In May 1991 Andrée and Donald Dowling bought Quail High, a 1960s Modernist house at the Village of Golf, from the late PGA Hall of Fame golfer and Palm Beach resident Raymond Floyd. Last week, lawyer Don Dowling, one of historic preservation’s unsung guardians, died at the Wrightian-inspired home he shared with his wife Andrée that each day served as a reminder of his Chicago Oak Park origins.
During the past three decades the Dowlings have owned what has become noted architect Alfred Browning Parker’s last remaining residential design in Palm Beach County, they restored and preserved this architectural landmark while countless other Modernist houses were being demolished throughout South Florida. In 2008, I wrote and photographed a feature on Quail High for a design magazine that ran a few of the photographs. Here is a rewrite of the story with a set of original large-format images and small-format construction photos provided by the original owners’ daughter Jacqueline Wade Thurston, the family archivist.
Text & Photographs by Augustus Mayhew
Historic photographs courtesy Jacqueline Wade Thurston
HOME magazine, 2008
When Alfred Browning Parker designed Quail High, the architect’s signature organic style had already become an iconic part of South Florida’s landscape, unlike today, where in the Palm Beach area Parker’s houses have been demolished except for his Tropical Modernist house located in a private golf course community west of Delray Beach.
Quail High’s conception, construction and endurance is the story of two Chicago families: Albert G. ”Geoff” and Marie Wade, who in 1959 hired an architect with uncompromising standards and trusted his aesthetic; and thirty years later, Donald and Andrée Dowling, the house’s present owners, whose regard for architectural significance and appreciation for craftsmanship led them to buy Quail High and restore it to the nearly as-built condition it displays today.
“My father was a Chicago ad man (think Speedy Alka-Seltzer creator) who grew up around the Oak Park Country Club surrounded by Frank Lloyd Wright-designed houses,” said the Wade’s son, Geoff Wade III.
“My parents lived to play golf, so during the late 1950s when fellow Chicagoan Carleton Blunt developed The Country Club of Florida with Oak Park’s golf course architect, Robert Bruce Harris, my Dad bought a fairway lot. He hired Miami’s Alfred Browning Parker, and he and my mother worked on the design for the next year. Then it was good-bye Chicago-New York-Los Angeles, hello Florida.”
For the Dowlings as well, the house represented an extension of Don’s Midwest roots; his family lived in Oak Park’s Fair Oaks neighborhood, home to Frank Lloyd Wright. “As a kid, I had a snow shoveling route and one of my customers owned a Wright-designed house on Forest Avenue. For a dollar I would shovel snow off the roof and deck area to keep the ice from leaking into their living room,” said Dowling. “Who would have thought a half-century later I’d buy Quail High, a Wright-inspired house, and I am still doing roof work,” laughed Dowling, a Delray Beach attorney with a University of Chicago law degree.
In 1956 Carleton Blunt, president of the Western Golf Association, acquired two dairy farms west of Delray Beach and brought down Chicago’s renowned landscape architect, Robert Bruce Harris, who was the first president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.
Together, they created The Country Club of Florida. “Not until a decade later did it become known as the Village of Golf, named for Golf, Illinois, where my family lived outside of Chicago,” said Patricia Blunt Koldyke, Blunt’s daughter who wrote a self-published history of the community.
Set amidst one of South Florida’s highest natural ridges, The Country Club of Florida’s par-72 golf course, its large saucer-shaped bunkers reformulated by Arthur Hills, is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. The village’s woodsy environment is as much home to golf carts as it is osprey, wild ducks, northern flickers, and the occasional bald eagle. “It’s always been my understanding that originally only clusters of small villas were planned within the fairways, similar to Jekyll Island, and that the acre-plus residential lots were an afterthought, platted along the golf course’s outer perimeter,” stated Robert Hull, the village’s manager.
Wedged between the fairways, the community’s wildlife habitats and predominately low-profile Bermuda-style houses are as far from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, Gold Coast and Lake Shore skyline as one can imagine. Its perimeter road winds and curves around the course with a rippling motion, its stands of tall pines interrupted by ponds and palms, an apt setting for one of Wright’s Usonian-type Prairie School houses that served as South Florida architect Al Parker’s earliest design models.
“My mother was from South Africa and my parents met in Cairo, married in Miami, honeymooned in Havana, kept an apartment in New York, and when they moved to Florida, they had to have Alfred Browning Parker design their house. My father always wanted a Frank Lloyd Wright house and he knew Wright had praised Al Parker’s work in Florida, “said Jacquie Wade Thurston. Thus, sixty years ago on a raised pinewood ridge on a corner lot overlooking the 12th fairway, the Wades and Parker began building Quail High.
In golf, the term “quail high” refers to a shot hit low against the wind or a long shot hit with a half-swing that stays below the tree limbs, then rises, lifting up as high as a quail flies from its nest, and lands on the green. This description of a golf ball’s trajectory formulates the structural profile of the Wade’s house. Hence, Parker amassed a multi-level multi-dimensional house that from the street appears built into a bunker, a recessed, flat-roofed two-story house wrapped with an open deck. “The best buildings are those that are difficult to see — difficult because they fit so completely into their sites,” wrote Alfred Browning Parker in his book, You and Architecture. Obscured from the street, the flat-roof rises and gables over an immense cathedral-ceiling great room-entertainment-terrace area punctuated with a massive central fireplace and an over-sized rectangular indoor-outdoor pool.
Constructed with a reinforced concrete slab and pillars, the interior’s structural aerodynamic artistry is highlighted by six sculptural laminated cypress beams constructed by Broward Shipyard that support the poured concrete roof. The Great Room’s broad roof overhang was designed to shield the doors and windows from heat and rain. The house’s original glass wall behind the fireplace still opens onto the over-sized patio surrounding the rectangular pool, as remain the house’s original Persiana doors and windows, serving as door, window, screen, Venetian blind, and hurricane shutter. The expansive space was supplemented by numerous built-in features. Bookshelves line the lower- and upper-bedroom corridors. Storage drawers were placed along the staircase wall, in the sky-lit closets and the balconied area.
“The house was all about kids and entertaining. I can still remember peeking in on my parent’s cocktail parties — the house lit up, several hundred friends of theirs, every door open, it was magic … and, it was only a cocktail party,” recalled Jacquie. Parker’s design dynamic formulated a composed exterior opening into a dramatic uplifting interior with framed views. From the entrance gallery, steps either lead down to the ground- level bedroom corridor or up onto the living area’s main platform where the beamed cathedral ceiling rises and appears to land on the green of the 12th fairway beyond. To the right, a gull-winged staircase leads to what is now an extended loft over the kitchen, master bedroom and study. Marie Wade read and crafted in an open balcony area overlooking the living room and the golf course, where the family kept its piano. “For a kid home from an Indiana military school, Quail High was paradise,” adds Jacquie’s brother, Geoff.
“My parents lived to play golf and they knew several of the pro golfers, South Africa’s Gary Player among them. When he first came to the states, he and his wife, Vivian, always stayed with us,” recalls Geoff.
When the Wades sold the family’s Chicago firm, Wade Advertising, to InterPublic, the third largest advertising company in the United States, Wade moved his office and joined New York’s Mad Men during the 1970s. After the couple’s divorce, Marie Wade stayed at Quail High; her former husband moved to Wellington. For a time, Geoff Wade owned the Paramount Theater complex on Palm Beach, designed by Joseph Urban, placing it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Following the Wade’s departure, Quail High endured almost two decades of neglect and indifference before serendipitously another Chicago native, who shared the Wade’s reverence for Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, bought the house and began the arduous task of retrofitting and restoring it. After living in another nearby golf course community for several years, Don Dowling, and his wife, Andrée, a European-born French instructor at the Gulf Stream School, were looking at houses in The Country Club of Florida, attracted first by the golf course and its environmental aesthetic, when Quail High became available.
“I wanted to make sure the house was structurally sound, so I called Al Parker. Andrée and I spent an afternoon with him and his wife, Euphrosyne. The white tile roof needed replacement and when I told him I was mindful about the aesthetic integrity, Al said, ‘It’s your house. Enjoy it the way you want.’ Dowling recalls with a smile.
And, after 18 years of toil, Quail High is in prime condition. Along with a new tile roof, new electric, new wiring and water-chilled air-cooling system, the present owners are conscientious about the house’s ongoing maintenance. “It is almost like owning a boat,” Dowling remarked. When thin bands of wood striped along the west elevation kept warping due to rain and humidity, the Dowlings eventually replaced it with a synthetic, painted to resemble the original wood. “We could not stop the wood from buckling,” he added. The Dowlings’ work has insured a 21st century life for one of South Florida’s significant Modernist houses that might otherwise have been demolished simply for its prime corner fairway location.
And, while purists might want to see a Paul Evans cabinet or Eames chairs, the Dowling’s eclectic furnishings reflect their appreciation for expert craftsmanship as well as their own partnership, the union between Chicago Modernism and European tradition. Thus, Louis XIVth chairs are paired with English commode tables, a Belgian tapestry hangs where the architect’s original built-in sofa and shelves were once installed, and a 17th-century portrait hangs over the fireplace. “Don’s father was an antique buff; he and Don liked going to auctions together,” said Andrée.
Quail High’s present owner’s take pleasure in the house’s panoramas and sense of privacy. “We have never used curtains,” remarks Andrée, as she points out the thermo-tinted reflective glass panels along the north elevation that provide the loft with both sensational vistas of the putting green and maximum privacy.
And, even though The Country Club of Florida is nearly completely developed, because the Dowling’s house was designed to embrace the nature surrounding it and not built into the clouds, they still enjoy the same timeless pleasures for which the house was originally designed. “We have thought about additions over the years but there is something about living in an original that appeals to us,” remarked Mr. Dowling.
If not for the Dowling’s awareness and perseverance Quail High may have existed only in the rare photograph collection that Jacquie Wade Thurston has kept boxed, until now. These images are an invaluable resource documenting the house’s construction, the first cypress beam being installed, carpenters nailing down the roof, and her family and friends enjoying their new house in the early 1960s.
Jacquie has donated copies of her family’s photographs to the University of Florida’s Alfred Browning Parker Architectural Archive, named in honor of Parker’s prolific career. And while the research venue will house the drawings and records of the state’s prominent architects and firms, it is a reminder that nothing in the virtual world can ever replace the actual experience of the house itself and its link to past generations.
Photography by Augustus Mayhew.
Historic images courtesy of Jacquie Wade Thurston.
The Alfred Browning Parker Collection, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, P.O. Box 117000, Gainesville, FL 32611-7000. Tel. (352) 273-2505.