Palm Beach – 1937

Featured image
January 1937. A youthful Roderick "Rory" Cameron photographed lounging by the pool at Blythedunes where Harrison and Mona Williams were entertaining houseguests from Newport, New York, London, and Paris. Heir to a shipping fortune, in later life Rory Cameron became a prolific author, photographer, and designer — one of the 20th century's most celebrated aesthetes, if not "the man with perfect taste" — perhaps best-known for Villa La Fiorentina, once considered among the great houses of the world.

“Happy bedlam” wrote social columnist Nancy Randolph in describing the 1937 Palm Beach season at the same time pointing out to her Palm Beach Daily News readers of the prevailing conservative undercurrent: “The trouble is this colony remembers the resort’s supreme Silliest Seasons of 1928 and 1929 when the stratosphere was the limit and the Eddie F. Huttons imported circuses and Broadway plays.”  A decade later, the smart set appeared content with dinner party place cards rather than no-holds-barred costumed bacchanals. By then, the Huttons were divorced and Battle Creek’s cereal heiress turned ambassador’s wife was ensconced in Joseph Stalin’s Russia.

February 1937. Jane Sanford – Mario Pansa, newspaper wedding announcement.

At that moment, Palm Beach was awhirl with fetes for Jane Sanford’s marriage to Italian diplomat Mario Pansa at Villa Marina.  As well, the cottage colony was atwitter about the news surrounding the Wallis Simpson-Duke of Windsor affair since Mrs. Simpson had filed for divorce during the final months of 1936.

On 20 January 1937 The New York Times reported Rory Cameron had arrived in Palm Beach from London as a house guest of Harrison and Mona Williams. By then, Cameron’s serial-widowed multi-titled Australian mother Enid Lindeman Cameron Cavendish was married to her third husband Marmaduke Furness, 1st Viscount Furness and 2nd Baron Furness. A fortnight earlier, Sir Cecil Beaton had checked into Blythedunes, photographing Mona Williams for his upcoming exhibit at the Carroll Carstairs gallery in New York.

Down South Ocean Boulevard, Wallis Simpson’s old school friend Ellen Yuille Blair, whose sister Burks was Mrs. Carroll Carstairs,  and her family were spending the season at their new ocean-to-lake estate designed by Treanor & Fatio with interior decor by Ruby Ross Woods and her new assistant Billy Baldwin.  At Concha Marina, America’s most famous horsewoman Isabel Dodge Sloane was entertaining Eleanor and Maurice Fatio while preparing for a large dinner celebrating the Sanford-Pansa nuptials.

In Midtown at Casa dei Leoni, Ellen Glendinning Ordway’s mother Elizabeth Glendinning was hosting her first season of open houses without her husband Philadelphia financier Col. Robert Glendinning who died the previous spring. In March 1935, in order to spare the Everglades Club from a public foreclosure sale, Glendinning became one of the few shareholders of the Everglades Protective Syndicate that owned the club and its extensive real estate holdings until a decade later when the club became completely member-owned.

Here are some of Ellen Glendinning Ordway’s snapshots of the 1937 Palm Beach season at Bythedunes, Concha Marina, Casa dei Leoni, and the Blairs’ new villa.

1 January 1937

1 January 1937. Palm Beach Daily News, headline. “Love and friendship are worth a kingdom,” stated the Duke of Windsor, as the ex-king took time to “greet a chimney sweep and pet a pink pig” on New Year’s Eve.

515 North County Road

Blythedunes, 1930s aerial. Photo courtesy Robert Yarnall Richie Collection, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.

A year before Paris Singer and Addison Mizner arrived in Palm Beach and popularized the Everglades Club’s ecclesiastical Spanish design, Dun & Bradstreet scion Robert Dun Douglass retained architect H. Hastings Mundy to design Blythedunes, a Tuscan-style stucco house on North Ocean Boulevard located north of Wells Road and south of the Palm Beach Country Club.

Although Alice and Robert Douglass’ U-shaped house had few decorative elements, its substantial size gave it comparable standing with the Phipps family’s Heamaw and Villa Artemis, the North End’s only other considerable oceanfront houses built by and designed by Vizcaya’s architect F. Burrall Hoffman.

Blythedunes, 1917. Views of the original entrance patio when it was owned by Robert and Alice Douglass.

Approached from North Ocean Boulevard when it ran in front of the house, the main entrance to the house was placed on the south side, reached by a flight of stairs leading to a wrought-iron gate that opened onto a central patio. The living and dining rooms were parallel to the ocean allowing spectacular views while opening onto the open courtyard.  The north wing included the kitchen and service areas, enlarged in 1922 by architect Marion Sims Wyeth.

In April 1930 Robert Dunn Douglass sold Blythedunes for $350,000 to Harrison and Mona Williams.  While they looked at houses, the Williamses took a seasonal rental further north up the ocean at La Guerida, the old Rodman Wanamaker place that Joe and Rose Kennedy bought in 1933.  In New York, Williams and his second wife Margaret Edmona “Mona” Travis Strader Schlesinger Bush Williams, later Countess von Bismarck the Kentucky Countess, were ensconced at 1130 Fifth Avenue.  When they were not aboard their yacht Warrior, they were at their Long Island estate, Paris townhouse, or at Il Fortino, their villa on Capri.

The popular New York-Palm Beach Treanor & Fatio architectural firm was immediately retained by the couple to draw up the plans to enlarge and renovate Blythedunes.  Syrie Maugham was called in to refresh the interior.  Until the house was finished in January 1931, Harrison and Mona continued to stay at La Guerida when they were in Palm Beach.

Blythedunes, entrance.

Although North Ocean Boulevard was closed following the Hurricane of 1928 and Bythedunes was now approached from North County Road, the new plans kept the original gated entrance through the patio. But rather than keeping the original Tuscan farmhouse ambiance, the architect introduced a grander scale, transforming the old living room into a reception hall, and abandoned the Tuscan motif, preferring a more modern 1930s British Colonial style.

Further additions included an expansive new southern wing with a 38-foot by 28-foot dining room, a 28-foot by 50-foot drawing room, a new loggia, pool, and guest suites. The resulting 28-room house set on five acres made for one of Palm Beach’s largest estates.

Blythedunes, pool.
Blythedunes, pool.

In March 1936 Harrison Williams bought The Towers, the Mizner-designed estate adjacent to the north of Blythedunes from the William Wood estate.  Mr. Wood, the “woolen king,” had committed suicide. Then, Williams sold it to Atwater Kent.  According to various stories, during the late 1940s the Williamses invited  newlyweds Charles and Jayne Larkin Wrightsman to stay with them while they looked for houses; nothing they saw measured up to Blythedunes.

In December 1947, the Wrightsmans bought Blythedunes for $170,000. This began the final chapter for the house.  In 1985 Jayne Wrightsman sold Blythedunes to Leslie Wexner for $10 million. Within days, Wexner demolished it.

Harrison Williams, the chairman of Blythedunes, photographed in the tennis pavilion.

By the time the enigmatic Harrison Charles Williams (1873-1953) married the much-younger Mona Strader Schlesinger Bush in 1926, the Ohio-born utilities kingpin’s various pyramidal investment holdings had combined assets of more than $2.8 billion, controlling as much as one-sixth of the nation’s electric and power companies. Having survived the stock market’s 1929 downward spiral, Williams wasn’t pinched until the passage of the Public Utilities Holding Act in 1935 limiting his ownership to below the prescribed 10 percent.

However low-profile his corporate holdings, Williams and his wife Mona, “the best dressed woman in the world,” traveled aboard their over-sized steam yacht the Warrior, making for a noticeable arrival at their every port-of-call. But, as too often the case, Williams lost a protracted multi-million judgment in 1952 and was convicted of having looted his companies since 1927. While his conviction was reversed on appeal due to the statute of limitations, his estate made a nominal settlement that still allowed his widow generous funds to keep her lifestyle afloat.

Mona Williams, at the tennis pavilion.
Mona Williams photographed with her puppy in the garden at Blythedunes.
Mona Williams at work on her needlepoint
Mona Williams takes a break from her needlepoint.
Mona Williams standing in the garden at Blythedunes.

After World War II, Mona Williams’ interest in fashion waned, “In summer I’m usually in shorts and an old shirt; when its colder, I put on an old pair of trousers,” she told a reporter.

Golf and tennis enthusiast Louise Iselin and Mona Williams at Blythedunes.
The daughter of Ernest Iselin, Louise Iselin was heir to the vast Iselin investment banking, railroad, coal, and steel fortune.
George Kamir. Visiting from Paris, Kamir and Pauline Munn Doyle won the annual wheelchair race at the Everglades Club.
“Marion Tiffany would speak to no one. She was enthralled in this book, actually titled “The Case of the Lucky Legs.” Marion Tiffany was a Newport Tiffany, not of the New York shop or art-glass Tiffanys. She was the great-granddaughter of Oliver Hazard Perry and granddaughter of sugar king Theodore Havemeyer; her grandmother Isabella Perry Tiffany was August Belmont’s cousin. Marion Tiffany’s father Perry Tiffany had married Marie Havemeyer in 1893; they divorced in 1902.
“Marion Tiffany is persuaded to swim.” Marion Tiffany paddling around the pool at Blythedunes. At the time, her brother Belmont Tiffany was married to Annie Cameron, Rory Cameron’s aunt.
Rory Cameron. Cameron’s grandfather Canadian-born Sir Roderick William Cameron founded the R. W. Cameron shipping line; his father Roderick McLeod Cameron died the year after he was born. After the war, Cameron and his mother bought Villa Fiorentina in the South of France and began the arduous work of restoring and renovating it, creating an iconic architectural landmark. Ever since, the result has been praised by architectural and style magazines, and several Internet blogs, The Devoted Classicist among them, celebrated for its incomparable taste and innovative approach to décor. In 1969, Suzy, the renowned investigative journalist, reported Cameron and his mother Lady Kenmare sold their 23-acre Cote d’Azur estate La Fiorentina for $2 million to Harding Lawrence, president of Braniff, and his wife ad exec Mary Wells who brought Billy Baldwin in to give it some added flourish.
Rory Cameron wakes up from a nap around the pool at Blythedunes.
Rory Cameron checks over his camera. Cameron’s photographs were featured in several of his travel books. Educated at French, English, Swiss, Egyptian, and German schools, among Cameron’s books: The Golden Riviera, My Travel’s History, Equator Farm, Shadows from India: An Architectural Album, The Golden Haze: Captain Cook in the South Pacific, Shells, Time of the Mango Flowers, Viceroyalties of the West: The Spanish Empire in Latin America, and Australia: History and Horizons.

Concha Marina
Jungle Road at South Ocean Boulevard

In 1921 architect Addison Mizner had designed and built Concha Marina for himself. The following season New York broker George Sloane and his wife Detroit auto heiress Isabel Dodge Sloane bought it from him.

Concha Marina, pool.
Isabel Dodge Sloane.
Marka Truesdale Loening. Following her divorce from Grover Loening, she married Felix du Pont Jr.
Winifred “Winnie” Dodge Seyburn holding a cigarette and one of her sister Isabel’s six-week-old “prize puppies.”
Winifred “Peggy” Seyburn, the daugher of Winifred and niece of Isabel. Following her divorce from Ed McIlvain, she married George Cheston. Peggy Cheston was the subject of 11.8.10: New York Social Diary.
Winifred Dodge Seyburn.
Larry Waterbury (behind the puff of smoke).
Maurice Fatio & Isabel Dodge Sloane at the bar, Concha Marina.
Dinner at Concha Marina. Eleanor Fatio, Isabel Dodge Sloane, Maurice Fatio, and Ed McIlvain. The following year, Mr. McIlvain married Isabel Sloane’s niece Peggy Seyburn.

31 January 1937

“Italy stands with Hitler and Germany,” read the 31 January 1937 headline.

Ellen & Wolcott Blair’s villa
South Ocean Boulevard
Treanor & Fatio, architect. Ruby Ross Woods and Billy Baldwin, interior decoration

Ellen Yuille Blair & Wolcott Blair on the terrace.
Ellen Blair having a relaxed thoughtful moment.
Wolcott Blair at the pool. Behind him, two islands he donated as preserves.
Villa Blair, looking east towards the pool loggia.
Villa Blair. Looking up from the pool area towards the main house.
Villa Blair, living room. Ruby Ross Woods and her assistant Billy Baldwin are credited with the interior decor.
Villa Blair, living room.
Villa Blair.
Ellen Blair sunning and ready for a close-up.
Villa Blair, a view to the west.
Villa Blair, a view across the pool to the west.
Villa Blair. Watson Blair, Josephine Ordway, the first Mrs. Lucius P. Ordway, Wolcott Blair, and Ellen Blair.

Casa dei Leoni
450 Worth Avenue

Elizabeth Glendinning.
Viola “Ollie” Carstairs. The widow of Daniel H. Carstairs, she and her husband had commissioned Addison Mizner to design their Palm Beach house at 260 North Ocean Boulevard in 1923, located just a few blocks north of the Warden House, built for their Philadelphia friend William Gray Warden.
Libby Marston Marvel. In 1936 Elizabeth Jennie Marston, Hunter Marston’s daughter, married Robert Marvel, son of Josiah Marvel of Wilmington.
Morris Legendre. At the time, Morris Legendre operated a chain of movie theaters in North Carolina, Florida, and South Carolina headquartered in Summerville S. C. In 1938, Legendre married Nancy Newbold whose sister Janet “the most beautiful woman in New York” was Mrs. William Rhinelander Stewart and the former Mrs. Allan A. Ryan Jr.
Mrs. Edward Browning.
Ollie Carstairs, Tom Dickson, Kitty Dickson, and Elizabeth Glendinning.
Ollie Carstairs.
L to R.: Edward “Teddy” Browning, of Philadelphia, Newport, & Bar Harbor.; Hunter Marston. When not in New York, Watch Hill, or visiting Palm Beach, the Hunter Marstons were on Jupiter Island. An international banker and General Foods director, Marston was a founder of the Dixie Cup Company.

Gulf Stream Golf Club
Gulf Stream

‘The great modern bridge …” Looking north towards Manalapan, crossing the then Boynton Bridge, now called the Boynton Inlet, linking Manalapan with Ocean Ridge and Gulf Stream.
“Isabel after golf on the clubhouse porch.” Isabel Dodge Sloane at the Gulf Stream Golf Club.
Mrs. James Noyes Wallace at the Gulf Stream Golf Club. One of the earliest of the New York-Southampton set to build a house a Gulf Stream, the Wallaces’ Mediterranean-styled estate located south of the club was designed by Marion Sims Wyeth.

Palm Beach-1937

Newell Tilton & Eddie McIlvain photographed at Tilton’s Wine & Spirit Shop, 337 Worth Avenue. The wine shop’s tasting bar opened onto Via Mizner and later became known as the popular Alley Bar. Mr. McIlvain, secretary of the Everglades Club in 1934, married Peggy Seyburn in 1938.
L to R.: Wearing the latest frock and white gloves, Ellen Glendinning Frazer Ordway photographed strolling on fashionable Worth Avenue.; “Prize Night at The Patio.” Isabel Dodge Sloane, Peggy Seyburn, and Ellen Glendinning Frazer make the scene at The Patio nightclub on North County Road.
Isabel Dodge Sloane & Ellen Glendinning Frazer. Worth Avenue, January 1937.
Louise Warburton sunning at the Palm Beach Swimming Club. In 1931 C. Egerton Warburton, grandson of John Wanamaker, married actress Louise Garnett, nee Marie Louise Hatch. Mr. Warburton’s first wife Elizabeth Peltz married his cousin Capt. John Wanamaker. By 1939, Louise and Egerton were in divorce court. But before the divorce was finalized, Louise committed suicide by jumping off a bridge.
The Warburton-Wanamaker marital woes, “a family affair,” made national news.
Fred Perry-Ellsworth Vines exhibition three-set tennis match was staged at the Everglades Club.
Mary Munn & Frances Munn. The Munn sisters in Palm Beach. The following year, Frances became Mrs. George F. Baker; a decade later, Mary was styled as Countess of Bessborough following her marriage to Viscount Eric Duncannon.
L to R.: auline Munn Doyle and her father Charlie Munn. On 1 February 1937 at the Palm Beach County courthouse, Mrs. Doyle filed for divorce, claiming desertion. Two years later, Pauline Munn died in Paris of a “short illness.”; Dennie Boardman and Vivian Dixon, of “Palm Beach, Boston, & Gotham.”
L to R.: February 1937. Jane Sanford – Mario Pansa, newspaper wedding announcement.; 3 February 1937. Jane Sanford and Italian diplomat Mario Pansa were married at Villa Marina. Mr. Pansa accidentally drowned in 1946.
4 February 1937.
1 April 1937. The 1937 Season comes to a close with the headline “Duke of Windsor plans a simple wedding” buried beneath “Il Duce ready to aid Franco, Defies Russia.”
1 April 1937. In keeping with the 1930s subdued manner, “Duke of Windsor lives in the Fashion of a Hermit.”

Palm Beach – 1937. A final look.

Palm Beach – 1937. The view from Casa dei Leoni looking southeast across the basin towards the Everglades Club golf course.

Ellen Glendinning Frazer Ordway’s photographs are courtesy of the Lucius Ordway Frazer Collection©.


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