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.”
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.
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.
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
Addison Mizner Scrapbooks: Sketches
Photographs, Postcards and Tear sheets
Spain and the Colonies, Vol I, II & III
Rome & Venice
Fireplaces & Chimneys
Furniture & Woodwork
Ironwork & Fixtures
Tapestries and Textiles
For information about membership and research at The Society of the Four Arts, Gioconda and Joseph King Library, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 561-655-2276.
Photographs of the collection by Augustus Mayhew.