On Saturday night Susan Phipps Cochran & Bob Eigelberger hosted a holiday benefit dinner for the Gentlemen of the Garden at Casa Phippsberger, their six-acre botanical preserve. Joy to the World was in the air at our table lit by a silvery cold moon as well as several bottles of wine. A pleasure sitting between the engaging Cheryl McKee and the spirited Susie Phipps Cochran. Before heading over to the Shrimp Palace, I stopped and snapped the annual Worth Avenue holiday tree, circled by selfie-takers. Then to Polly Reed’s Orchid House in Midtown where she put her feet up after trimming her tree.
Along with Saturday night’s al fresco dinner, I take a look back at El Mirasol, once the Phipps family’s neighbor to the south. After the death of Eva Stotesbury and the house auction in 1947, the house and what remained of the oceanfront parcel were bought by the Pittsburgh Building Company, a Phipps family interest.
December 14, 2019 – 8 pm
GOG Benefit Dinner @ Casa Phippsberger
Susie Phipps Cochran and Bob Eigelberger welcomed Gentlemen of the Garden supporters and friends to some holiday cheer at their North End home. Founded in 1991, GOG’s philanthropic contributions are based on specific landscaping and environmental beautification projects in the Palm Beach area. While the organization’s primary focus is to support the gardening activities at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, it also contributes to the Mounts Botanical Gardens, The Community Foundation Green Fund, and The YMCA of the Palm Beaches. In the spring, GOG will stage its largest benefit GOG-A-GOGO, a jungle disco party at Casa Phippsberger.
El Mirasol: Through the Looking Glass
Palm Beach-Santa Barbara
El Mirasol — Ned and Eva Stotesbury’s house most mentioned as architect Addison Mizner’s entrée among Palm Beach’s 1920s swells — has a history riddled with numerous tales, some spun by raconteur Mizner himself. No matter how twisted, inaccurate or unbelievable, these yarns have been echoed so often they are sworn to with the fervor of Biblical quotes.
However kismet the story that Eva Stotesbury first encountered Addison Mizner when she was measuring room sizes of the Everglades Club building while it was being built during the fall of 1918, as author Donald Curl wrote in his authoritative book Mizner’s Florida, quoting Mizner’s 1932 anecdotal autobiography The Many Mizners. And no matter how flattering for Mizner that she then retained him to replace her Philadelphia architect, the renowned Horace Trumbauer, to build her Palm Beach showplace, as Curl further wrote, there are still no accessible records indicating Trumbauer was ever involved in the Stotesbury’s Florida work or that Trumbauer ever visited Palm Beach.
In fact, a year before Mizner arrived at Palm Beach in January 1918, the Stotesburys had retained a family friend, designer Albert Herter, and his architect to design their makeover and transformation of E. N. Dimick’s L’Orangerie into their new home. They named their Palm Beach ocean-to-lake estate El Mirasol for the source of their inspiration, Albert Herter’s Spanish-styled home-turned-hotel in Santa Barbara also named El Mirasol, designed by Delano & Aldrich in 1904 for Herter’s mother Mary Miles Herter.
With Ned Stotesbury named to the Everglades Club’s first board of governors, and Californians Mizner and Herter probably knowing of each other, and considering the scale of the Stotesbury work, it was probably mutually decided that Mizner would architect the project. According to the Stotesbury accounting bills, payments to Albert Herter were considerable before Mizner became involved in the project. A century later, Herter’s name is still never mentioned in the making of El Mirasol although it was informed by and christened for his family’s Santa Barbara house.
Following the Hurricane of 1928, El Mirasol sustained structural damage. Two years later, Ned Stotesbury along with nearby oceanfront property owners had successfully convinced commissioners to close the Ocean Boulevard from Wells Road north to the Palm Beach Country Club. He then retained Treanor and Fatio to make additions and alterations to the main house. Landscape architect Thomas Warren Sears returned to revive the windswept landscape. Also, since the closure of the ocean boulevard changed the entrance to El Mirasol to North County Road, in 1930 Treanor & Fatio designed a new barrel-tiled arched entrance gate adorned with Tunisian tiles.
If Treanor & Fatio designed the County Road entrance portal, according to contemporaneous records, then why was it called the “Mizner Gate,” and still is, when it was landmarked during the early 1980s by the town’s Landmark Preservation Commission? The minutes clearly indicate that historian Barbara Hoffstot urged the commission not to designate the arched portal until they were certain it was a Mizner. There have never been any drawings or records that indicate Addison Mizner, who died in 1933, designed the existing entrance gate that remains today, despite the demolition of the main house in the late 1950s.
Of course, it was a Mizner they responded although it does not resemble any Mizner work in California, New York, or Florida. Nonetheless, the town’s LPC designated it the “Mizner Gate.” Although I wrote about this oversight a decade ago, followed by letters from historians and Maurice Fatio’s daughter Alex Fatio’s photographic documents showing the entrance gate as her father’s design, there has never been any attempt to assess whether this was a mistaken designation.
Considering El Mirasol’s significance to the town’s architectural history, one might assume there might be some attempt at respecting Treanor & Fatio’s work or recognizing that one of the town’s iconic landmarks may not be what they thought it was. Then again …”
Photography by Augustus Mayhew