Following Addison Mizner’s death in 1933, a memorial service was held at his Via Mizner apartment, his ashes were shipped to Cypress Lawn cemetery overlooking San Francisco Bay, and Palm Beach’s Town Hall Plaza was renamed Mizner Plaza. For the next decade, his litigation-weary estate inched through bankruptcy and foreclosure proceedings while his major architectural works faced post-war oblivion.
Mizner had retreated to his Via Mizner apartment after the collapse of the Mizner Development Company’s grandiose plans for Boca Raton undermined his financial stability. In May 1926 contractors began filing liens; two months later, Mizner had to give up his interest in what was then the area’s largest development. Beginning in 1927, Mizner began seasonally leasing his own apartment. Buried beneath creditor demands and civil lawsuits, he reorganized, separating Mizner Industries from his architectural practice and other interests. Nonetheless, in 1931 Mizner Industries went into receivership and following involuntary bankruptcy was sold to a new owner. At his death, his personal estate was declared insolvent with $2,000 in assets, including $930 cash, a $10 gold frog stickpin, a $35 gold pencil ruler, and a $75 pair of emerald cuff links, as well as $200,000 in debts.
Documenting Addison Mizner’s aftermath proves as challenging as piecing together the architect’s rise and fall, considering Palm Beach was intended as a getaway, a seasonal escape from mainland norms. Thus, timely accounts and records are often at odds with assumed beliefs, making difficult the likelihood of reconciling the incongruities of the past.
Today, although nearly a century since Mizner first stamped his seal on the Via Mizner, the actual circumstances surrounding his apartment and furnishings, the Via’s architectural dynamic and evolution, as well as aspects of his life in New York and Palm Beach, remain overshadowed by a reliance on and preference for anecdotal froth, his caricature outweighing interest in a matter-of-fact portrait.
Patched together from a variety of Andalusian pasajes, patios, stairways, courtyards and cul de sacs, Via Mizner’s eclectic warren of shops and apartments added a captivating Old World alternative to Palm Beach’s commonplace Main Street or the Madison Avenue-styled Fashion Beaux-Arts building on North Lake Trail. As much as the scale of the existing buildings reflects the original, noticeable alterations, however subtle or overstated, make for a skewed perspective on what was initially conceived.
And yet, as recent events give cause to rethink the 21st-century shopping experience, even perhaps tabling the notion of “window shopping,” this might be an opportunity to reimagine visual elements that may now distract from or overwhelm Mizner’s original intent. By returning the Via Mizner to a version closer to the patina of centuries-old Andalusia, shopkeepers and restaurateurs may find they can make Via Mizner as charming as it was in 1925.
The 1940 Mizner Antiques & Furnishings Auction
The 1955 Villa Mizner Auction
Via Mizner – 1980s and Beyond
In 1986 a new owner, Ian Keen’s Via Mizner Associates, received approvals to demolish 2,700 square feet of original building and replace it with approx. 2,000 square-feet of newbuild space, according to available Minutes from the town’s Landmarks Commission meetings. In addition, approval was given for repaving, adding a new fountain in the Southeast Courtyard, changing stairwells, and various other alterations, as the owner and retail tenants stated, “The via was too dark, too congested …” Thus, plans were based on the “desire to open up the area to reduce congestion.”
While some Landmarks commissioners approved the changes, others said that Via Mizner was built “to look old” and should not be modernized. Historian and author of Mizner’s Florida – American Resort Architecture, Donald W. Curl, PHD, stated “ … the proposal takes away from the little Spanish village” that Mizner had created and the change was the beginning of the “Gucci-zation of Via Mizner.”
35 years later, apparently owners and shopkeepers cannot resist the urge to look modern rather than retain too much of the aged character of a mythical hillside Andalusian village.
In the Matter of Johnnie Brown … or is it Johnny Mizner?
Despite many years of research, I have never found a contemporaneous reference between 1918 and 1933 that Addison Mizner ever owned a monkey named Johnnie Brown. Then again, who am I to doubt a Palm Beach legend. Nonetheless.
The Addison Mizner Scrapbooks
2020 Photography by Augustus Mayhew.