With the 21st-century apparently inching forward in a day-to-day muddle, I recently stepped into Palm Beach’s time machine, visiting a one-of-a-kind Mid-Century Modern house turned contemporary and a 1960s geodesic dome habitat set on one of those incomparable ocean-to-lake parcels sheltered by a tropical jungle. Paradise found for both owners while surrounded by chockablock mansions best known for their immeasurable square footage.
In 1965, the City of West Palm Beach chose internationally-acclaimed architect Bertrand Goldberg, think Chicago’s Marina City, to design its cone-shaped auditorium, reminiscent to some of Alligator Joe’s Palm Beach camp. Goldberg had worked with Mies van der Rohe and collaborated with Buckminster Fuller. While Goldberg’s work became known to locals as the “Leakee Teepee,” South Florida attracted other innovative Mid-Century Modern designs.
At Palm Beach, where fitting-in once meant standing out, Bernard Boutet de Monvel’s octagon house on Hi-Mount Road and James and Ziuta Akston’s circular La Ronda on North Lake Way did not cause a blink. In the North End, Albert C. Bostwick III retained Paul Rudolph to design an ultra-modern oceanfront home, although unbuilt the plans are part of the Paul Rudolph archive at the Library of Congress.
And who can forget Marion Sims Wyeth’s poised Polynesian designs? Even further back, Palm Beach remained unshaken by Paris Singer’sChinese villa on Peruvian and William and Zila Koehne’s “Fishbowl House” on Chilean. On Slope Trail, Blanche Ittleson was ensconced in her Japanese Modern home.
And then, in Manalapan …
Marques Javier de Olaso at Palm Beach
“How did you happen on Palm Beach?”
“I designed a building for Maurice Gozlan in Paris. When it was completed, there was a party and there I was introduced to Damian Soffer, an American developer who was living abroad. Soffer was moving back to the United States, Fox Chapel outside of Pittsburgh, and liked what I designed for Gozlan. So, he came to Ibiza and saw my house and other work on the island. He asked me to fly to the US and look at the seven-acre Fox Chapel property where I designed his house, described by Pittsburgh magazine as Minimalist Majesty. Then, I came to Florida, first someplace south of Miami, then to Boca Raton.”
“We were in Boca Raton and Damian said he was taking us to lunch at Palm Beach on Worth Avenue. I remember after lunch around 3:00 pm, we walked around Worth Avenue. The maitre’d at the restaurant had worked at the Las Dos Lunas restaurant on Ibiza. After dinner, Damian wanted to go back to Boca Raton. I would stay at Palm Beach and checked into the Chesterfield Hotel. I was put in touch with an agent at Martha Gottfried’s office and told him I was looking for something like the 400 Building that I had seen in passing. I looked at one apartment there and bought it.”
“Every February I came to Palm Beach from Ibiza but soon thought of a house. I liked the North End, it is like a real island, the beautiful beach, and no sidewalks. The real estate agent said there was a house that had been on the market for four years and was ‘such a horror.” I sold the apartment at 400 and bought it and have been coming here for 20 years.”
Javier de Olaso bought the house and began an extensive remodel and renovation. Abracadabra!
Manalapan Pop: A 1960s Habitat Preserved
During the late 1970s a couple originally from South Africa who resettled in New York were looking for a warm winter retreat when they came across a compound of connected geodesic domes situated on one of Ocean Boulevard’s ocean-to-lake parcels. The habitat was built in 1968 for an owner who has since built several geodesic domes in North Carolina. The current owners now share their home with their children and grandchildren. While they considered selling the 2.5-acre property with more than 200 feet of oceanfront in 2011, they have adapted to their home’s casual beach house setting and are settled in for who knows how long …
Photography Augustus Mayhew.