Downey with her
poodle Apple poolside at her Everglades Island home.
11:30 AM. Photo: JH.
Palm Beach Weekend final ... how they live and how
they lived. To
the outsider, the infrequent visitor (like yours truly) or the
like yours truly),
one is immediately aware of the
wealth that characterizes Palm Beach today. The cars, for example:
the frequency of Rollses, Bentleys, Ferraris, not to mention the
not-so-cheap Mercedes, etc. Or a drive along South Ocean Boulevard
or South or North County Roads. Then you hear the real estate stories.
When Donald Trump bought Mar-a-lago back in the 80s for $7 million
(including the furniture), everyone thought he’d paid top
dollar (and that he was crazy). Today there are much smaller properties
changing hands for four, five and six times what Trump paid for
the Mar-a-lago estate.
The buying and building boom has been going on for more than a
decade, and many of the new houses are comparable in size (square-footage)
to those built eighty and ninety years ago when Palm Beach was
the boom place for the new American rich poised to step in society
(and marry their daughters off to some grand old names).
Although after the Second World War, up through the 1970s, Palm
Beach went through a dormancy that many believed would eventually
be fatal. At the beginning of the 21st century, however, all the
vigor has resumed and little has changed from the boom times pre-1929
Crash. More is certainly better, or at least prevalent. And with
The current leading luminaries of this resort have
adopted many of the poses and attitudes supposed of the established
of yore but other than that, most, if not all, are newcomers, having
taken up the reins in the past fifteen or twenty years or even
more recently. You can count the old-timers on your ten fingers
(if that) at any given party. And that’s because time has
shrunk the fortunes of old – who’ve often rescued their
own solvency by selling off their inherited properties – and
multiplied (stupendously) the fortunes of new.
The first great Palm Beach building boom got
into full speed in the 1920s with Majorie Meriweather Post (then Mrs.
E. F. Hutton).
She too was then a relative newcomer to society (her father was
a health food guru from Michigan who made his fortune by developing
and exploiting the notion of eating grains as cereal in the morning).
Mar-a-lago had a 100 rooms – a clear and undeniable message
to any and all.
But the building boom really began about five years earlier in
1917 when a budding self-actualized architect named Addison
Mizner teamed up with a very rich Philadelphia stockbroker and his wife
named Eva and Edward T. Stotesbury and built a house off of what
is now North County Road and named it El Mirasol.
The 37-room house was described thusly by Mizner: “It began
looking like a convent and ended looking like a castle. It had
a half dozen patios and a 40 car underground garage. It was also
not the Stotesburys’ largest house – they had a 147-room
mansion in Philadelphia designed by Horace Trumbauer. (Mrs.
son Jimmy Cromwell became the first husband a rich young heiress
named Doris Duke.)
Until Mrs. Post came along, El Mirasol was the grandest home ever
built in Palm Beach. It established Addison Mizner on a fifteen
year (he died in 1933) and prosperous career as the town's favorite
architect. The house of Spanish architecture was situated on a
large tract of land that ran from the ocean to the lake, and was
built on several levels with interlocking rooms. On the lakeshore
there was a small teahouse and a dock for Mr. Stotesbury's yacht
Nedeva (he was called Ned and she was called Eva – get
it?). The Stotesburys lived there for three months a year (they
had a summer house in Bar Harbor).
Every year Mrs. S. would throw a huge birthday party on February
26 for her husband, inviting more than 500 guests, including everybody
she knew from the banker to the local grocer. As the guests raised
their glasses of champagne in toast to the grand old birthday boy,
he would beat on the drums as he did as a kid during the Civil
War (he was actually too young to serve), and naturally the drum
playing became an annual tradition.
In 1929, Mr. Stotesbury proudly announced to the
world that he was worth $100 million (more like several billion
today). Less than two
years later, however, after the Great Crash, he wasn’t so
sure he was going to keep swimming and so they closed up El Mirasol,
as well as their other houses and booked passage to Europe. As
bad as it was, in time Mr. S. realized that they would survive
and they returned to the US and Palm Beach. When he died in 1938
he left his widow $4 million – a sizeable estate for those
times. She continued to live at El Mirasol until her death ten
years later in 1948.
up the beach was another Mizner designed sand
palace – Playa Reinte, built by the Oklahoma oilman Joshua
Cosden. The ballroom walls were decorated with Jose
Sert-designed murals featuring elephants. It was
said the elephants so frightened the staff that the Cosdens
were forced to sell to Mrs. Horace Dodge, widow
of the automobile manufacturer who sold out to Walter
Chrysler and put all of his hundred millions in
tax-free municipals so that when the Crash came, Mrs. D.
Mrs. Cosden later said she sold Playa Reinte because she made a million dollars
in profit on the house. This was back when a million dollars meant you were rich.
Mrs. Dodge said she bought it because she found it more convenient than building
a new house of that size. She also kept the Cosden's furnishings, including the
elephant murals. In 1957 after selling the furnishings and demolishing the house,
she gave the murals to the Detroit Art Institute.
Mrs. Cosden most likely sold the house because she needed the money. Her husband
who made his fortune almost overnight in oil was a big time speculator and major
poker player. In those days there were a lot of major poker players in Palm Beach.
I’m not so sure that that tradition is maintained amongst the “players” today.
They now tend to take their risks on derivatives, etc.
One of the biggest poker games recorded in Palm Beach occurred in 1923 when Joshua
Cosden played a four man game with Florenz Ziegfeld, the Broadway
producer, a steel magnate named J. Leonard Replogle and one
of the most famous men of his day, newspaper editor Herbert Bayard Swope (known
near and far as “Swope of The World”).
So that the boys wouldn’t be disturbed, the game was held in Cosden's personal
railroad car and lasted two days. When it was over, Cosden had lost $443,100,
Ziegfield was out $294,300, Replogle won $267,100 and Swope, the big winner,
walked away with $470,300 (more than $12 million in today’s currency).
Joshua Cosden lost most of his fortune in the Crash and made another one in the
30s and lost it again and died in 40s at 51. Hence Mrs. Cosden’s real reason
for selling to Mrs. Dodge.
Last weekend, we had the privilege and
pleasure of briefly visiting a few of today’s great houses
of Palm Beach, as well as staying in one that is brand newly restored
in West Palm.
Allen Kramer at La Follia
One of the greatest
of the newer houses on the island is La Follia, the estate of investment
banking heiress and theatrical producer Terry Allen Kramer and
her partner, producer Nick Simunek, just a few
doors down for the Bath and Tennis. Mrs. Kramer built the house
with her late husband Irwin Kramer about ten years
ago. It was designed by Michael Smith (and is
featured in his new coffee table book).
At the time of its building (about 45 or 50,000 square feet), it was the largest
house (after Mar-a-lago) in Palm Beach. With 25 foot ceilings in the public rooms
(50 or 60 foot ceilings in the entry hall), magnificent paneling, screening room,
gym, wings of enormous guest suites (with a guest gym) and spectacular views
of gardens and pool and the lake on one side and the Atlantic on the other, it
is one of the grandest houses in Palm Beach.
Interestingly, Mrs. Kramer and Mr. Simunek (who are rumored to be Mr. and Mrs.
although no formal announcement has ever been made) are a very warm and welcoming
host and hostess. No amount of requisite or perfunctory grandeur cools that warmth
and welcome, and so guests are always in for a good time.
We had lunch there on Saturday with among others – Deborah Norville
and Karl Wellner and Tom Quick in a smaller dining
room off the main dining room, overlooking the lawn that runs down to the surf
and the beach. The conversation and camaraderie at the Kramer-Simunek table makes
you forget just how extraordinary the surroundings are.
After Friday’s threat of rain, it
started coming down in torrents on early Saturday morning. Many
were bemoaning the storm although I love the rain. By the time
we got to the Kramer-Simuneks’ there was several inches accumulation
in the measuring vases on the terrace, and it went like that off
and on throughout the afternoon and evening.
Sunday morning, however, we woke to glorious warm sparkling sunshine and cooler
temperatures. Mrs. DeWoody’s stunning residence was glistening white, as
you can see by the pictures and irresistibly inviting. How lucky we were to be
there. However, we had some last day visits to see and to meet.
in the door frame of Beth DeWoody's residence on a beautiful
taking a pic of JH taking a pic of DPC
from Villa DeWoody ...
taking in the view
DeWoody home at night
from the pool
eleven-thirty we went over to Everglades Island to see Ann (Mrs.
Morton) Downey at the house she’s owned since 1964. It
also happened to be the anniversary of her marriage to the late
Mr. Downey 38 years ago and so for her it was a day of happy
and bittersweet memories.
The couple had known each other for only a few weeks when they decided to elope
(it was the third marriage for both). After the ceremony, Mr. Downey had to pick
up his German Shepherd at the groomer. Because they’d just been married,
he’d thought of leaving the dog overnight but the groomer insisted that
that wasn’t a good idea. Not for this dog anyway. So, right after saying
their “I do’s” they went to pick up the dog. But he wasn’t
ready, and they spent the first half hour of the newly married life circling
the block waiting for the pooch to emerge.
was a houseguest of Mrs. Downey, a well-known interior decorator,
of times several years ago. She’s a wonderful hostess providing very comfortable
(and bright and cheerful) guest rooms with their own entrance. She also has a
marvelous cook named Bessie who’s been with her for decades
and whose creations are both down-home, sophisticated when necessary and incomparable
at all times.
Mr. Downey (who
passed away in the late 1980s) was in his day (the 1930s, 40s and
early 50s) one of the most famous radio singers in America.
also had a world-class charm that brought him a vast and varied
portfolio of friendships amongst the rich and famous, (as well
as the man-on-the-street), many of whom
came to stay at this house. Barbara and Frank Sinatra (Morton
Downey was his idol when he was a kid) were frequent guests and Mr. S. would
at times take over in the kitchen, delivering his own special pasta and sauces.
I’m not sure
if they had song fests between them.
Mrs. Downey’s decorative signature is color, as you can see for yourself.
Bright, bold and pow. One of the apartments she did in New York belonged to our
late mutual friend Judy Green. The apartment recently was featured
Digest, in their Before And After issue, in which the Downey design was
to as “plain Jane.” If you think this Palm Beach house is “plain
Jane,” I guess the writer is right. Big “if” here, however.
JH took some pictures of Mrs. D. with one of her little angels, Apple, who
often travels with her to New York (where she keeps a pied-a-terre) and to California
and other points north and west on design jobs.
to r.: Ann Downey's living room and reception room.
in the sun room
bidding goodbye to Ann Downey, top down, we
drove over to North County Road for a brief visit to one
of the great historical houses built in the 1920s or 30s
for Amy Phipps Guest, the mother of Winston
Guest and mother-in-law of the legendary CZ
by the famous pool
The house, which
is located in the section of Palm where El Mirasol and Playa Reinte
once stood (and were razed in the early 1960s) is most famous for
swimming pool because of a photograph the great Slim Aarons took
in the 1950s
of CZ Guest and her then small son Alexander. Just a couple
of houses down is
the mansion that Marion Sims Wyeth designed for the legendary
early 20th century
investment banker and godfather of the Metropolitan Opera, Otto Kahn. After
Kahn’s death it became the Graham-Eckes School (a private boys school).
ago it was purchased by Robert Cohen (father of Claudia
Cohen) and restored to
its former splendor.
Amy Phipps Guest died in 1959 and the house was purchased from her estate by Mr.
and Mrs. Leighton Rosenthal. Mr. Rosenthal died a couple of years ago
and his widow passed away at the end of December this past year. Her heirs intend
to keep the property which overlooks the Atlantic.
afternoon we went back over to the Palm Beach Convention Center to re-visit the International Fine Arts
and Antique Show that opened two nights before. And as it was two
nights before, the place was packed with visitors. Several dealers
from New York told me that they had had great success at this show.
It was beautifully set up and there was a wide variety of precious
things from art and antiques, to jewelry and even to safes (Traum
Safes) to see. People were not only looking but happily, according
to my dealer-sources, they were buying and in some cases, buying
up a storm.
Brockschmidt and Courtney Coleman
Vervoordt, Robert Lauwers, and Axel Vervoordt
du Post-Impressionnisme, Paris, France
Capstick-Dale Fine Art, New York, New York
a break from the action
Helen McCoy Fine Antiques, Mountain Brook, Alabama
Liman, Carolyn Brodsky, and Betty Sherrill
Loring and Val Selleck
Kilgore & Co., New York, New York
Morris International Inc., Palm
Levy-Alban, Paris, France
Inc., New York, New York
Steigrad Fine Arts, New York, New York
Galleries, New York, New York
Green, London, UK
Mason, London, UK
and Alexandra Kotur
Steinitz and H.I.H. Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam
Afrodit, Ankara, Turkey
Levy, Palm Beach, Florida
Galleries, New York, New York
Taggart Galleries, New York, New York
and Clo Cohen
and David Gilmour
Wren and Allison Kavanaugh
Contemporary, New York, London, Beijing, Paris
night, Chris Meigher and Quest Magazine (along
with Yours Truly) hosted a cocktail party at Club Colette from
6 to 8 for
Adam Katz, the owner and executive pilot of
Talon Air, the private jet charter service. In the crowd were
many PB residents along
with house guests and visiting dignitaries from the Palm Beach
Antiques show including Grace Meigher and daughter Elizabeth,
Maggy Scherer, Wilbur and Hilary Ross, Liza Pulitzer, Margo and
Ashton de Peyster, Iris Cantor and John Desiderio, Kate Ford
and Frank Chopin, Andrea Stark, Tom McCarter and Fran Scaife,
Frances Hayward, Parker Ladd and Arnold Scaasi, Mai Harrison and
her daughers Cornelia and Stephanie and
her son-in-law Chase Coleman,
Jimmy Clark, Jeanne Lawrence, Steven Stolman, Jill Roosevelt,
Muffy and Donald Miller, Laurie Bodor and Tom Madden, Chris
Walling, Michael McCarty, Sharon Hoge, Ann Downey, Mona de Sayve,
Charles Gargano, Gigi and Harry Benson, Virginia Coleman, Couri
Hay, Ellen and Ian Graham, Michel Witmer, Allison Weiss, Jim
Kaufman, Victoria Amory, Thorunn Wathne and Harry Platt, Jackie
Astor Drexel, Jim and Podie Torrey, Ed Lobrano, Shannon Donnelly,
society columnist of thePalm Beach
Kaufman of Talon
Air, and John Mashek, to name just a few.
Talon Air is a state of the air private air charter service, but
more on that later.
and Harry Benson
Kaufman and Karen Shanker
Gargano and friend
Katz and Grace Meigher
Scaife and Maggy Scherer
Pulitzer, Margot de Peyster, and friend
Lesly Smith and Chris Meigher
Iris Cantor, and Adam Katz
Chopin and Kate Ford
and Stephanie Coleman
Coleman, John Mashek, and Mai Harrison
Scaasi, DPC, and Parker Ladd
Ercklentz and Ashley Miller
Mandy Ourisman, Jeanne
Lawrence, Mary Ourisman, and Ed Lobrano
Madden, Laurie Bodor, and Jason Kaufman
Judy Shrafft, Chris
Walling, and Frances Hayward
Kellogg, Billy Gubelmann, Princess Tolstoy, Shelly Gubelmann,
and Miss McElvane
Sharon Hoge, and Adam Katz
Roosevelt, Michael McCarty, and friend
de Sayve, Steven Stolman, and Ann Downey
Coleman and friends
of the guests leaving the Talon party at Club Colette went on
to the cocktail reception Sharon Sondes and Geoffrey
Thomas gave at their house in West Palm.
The Countess Sondes has for years been known in New York for her glamorous cocktail
parties at the Park Avenue apartment where she grew up and which she inherited
from her mother Ellen Lehman McCluskey. She and her companion Geoffrey Thomas
moved a couple of years ago to a smashing Ann Downey-decorated villa just off
Reminiscent of the eclectic soirees immortalized in films like “Breakfast
at Tiffany’s” or “Auntie Mame”, Sharon simply knows how
to throw one helluva party. The guest list is never the same old same old – but
a sexy assemblage of movers, shakers, newcomers and establishmentarians – all
tossed together like the perfect Broadway cast.
There’s always a terrific pianist – in this case, the incomparable
George Cort, formerly of the St. Regis in New York who seemed
turn out hour after hour of Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, and Richard
Rodgers. And there are the good looking bartenders and scrumptious can’t-I-eat-‘em-all?
Hors d’oeuvres prepared by Sharon’s stalwart and talented longtime
cook extraordinaire Luz – mountains of smoked salmon tea
sandwiches seemingly cut by a laser beam along with sizzling fresh spring rolls.
It sounds simple ... it
The party Saturday night was in honor of Sondes’ visiting cousin John
Loeb, there with his companion Sharon Handler (you read about his birthday here last
June at Blenheim). Cousin, the Lady S. hung out the proverbial ham, and they
all came running – Lesly Smith and Jim Walsh, Ann Downey, Mona
de Sayve, Regine Traulsen and Bill Diamond, Tom Shaffer, Peter Cromarty, Becky
Witker and Dick Coons, Earl Crittenden, Monique Van Vooren, Conrad Hilton and
Jimmy Tigani, Harry and Gigi Benson, Deborah Norville and Karl Wellner, John
Loring, David and Gillian Gilmour, Lars Bolander and Nadine Kalachnikoff, Jessie
and Rand Araskog, Rodney Dillard, Steven Stolman, Terry Allen Kramer and Nick
Simunek, Mai Harrison, Jackie Weld and Rod Drake, Tom Quick, Helen Guest, David
Koch, Emilia and Pepe Fanjul, Lorna and Larry Graev, Bill and Barbara Harbach,
Messmore and Jo Kendall, Bill and Kit Pannill, Jack and Talbot Maxey, Fran Scaife
and Tom McCarter, Becky Bruder and Ted von Heyniger, and on and on into the night.
At Sharon’s parties, they arrive and they stay and stay. If it’s
not the people that holds ‘em, it’s Luz’s buffets, so there’s
no getting away from it.
Sondes' Palm Beach pad
Sunday mid-afternoon in Palm Beach. Adam
Katz invited us to ride back to New York and Teterboro
Gulfstream IV-SP. NYSD readers might recall a trip we took with
Mr. Katz to
Nantucket on his G-IV for lunch one fine day last summer. That
was a forty-five minute excursion from Teterboro. This was
a wee bit longer.
We met at the Federal Aviation terminal at Palm Beach International
about three. Three-thirty we were airborne. If you’ve never
ridden in a smaller jet, they ascend (or so it seems) faster
and higher than an airliner. Once we were out over the Atlantic,
Adam and his co-pilot took us to 45,000 where we were very smoothly
cruising at about 550 mph. I didn’t know this, but airliners
are not built to fly at such altitudes.
Katz kissing his Gulfstream IV-SP
love talking to Adam Katz about his business because he has the same naturally
intense interest in what he does
as I do
in my professional pursuits. And our interests date back
youth. It’s my personal belief that the things that
are right and best for you professionally in your adult life
directly related to those things which fascinated you when
you were very young and your imagination was purer – unencumbered
and unimpeded by social dictates. The first flight Adam Katz
ever took was with his mother, father and brother to Israel
when he as a kid. He had an opportunity to sit in the cockpit
the pilots and that sealed it for him; he just loves flying.
When he was a teen-ager he took flying lessons and after
college (he’s a practicing lawyer) he began flying
frequently and purchased his first plane. Several years
ago he founded
and now has eight or ten (or is it twelve?) in his charter
fleet. The G-IV that transported us back to New York from
Palm Beach is
His planes always fly with a co-pilot so that there is
one person always flying the plane and one person keeping
they’re doing and where they’re going. Because he’s
so passionate about flying personally, everything his fleet has
is state of the art and when he talks about it or shows it to
you, it’s like a racecar driver showing you why his
car is perfect and can beat all the rest. He often goes
the cockpit on charter flights just so the client knows
the owner cares as much about the safety and efficiency
the flight as the customer.
The flight from Palm Beach up to Teterboro took us about
2 hours and 20 minutes. Between the elaborate and varied
buffet of fresh
vegetables, sandwiches and salads and the very animated conversation
either with the other passengers recounting their weekend
adventures or Adam Katz explaining the details of his planes
or his aeronautical
interests, it seemed like 20 minutes flat. We were back in
Manhattan at 20 to 7. A long but quick and perfect weekend
in Palm Beach.
G-IV SP on the runway after its 2:20 flight from Palm
Beach to Teterboro