Richard Croker was asked how he happened to buy the one-mile stretch of South Ocean Boulevard where he built The Wigwam, located on today’s Billionaires Row from Widener’s Curve to Sloan’s Curve. The retired New York political boss recounted the time a pioneer told him he should not buy down on the other side of the jungle because there were a million snakes. “Snakes or no snakes, it was good enough for me,” said Crocker, who agreed to pay the asking price of $5 a running-foot for the ridge between the ocean and the lake, and with it, the beached remains of the James Judge, a shipwrecked four-masted schooner.
Following Croker’s death in 1922, his wife Bula spent the next two decades “in bitter court battles” with speculators and real estate agents rather than developing her extensive oceanfront property. In 1943, Bula Croker, “once fabulously wealthy,” was bankrupt; The Wigwam, “once a magnificent estate,” was heavily mortgaged, sold, and became “an eerie eyesore” and “safety menace.” Bula moved to West Palm Beach, as newspaper classifieds offered The Wigwam’s doors and windows as salvage. Once the social center for visiting New York power brokers, the Crokers’ refuge was described as “a Victorian monstrosity” before it was demolished in 1948.
Billionaires Row between the curves still maintains three formidable 1920s keepsakes, having weathered hurricanes and Palm Beach’s endless building cycles. Il Sogno, Lagomar, and Collado Hueco are a trio of boomtime citadels mirroring the era when “luxury was in flower, as no one thought of building anything less than a palace, and household staffs resembled small armies …” Together with, the ever-present memory of Sin Cuidado. First, heralded a Mizner work of art; later, described a “Black Sheep,” before being defaced and de-designated, then demolished. Also, the Treanor & Fatio designed Blair-Sloan house at 1960 South Ocean, taken down after a hyperactive remodeling denatured the house. Along with these, lesser-known houses though vanished are equally worthy of note as part of Palm Beach’s historical landscape, including Rev. Frank Landon Humphrey’s Notre Dame Sur La Mer, Victor Searles’ Maison Folie, and Arthur Hudson Marks’ El Retiro and Casa Helena.
Then, during the early 1930s there was an architectural shift, turning away from “mansions too large and unwieldy for streamlined living,” according to historian Louis Capron in his article “Revolt in Palm Beach” published in a Fall 1934 issue of House Beautiful magazine. Capron detailed the movement from the prior decade’s Spanish motifs to the resort’s ongoing preference for the functional Tropical Colonial architectural style, illustrated by George Jessel’s Regency West Indian. Capron praised Howard Major and Marion Sims Wyeth’s designs as “houses to be lived in rather than for their theatrical qualities.” On Billionaires Row, the 1930s “less is more” mood was reflected by Treanor & Fatio’s Il Palmetto and Four Winds as well as Volk & Maass’ 18th-century French Revival villa for Bernard Kroger.
During the 1939 season, as the sounds of cluster bombs and machine guns could be heard from across the Atlantic, Pittsburgh’s Edith Oliver Rea invited 20 of her blue-blood friends for dinner at her Lagomar home and then to see Jean Renoir’s prescient film La Grande Illusion at The Four Arts. How surreal it might have been for them to watch, sensing perhaps their seasonal insular convergence at Palm Beach of shared histories, Old-World traditions, and social codes could vanish. The like-mindedness of gentleman aristocrats giving way to a more uniform, less hierarchical society determined not by family or inheritance but by self-made rags-to-riches circumstances. Could there ever be a Palm Beach for the many, rather than the few?
From the North End’s inlet to the South End’s oceanfront, the post-World War II period gave rise to “the building of houses that resemble suburban areas rather than the onetime Palm Beach.” As iconic estates became subdivisions, interest waned for architectural details, detached garages, staff quarters, and monastery floor tiles, with importance redirected into air-conditioning, appliances, jalousie windows, and doorbells. By then, El Mirasol’s 22-acre lakeside portion had become Stotesbury Park with 56 lots. In 1946 the new owner of Cielito Lindo proposed a 17-lot subdivision with the James Donahue’s magnum domus split into five sections on five different plots. That same year on the vacant tract between Il Sogno and Lagomar, Franklin S. Clark platted the eight-unit Ocean View subdivision with each lot owner sharing the beachfront. Following Edith Rea’s death, Lagomar Park was carved into 12 building lots.
Today, on the more than one-mile extent from Kathryn and Leo Vecellio’s Il Palmetto to Steve Wynn’s Casa Riviera, there are six subdivisions with streets comprised of 31 houses in addition to 16 ocean-to-lake estates and three vacant parcels. The number of houses and further subdivisions might have been far greater if not for the more than 15 years it took to settle Bula Croker’s “ceaseless litigation.” Rather than a sequential narrative, here are highlights from Billionaires Row’s south end. First, a 1920s-1930s chronological overview, followed by a locational sequence showcasing a mix of 1950s and 21st-century styles from the 1500 block to Sloan’s Curve where Billionaires Row dips to a lakeside canyon of condominium developments.
“We were so young and gay then and we thought we had all the money in the world … It will be sad if they all vanish and the Mizner period becomes only a memory and part of Palm Beach’s fabulous past.” — Billie Burke.
The Joy Girl, silent film poster. During the 1920s, Palm Beach was the setting and the subject for numerous Hollywood silent films, including The Joy Girl filmed at The Breakers where the star, Olive Borden, played a “fortune hunting flapper” looking for men with millions. A time when Ned Stotesbury’s $100 million fortune was the pinnacle.
1520 South Ocean Boulevard
In 1920 Cleveland’s well-known varnish manufacturer Frederick Glidden sold an ocean-to-lake parcel with 125 feet of frontage to Franklin P. Smith who headed the Smith Wire & Iron Works in Chicago. A year earlier, Glidden sold a large tract to the north on the 1400 block of Billionaires Row to Addison Mizner who in turn sold it to Alice Delamar. Palm Beach visitors since 1903, the Smiths brought in Marion Sims Wyeth to design what was described as a palatial Spanish Colonial style mansion to be built for $45,000 by the Jack S. Willson Building Company.
Completed in 1925, the Smiths returned every season until Frank Smith died in 1951 when it was sold to John T. Mitchell who renovated and redecorated the house. A few decades later when Ralph and Jacquie Levitzmoved into the multi-level 18-room mansion with three powder rooms, Mrs. Levitz, a real estate agent, became a self-styled decorator, “Even a mansion should be comfortable …” she told a local interviewer, as she described the replanted garden as “Versailles style with Italian statuary.” Levitz replaced stucco columns with marble ones, hardwood floors with marble tiles, and the staircase was paved with contoured marble. Before selling the house in 1991, Levitz proclaimed the house was “so perfect.”
1560 South Ocean Boulevard
In 1923 John Magee purchased an ocean-to-lake parcel 300 feet north of the Bula Crocker-owned tract, retaining architect Addison Mizner to build their Palm Beach house. By April 1924, the house was “stuccoed and tiled and nearly finished, as to the exterior.” That summer Mrs. Magee went to Italy and brought back a Tintoretto for the “Venetian study. In September, the Magees sold the south 200 feet of their property to Edith Oliver Rea whose father was the founder of Pittsburgh’s Oliver & Snyder Iron & Steel Foundry. Three years later, Magee sold Edith Rea the 52-room main house with a 50-by-45-foot living room set on five acres for $500,000.
When the developer first offered Lagomar’s main house on two lots, it was bought for $80,000 by Valerie Simoria Bland. “Who IS Valerie Bland?” asked social columnist Helen Rich, after Bland made her Palm Beach social debut hosting a luncheon for 36 guests. Rich reported the event was “like the meeting of a pyramid club,” where guests brought friends, most of them “utter strangers” to each other and the hostess. “Nobody knows what this luncheon was all about,” declared the columnist. By 1959, Bland had moved to the Palm Beach Towers; two seasons later, she announced plans to marry John Roreck from Long Island, “Who?” asked another social columnist. “The who no one knew, that’s who.” The Rorecks reopened Lagomar hosting a string of publicized luncheons and dinners. And who was Valerie Bland? In 1926 Austrian-born Valerie Simoria married Lee C. Bland in Paris after a 7-day shipboard romance. When the Blands divorced in 1949, she netted a $500,000 settlement from Bland, described as “a wealthy gadget manufacturer known for such things as novelty Halloween masks and plastic woodpeckers.” And where better to settle, she must have thought, than Palm Beach.
Since 1998 Fifth Avenue denizens Roberta and Stanley Bogen have been in residence at Lagomar’s main house, having paid a recorded $3.85 million for it in 1998. The previous owner, German architect Peter Tigges, had completed a considerable restoration.
1800 South Ocean Boulevard
Sin Cuidado – Demolished
After Addison Mizner sold Concha Marina to George and Isabel Dodge Sloane, Bula Croker sold Mizner an ocean-to-lake tract in 1922, located on the new ocean boulevard far enough away from town that Mizner believed “no one will buy it.” Two years later, Mizner sold it to Edward S. Moore who immediately had Mizner transform the small Spanish casita with a separate staff house into a more elaborate mansion. While making further additions to Sin Cuidado, Mizner designed a house for Moore’s brother Paul Moore and his wife Fanny Hanna Moore who had acquired an adjacent site to the south from Victor Searles.
When Louisville’s Mrs. Alvin Tobias “Sallie” Hert bought the 19,000 square-foot main house with 34 rooms including a 30-by-50 ballroom, the former vice-chair of the Republican National Committee, rechristened it Lyndon in 1937. Hert, whose sister Mrs. E. Hunt Slater owned the Mizner-designed Costa Bella on Dunbar Road, hired the Treanor & Fatio firm and reportedly spent $100,000 on renovations.
Forty years later, when owner Dorothy Lunken, heir to the Burroughs Corporation business machines fortune, fought attempts to landmark the house, she declared Hert’s remodeling that added columns to the façade refashioned the once Spanish house into a “Bahamian Colonial.” Instead of demolishing the house, Lunken sold it in 1981 to developer Fred Gordon for $2.8 million.
“Mansion Row Black Sheep Being Restored.” Although Sin Cuidado’s complete demolition would not be for another 30 years, this 1980s headline spelled the beginning of the end for this once architectural treasure. Attempts failed to rezone the property for use as a landmarked multi-unit condominium, akin to Warden House and Bienestar.
In January 1988, Sin Cuidado became Sans Souci after lawyer Robert Montgomery paid $3.2 million for the three-acre landmarked property. Described by Montgomery as “the beast of Mansion Row,” the Montgomerys and their architect Gene Lawrence made as many as 100 unauthorized alterations to the house, causing the local Landmarks Commission to de-designate the property. For Montgomery, Sans Souci was “a perfect party house for charity.” For local critics, one of Addison Mizner’s artful works was now “… overdone, garish and devoid of any Palm Beach style … looks more like Disney World, like a carnival …”
1820 South Ocean Boulevard
During the early 1920s, Victor Searles sold Paul Moore the north 600-feet of his property. The Moores hired Addison Mizner to design their winter retreat next door to his brother Edward Moore’s Sin Cuidado. With a coquina and half-timber embellished façade, Collado Hueco was a departure from Mizner’s customary cast stone and stucco treatments. The house is reminiscent of a much smaller house Mizner designed with half-timbers in Sea Island Georgia for the developer of The Cloister Inn. The Moores consulted William Sturrock, founder of Exotic Gardens, for their landscaped grounds; interiors were the work of New York and Palm Beach decorator Charles Clark.
The building of Collado Hueco most likely resulted from Cleveland-born Fanny Hanna Moore’s inheritance from her father Leonard Hanna’s fortune amassed from the Hanna family’s various Great Lakes industrial concerns. In 1943, Fanny acquired Hunter’s Island, located in the waterway west of Collado Hueco, and donated it to the town. The Town of Palm Beach then leased it as a permanent bird sanctuary to the National Audubon Society.
Following Paul Moore’s death in 1959, his estate sold the property to Nashville insurance executive Guilford Dudley Jr. and his wife Jane, who at the time were in the process of selling their 1902 South Ocean Boulevard home (then known as Casa del Sur). Among the Dudley’s first guests, who undoubtedly made use of the John Volk-designed guest house, were Robert and Ethel Kennedy and their children. The Dudleys hosted the annual Cocoanuts party at Collado Hueco on New Year’s Eve 1987, described then as “the best, the very best … most fun Cocoanuts New Year’s Eve dance.”
Midwest shopping mall owner and onetime Sotheby’s owner Adolph Alfred Taubman bought the estate from the Dudleys in May 1989. Previously, Taubman had built Camelot to house his art collection, according to court documents, designed by Richard Meier on North Lake Way. Instead, Camelot developed roof problems resulting in protracted litigation. In 2002 Taubman was convicted for his role in a price-fixing scheme between auction houses, spending ten months in prison where he reportedly improved his bridge game. Following Taubman’s death in 2015, his $500 million private art collection was put on the block at Sotheby’s, advertised as “the most valuable art collection ever offered at auction. Unlike several of his nearby Billionaires Row notables who made their art collections available for public exhibitions, Taubman’s collection of Rothko, Picasso, and Modigliani, among the “masterworks,” was never exhibited. Nonetheless, the final tally of $419 million was short of the estimates, described as “tepid, spotty, and lackluster.”
In May 2020, Collado Hueco was sold to a company most often linked to Palm Beach residents Peter Brant and his wife Stephanie Seymour. Listed at one time for $58 million, the property sold for $42 million, according to courthouse records.
1930 – 1945
1500 South Ocean Boulevard
Il Palmetto – Palazzo Inverno
As Joseph Widener lobbied legislators to allow pari-mutuel betting at his remodeled and rebuilt 200-acre Hialeah Park Race Track, along with his minority silent partner, Palm Beach’s E. R. Bradley, the recently widowed Philadelphia heir to a reported $90 million streetcar fortune was also looking at Palm Beach properties.
In 1932 a beach pavilion designed by architect Lester Geisler was added along the several hundred feet of ocean frontage. Inspired as much by Ascot as Longchamp for his design of Widener’s Hialeah Park clubhouse, Geisler created a European-style cabana deluxe for Widener’s Palm Beach residence with a lounge, kitchenette, sleeping areas, and dressing rooms.
Following Janet Annenberg’s death, her estate priced Palazzo Inverno at $27.5 million, dropping to $18 million before Netscape co-founder Jim Clark paid $11 million. Clark undertook a major renovation of the 68, 000 square-feet of living areas. In April 2018, Clark sold 1500 South Ocean Boulevard to Brando Woody De LLC, linked to Leo and Kathryn Vecellio, for a reported $90+/- million with Clark taking title through an LLC to the Vecellios’ Jungle Road property, according to recent reports. Having mortgaged the property for $70 million, the Vecellios recorded a 99-year on the property, allowing them to take homestead exemption according to the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s office.
1768 South Ocean Boulevard
Four Winds I
In July 2004 Palm Beach awoke to find Four Winds, a designated landmark, had been demolished. The owners, Stephen and Christine Schwarzman, expressed mano pulite (“clean hands”), according to contemporaneous accounts, believing Landmarks Commission members should have known the house was a reconstruction rather than merely a renovation when it approved a second-story addition to a part of the house that the building department ruled could not structurally support it, thus permitting its demolition and reconstruction. Fortuitously, the subsequent investigation, regarded by some as a Kafkaesque scenario, found no one to blame. Thus, the reconstruction, in my mind, has become Four Winds II. “Historic in name only,” pronounced Alexandra Fatio, daughter of the original architect, when she would drive past. In 2003 Steve Schwarzman paid $20.5 million for the more than 13,000 +/- square-foot main house built during the late 1930s on three acres with 250-feet of ocean and lake frontage.
In 1937, two years after his divorce from Marjorie Post and resignation as chairman of General Foods, E. F. “Ned” Hutton paid $80,000 to Edward Moore for the north 250 feet of Moore’s Sin Cuidado estate at 1800 South Ocean. Hutton and his third wife Dorothy Dear Metzger Hutton opted for a frame British Colonial-style, white-roofed Treanor & Fatio designed house reflecting the era’s trend toward “simpler living.” Following Hutton’s death, his wife sold the house. After leasing a Worth Avenue apartment for several seasons, J. Patrick Lannan bought Four Winds in 1964, turning it into a house museum as well as a gathering place for known and unknown artists who Lannan supported.
In 1986, the Lannan Foundation sold Four Winds $3.6 million to John and Robin Pickett. A decade later, the Picketts listed the house at $13.5 million before taking it off the market, waiting a few years, then repricing it in 2002 at $27.5 million, when the year after, the Schwartzmans bought the house.
1860 South Ocean Boulevard
Four years after Willis and Miren du Pont survived an armed home invasion at their five-acre Coconut Grove estate, the couple acquired Lakeridge from the University of Pennsylvania. UPenn was gifted the house (valued at $725,000) by its then owners, du Pont’s sister Esther “Essie” du Pont and her husband John J. “Tiger” Thouron. According to court documents, the du Ponts in turn gifted their St. Gaudens Road, Coconut Grove estate (valued at $2 million) to benefit UPenn’s Thouron Scholarship Fund. Willis and Esther du Pont were the children of Natalie and Lammot du Pont, a former president of the Wilmington-based DuPont Corporation.
In 2000 Willis and Miren du Pont sold the south 200 feet of their Palm Beach estate, re-addressed as 1900 South Ocean Boulevard, to Lakeview LLC, their own corporation, for $5 million. Five years later, the du Ponts LLC sold it as a limited partnership, Lake Worth View LP, for $8 million, to developer-builder Robert G. Fessler’s RGF Holding LLC, who in 2007 sold the property for more than $15 million to Keith Frankel with a 23,000+/- square-foot house.
1860-1900-1902 South Ocean Boulevard
Maison Folie – Notre Dame Sur La Mar – Demolished
El Retiro – Demolished
Casa Helena – Demolished
In 1922 Rev. Frank Landon Humphreys bought a tract south of Thomas Walton’s estate with 300-foot of ocean frontage with plans to build a Roman- Spanish design “modeled after a house by Marion Sims Wyeth.” A painter and sculptor, Humphreys’ interpretation was called Notre Dame Sur La Mer. Five years later, Humphreys sold it to Arthur Hudson Marks who named it El Retiro. The following year, Marks built an adjacent guest house with a tennis court for his daughter and named it Casa Helena.
In May 1939, Marks died playing tennis on his tennis court. El Retiro and Casa Helena were deeded to his daughter and son-in-law Midwest executive Jarrold R. West, who was an investor in the South Ocean Club located north of the Lake Worth bridge. The Wests split the property in 1946, selling El Retiro to Kingsley Murphy for $100,000. Casa Helena, then addressed as 1902 South Ocean, was sold to Dwight Paul for $57,500. This would be the Pauls’ third Palm Beach house.
In 1947 Edward and Eleanor Townsend paid the Murphys $95,000 for El Retiro. Several months later, Eleanor Vietor “Elie” Townsend, whose family built the Wyeth & King-designed Southwood on Via del Lago, filed for divorce, claiming her husband was a “global Romeo … having affairs with women in Buenos Aires, Stockholm, London, and Montreal … ” among the many. Her divorce finalized and her South Ocean house renamed Casa del Sur, Eleanor married Argentine rancher Alfredo Cernadas in 1952.
In 1979 Willis and Miren du Pont paid $625,000 for what was once the site of El Retiro-Casa del Sur, merging it with their Lakeridge estate at 1860 South Ocean Boulevard. Years later, a du Pont-linked limited partnership called Lake Worth View LP would sell off the then vacant lot, addressed as 1900 South Ocean.
A 1960s house, once owned by Hollis and Betsy Baker, situated on a double lot on what has become 1906 South Ocean was sold by Ray and Maria Floyd in 2002 to Laurie Silvers and Mitchell Rubenstein, known for their development of the Sci-Fi Channel, who demolished the house. Silvers and Rubenstein put forward plans for a house designed by Robert A. M. Stern. In 2012 Silvers and Rubenstein sold the vacant parcel for more than $23 million to an LLC linked to John Phelan.
1950 South Ocean Boulevard
When the Ocean Boulevard Land Company sold Cincinnati grocery-chain owner Bernard “Barney” Kroger this ocean-to-lake tract in 1934 with 200-feet of frontage, it was described as the town’s most southerly buildable parcel. Volk & Maass rendered a French Revival style house, christened by the Krogers as Beau Rivage. The following year, Chicago’s Wolcott Blair bought the adjacent tract, addressed as 1960 South Ocean Boulevard.
Among Beau Rivage’s previous owners were Owen Cheatham, founder of Georgia-Pacific, and his wife Celeste Wickliffe Cheatham. In 1958 the Cheathams paid a reported $1 million for Surrealist Salvador Dali’s twenty-piece Dali Jewels artworks, bought by them solely for exhibitions to benefit charities.
1960 South Ocean Boulevard
Blair-Sloan House – Demolished
The Treanor & Fatio house at 1960 South Ocean Boulevard built by Chicagoans Wolcott and Ellen Blair was also the home of General Motors president, chairman and CEO Alfred P. Sloan Jr and his wife Irene Jackson Sloan, and Conoco CEO Louis Marron and his wife Eugenie “Genie” Marron. During the summer of 1935, the Blairs new home was described as modified Georgian to be built by Jack S. Willson for $100,000 with five master bedrooms and eight staff quarters with a swimming pool and pavilion.
In December 1941, the Blairs sold to Alfred and Irene Sloan for $152,000 who called the house Allegro. After the 1947 hurricane washed away the ocean boulevard, a curve was engineered, rerouting the boulevard off the ocean onto the lakeside. Thus, the making of Sloan’s Curve. Following Sloan’s retirement from General Motors, his wife died, resulting in the house being sold. While it was first a mystery as to who bought the Sloan house, it was soon reported that New Jersey oil tycoon Louis Marron and his wife Eugenie “Genie” Zwerneman Maron were the buyers, both respected expert fishermen. The Marrons called in architect John Volk for some touch-ups and a more “Georgian redo” on the house, opening it for the Garden Club of Palm Beach’s House and Garden Tour in 1959.
Although her husband died in 1966, she continued to live in the house until 1980 when she sold it for $1.5 million to an offshore company called Hardaport. According to various court records, the Geneva-based company was a Panamanian corporation with financing from Banque Arabe International LTD, Nassau & Channel Islands. From court affidavits filed in 1987 concerning loan guarantees, Hardaport and 1960 South Ocean was owned by Romanian-born polo patron Robert deBalkany, head of the Paris concern, La Société Générale Immobiliere. At one time deBalkany was married to Princess Maria Gabriella de Savoy.
In October 1988 Bill and Joan Granlund Koch paid Hardaport $4.8 million for the unlandmarked house, bringing in New York architect Mark Ferguson. A decade later, Joan Koch was deeded the house, selling it the following year for $5.8 million to PattSwan LLC, Dan Swanson and James Patterson’s development company. The historic Treanor & Fatio house was demolished.
Coming soon: Billionaires Row, Part IV