Palm Beach Saga
Ann 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 tourist (sorta 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 a vengeance.

The current leading luminaries of this resort have adopted many of the poses and attitudes supposed of the established society 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. Stotesbury’s 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 also 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.
Just 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. was unfazed.

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.

Terry 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.
 
DPC in the door frame of Beth DeWoody's residence on a beautiful Sunday morning
DPC taking a pic of JH taking a pic of DPC
More from Villa DeWoody ...
DPC taking in the view
The DeWoody home at night
And from the pool
About 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.
I was a houseguest of Mrs. Downey, a well-known interior decorator, a couple 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.

Ann Downey
He 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 in Architectural Digest, in their Before And After issue, in which the Downey design was referred 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.
L. to r.: Ann Downey's living room and reception room.
Ann and Apple
The cabana
Ann in the sun room
The dining room
Downey's playful decor
After 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 Guest.

DPC 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 its 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). Several years 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.
Saturday 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.
Authentic Provence, Palm Beach, Florida
Lesart SPA, Rome, Italy
Bill Brockschmidt and Courtney Coleman
Boris Vervoordt, Robert Lauwers, and Axel Vervoordt
Galerie du Post-Impressionnisme, Paris, France
Simon Capstick-Dale Fine Art, New York, New York
Taking a break from the action
Mary Helen McCoy Fine Antiques, Mountain Brook, Alabama
Ellen Liman, Carolyn Brodsky, and Betty Sherrill
John Loring and Val Selleck
Axel Vervoordt, Belgium
Jack Kilgore & Co., New York, New York
David Morris International Inc., Palm Beach, Florida
Zaras, Palm Beach, Florida
Galerie Levy-Alban, Paris, France
Mallett Inc., New York, New York
Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts, New York, New York
Ariadne Galleries, New York, New York
Richard Green, London, UK
MacConnal Mason, London, UK
Sheila and Alexandra Kotur
Benjamin Steinitz and H.I.H. Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam
Afrodit, Ankara, Turkey
A.B. Levy, Palm Beach, Florida
Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, New York
Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York, New York
Charles and Clo Cohen
Jill and David Gilmour
Winston Wren and Allison Kavanaugh
Goedhuis Contemporary, New York, London, Beijing, Paris
Historical Portraits Ltd, London, UK
Graff Diamonds, London, UK
H.M. Luther, New York, New York
Alistair and Blair Clarke
Bruce Helander
Iris Apfel
Berry-Hill Galleries, New York, New York
Phoenix Ancient Art, New York, New York
Phoenix Ancient Art, New York, New York
Clinton Howell Antiques, New York, New York
Bonnie Roseman and Tony Messina
Nacho and Delfina Figueras
Denise McCann and Suzanne Stoll
Jack and Talbott Maxey
Galerie Boulakia, Paris, France
Whitford Fine Art, London, UK
Berko Fine Paintings, Belgium
Marks Antiques, London, UK
Traum Safe, New York, New York
Pierre M Dumonteil, Paris, France
Two Zero C Applied Art Ltd., London, UK
Kathy and Alan Bleznak
Michael Kirkland, Marnie Howard, and friend
Lars Bolander, Palm Beach and New York
Antique Fair people pics by Tom Grizzle/©Patrick McMullan
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Saturday 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 the Palm Beach Post, Jason 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.
Gigi and Harry Benson
Jim Kaufman and Karen Shanker
Merrill and Nicole Hanley
Charles Gargano and friend
Adam Katz and Grace Meigher
Frannie Scaife and Maggy Scherer
Liza Pulitzer, Margot de Peyster, and friend
Mayor Lesly Smith and Chris Meigher
John Desiderio, Iris Cantor, and Adam Katz
Frank Chopin and Kate Ford
Andrea Stark
Chase and Stephanie Coleman
Virginia Coleman, John Mashek, and Mai Harrison
Arnold Scaasi, DPC, and Parker Ladd
Cornelia Ercklentz and Ashley Miller
Mandy Ourisman, Jeanne Lawrence, Mary Ourisman, and Ed Lobrano
Tom Madden, Laurie Bodor, and Jason Kaufman
Judy Shrafft, Chris Walling, and Frances Hayward
Charlotte Kellogg, Billy Gubelmann, Princess Tolstoy, Shelly Gubelmann, and Miss McElvane
DPC, Sharon Hoge, and Adam Katz
Jilll Roosevelt, Michael McCarty, and friend
Mona de Sayve, Steven Stolman, and Ann Downey
Stephanie Coleman and friends
Many 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 Flagler Drive.

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 to effortlessly 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 isn’t.

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 Bruder, Kristi 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.
Sharon Sondes' Palm Beach pad

Sunny Sunday mid-afternoon in Palm Beach. Adam Katz invited us to ride back to New York and Teterboro on Talon’s 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.

Adam Katz kissing his Gulfstream IV-SP

I 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 to our youth. It’s my personal belief that the things that are right and best for you professionally in your adult life are 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 with 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 Talon 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 baby.

His planes always fly with a co-pilot so that there is one person always flying the plane and one person keeping track of what 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 along in the cockpit on charter flights just so the client knows the owner cares as much about the safety and efficiency and service of 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.

Adam Katz at the controls
The cabin
The G-IV SP on the runway after its 2:20 flight from Palm Beach to Teterboro



February 7, 2006, Volume VI, Number 24
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/NYSD.com

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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com