Palm Beach Social Diary: Another Look at Lost Palm Beach

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This iron table topped with 16th to 18th- century Old World tiles, once found in one of Addison Mizner’s formidable Palm Beach houses, is part of Vero Beach residents Mark and Hildie Tripson’s immense collection of centuries-old and factory-made Mizner artifacts inherited from Mark’s grandfather, Waldo Sexton. Driven by his instinct and obsession, Waldo Sexton acquired what Palm Beach demolished, scrapped and discarded, amassing a vast array of museum-quality Miznerabilia.

“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.

“Most likely, my father had the tile plaque and bench made during the 1960s by Joe Diaz, a former Mizner woodcarver and local craftsman,” said John Volk, who heads up John Volk Restoration in Palm Beach. This artful ensemble adds flourish to the entrance of Casa de los Arcos in Phipps Plaza, the longtime residence and office of Mr. Volk’s father, renowned architect John L. Volk, and his mother, Jane Volk, equally distinguished as one of the island’s leading historic preservationists.

Built in 1919 and designed to entertain 1,200 guests, El Mirasol’s living room originally opened onto a terrace overlooking Ocean Boulevard and the ocean.
During the Hurricane of 1928, El Mirasol’s oceanfront entrance was destroyed; a new even grander portal was built along North County Road.
Designed by Maurice Fatio in 1930, El Mirasol’s tiled County Road entrance is all that remains of Mizner’s first Palm Beach house except for a small Fatio-designed fountain.
The Fatio-designed entrance arch and garden wall are El Mirasol’s only existing architectural fragments. The arch features distinctive tile work.

A year after Eva Stotesbury died in 1946, this exclusive invitation announcing an “everything must go” auction at El Mirasol resulted in more than 4,000 guests. A decade later, El Mirasol was demolished in 1958.
At the El Mirasol auction, guests became registered bidders after paying a $2 admission fee.
Although the auction crowd was not the same the blueblood RSVPs who attended Eva and Ned’s midnight soirees …
L to R.: … they brought cash and bought everything.; The sterling silver galleon was once among Eva Stotesbury’s prized possessions.

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.

A 6th-generation craftsman and building contractor, Rick Herpel, president of Herpel Inc., Cast Stone & Columns, has amassed a personal collection of original Las Manos Potteries tiles that he utilizes as references for his restorations and new constructions.
The Mizner “blues.”
Rick Herpel continues a family tradition begun in Connecticut during the 1860s as A. J. Ketchin & Son; later established in South Florida in 1948 as the Ketchin Concrete Company. For the past thirty years, Herpel Inc. has been considered among Palm Beach’s leading landmark restoration companies.
L to R.: An unrestored Mizner yellow-and-blue staircase.; A yet-to-be restored Mizner mimosa yellow staircase with a Mizner Industry arm chair atop the landing.
Solid color Mizner tiles embellish the stone wall fountain at Pan’s Garden, where as a centerpiece the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach utilized period Portuguese tiles depicting a Persian-style motif acquired from Casa Apava.

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.

L to R.: A Persian-style tree-of-life tile motif believed to be from Playa Riente, part of the Sexton family collection.; The Spanish Bar at Playa Riente as it looked after Mizner designed the house at 947 North Ocean Boulevard for Oklahoma oilman Joshua Cosden in 1923.
Today, Playa Riente’s original Spanish Bar can be found as the focal point of the main dining room at The Patio restaurant in Vero Beach, part of the Sexton family’s extraordinary collection.
In addition to the Spanish Bar, the Sexton family own Spanish Renaissance-style heraldry plaques from Playa Riente and El Mirasol.

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.


At Louwana, the oceanfront house Mizner designed for Marie-Louise Wanamaker and Gurnee Munn, Spanish and Portuguese tiles are featured from different eras.

Marion Sims Wyeth: Cielito Lindo & Hogarcito

Designed by Marion Sims Wyeth in 1927 for James P. Donahue, Cielito Lindo’s magnificent gardens and main house were subdivided by Kings Road when the Donahues sold the property for a residential subdivision to accomodate smaller houses. Some of its tile work remains. Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

At Hogarcito on Golfview Road, Wyeth assembled this tile ensemble for the tower of the E. F. Huttons’ first Palm Beach house.
Hogarcito’s front entrance is framed with the same border tile as the tower.
Located on East 62 Street and West Palm Beach, Solar Antique Tiles offers a selection of authentic antique tiles and reproductions. Here is a view of a wall of selections in their West Palm Beach showroom.

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.

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