That place in the Sun

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Looking east across Bryant Park towards the New York Public Library. 3:00 PM. Photo: JH.

Thursday, February 21, 2019. The weatherman forecast snow, big snow for the whole Northeast, and in New York, turning to rain and ice. We got the snow; not really heavy but noticeable. The temps dropped to the low 30s, but as has happened again and again with those storms coming from the mid- or south, they somehow lose their vim and vigor when they hit New York. Yesterday was no different. Nothing compared to what we’ve seen over the years. I’m not complaining; the weatherman also forecast temps in the mid-50s (well, why not?) today. By Friday you won’t even know it snowed – unless you go to the Park where you’ll see its ice and white remnants.

Our distinguished contributor, Augustus Mayhew, the Arts and Architectural historian of South Florida’s East Coast, recently sent me a few archival photos he’d come upon, and thought I might find something interesting about them. He was correct: how could I resist.

Juan Ponce de Leon

We learned in grade school that the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon in his quest for “the fountain of youth” came upon to the peninsula which he named La Florida back in 1513. We did not learn that by then Juan Ponce was already a full-time resident in the Caribbean, and a major property owner.

This was more than a century before the English even began migrating to what became America. Juan Ponce first came over from Spain with Christopher Columbus’ second expedition. From that, he became a military official in the colonial government of Hispanola — now known as the Greater Antilles, the second-largest island in the Caribbean after Cuba. It was there that Columbus founded what was the first European settlement in North and South Americas.

Those sailing explorers we learned about in a romantic history lesson in grade school were mainly what today we’d call entrepreneurs or more specifically real estate developers. Of the first order. I could only imagine Juan Ponce’s face (and fortune calculating) if he could see his “new world” today.

The town of Palm Beach itself came 400 years after Christopher and Juan Ponce made their quests for eternal youth (and wealth). And it remains an inspiration for the millions who have settled, at least part of the time in La Florida.

It was in the late 19th, early 20th century that the oil tycoon/railroad investor come real estate developer Henry Flagler found his way to that part of the world of Juan Ponce and Christopher, specifically that island of palms, and was inspired to buy it up and develop it. He envisioned it as the American version of Monte Carlo. That being Palm Beach.

Colonel Edward R. Bradley.

Which takes us to Augustus Mayhew’s archival photos from 1927 when Palm Beach was still a “new” resort in the big world. It had been “founded” in 1902 although Flagler and other businessmen had already been investing in its development for almost two decades. A man named Edward Bradley (Colonel Bradley) bought property from Flagler and opened a casino which he called the Beach Club. The colonel had already made a fortune in the horse racing business as well as a hotel in Chicago and sports betting operations in tandem and would make many millions more from the casino.

The club was a simple woodframe, clapboard building, modest in appearance architecturally, but with restaurant and casino where patrons were required to dress in black tie and women dressed formally at all times. Many great American fortunes were at least partially frittered away thereafter at the gaming tables of Col. Bradley.

By the late 1920s when the stock market was escalating and the skirts were getting a lot shorter, and Prohibition only made booze more desirable, Palm Beach was becoming hot, in the modern sense. In 1927, Marjorie Meriweather Post Hutton, one of America’s richest heiresses, opened her newly completed 126-room mansion, Mar-a-Lago. Marion Sims Wyeth designed it and Florenz Ziegfeld’s main set designer, Joseph Urban designed the interiors.

The same year, just across the boulevard on the beach, The Bath & Tennis Club opened with a formal dinner on February 15th. Known today as the B&T where membership is regarded as … select, its 1927 charter membership of 200 with Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Jr. as President, is a wide selection of professions from Broadway and Hollywood, to the New York Social Register, Café Society, and the tycoons and heiresses of the day.

January 1927. At the fashionable Bath & Tennis Club … “joined by throngs of jolly little coteries of people in their chiffon beach pajamas, Japanese coats and lounging robes.” The formal opening evening dinner dance for “The 500” was held on February 15. Photo Townend Studios. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

And here are two principals in the Beach Club’s development: Viennese-born architect, interior designer, set designer Joseph Urban is on the left. Mr. Urban designed the B&T. You could get the impression that he was an employee of the man standing on the right, Florenz Ziegfeld, the famous Broadway producer of the Ziegfeld Follies (and the original version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s“Showboat”). It’s curious because if he were standing at the same level, they’d be eye to eye.

The original caption to this photo from the Historical Society of Palm Beach County identified them as “Sam Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer,” Hollywood’s movie barons. Guests at the Hotel Alba, Mayer and his then wife Margaret were joined by their daughters Edith and Irene “delighted to be in Palm Beach,” according to the Palm Beach Post. It was probably a common mistake because indeed the Mayers and the Goldwyns were both visitors to the resort where Broadway and Hollywood could hobnob with Wall Street bankers.
Here is one of the earliest aerial shots of the Bath & Tennis in January 1927. The opening was delayed a month from the 15th allowing workers to complete the Hutton “cottage’ across the boulevard with Urban’s designs. That same month another one of his works went up, the Sunrise Building, known as the Paramount Theater on the 10th of January. Meanwhile up in New York, Billy Rose had hired him to design what would become the Ziegfeld Theater (now demolished) on Sixth Avenue. Mr. Urban died in 1933 at 61. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach.

The February 1927 list of Members of the new Bath & Tennis Club. Its President, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Jr., who was 30 at the time, was the ultimate 20th century American WASP. The impeccable Philadelphian Mr. Biddle was known to be one of the best-dressed, and noted for his small number of custom made suits and his starched, horizontal striped Charvet shirts. From those early days, he soon went on to have a brilliant career as an American diplomat under Franklin D. Roosevelt as Ambassador to Czechoslovakia; to Poland; to Yugoslavia; to Belgium; to Greece; to Norway; to the Netherlands, as well as John F. Kennedy’s Ambassador to Spain. Highly regarded and very well liked, Mr. Biddle was married to a Duke heiress at the time with whom he had two daughters and two sons, but divorced her four years later to marry the very rich Newmont Mining heiress, Boyce Thompson Schulze, who was also a charter member of the Bath & Tennis.

Here are Flo Ziegfeld and his famous actress wife Billie Burke getting around Palm Beach in one of the tricycle upholstered straw seats which were the mode of the time when automobiles – as they were called – were not as numerous as today. Billie Burke had one of the longest careers in show business, extending from the stage in 1903 (when she was sixteen) until 1970. Her greatest fame came from her role as “Glinda the Good Witch” for Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz.”

And 92 years later in little old(er) Palm Beach, on February 13th, 2019, the Palm Beach Show Group held an exclusive invitation only Vernissage Private Preview of the 2019 Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show at the Palm Beach County Center. The VVVIP Preview welcomed guests for a first look at the collections of more than 135 international exhibitors, exhibiting fine art, antique and estate jewelry, furniture, porcelain, Asian art, American and European silver, glass, textiles, sculpture, and much more.

Known as one of the highlights of the Palm Beach social calendar this show is a top destination for artists, designers, and collectors.

Nick Linca, Rob Samuels, and Scott Diament

Following the Vernissage and the VIP Opening Night Preview Party, there were six general admission show days, ending Tuesday, February 20, 2019. The Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show is one of the largest and most prestigious shows of its kind, a must-attend event for both the art connoisseur and the art-curious.

This year offered something new: a special section within the show dedicated to exhibitors specializing in contemporary and modern art, objects and design known as CONTEMPORARY FOCUS. This section was a natural evolution for the show, said Scott Diament, President and CEO of Palm Beach Show Group. Since its launch 16 years ago, the show has included contemporary art exhibitors, but dealer input and increased demand from collectors was the impetus for creating the dedicated section.

While the CONTEMPORARY FOCUS section was a draw, collectors still found all of the jewelry, world-class art and antiques they’ve come to love at the Palm Beach show. Diament said the show was more diverse and fresh this year than ever before.

Michel Cox Witmer and Mai Hallingby
Harry and Gigi Benson
Sherry Hyman, Alan Fried, and Pamela Cherry
L to R.: Didier Marien and Scott Diament; Mary Bryant McCourt and Matthew McKegney
Asif Haque, Lauri Welteroth, Dorothy Slover, Steve Greenwald, Janet Levy, and Tom Shaw
Alexander Powers and Eleanora Kennedy
Nathan Coe
Kristi Witker-Coons, Robin Nelson, and Norman Nelson
Kat Penley and Laurie Martuscello
Gregory Speck, Julie Hayek, and Ron Burkardt

Annie Watt (Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show)

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