Monday, February 26, 2018

Palm Beach Society Through the Years

The principals opening the discussion of "Palm Beach Society through the Years," hosted by the Coudert Institute.
Monday, February 26, 2018. Quiet, rainy weekend in New York with temperatures in the mid-to-high 40s in the day and lower 40s at night.

Last Thursday, JH and I flew to Palm Beach to conduct a "conversation" about Palm Beach Society through the years, presented by the Coudert Institute (“Subjects That Matter with People Who Make a Difference”).

Dale and DPC before the "talk."
The “Institute” is something that was started by our hostess Dale Coudert (coo-dare), a girl from Chicago who became a native New Yorker where she was one of the founders of The Woman’s Bank, as well as conducting a very successful career in Commercial Real Estate (her first big commission was the sale of the then General Motors Building).

In the 1990s Dale relocated to Palm Beach and joined Dr. Steven Rose, a retired dentist and sculptor, at the acclaimed Addison Mizner estate, Villa dei Fiori. The house was designed in 1921 for Orator Woodward Jr. whose father invented Jello, the formula of which he purchased from a neighbor in his hometown of Leroy in northern New York for $450 – a tidy sum in the year 1899.

Mr. Woodward’s almost instant financial success was cut short when he died at age 49 in 1906. His wife Cora Woodward took over the family company, and was eventually succeeded by her son Ernest. The company was eventually sold to Marjorie Meriweather Post’s General Foods.  Orator Jr. was known as the playboy in the family. That is affirmed by his early interest in Palm Beach which was originally conceived by Henry Flagler for men such as playboys who were rich.
Orator Woodward III, known to his friends as Ortie, paid a visit to his ancestral Palm Beach home several years ago. Photo: MELANIE BELL
Mizner’s first building in Palm Beach was the Everglades Club which began construction in 1918 when he was 46. He had been hired by Paris Singer (one of the 18 illegitimate children – and heirs – of Isaac Singer, developer of the sewing machine). The intent was to build a hospital for soldiers who were casualties returning from the First World War. Up until that time Mizner designed seven residential villas and a medical center on the north side of Worth Avenue. At the end of WWI, however, soldiers wanted to go home and the idea was not realized. Paris Singer decided to turn it into a private club, which it remains to this day.

In five years – from 1919 to 1924, Mizner designed 38 houses in Palm Beach, including the 124-room El Mirasol built the same year as the Everglades for Philadelphia banker Edward T. Stotesbury and his wife Eva, who in her day was the “Queen of Palm Beach.” Mizner’s clientele also included many members of New York and Philadelphia society such as Gurnee Munn, John Phipps, Barclay Warburton, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Jr., Rodman Wanamaker and Edward Shearson.
The front façade of Coudert's Villa dei Fiori overlooking the courtyard entrance.
The courtyard is filled with Coudert's late husband’s scultptures.
He believed that architecture should also include interior and garden design. Among the house was El Solano on South Ocean Boulevard which he sold to Harold Vanderbilt, and was later own by John Lennon. A man whose creative energies superseded his financial acumen, his career as the premiere architect and designer in the development of Southern Florida was short lived to a little more than a decade: he died at age 60 in 1933.

I recount all this to explain why it was a great pleasure for me to be a guest in this early Mizner house that is Dale Coudert’s residence. Even more interesting is that most of the house has basically not undergone any changes since it was built, still containing its original flooring, windows, lighting fixtures, and even furniture which Mizner brought back from Spain and France, including many items from the 17th and 18th century. Because it remains unchanged architecturally, it reflects Mizner's strong, creative, and almost child-like fancy for what a great house should be, often in great detail.
The northside of the living room with the original fireplace and of the original chairs (partial view on right).
The western wall entrance from the entry hallway into the living. The chest and chair are original to the house.
View of the entry hallway leading to the staircase as well as the door to the front entrance.
The dining room with its original furniture.
View from the dining room entrance cross the hallway to the living room.
The Sun Room in the back of the house.
The first floor powder room.
The sitting room of JH’s bedroom suite, overlooking the courtyard.
Our hostess, who is very fond of books, has curated a perfect little selection for her guests.
Exiting the villa to head over to the Brazilian Court for a late afternoon cocktail.
The Brazilian Court.
Our hostess in front of Villa dei Fiori on her way out to dinner later that evening.
Renata’s, a popular restaurant on Via Mizner off Worth Avenue where we dined with Rochelle and David Hirsch, JH's parents.
Pizza Al Fresco on Via Mizner. Just beyond the tables is the grave of Addison Mizner’s pet monkey, Johnnie Brown.
The gravesite of Johnnie Brown, who died on April 30, 1927. Monkeys were a very popular pet in Palm Beach in the 1920 (as well as parrots – of which there remains flocks who populate the trees around the Everglades golf course). Mizner had more than one in residence and was often seen around with one on his shoulders..
The ground floor entrance below Addison Mizner’s private apartment (next to Pizza Al Fresco), still a private residence. Underneath the pink bear on the chair is a dog bed with a black animal sleeping in it. From outside looking it, I assumed it was the family pet dog. I was wrong: it is the owner’s Dee and Nick Adams' (who are descendants of President John Adams) pet pig. The Adams's have brilliantly restored and furnished the house making it look like Mizner just stepped out to dinner at Pizza Al Fresco.
Stuffed animals on display in the ground floor entrance — One an homage to Addison's monkey and one to its current genus Sus resident.
Looking up at the original Addison Mizner apartment where the architect lived with his pet monkeys as well as friends and guests.
A view up Worth Avenue.
Dale in in the Sun Room the next morning.
The tea house (where author  Arthur Houghton is currently in residence finishing his book). His last novel, Dark Athena, was drawn from his experience in diplomacy and the museum world. Author Alvin Felzenberg was staying in the back of the house. His most recent book, A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr., is a wonderfully nuanced biography on little-known aspects of Buckley’s career.
Fountain sculpture in the east courtyard.
Another view from the courtyard to the house.
Dale’s trellised pergola is replete with hanging orchids.
Later that day: Our hostess introducing her speakers ...
I don’t know what Jeff is telling the guests but I’m looking skeptical about something ...
DPC, Rochelle Hirsch, Dale Coudert, JH, and David Hirsch.
That’s Augustus Mayhew and DPC standing across from Villa Giardino on Peruvian Avenue. In the 1920s, Villa Giardino served as New York antique dealer Ohan Berberyan's commercial showplace. 

According to Clemmer, "the building was first described as a 'Venetian exhibition gallery.' With balconies, windows and doors trimmed with authentic Venetian Gothic stonework, the columns and arches were composed of imported Istrian and Veronese marble rather than fabrications from Addison Mizner's Bunker Road factory in West Palm Beach."

After our talk at the luncheon, Clemmer (as Augustus is known to his friends) took us on a fascinating architectural history tour of the center of Palm Beach.
Looking out at the Atlantic from South Ocean Boulevard. The gates we see belong to the house on the other side of the road which looks out at the ocean. Many residents of this roadway have these “private entrances” beyond which are cabanas on the sand.
These "historic" arches on Via Marina were manufactured in the 1920s at the Mizner Industries factory in West Palm Beach as part of the Addison Mizner-designed mansion, Playa Riente. Although Anna Dodge demolished it in 1957, fragments from the original house can be found scattered in several houses from Palm Beach to Vero Beach. The current owners saved the carvings and installed them on the back wall of the driveway.
Green’s Pharmacy of Palm Beach. Green’s, which was established in 1938, also has an 82-seat luncheonette as well as a luncheon counter. It is legendary in Palm Beach as the locals (meaning anyone who lives or works in Palm Beach) are “regulars.” Morton Downey, the famous Irish  (American) tenor of the radio and later television in the mid-20th century, used to eat breakfast there at 6:30 or 7 every morning, breaking bread with the men who worked on the properties, along with many of the owners, where he'd hear the latest "news" of the comings and goings and goings-on in the town.

At this breakfast on Saturday morning, JH went over there with our hostess who is a regular, as is Edwina Sandys (red scarf). When they arrived Dale asked for a table for four which increased to six and then eight and finally fourteen. That’s Dale at the far end next to Leonard Lauren, the man in the turquoise shirt. It’s smalltown America still alive and kicking with real neighbors being real neighborly. A blessing.
The gang on this day included Edwina Sandys, Leonard Lauren, Alvin Felzenberg, Jeffrey and Sarah Dreben, and Dale.
And then there were four: Jeffrey Dreben, Alvin Felzenberg, Jerry Lauren, and Dale Coudert.
Portuguese tile murals along the pergola wall.
One of Dale’s local neighbors, a descendent of the natives who’ve been here since before us humans.
Nature abounds at Villa dei Fiori.
Looking east on Seminole Avenue toward the Atlantic. The land on this side of the street all belonged to the Woodwards who built the house (they also had other buildings and grounds, tennis courts, etc., that extended right down to the roadway by the beach). Both sides of the street were parcels that extended from the Atlantic to the inland waterway.  After the Depression, the private lands were cut into plots for all the obvious reasons.
South Ocean Boulevard looking north.
The beach by the Atlantic.
More of what first caught Henry Flagler’s eye when he came to the island in the 1880s with the vision to see its possibilities and the know-how and capital to do something about it.
A quick walk over to the Intercoastal before exiting the island.
Looking south along the Intercoastal.
An enchanted farewell to Villa dei Fiori.

Contact DPC here.