Envisioning Palm Beach: The Addison Mizner Collection at The Society of the Four Arts

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The Gilded Age grandeur of Venice's Hotel Bauer, seen in a photograph from the Addison Mizner Collection at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Although best known for all things Spanish, Mizner frequently visited Italy, taking his first visit trip to Venice shortly after he moved to New York in 1904.

Architect Addison Mizner’s extensive library, volumes that span three centuries, and his design diaries — scrapbooks filled with sketches, watercolors, photographs and ephemera — are noteworthy aspects of the decorative arts collections at The Society of the Four Arts, reflecting Mizner’s influential status as a professional architect and illustrating the inspirations for the houses, buildings and interiors he created in New York and Palm Beach.

The Four Arts acquired the library in 1940, the scrapbooks nearly a decade later, through the generosity of Mrs. Frederick Guest. And, when these archival materials are considered with the Historical Society of Palm Beach’s collection of Mizner’s architectural drawings and office records, they clearly establish Addison Mizner as a formidable architect. Even so, having apprenticed and trained with California architect Willis Polk, been a licensed and registered architect in four states, established Mizner Industries and counted New York and Palm Beach’s 400 among his clients, following his death in 1933, Addison Mizner’s legacy was subject to disparaging assessments.

Certainly, it is possible that the lack of recognition can be explained by his own dinner-table wit and character, expressed in his book, “The Many Mizners,” or his lack of formal Beaux-Arts education. However, without question, Alva Johnson’s inane book, “The Legendary Mizners,” published in 1953 following a series of New Yorker magazine articles titled, “The Palm Beach Architect,” did much to undermine Mizner’s rank in the pantheon of American architects. As architectural historian Donald W. Curl wrote in his book “Mizner’s Florida, American Resort Architecture,” Alva Johnson’s book was mistakenly classified non-fiction, as the author “retold the myths and discarded the architectural accomplishments.”

Addison Mizner at work, as his gondola makes waves on Venice’s Grand Canal.
Addison Mizner, a signed limited leather-bound edition published in 1928. As Mizner’s career waned, Alice De Lamar sponsored a book on the architect’s Palm Beach houses, commissioning Ida Tarbell to author the text, Frank Geisler as photographer and Paris Singer, to write the book’s introduction.

The enormous scope and extent of the collection maintained at The Four Arts King Library make evident the work of an articulate seasoned architect versed on a wide spectrum of subjects, international in reach. In addition to architectural theory, practice and history, there is material on building construction, civil engineering, structural engineering, landscape architecture, interior design, the decorative arts and town and country planning. Plus, the collection affords glimpses of the now lost European culture that once ruled ateliers, as pencil and ink sketches made way for photography, and the architect’s regard for turn-of-the-century Venetian watercolors, Baroque altarpieces, Venetian chimneys, Castilian convents and Byzantine ceilings.

Addison Mizner, centerstage with hands in his pockets, photographed on one of his European shopping trips, no doubt negotiating for the church tapestry being guarded by a small army.

The scrapbooks are organized into systematic categories according to geography, historical periods and subject matter. Each volume is more than 100 pages, comprised of sketches, small format personal travel photographs and large-format professional photographs, postcards, tear sheets and booklets, making for as many as 30,000 images. Spain and the Colonies is a three-volume set featuring what must be every plaza, calle, avenida and iglesia in Spain, Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala. Rome and Venice are combined into one volume. Historical periods include Aztec and Primitive, Byzantine, Gothic and Romanesque. Subject headings provide the guidelines for the makings of Mizner Industries, such as, Ironwork and Fixtures, Woodwork and Furniture, Fireplaces and Chimneys, Ceilings, Murals, Panels and Doors and, especially captivating, Costumes and Portraits.

In today’s Palm Beach, there remain about forty Mizner designed houses and buildings while furnishings and artifacts manufactured and imported by Mizner Industries can still be widely found. Many of Mizner’s largest houses were demolished during the 1960s and 1970s when Palm Beach could not resist the sophistication and exclusivity of subdivisions and condominiums.

From within Addison Mizner’s Bunker Road factory in West Palm Beach, artisans and craftsman manufactured historical artifacts and furnishings for houses from Palm Beach to Miami.

Here are a few illustrations from the collection of the architect whose loggias and patios, stucco and barrel tile, forever transformed Palm Beach.

The Addison Mizner Library

L to R.: In 1940, Mrs. Frederick Guest, nee Amy Phipps, underwrote The Four Arts’ acquisition and the restoration of Mizner’s 300-volume architectural library.; Addison Mizner’s bookplate.
Addison Mizner was a licensed and registered architect in California, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida. Following three years of formal training with California architect Willis Polk, Mizner opened his own professional office in San Francisco. Before moving to Palm Beach, Mizner was a prominent New York architect and interior designer from 1904 until 1918.

In 2002 Nila Bent catalogued Addison Mizner’s library for The Four Arts. The collection includes the two-volume set of Andrae Putei’s ” Perspectiva pictorum et architectuorum.” published in 1723 as well as Spanish and Italian publications utilized by Mizner Industries to manufacture furnishings and fixtures during the 1920s.

L to R.: A 9-volume set, of “Arte y Decoracion en Espana,” 1917-1926, includes images of authentic period artifacts manufactured by Mizner Industries.; Replicas of these 17th-century lantern styles were manufactured by Mizner Industries.
Mizner’s library and scrapbooks provided the images and models for the craftsmen at Mizner Industries to create 500-year-old antiques in minutes. Mizner’s brochures allowed clients to select fireplace mantels or bird baths by number and price.

Addison Mizner Scrapbooks: Sketches

Iglesia de la Merced, Antigua, Guatemala. Pen-and-ink sketch, September 1904.
Mizner maintained an office in New York, eventually moving from an apartment in the city to a house on Long Island in 1914.
L to R.: During the New York years, Mizner was also an in-demand interior designer, above sketches for Louis Wanamaker. Later, Mizner designed Wanamaker’s Palm Beach house, La Guerida.; Pencil sketch for a fireplace andiron. New York, June, 1908. Mizner was known to have furnished his New York apartment with religious artifacts imported from Guatemala and Spain.
Pencil sketches, dated 8 February 1921, Havana, are placed within the architect’s postcard images.

A ceiling mural takes form within the architect’s watercolor detailed sketch adapted from black-and-white photographs.

Pencil sketch for Casa Florencia, the Preston Pope Satterwhite house that was located at the corner of Clarendon at South Ocean Boulevard. Mrs. Satterwhite was the former Florence Brokaw.
Pencil sketch. Harold Vanderbilt bought Mizner’s South Ocean Boulevard house, El Solano, named for the California county where the Mizner family lived.

Photographs, Postcards and Tear sheets

A photograph of a Madrid salon, marriage chests on either side of a tapestry depicting the Maldonado family’s heraldry.
A colorful Baroque interior from a collection published in Spain at the turn of the century.

Segovia, patio de una casa particular. On this photo, Mizner write “Magee.” For John Magee, Mizner designed Lagomar, one of his ocean-to-lake estates on South Ocean Boulevard.
Casa Alfabia, Majorca. 16th-century.
In Palm Beach, the facade of 343 El Bravo Way appears to be a replica of Casa Alfabia, designed in the late 1920s by Volk and Maass.
L to R.: A photograph of a Spanish retablo.; A colorful painting by Valencian artist, Manuat Viglietti, illustrating a Spanish farmhouse provides insight into the era’s palette.
Small format travel photographs taken in Spain. Addison Mizner, seen in the photograph on the left.

Spain and the Colonies, Vol I, II & III

This three-volume set of more than 400 pages features several thousand images organized by location.
Mizner’s small format travel snapshots. In the photograph on the right, Mizner is the first figure on the left.
A Mizner sketch placed amidst formatted images.

Rome & Venice

Mizner’s map of Ancient Rome.
Ancient Rome, drawn by architect Gustavo Tognetti in 1905.


Top right, Addison Mizner amidst the pigeons at Piazza San Marco.


L to R.: Mizner always credited cloisters, convents and monasteries as the inspiration for his design of the Everglades Club.; Cloister at Saint Trophimus, Arles.
The collection includes many superb examples of early architectural photography.
In the upper left image, Mizner wrote the actual measurements of the columns and the openings.

Fireplaces & Chimneys

Furniture & Woodwork

Many of these tables became models for Mizner Industries, factory-made original facsimiles.

Most of Mizner’s Palm Beach houses were accessorized with reproductions of these chairs made and aged at his West Palm Beach factory.
The Dante chair from the Davanzati Palace, upper right, became a popular Mizner reproduction.
Quattrocento and Cinquecento chests.
As well as fabricating reproductions, Mizner imported authentic Spanish and Italian Renaissance furnishings, including tables similar to the above. Mixing actual 16th-century pieces with replicas manufactured during the 1920s in West Palm Beach came to define the Palm Beach style.
Mizner’s directions and specifications were always exact, despite the legends and lore that belittled Mizner’s reputation as less than a professional architect.

Ironwork & Fixtures

Note the stationary heading, “Everglades Rod & Gun Club, Palm Beach.” As well as the building’s architect, Mizner was a founding member of the Everglades Club.
Catedral de Toledo. Reja de hierro forjado y repujado de la capilla bautismal. 16th century.

Tapestries and Textiles

A tapestry described as a late Gothic garden party.

A decorative Pompeii tile.


“She heard him speak to someone below,” was the caption on this evocative print by Elizabeth Shippen Green.


L to R.: Portrait in pastel, 1743. Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (c.1715-1783).; Louis XVI.
Hawaiian royal family photographs affixed with a wax seal.

Addison Cairns Mizner (1872-1933).

For information about membership and research at The Society of the Four Arts, Gioconda and Joseph King Library, e-mail kinglibrary@fourarts.org or call 561-655-2276.

Photographs of the collection by Augustus Mayhew.

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