Spring is in the air. When better to stroll the North Ocean Boulevard to view Gardner Hale’s
Wall of the Winds at Villa Flora or unwind with an exhilarating Sunday Brunch catamaran cruise, albeit windy, on the Intracoastal Waterway with the dolphins and the jet skis.
“The first frescoes painted on the façade of the house in America are nearing completion at Palm Beach on the house of the Edward Shearsons. Of course,
Gardner Hale is the artist …” wrote art critic Ruby Ross Goodnow in the April 1924 issue of Arts & Decoration magazine. Nearly a century later, despite storms, offshore winds, restorations, and renovations, Villa Flora’s distinctive Wall of the Winds and courtyard Zodiac frescoes remain. Although Villa Flora’s exterior no longer has its original “pale green walls and warm grey stonework,” the fenestration and frescoes appear to be much like they were when Hale designed them.
When friends invited me to join them for a Sunday brunch aboard a catamaran, my first impulse was to give regrets. I admit not born with sea legs although my father was in the Navy and served aboard the USS Guadalcanal. My ocean sailing experiences have been terrifying. And, a catamaran? Yikes. Although assured it would be a Waterway sail and the more than 60-foot cat featured yacht-worthy amenities, I still hesitated. Then, I thought maybe the cat could navigate the waters around the Bingham Islands that are being restored. And maybe a lakeside glimpse of Palm Beach’s Billionaire’s Row, my upcoming NYSD social and architectural history feature. Hmm … I said yes.
Palm Beach, c. 1889. From its beginnings as a lakeside settlement, pioneers powered by the wind traveled on sailboats from the East Side to the West Side and south to Coconut Grove. When Henry Flagler arrived bringing with him the train, resort hotels, and waves of tourists, Palm Beach’s earliest settlers knew the winds had forever changed direction and their idyllic remote lakeside paradise would never be the same.
Introducing the Heron, a “luxury catamaran.” Sensational. Truly, a leisurely far flung escape to enjoy the water, the endless splash of boats and houses, and the channel of winds. The Heron arrived at 8:45 where guests had gathered to board on one of the West Palm Beach docks opposite Evernia Street.
The Heron spends summers in Sag Harbor.
L to R.: Left, Lacy Davisson, one of our hosts, and Felice Perlman. ; Alexandra Zavodszka Muldoon and Katarina Zavodszka.
Parke Leatherman, Will Leatherman, and Elizabeth Leatherman.
Cristy and Wilson DeWitt.
L to R.: Cameron McLellan, captain of the Heron. McLellan acquired Heron in 2009 and for many years shuttled seasonally between Sag Harbor and the Caribbean before coming to Palm Beach.; Brie Costello attended guests. Thank you Brie!
Joe Carroll, our other host.
There to see us off.
Everyone lounged on the front deck.
Is it possible to be too relaxed?
Casey Tennyson and Felice Perlman.
Clearing the Middle Bridge … south to the temporary Southern Boulevard bridge.
Passing the Lady Kathryn V.
Finishing touches continue at The Bristol, Flagler Drive, West Palm Beach.
On Singer Basin, The Everglades Club’s iconic profile.
Brie’s artful footwear.
West Palm Beach’s unforgettable skyline.
Katarina and Alexandra.
Everyone on deck.
Lacy’s Lulu Guinness “Paradise” bag.
The constant spectacle.
Yacht Andiamo charters at $395,000 per week.
A fleeting anxiety as Heron approaches the temporary Southern Bridge at what appears to be high tide … clears by four inches.
Approaching the Bingham-Audubon Islands …
“Birds as neighbors are so much more popular with Palm Beachers than island subdivisions …, ” wrote
The Palm Beach Post-Times in 1952, in a story about the 6,000 to 7,000 herons and egrets nesting in the 22-acre Bingham Islands, aka Fisherman’s Island, leased then to Audubon Florida. While we could see restoration work on the islands had begun, we only spotted circling vultures over the offshore islands. Nonetheless, during our odyssey we spotted three snowy white egrets on Everglades Island, one blue heron on a small mangrove clump, one blackbird, one pelican, one sandpiper, a dolphin, and at least ten jet skis.
Bingham-Audubon Islands, looking northeast toward the old Post House. In November 1942, Charles W. Bingham family members leased a 22-acre group of islands located in the lake west of their estates to the National Audubon Society. The family entered into a 99-year agreement with Audubon Florida for the creation of a bird sanctuary “… to propagate snowy egrets and white ibis which congregate on the islands to roost and nest, by protecting them from disturbance.” Five years later, Audubon announced the creation of bird sanctuaries at the Bingham property as well as islands to the south off the Paul Moore and Wolcott Blair properties.
The Audubon Society pledged to maintain the islands as a sanctuary. At the time, Bingham Islands housed “white ibis, snowy egrets, American egrets, night herons, and Louisiana herons.” The Bingham Islands are within the Town of Palm Beach’s jurisdictional boundaries in the Lake Worth Lagoon. In Spring 2016, Audubon Florida and the Town of Palm Beach, along with the Bingham Island Sanctuary Restoration Committee began a partnership to establish funds to enhance the island’s use for wildlife and public enjoyment. The project’s initial phase initiated clearing and disposal of non-native plantings, earthwork, selective exotic removal, planting mangroves and marsh grasses, and supplemental planting of tropical hardwoods.
Afar, Villa Venezia, the former Damon Mezzacappa house, sold for $41 millon in 2018 to Thompson and Caroline Dean.
Next door, at 1500 South Ocean Boulevard, Leo and Kathryn (“Lady Kathryn V”) Vecellio reportedly paid in the vicinity of $90 million in November 2018 for Il Palmetto, the Treanor & Fatio designed house formerly owned by Netscape’s Jim Clark who had paid $11 million for it from Janet Annenberg Hooker’s Estate.
From afar, the Wilbur & Hilary Ross waterfront pied-à-terre.
Tarpon Island, the extent. Behind the tall hedge, a tennis court. I believe,years ago, there was a helipad. At the time when it was built, seaplanes were permitted, often conveniently parked dockside for jaunts to Nassau or Havana.
Moments before the bridge …
The Heron turns around at the Par Three Golf Course, just north of the Lake Worth Bridge.
Ibis Island was a Phipps family development. The condominium’s design appeared to emulate Edward Durell Stone’s design for 400 South Ocean Boulevard.
Searching for birds.
The bridge tender came out of the booth to watch Heron’s unbelievable pass under the temporary span.
Within inches … again…
The private bridge from Tarpon Way to Tarpon Island.
Tarpon Island, main house. Long associated as the home of banker Wiley Reynolds, Tarpon Island was first known as Clement Island when the Phipps family’s Palm Beach Company bulkheaded the property in 1938. Frank Clement developed the El Bravo Park subdivision, the first subdivision south of the Everglades Club Golf Course. In 1939, the Palm Beach Company sold the island to E. Stuart Davis who the following year commissioned architect Howard Major to design a British West Indies house. The current owner is William M. Toll.
The Fairfax & Sammons touch.
Everglades Island, east elevation facing basin.
Pine Island, Tootsie, and Me Happy.
The “Welcome to Palm Beach” Committee is tireless.
Alexandra on the look out.
There’s one … no, two.
Treehouse at the onetime John Ben Ali Haggin house.
West Palm Beach’s enchanting skyline.
Cristy and Wilson DeWitt.
Waiting for the Middle Bridge. To the far left, Horace Trumbauer’s First Church of Christ, Scientist (c.1928). Yet another tall building planned next to the church’s north side. Time for a nap.
Great fun. The Heron is a 63-foot sailing yacht accommodating up to 32 guests. For further information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Villa Flora – Edward & Flora Shearson Estate
Gardner Hale – artist / Addison Mizner – architect
Villa Flora, gate sign. In February 1923 Edward Shearson paid $75,000 for an oceanfront parcel on the south corner of Dunbar Road and North Ocean Boulevard. As construction began on his Addison Mizner-designed winter retreat, located between the Warden House and the Carstairs House, Shearson became a co-founder of the Gulf Stream Golf Club, serving as secretary-treasurer for the Gulf Stream Realty Company that built the Mizner-designed clubhouse and Donald Ross-designed golf course. Limited to 200 members, the Gulf Stream Golf Club was co-founded by William G. Warden, Paris Singer, E. T. Stotesbury, and John F. Harris.
Villa Flora, east elevation. Construction 1923-1924. The house was first reported to being built at a cost of $80,000 before being revised upwards to $100,000 two months later. During the summer of 1923 artist Gardner Hale was in Venice researching works that would be reproduced at Villa Flora. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Villa Flora, east elevation. 1925.Considered among the world’s finest fresco painters, Gardner Hale worked more in Italy than the United States. When not at their rue Jacob apartment in Paris, Hale and his wife author Maryse Rutledge lived at Villa Galileo in Florence, were the famed “father of observational astronomy” Galileo Galilei lived and died. At Palm Beach, the Hales stayed at Villa Atlantique. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Villa Flora, east elevation from the shoreline across North Ocean Boulevard. February 2019.
Fresco, east elevation-southeast corner. Around the dining room windows, there are ten spaces in which the center circles are painted with ancient Venetian ships. The scrollwork’s background was originally rendered in “ultramarine blue” emulating “the ancient lapis” while the scrolls were rendered in a pale green to match the walls. The center circles were outlined in gold leaf.
The Wall of the Winds consists of eight heads appearing to blow winds depicted as lines of gold amidst clouds in a cobalt sky. Also, in gold leaf, the Latin names of the winds: Septentrio, Aquilo, Subsolanus, Volturnus, Auster, Africus, Favonius, and Corus. Featured above, Subsolanus, Favonius, Aquilo, and Corus.
Flavonius and Aquilo. Each wind was pointed in the direction cartographers would have placed it on a map. The wall runs north to south. West winds blow upward; the east blow downward.
Africus and Subsolanus.
Venetian-style chimneys atop the main house.
Above the dining room, another distinctive Venetian chimney.
Villa Flora, facade main entrance. 1925. St. Anthony above the door. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Villa Flora, courtyard showing original Zodiac frescoes, east and south walls. 1925. The courtyard’s fifteen frescoes include the twelve Zodiac signs plus the Sun, Moon, and Earth. Each sign featured a gold leaf background and were appropriately depicted as blue, green, red or indigo. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Villa Flora, aerial c. 1975, looking north-northeast. Courtyard Zodiac frescoes. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County
Villa Flora, east elevation with its towering palms looking west from the shoreline across the ocean boulevard.
Augustus Mayhew is the author of
Palm Beach-A Greater Grandeur