Palm Beach Social Diary: Addison Mizner — The Afterlife

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Among Palm Beach’s irreplaceable attractions, Via Mizner remains one of the town’s most popular destinations, remodeled and revised much like its creator Addison Mizner’s life, making it as problematic to trace the walkway’s original profile as it is to decipher the architect’s actual character from fictional representations. Photo Augustus Mayhew.

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.

Mizner Industries Inc. Profit/Loss Statement, December 31,1929. Months later, Mizner Industries was bankrupt. Ford, Fisher, Boyd, and Colley, accountants. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

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.

Twilight along the Via Mizner, 2020.
Mizner’s legacy was influenced by Alva Johnston’s 1952 tour de farce book The Legendary Mizners. When writing the book, Johnston asked heiress and longtime friend Alice de Lamar about Mizner. She responded with a 60-page letter detailing the architect’s creative genius and accomplishments. Johnston ignored her, instead portraying Mizner as an inept charlatan. For the cover of Johnston’s book, artist Reginald Marsh portrayed Addison and his brother Wilson with the likeness of comedy duo Laurel & Hardy.
In 1952, Cleveland Amory (The Last Resorts) described “the Mizner touch in Palm Beach” as “Early Bastardian Spanish.” Drawing by Mircea Vasiliu.
Addison Mizner (1879-1933). Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

Via Mizner

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.

Via Mizner intersects with Worth Avenue’s Mizner-designed arcade located across from the Everglades Club.
Via Mizner, 1924. By December 1924, tenants were moving into the upper-level apartments; a month later, shops opened on the ground level. Shown in this original Mizner-owned photograph, an open walkway above the passageway bridging two of the buildings. On the lower level, storefronts composed of scored stucco simulating stone joints and textured finishes. Above, apartment walls surfaced with smooth stucco, punctuated by French doors opening onto balconies overlooking the walkways, patios, and courtyards. Historic photo courtesy Mizner Library Foundation.
Early on, this unique enclave was called Mizner Alley before the name Via Mizner prevailed.
Via Mizner, March 1925. Among the Via’s first tenants were Mrs. Franklin and Peggy Thayer resort wear shops, El Patio restaurant, Cluzelle hair salon, Ganethl Shop, Brainard Lemon antiques, La Lune Bleu, and a showroom for products manufactured at Mizner Industries. Palm Beach Post archive.
5 Via Mizner, 1925. The Ganethl Shop was located to the right of the entrance to the Mizner apartment. When they closed, the space was taken by La Lune Bleu.
5 Via Mizner, 1928. The La Lune Bleu emporium (right of entrance to the Mizner apartment) was located at 5 Via Mizner. At left, patio chairs manufactured by Mizner Industries line the walkway. Courtesy Florida Memory, State Archives of Florida.
5 Via Mizner, 2020. View toward Worth Avenue. Right, La Lune Bleu is now Jennifer Miller Jewelry.
Spring 1934. West Palm Beach architect William Manly King took over Addison Mizner’s architectural practice. The Mizner apartment was leased for the 1934 season by Howland Spencer. With Prohibition ended in December 1933, Via Mizner and Worth Avenue became prime locations for late-night bars and package stores, including the legendary Loggia Bar.
Summer 1936. The deed for the Mizner apartment and Via Mizner’s apartments and shops were deeded to an entity named Addison Mizner Inc, organized by a West Palm Beach real estate firm. The judge’s order discharged all existing debts of $130,000, including $2,400 owed Edith Oliver Rea, one of Mizner’s benefactors, and ordered the existing $100,000 mortgage held by Jacksonville’s Atlantic National Bank since 1925, to be wiped out. A foreclosure suit was filed three years later.
Summer 1936. Realtor and developer Bror J. Carlberg advertised Via Mizner for sale, along with the Everglades Club-owned villas and Via Parigi properties.
February 1940. As ongoing reorganization and foreclosure proceedings were taking place on Mizner’s outstanding Palm Beach holdings, E. C. Peters, the owner of Mizner Industries’ Bunker Road workshops renamed Mizner Products Inc., placed an ad stating his company was not part of the civil court actions.

1940. Published court documents made clear the foreclosure not only included the real estate but all furnishings, attachments, property, and the like, in Mizner’s apartment and offices were scheduled for public sale.

The 1940 Mizner Antiques & Furnishings Auction

Spring 1940. Lawyer R. E. McNeil Jr. represented the Atlantic National Bank in the foreclosure sale. The complete 1940 court-ordered Mizner apartment sale records and photographs are housed at the Boca Raton Historical Society. Courtesy Boca Raton Historical Society.
April 1940. Auction Item #212. Spanish Vargueno and Box Stand, $650. “Encrusted with gold, inlaid with ivory and bone; old wrought-iron mountings. Provenance: Madrid. Court records show Villa Mizner’s furnishings were predominately authentic antiques not “factory-made originals” fabricated at Mizner Industries’ workshops on Bunker Road. Courtesy Boca Raton Historical Society.
April 1940. Villa Mizner, court-ordered auction. The 37” high hand-carved King Philip chair with green brocatelle back and seat was sold. It was a model for Mizner Industries craftsmen who patterned knock-offs from this original. Courtesy Boca Raton Historical Society.
April 1940. Auction item#40. Wood Chest, $110. Inlaid with wood and ebony. Original. Purchased in Spain by Addison Mizner. Courtesy Boca Raton Historical Society.
April 1940. Brussel’s Tapestry, $900. “Sold to Mrs. Lorenzo Woodhouse.” Records indicate Edith Oliver Rea bought several items, including the Guatemalan silver trays and crucifixes. Courtesy Boca Raton Historical Society.
April 1944. The multi-story Mizner apartment and Via Mizner, including 19 storerooms and shops, five apartments, and the Flamingo restaurant property, were sold for $77,000 to A. O. “Archie” Edwards. The developer of Singer Island and Stotesbury Park subdivision, Edwards was a London hotelier and a member of the Everglades Club’s proxy committee. One week after the sale, artist Kyril Vassilev sued to stop the sale, charging that as a former tenant in the apartment, he was given first option to purchase it. Described as a “Bulgarian court painter” and a member of Palm Beach’s “White Russian Colony,” the Russian-born Vassilev and his wife Masha left Miami Beach and arrived on Palm Beach in 1940 leasing an apartment at 256 Worth Avenue. The couple divorced, only to be accused the following year of staging their break-up, according to news reports, so that the ex-Mrs. Vassilev could marry Henry S. vom Berge who dropped dead shortly after exchanging I-do, leaving her, the 4th Mrs. Vom Berge, a $1 million estate. Within weeks, the suits were settled amicably between all parties. In March 1944, Vassilev married Helen Rogers from Chattanooga, moving into a studio apartment on Via Mizner. The following month, he sued the Mizner executors. The court ordered the holdings sold to Archie Edwards.

Villa Sachs

May 1945. A. O. Edwards sells the Mizner apartment and Via Mizner holdings for $122,500 to Rosemor Inc, a New York corporation organized by Rose and Mortimer Sachs.
Villa Sachs, later known as Villa Mizner. During the next several decades the Sachses bought and sold several Worth Avenue properties. In 1950 Mortimer Sachs became president of the Palm Beach Mercantile Company, a department store located in downtown West Palm Beach.
Villa Sachs, view from the Everglades Club. In 1982, the Sachses were among the first to voluntarily offer their Via Mizner holdings for historic designation as a local landmark. They owned the Mizner properties for 40 years. Photo Augustus Mayhew.
Via Mizner, 1950s. During the post-WW II era Via Mizner housed a perfume salon, a Mexican novelty shop, Rochambeau restaurant, Andre & Rene’s French restaurant, Townend Photo Studio, The Clock Shoppe, and Jennie’s Café. The 1950s ushered in a turnstile of art galleries and specialty shops, including Frank & Erma’s Coiffures, pictured above. Courtesy Florida Memory, State Archives of Florida.
Via Mizner 2020. Frank and Erma’s is today’s Renato’s Italian restaurant. The original entrance door was replaced with a window. The window was replaced by an entrance consisting of a series of French doors.

The 1955 Villa Mizner Auction

The advertisement for the 1955 auction appears to utilize a photograph taken in 1928, making no mention of the previous 1940 foreclosure auction sale. On close examination, the photograph shows items that might possibly have sold 15 years earlier in the bank foreclosure sale. I am puzzled how Villa Mizner’s owners could claim in 1955 they were selling the original “left intact since his death” Mizner furnishings from their apartment when a court-ordered foreclosure sale in 1940 reportedly cleared the apartment of all Mizner furniture and personal property, catalogued and photographed with detailed appraised values and selling prices. Since Mortimer and Rose Sachs did not buy Via Mizner until 1945, was it possible their 1955 sale was made up of inadvertent furnishings they did not realize might have been acquired from Mizner Industries?
Could the Sachses have been oblivious to the 1940 sale? Thus, might they have acquired furnishings and artifacts from Mizner Industries and mixed them in with their European antiques that later they thought were once already in the apartment? Palm Beach does have a multi-dimensional space-time continuum apart from the mainland’s reality.
Via Mizner 2020. The via entrance to Villa Sachs/Villa Mizner.
Via Mizner, c.1960. Harriet Healy’s Au Bon Gout, pictured above, was a favorite cooking and gourmet specialty shop, located across from Frank & Erma’s Coiffures. Note the exposed cypress beam ledge above the windows and doors has been covered up by the awnings. Courtesy Florida Memory, State Archives of Florida.
Via Mizner, 2020. Au Bon Gout is a memory, once located across from Renato’s.
Via Mizner, Lilly Pulitzer ads, 1960s. In 1962 Lilly Pulitzer introduced “six variations of informal attire … one she calls “The Lilly” in her husband’s Pulitzer Groves Fruit Shop on the Via Mizner … and the rest is fashion history. Courtesy Ellen Glendinning Ordway Collection.
Via Mizner, 1970s. Florida Memory, State Archives of Florida.
Via Mizner 2020.
Three years after her husband died, Rose Sachs sold the Mizner apartment and the Via Mizner’s shops and apartments for $11.9 million, having first asked $20 million. From Villa Sachs, Rose moved to a co-op apartment at The Breakers, eventually moving to apartments at the Brazilian Court and the Palm Beach Towers. Rose Sachs died in 2013, at 103.

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.

Via Mizner, 2020.
Via Mizner, Original No. 1.
Via Mizner 2020. View from Southwest courtyard toward Southeast Courtyard.
Via Mizner, 2020. Southeast Courtyard.
Via Mizner, 2020. Southeast Courtyard, south building.
Via Mizner, 2020. Southeast Courtyard, north building staircase.
Via Mizner 2020. The central passageway leads left to Southwest Courtyard, right to the Southeast Courtyard, under the balconied crossover to Renato’s and the Northeast and Northwest Courtyards, as they are now called.
Via Mizner, North courtyard. Left, Renato’s.
Via Mizner, North courtyard. Left, Renato’s.
Via Mizner East sign marks the way to Renato’s Northwest Courtyard.
Via Mizner, Northwest Courtyard. Renato’s restaurant patio.
Via Mizner 2020. Peruvian Avenue entrance.
Southwest Courtyard. The Spanish patio appears to have been renamed after an Italian piazza.
Southwest Courtyard. Mizner blue tiles cover a stand for this bouquet.
Southwest Courtyard, centerpiece. However popular Pizza al Fresco’s cuisine, for many the courtyard’s main attraction is believed-to-be the burial ground for a monkey named Johnnie Brown, one of Addison Mizner’s pets who died in 1927, according to the tombstone.

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.

Via Mizner, Southwest Courtyard. Did Addison Mizner really have a monkey named Johnnie Brown? Is that Johnnie buried beneath his tombstone? Hoping to shed light on these questions, I have enrolled in an online advanced historical forensic course at the Jacques Clouseau Institute in Brussels.
At the time, Johnny Mizner was the name of Addison Mizner’s monkey, first mentioned in a House Beautiful article in 1922. The article identifies Mizner’s shoulder ringtails as “Frankie and Johnny.” My research has shown Mizner’s various monkeys were named Miko, Deuteronomy, and Ethel (for his co-author Ethel Watts Mumford). A cat was named Ying. Chows were called Honeybuggie and Lambypie.
Villa Mizner, decorative grille. Without any contemporaneous references between 1918 and 1933 to there ever being a monkey called Johnnie Brown owned by anyone on Palm Beach. During 1927 Alice Delamar was putting together the book on Mizner’s Palm Beach work, with photography by F. E. Geisler and text by Ida Tarbell with an Introduction by Paris Singer, published February 1928. As the season ended, Mizner was reported to have a bout of pneumonia. On April 6, he left for California, expected to return in ten days, although it appears he may not have returned until the fall. In California, Mizner’s friend Anita Loos was shooting the silent comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. On April 24, 1927, Mizner’s plans were announced for a sizable addition to the Harris house on El Bravo. Customarily, Mizner and brothers spent July at Bohemian Grove, the exclusive “summer camp” near San Francisco. There are no mentions of his beloved Johnny Mizner death or his  burial, or any acknowledgment of Johnny/Johnnie being buried in the courtyard in 1927 until more than a decade after the Sachses collie Laddie died in December 1950.

Is that Johnny Mizner on Mizner’s left shoulder? Or is it … Mizner, co-founder of the Animal Rescue League on Palm Beach, hosted several fundraisers for the organization. Johnny Mizner was a member of the Palm Beach chapter of the Animal Rescue League. Mizner’s affection for animals was shared by many Palm Beach residents who maintained private zoos.
In one of the earliest known local references to the existence of a “Johnnie Brown,” when The Palm Beach Post went looking for the Via Mizner grave site in November 1964, it reported “the exact location is unknown.” More than five decades later, “the exact location” may still be unknown.

The Addison Mizner Scrapbooks

During the early 1930s, Addison Mizner’s office manager Madena Galloway and assistants removed drawings from Mizner’s sketchbooks, pasting them with photos, tear sheets, postcards, and other ephemera, documenting Mizner’s travels and influences in a collage-like format. Then, with Mizner’s direction, they were inserted into 21 thematic scrapbooks, known today as the Mizner Scrapbooks. In 1940 Amy Phipps Guest purchased Mizner’s 300-volume architectural book collection and donated it to The Society of the Four Arts Library. A decade later, The Four Arts received half of Mizner’s scrapbooks. Galloway kept the other half of the collection as well as photographs, letters, the Mizner family’s rare book collection, and Mizner Industry records. This collection was acquired by Coral Gables lawyer Richard Daniels who established the Mizner Library Foundation. Special Collections, The Society of Four Arts.
Addison Mizner, business card. 1905-1915. Sadly, though I am sure well-intentioned, scrapbook pages papered over more than 50 pages of Mizner’s penciled records listing his major New York interior clients and the work he did between 1905 and 1915. A chapter of Mizner’s life that has yet to be fully chronicled and appreciated. These records indicate Mizner established a prime stable of clients before Palm Beach. When the scrapbooks were put back together by Mizner’s staff, they reversed the existing pages, placing the interior design records upside down in the back of several of the scrapbooks that now exist. Courtesy Mizner Library Foundation.
Mizner Scrapbooks. Shown above, floor plan for Andrew Carnegie’s Fifth Avenue apartment. However, if you turn this page upside down, you discover fragments of Mizner’s detailed notations titled “Hyde.” Mizner did the interiors for Elmhurst, the Colonial Revival styled John S. Hyde mansion on High Street in Bath, Maine, known in 1913 as the largest house in the state. Mizner’s work at Elmhurst was one of the subjects for an article titled “Mizner in Maine” that I wrote for the Palm Beach Daily News (October 15, 1997). Special Collections, The Society of Four Arts.
Addison Mizner, 1889. Courtesy Mizner Library Foundation.

2020 Photography by Augustus Mayhew.

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