Several months after Dame Celia Lipton Farris died last year, I contacted a family member to ask if I could snap some photos of her stately South End house to illustrate a chronicle of this unique property’s architectural and social history. For whatever reason, my request did not fit in with Farris family priorities. Almost a year later, it wasn’t until the house at 319 El Vedado Road recently sold that I gained entry to photograph some of the principal rooms. Relatively unchanged, I was aware Lakeview House, as it was first called, had never been landmarked and could easily be demolished, however much its lineage of owners was as remarkable as many of its design attributes. But on Palm Beach, preservation efforts are too often ad hoc, where, for example, saving an anomalous shopping center takes precedence over genuinely significant architectural buildings whose owners might have played a more lasting role in Palm Beach’s history.
As true as it is, that most every Palm Beach resident is someone somewhere, Lakeview House has had its share of eminent somebodies, included among them: Channing Hare, the crown prince of society portrait artists; Audrey Emery, the Cincinnati heiress turned Russian princess; Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, the Duchess of Marlborough; and for more than thirty years, Dame Celia Lipton Farris, whose 1956 marriage to New Jersey industrialist-inventor Victor Farris took her from New York and London’s theatrical footlights to Palm Beach’s philanthropic spotlight and whose passing in 2011 marked a curtain call for a certain era of social hostesses.
The world’s fascination with hereditary ruling dynasties may have long since faded but on uncommon Palm Beach, eternally class conscious, there is still a relentless pursuit of ersatz architectural designs that reflect aristocratic lifestyles. Here is an overview on Palm Beach’s predilection for titles with a close-up look at 319 El Vedado and the house’s chain of title that added to its incomparable patina.
Palm Beach peers
Palm Beach’s eclectic social aristocracy has always welcomed a visiting tiara and crowned head, regaled by their titled provenance whether to the manor born, bought, married, or forged, styled as peers, demi-royals, semi-royals, or no-account counts. The seasonal resort holds an exalted place on the treasure map of gilded watering holes for all manner of lords and ladies, while never in the numbers found along the English and French Riviera, places the far-flung coconut-palmed refuge once emulated. However much the trillion dollar sandbar remains a part of the United States, some still consider it a self-governing duchy, city-state or sovereign kingdom, once ruled by a solitary social Queen. Or, in the case of Battle Creek heiress and Palm Beach square-dance belle Marjorie Post, she was so otherworldly, she was immortalized an “American Empress,” having never had to marry an emperor.
Unlike its European counterparts, where every other table might claim some relic of medieval royaldom, there are still Palm Beach hosts who would leap at the prospect of snagging a baron or a countess to grace their charity balls’ receiving line no matter the cobwebs holding together the family name or castle. This touch of ceremonial class afforded by a visiting title can make them a most sought-after guest, giving an event a thick accent and the aura of Baden-Baden or Marienbad. Long before the ubiquitous presence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Henry Flaglers’ guest list included Count and Countess Széchenyi and the Duke of Abruzzi, adding prestige to the Royal Poinciana Hotel’s piazza. With its Parisian chef and Monte Carlo-style roulette wheel, Col. Bradley’s Beach Club gave the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland the air of a continental escapade right on the North Lake Trail. In more recent history, with so many historically-feudal titles readily available with a land transfer, more authentic stately royals, among them, King Hussein, Maharani of Baroda and King Saud, have also enriched the resort’s imperial stature.
Along with these transient grandees, some of Palm Beach’s best-known native debutantes and hostesses could not resist the allure of elevating their fortunes with titles. In the extreme, Barbara Hutton became a serial royalist — a countess, a baroness and a double princess. Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers’ short-lived marriage to Count Ludwig Salm-Hoogstraten ended in melodramatic multi-continental headlines. This practice, regarded in the Belle Epoque case of Consuelo Vanderbilt as a “forced marriage.” was not something everyone regarded as a worthy aspiration.
Clarence Mack’s Tropical Empire
For some, moving to Palm Beach affords the ultimate luxury, the opportunity to reinvent themselves. During the 1930s, former department store window dresser and Cleveland spec-builder, Clarence Mack (1888-1982) transformed himself into an architect of posh seasonal houses in Palm Beach’s South End mansionopolis. Although there no available records even hinting Mack ever studied architecture, attended design classes, or was ever licensed as an architect, in Palm Beach everyone regarded him as an architect despite the fact a close look at his traced drawings reveals someone who could not have possibly have ever been an architect.
Nonetheless, he built a portfolio of imposing lookalike pampered houses of no particular certain architectural genre that spawned what is popularly known as “Palm Beach Regency.” Mack’s later spec subdivisions, Regents Park and Parc Monceau, even served as inspirations for builder Robert Gottfried’s Regency-styled row houses.
Between 1914 and the 1930s, Clarence Mack built spec houses in Lakewood and Shaker Heights, Ohio, where he gave new-money fortunes old-moneyed mansions. Mack acted as his own designer and contractor, usually living in each of the houses before he sold them. According to contemporaneous reports, he relied on pattern books and illustrated architectural volumes, tracing his various interpretative French and English styles from them and accessorizing facades with medallions, urns and statues. He selected doorknobs, chandeliers, planted English-style gardens, and filled rooms with Louis-Louis and Victorian antiques. For mansion libraries, he leather-tooled book spines to match the woodwork. Of all Clarence Mack’s houses, the villa at 319 El Vedado Road stands out as probably the best example of his faux hybrid style he originally described best as Tropical Empire.
Comings and Goings at Lakeview House
A duchess, a princess, a dame, and one crown prince have been among Lakeview House’s owners. The earliest known resident, other than Clarence Mack himself, was believed to be John Wendell Anderson (1867-1946), a prominent Detroit attorney and a former consul-general in Montreal.
The Andersons appear to have acquired the property during the 1942-1943 season. Mr. Anderson was instrumental in organizing the Ford Motor Company and held a substantial interest in the company. Sometime after Mr. Anderson died, Channing Hare, among society’s most celebrated portrait artists, bought the house.
Born in New York, Channing Weir Hare(1899-1976) was a renowned Palm Beach artist, having studied at the Art Students League in New York and long associated with the prestigious Ogunquit artist’s colony.
For many years, he and artist Mountford Coolidge were inseparable, operating an antique business in Ogunquit. A member of the B & T and the Everglades Club, Channing Hare and his wife were separated during the length of their marriage. “Mrs. Hare thought the people in Palm Beach were terrible; she liked Newport but hated Palm Beach,” said an old family friend. In Palm Beach, Hare’s fatherly relationship with his adopted son and fellow artist Stephen “Stevie” Hopkins Hensel Hare was his most familiar relationship. Stevie fondly called Channing his “Uncle Bunny.” The unconventional couple shared Son Julio, a 97-room castle on Majorca, where the locals referred to Hare as “Your Excellency.”
In 1952, Hare moved to a Worth Avenue apartment and sold the formal El Vedado house to Cincinnati heiress Audrey Emery, styled as Princess Anna during her 1926 marriage to HIH Grand Duke Dmitri Paulovitch (1891-1941), son of Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich whose father was Emperor Czar Alexander III of Russia. As you may recall, Grand Duke Dmitri was somehow believed to be involved in the murder of Rasputin. Emery’s later marriage to Georgian Prince Dmitri Djordjaze of Monte Carlo added to her titled stature. Her sister Lela Emery was the duchess of Talleyrand. In January 1953, Town & Country magazine showcased the interiors of Lakeview House and how Emery had “done over the house in a traditional style.”
For the next decade, Jacques and Consuelo Balsan made the El Vedado house their seasonal winter retreat, spending summers in Southampton. The daughter of William K. and Alva Vanderbilt, Consuelo Vanderbilt married the 9th Duke of Marlborough, becoming the Duchess of Marlborough, mistress of Blenheim Castle. Her less than storybook life eventually led to a separation in 1906 and a divorce in 1920. The following year, she married French industrialist and aviator Jacques Balsan. Between the wars, they left Europe and moved to Casa Alva on Hypoluxo Island across from her brother Harold Sterling Vanderbilt’s estate Eastover until they moved to Palm Beach in 1956.
Following Mme. Balsan’s death in Southampton in December 1964, her grandson Lord Charles Spencer-Churchill inherited the Palm Beach house and sold it the following year to Alice Warfield Tyne Earthman, previously of Nashville. According to author Bea Holguin’s Tales of Palm Beach, Mrs. Earthman fell in love with Girard Polk Brownlow, her brother-in-law, during a European vacation. Holguin, now Bea Cayzer, called it “one of the great love stories to ever come to Palm Beach.” She returned to Nashville, having just chaired The Swan Ball in 1965, and filed for divorce before moving to Palm Beach where she bought Lakeview House.
In 1967, Earthman and Brownlow married in the drawing room at El Vedado, described at the time as “a London townhouse furnished with Old South antiques” in an “air of nostalgic elegance.” Their brief marriage ended in divorce with Tyne then marrying Cutler Godfrey in 1971. The following year, the house was leased to Kitty Miller, daughter of Jules Bache and widow of Broadway producer Gilbert Miller. Six years later, Alice Warfield Tyne Earthman Brownlow Cutler sold the house to Victor and Celia Farris, holding a final house party before the moving trucks arrived.
“Palm Beach is the last stronghold of elegance,” declared Celia Lipton Farris. Certainly, the Farrises upheld that tradition during the more than 30 years they lived at Lakeview House, a more appropriate sophisticated setting than their previous residences at 1519 North Ocean Way and South Ocean Boulevard.
Following Victor Farris’ death in 1985, Celia Farris became a tireless charity fundraiser. She helped the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, the Prince’s Trust and the Duke of Edinburgh Trust. the American Heart Association, the National Trust for Scotland, and was one of the first substantial private benefactors of AIDS research, most notably hosting Elizabeth Taylor’s red-ribbon visit to Palm Beach.
In 2004 Farris was named a Dame of Grace of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. When she died in 2011, Dame Celia was praised for her many philanthropic efforts.
In February 2012, Midtown resident Virginia Mortara bought 319 El Vedado Road for $5.2 million in a cooperative sale facilitated by The Corcoran Group’s Paulette Koch and Dana Koch and Chris Deitz of Fite Shavell & Associates. “She is going to restore the house to its original splendor,” Deitz told The Palm Beach Daily News. Mortara’s husband the late Michael Mortara was a senior partner at Goldman Sachs.
Brava Gina Mortara!
Historic photographs courtesy of Historical Society of Palm Beach County, Palm Beach Daily News archive, and Cleveland Public Library.