“We were so young and gay then and we thought we had all the money in the world. It will be sad if the great houses vanish and the Mizner period becomes only a memory and part of Palm Beach’s past rather than its present.” — Billie Burke
Despite the heart-felt sentiment, many of the Mizner era’s grand illusions disappeared from the Palm Beach landscape. And though Billie Burke may not be someone you readily associate with today’s Palm Beach’s history, for many years Glinda, the Good Witch of Oz, and her husband, impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, along with their friends, the E. F. Huttons, the Gurnee Munns and the Harrison Williamses, were members of the resort’s leading Café Society set, as at home at the B&T as Versailles.
Thirty years later, Miss Burke starred in several Palm Beach Playhouse productions, often staying with her close friend Marjorie Post at Mar-A-Lago. It was then, during the late 1950s, she reflected on the loss of El Mirasol and Playa Riente, later joined by the razing of Casa Florencia, La Fontana, and Casa Bendita, among others designed by architects Treanor & Fatio and Marion Sims Wyeth. While no longer a part of picturesque Ocean Boulevard or Palm Beach Avenue, these lost houses exist largely within the Historical Society of Palm Beach County’s collections of photographs, postcards and architectural drawings housed in vertical files and Hollinger boxes.
Among the decorative arts that survived the wrecking ball, colorful tile work from this Mediterranean-styled fantasia can still be unearthed. Here is a kaleidoscopic view of some of those finely-crafted fragments, ranging from floor tiles manufactured during the 1920s at Mizner Industry’s Las Manos kilns on Bunker Road in West Palm Beach to the imported centuries-old Spanish, Islamic, Dutch and Portuguese tiles, and their later reproductions, utilized in courtyard fountains, loggia walls and entrance halls. Although detached from their original elements and intentions, these vibrant artworks reflect the era’s regard for uncompromised craftsmanship and imagination.
Las Manos Potteries
Mizner Industries, Bunker Road, West Palm Beach
Once Mizner began construction on El Mirasol and the Spanish style became a Palm Beach must-have, he organized Las Manos Potteries as the first division of Mizner Industries to manufacture roof tiles and floor tiles. The solid-color tiles from the kilns at Mizner Industry’s Bunker Road factory were utilized by all the area architects.
Eventually, Addison Mizner’s tile factory was operating seven kilns firing thousands of tiles in a spectrum of Renaissance colors — a signature Mizner blue, light blue, Valencia blue, light green, green, neutral green, Mizner yellow, orange, red, brown, black, and blue-black. Along with his maze of kilns and because of South Florida’s scarcity of antiques, Mizner added workshops where artisans, both local and from Europe, crafted Old World pottery, furniture, iron work, and fixtures, enhancing the authentic as well as manufacturing reproductions.
Three weeks after Anna Dodge bought Playa Reinte, Addison Mizner’s magnificent 70-room showplace set on 27 ocean-to-lake acres, she married her much-younger real estate agent, Hugh Dillman. Playa Riente became as well known for its patios as its parties, featuring 15 master bedrooms and a bachelor’s wing permitting single male guests to come and go without being announced.
Twenty years later, the May-December marriage soured as did Palm Beach’s mansion market. The widow-divorcee found no one who would fork over one-quarter of the $4 million she had paid in the mid-1920s. Anna Dodge spent years attempting to rezone the house as a museum, school or private club, although located adjacent to the Palm Beach Country Club. She hosted a series of final parties, yet another one of the island’s “everything-must-go” sales, then demolished the house in 1957.
Playa Riente’s tile tables are also a part of Hildie and Mark Tripson’s collection.
Several of the tables in the Tripsons’ collection are 1920s-style geometrical patterns.
Marion Sims Wyeth: Cielito Lindo & Hogarcito
Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach
Situated in Midtown on Peruvian Avenue, the Preservation Foundation’s facade features a contemporary Portuguese tile mural depicting the arrival of the cocoanut palms at Palm Beach in 1878, while Pan’s Garden features what are thought to be the centuries-old Portuguese tiles.
El Mirasol historic photographs courtesy of the Florida State Archives.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.