Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ecole de Beaux Palm Beach

Nightfall at Southways. Hoppin & Koen, architect. 1920. “We’ve kept the house pretty much the way the Frelinghuysens built it,” said Steven Gallant, whose family has owned Southways for more than forty years.
Ecole de Beaux Palm Beach
by Augustus Mayhew

As Mediterranean as Palm Beach regards itself, with ficus hedges secluding Venetian loggias, Spanish patios and Tuscan courtyards, the tropical island still retains some vestiges and memories of the Gilded Age grandeur once architecturally akin to the more elaborate Beaux-Arts country houses found in Tuxedo Park, Oyster Bay and Newport.

However influential Henry Flagler as a developer, hiring Carrere and Hastings to design Whitehall for his third wife as a drop-dead wedding present in a baronial style appointed with Louis-Louis interiors, Renaissance objets and palm trees might not have been his most lasting aesthetic legacy, as proven by the following decade’s proclivity for a barrel tile-and-stucco skyline that became the prevailing Palm Beach style. Here is a look back when drawing rooms and boudoirs made room for calling cards, hand-held mirrors, tea cups and walking sticks.

Southways. Hoppin & Koen, architect, 1919-1920.
Crowned with an elaborate geometric widow’s walk and chimneys, the house’s decorative façade appears more apropos of Newport's Bellevue Avenue than Palm Beach’s Barton Avenue.
When Theodore Frelinghuysen (c. 1865-1928) and his wife, Elizabeth Mary Frelinghuysen (1871-1967), retained Col. Francis L. V. Hoppin (1867-1941) as the architect for their Palm Beach house, they were already a part of the Fifth Avenue-Tuxedo Park-Newport-Lenox social set that Col. Hoppin was also a member. A dedicated clubman, Mr. Frelinghuysen was a descendant of New Jersey’s most prominent political and social family, his father having served as Attorney General of New Jersey, a US Senator and as Secretary of State.

In 1881, Mr. Frelinghuysen's brother, George, married Sara Ballantine, of the Newark brewery family. After Theodore Frelinghuysen's first wife died, a Coats Thread Company heiress, he married a widow, the former Elizabeth Mary Thompson Cannon, the daughter of a Detroit mayor whose first husband, financier and clubman Henry LeGrand Cannon, died suddenly in 1895. The widower and the widow became bold-faced names on the Social Register's timetable of dog shows and dinner parties.
Situated on a clouded Midtown ocean block, Southways was sited on an estate-sized parcel of more than an acre. While the house was later air-conditioned, it was detailed with numerous fireplaces in case of a South Florida chill.
Other Frelinghuysen family members also made Palm Beach their winter address. Mr. and Mrs. P. H. B. Frelinghuysen lodged at the Everglades Club when they came down from their Morristown house. Mr. and Mrs. Frederick T. Frelinghuysen resided at “Priscilla Cottage” on Sunrise Avenue when they left their icy Park Avenue apartment. By far, Southways was the family’s most prominent residence in Palm Beach. When President Warren G. Harding visited the island in 1923 and was entertained at Southways, the cottage colony began calling the house “The Winter White House.” Even though Theodore Frelinghuysen died in 1928, his wife kept the house another forty years, until her death in 1967, when the NYT referred to her as a “grande dame of a bygone era.”

Shortly thereafter, Southways was sold to a Bethesda, Maryland couple, Charles and Antoinette Gallant, who bought the property in 1968 from Mrs. Frelinghuysen’s estate. “My father owned a company in Washington, D.C., an avid yachtsman as well, and both my parents loved Palm Beach. My father died a few years ago and my mother still lives here," said Steven Gallant, an area real estate broker and appraiser. “I always thought the Frelinghuysens chose Hoppin because he designed their house in Tuxedo Park,” he added. But, however much the couple’s Tuxedo cottage built in c. 1899 might look like a Hoppin design, the Tuxedo Park Historical Society is unable to confirm whether it was one of the firm's designs.
The Charles W. Cooper House. Tuxedo Park, 1900. Hoppin & Koen, architect. While Francis Hoppin may have possibly designed the Frelinghuysen’ house in Tuxedo Park, they were nonetheless familiar with Hoppin’s work on nearby estates. Photo courtesy of Tuxedo Park Historical Society from the book, Tuxedo Park: The Historic Houses, photography by James Bleecker.
Like Carrere and Hastings, Francis Hoppin apprenticed with McKim, Mead and White before opening his own firm with Terrence Koen. Born in Providence, R.I., Hoppin attended Brown and MIT before completing his architectural studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. When society's aesthetic arbiter, Edith Wharton opted for Hoppin to design her Lenox house, The Mount, after a falling out with Ogden Codman, Hoppin’s standing grew among Tuxedoites, Great Neck swells and Newporters.

Rather than the more overwhelming showplaces that made Carrere and Hastings more in demand, Hoppin & Koen was appreciated for well-proportioned gentleman’s estates with Adam-style dining rooms and oak-paneled libraries, often simple symmetry without elaborate details. Along with Manhattan townhouses, among the firm’s opus magnums were Shoremond (1910), Bois Joli (1910), Wolver Hollow (1914), Framewood (1918), Bennett Cottage (1910) and the Blackton estate. Mr. Hoppin's brother, Howard, was also an architect, a partner in the firm Hoppin & Ely in Providence.
Framed by an understated columned projecting portico supporting a curtained Palladian window, the double-door entrance opens onto steps leading up to a double-high 80-foot long hallway. A winding staircase with elaborated ironwork graces the reception area.
Looking northeast from the pool onto the steps leading to the upper terrace trimmed with a hedged balustrade. The arched loggia openings beneath the awning contrast with the original Hoppin & Koen rectangular windows.
A view from the pool. To the left of the formal southeast sunroom beneath the awning, the arched openings enclose an extended east-west loggia. “When my parents bought the house, they took out the walls of two formal sitting rooms. Thus, the entrance hall leads into a more Florida-appropriate loggia that extends the width of the terrace,” said Mr. Gallant. “John Volk added the detailed arches to match those on the service wing, making for a more relaxed atmosphere," Gallant added.
The formal sunroom faces southeast.
“During the 1960s architect John Volk adapted the ground-level service wing with arched openings and an awning while the rooms upstairs, five on each side, remain servants’ rooms,” said Mr. Gallant. “Also, there are two garage apartments with a chauffeur’s apartment that still opens into the garage,” he added. To the left of the pool, a garden exedra.
Beyond the pool to the south, a garden exedra forms a focal point for the 80-foot center hall within the house.
A view from the exedra towards the main house.
From the pool looking east across the lawn to the Garden of Eight Columns.
Australian pines, once plentiful in Midtown Palm Beach, form a backdrop for the Garden of Eight Columns.
Designated a landmark in 1990, Southways remains one of Palm Beach's most articulate historical compositions, its structural and aesthetic hierarchies express the Gilded Age's adherence to classical standards.
Whitehall. Carrere and Hastings, architect, 1902.
Whitehall, a view from the north gate looking southwest, was built around a central courtyard.
Sunrise at Whitehall. A view of the front entrance framed with massive columns and anomalous red roof tiles. Whitehall, iron fence, detail.
Whitehall, north gate, detail.
The Banyans. Architect unknown, 1888-1903.
Demolished in 1975, The Banyans was built facing the lake by the Brelsford family who in 1893 sold Henry Flagler a patch of land for a hotel to their north for $50,000, and the rest, as they say, is the 20th-century history of Palm Beach.
Despite an imposing two-story colossal Corinthian portico flanked by one-story wrap-around colonnaded piazzas, The Banyans was soon dwarfed by Flagler’s Whitehall. located next door.
Los Incas. Architect unknown.
Los Incas, North Ocean Boulevard. Built between the Stotebury’s El Mirasol and the Henry Phipps house, Heamaw, for prominent New Jersey magnate Anthony R. Kuser, the house’s pre-WW I original architect remains unknown, although it might have been F. Burrall Hoffman (1887-1980). After attending Harvard and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Hoffman apprenticed with Carrere and Hastings from 1907-1909. In New York, he formed a partnership with Harry Ingalls, completing the Little Theatre in 1912. The principal architect of Vizcaya (1913-1916), Hoffman also designed Palm Beach's first large-scale oceanfront mansions in the beaux-Arts style, Villa Artemis for Amy Phipps Guest and Heamaw, for her brother, Henry, as well as the legendary music room addition to the Joseph Riter house on Lake Way. Los Incas was once best known as the residence of Stephen and Mary Sanford before it was demolished and reincarnated as a subdivision. Lately, Mr. Kuser’s grandson, Anthony “Tony” Kuser Marshall, Brooke Astor’s only son, has achieved a level of public recognition.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew
Historic photos courtesy of Library of Congress

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