminded me of all the Henry Harding-designed houses in the Palm Beach area that have been demolished.
Magnolia magna colossala.
Entelechy II
Cottage 428- 113 East 26th Street

Designed and built as a contemporary three-story seaside retreat in 1985 by architect John Portman, Entelechy II is located on three parcels extending about two acres from Sea Island Drive to the oceanfront. The 12-room house valued at $6.75 million features eight bedrooms within 12,568 square-feet of living area and a 30 by 40 pool, according to the property appraiser's web site. Here are a few views from the Mizner house across the street,
Entelechy II.
St. Simons Island
A, W. Jones Heritage Center, view from the lighthouse.
The 104-foot lighthouse tower has a 129-step cast-iron spiral staircase and an adjacent keeper's house designed by one of Georgia's most noted architects, Charles Cluskey. The 1872 lighthouse keeper's dwelling is a unique Victorian design built of Savannah gray brick. The house served as a home for the lighthouse keepers from 1872 until 1950.
In 2004, the lighthouse was deeded to the Coastal Georgia Historical Society under the Lighthouse Preservation Act. Today, with the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the light continues as an Aid to Navigation, shining seaward every night and during inclement weather.
The historic waterfront gazebo.
Simply sensational! Palmer's Village Café. Mallery Street.
St. Simons Island storefronts are predominately post-WW II plate-glass and concrete buildings.
The Pier Village Marketplace on Mallery Street is a charming exception, an island ambiance.
Pier Village Marketplace.
Pier Village Marketplace.
Palm Coast Café — where everyone is on island time.
Early morning on St. Simons Sound, view towards the ocean.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

Augustus Mayhew is the author of Lost in Wonderland – Reflections on Palm Beach.