What’s New at Palm Beach … kind of

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Phipps Plaza. En garde! I exchanged stares with this statuary feline, the protector at the gate, when I spun around the plaza’s roundabout after a Sunday sunrise snapping the Hutton Building, soon to be unveiled as a social club. For a flash, I sensed the presence of the late Jane Volk who for at least nine lives reigned as the sovereign­­­­ of Phipps Plaza.

Thirty years ago at the Philip Johnson-designed Historical Museum of South Florida in Miami (now the HistoryMiami Museum), I came across a series of letters and telegrams written in 1931 between Garden Club of Palm Beach president Marion Rappeleye McKinlock and Olmsted Brothers associate landscape architect William Lyman Phillips, in regard to a proposed lakeside marina and park plan on South Lake Trail. At the time, the Garden Club’s 1929 Plan for the Town of Palm Beach had a significant civic impact and Phillips was supervising Olmsted’s Mountain Lake Estates development in Lake Wales.

I recalled this correspondence last Sunday when I explored the recently dedicated Town of Palm Beach’s $38 million lakeside marina revamp and Lake Drive Park’s $4 million redesign. I realized I had never written about this correspondence packed away in a box that included a two-page letter from a vigilant South Lake Trail resident, Lillian (Mrs. Peyton) Van Rensselaer, expressing concern for her sunset and water views from the perspective of Casa Rosado del Lago, her residence at the corner of Peruvian Avenue and South Lake Trail.

“If you do not change your plan, you will rob Palm Beach of its greatest beauty — Lake Worth. Were Palm Beach on higher ground your plan would be very attractive, but considering the fact Palm Beach is absolutely flat, a fill of 90 to 100-feet wide will completely obliterate all view except this tiny, narrow line, which could be seen from the lake drive.” After suggesting “… not to include any shrubs or vegetation which would obliterate the water views,” Van Rensselaer concluded with understated Palm Beach elegance, “If you do not modify your plan, it will be an everlasting disgrace to the name of the Olmsted Brothers.”

The scaffolds are down, and the Everglades Club appears ready for the next 100 years.
Forté, a 24-floor condominium tower formerly known as La Clara, is under construction, located across from the South Lake Drive marina on WPB’s South Flagler Drive. Forté’s scale and magnitude overshadow the Trianon condominium, a nine-story complex built in 1971. Forté’s literature describes it as a “visionary design” and “impeccable style” offering “New dimensions in Palm Beach living.”

What’s new? Clocks may have been turned back only an hour, nonetheless the past has never been more present than on ageless Palm Beach. Having found what might have been Midtown’s only public parking space, here are some of my impressions of the new park and marina peppered with flashbacks to the McKinlock and Phillips correspondence. Afterward I popped by the Hutton Building to check on the restoration, one of Addison Mizner’s few remaining original designs being converted into a private club by Carriage House Properties Partners LLC.

Town of Palm Beach Marina & Lake Drive Park
South Lake Drive
Dedicated November 1, 2021

“Palm Beach has embarked on a wave of improvements. There is a very real danger that intended forward steps will prove to be steps backward, if the sources of the town’s charm are not clearly comprehended.” Letter. Phillips to McKinlock, April 17, 1931.

“At best, the waterfronts of Palm Beach have a precarious existence … we must recognize the occurrence of occasional flooding and to plant only such vegetation as will tolerate flooding with salt water, may be the logical thing to do.” Letter, proposed Waterfront Treatment Plan for The Garden Club of Palm Beach. Phillips to McKinlock, April 25, 1931.

In his correspondence, Phillips related that since “river and harbor engineers are not likely to be moved by aesthetic considerations,” there was the possibility residents might “… see the picturesque irregularity of the lake shore wiped out, and with it, witness the passing of the famed charm of Lake Shore Trail.” Along with the Olmsted firm’s Mountain Lake Estates and Bok Tower in Lake Wales, William Lyman Phillips is known for Coconut Grove’s Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and Vero Beach’s McKee Botanical Garden.

Lake Drive Park, 2021. Bravo to the arborists who sculpted the trees into works of art. The pallets of lawnscape, not so much. “Coconuts and other tall palms may be planted for compositional reasons, planted at will; they do not kill the view but if anything, enhance it. A few broad-headed trees may be planted for compositional reasons, such as the Ficus altissima and there may be a few characteristic shore trees, such as cocolobis, thespasia, and paritium. The treatment should be lane-like, picturesque, avoiding regularity in the spacing and alignment of trees.” WLP, 1931

Phillips suggested an alternative plan, likened to the two-level Seine River embankments in Paris. The road and park would be on an even level, affording residents and pedestrians panoramic lake views. Staircases would lead to a lower-level for dock moorings and piers with Venetian poles, a stylistic complement to the Grand Canal houses at the west end of Worth Avenue. Since Midtown basin’s depth was not sufficient for yachts, the Garden Club’s plan had proposed a marina closer to the inlet for larger craft.

Ever the diplomat, McKinlock and The Garden Club appeared to settle on a plan accommodating nearby residents. Because the $43,000 plan was not approved in the 1931 budget, the club and the town planted royal palms and coconut trees. The marina-and-park plan was budgeted in 1940 when the cost of acquisition and beautification was more than $250,000.

Today the town’s marina boasts floating docks, increased security, public dockage tie-ups at the north end, and 84 berths with space for up to nearly 300-foot superyachts. Lake Drive Park’s new trappings include a coral-and-tile dog fountain, various clusters of native plantings, grass lawns, designer benches, bike racks, and permit-only parking. Residents and visitors not arriving by foot, bicycle, or Uber may be challenged during the season to find a nearby parking spot.

Across Royal Palm Way to the north of the Lake Drive Park, the Embassy Club Gardens were framed with a distinctive, red-tiled wall. At first, McKinlock thought Phillips should recognize this existing motif by incorporating the tile grille on a parapet separating the proposed park from the boat landing area. In a March 26, 1931, letter to Phillips, McKinlock wrote, “We are not going to touch Mr. Bradley’s park or planting in our design and feeling is strong we must at least duplicate royal palms … to thereby respect his plantings.” Today, The Society of the Four Arts utilizes the area as a parking lot.
Dedication plaque, November 1, 2021.
Flying the colors.
An idyllic getaway.
Brazilian Avenue, gated entrance. “Except at the north end of the strip and opposite the street ends we consider that any pretense of formality or formal gardening would be out of place from the symmetrical placing of trees the effect of formality as derived, and even in those points we envisage the effect of formality as derived from the symmetrical placing of trees rather than the use of hedges or beds of flowering plants.” WLP, 1931.
North entrance along Royal Palm Way.
North entrance along South Lake Drive.
To the left, the linear walk parallels South Lake Drive; to the right, cobblestone pavers curve toward the wider waterfront promenade.
The textured walkway loops toward the waterfront and the much broader main promenade that parallels the seawall and extends from Royal Palm Way south to Peruvian Avenue.
Sensational! A bouquet of color.
Butterflies, yachts, and magnificent trees.
Pet friendly.
The main promenade, looking south. “It should be noted that the walk following the seawall is not perfectly straight but has a slight angle to it opposite Brazilian Avenue.” WLP, 1931.
Marina services building, Brazilian Avenue dock.
The 113-foot motor yacht “14 to Smile,” docked at one of 84 berths, built by Newcastle Marine. “Designed to welcome eight guests in four suites capable of carrying six onboard crew.”
Panorama to the northwest. I am not sure the term skyline accurately describes West Palm Beach’s office buildings.
Panorama west across the Intracoastal Waterway. The Bristol’s architecture, left, is an exception to the otherwise monotonous cubic buildings.
When this Paul R. Ilyinsky Memorial was dedicated in 2006, Lake Drive Park was called Lakeside Park.
A former town council president and council member, “Prince Paul” was one of Palm Beach’s most popular mayors, serving from 1993-2000. Heir to a Cincinnati real estate fortune, Ilyinsky’s mother Audrey Emery first married Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, a grandson of Tsar Alexander II, followed by a marriage to Georgian Prince Dimitri Djordjadze. Through marriage, Ilyinsky’s Aunt Lela became Lela, Duchess Talleyrand-Perigord.
View northwest toward Lake Worth and north along South Lake Drive. “Maintain a maximum freedom of visibility to the most limited extent from the houses and the road over the water. Shrub vegetation should therefore occur only to the most limited extent.” WLP, 1931.
Before galas and selfies, visitors took home the ultimate souvenir, a photograph taken beneath one of the island’s trees.
Among the palatial trees at the marina’s Lake Drive Park.

Hutton Building
264 South County Road

In December 1931, E. F. Hutton opened his brokerage office at Phipps Plaza across County Road (then Palm Beach Avenue) from the First National Bank, built for $35,000 by the Phipps-owned Bessemer Properties.

264 South County Road. November, 2021. East and north elevations and main entrance. Addison Mizner, architect. The restoration began in Fall 2020, eighteen months after the project was approved. The club will also be connected by a shared courtyard with the ground floor of the Treanor & Fatio-designed building to the south at 270 South County Road.
December 14, 1931. Hutton’s offices at The Breakers and Royal Poinciana Hotel were moved to the new building at Phipps Plaza. The building’s lower floor featured a main board room and four offices with one large office and smaller ones on the second floor. Direct wire services connected Hutton to all markets.
Hutton Building, County Road entrance feature. November 2021.
Hutton Building, triangular tympanum above entrance.
Hutton Building, north elevation. Finishing touches are underway with the club’s opening scheduled for January 2022.

Hutton Building, flashback …

Hutton Building, 1964. Browning King & Co. clothing store.
Hutton Building, 2019.
Hutton Building, August 2020. 12:15 pm. Under wraps.
Hutton Building, November 2021.
North elevation, window. November 2021.
North elevation, window surround, detail. November 2021.
North elevation. A Palm Beach treasure. November 2021.
East elevation, south corner detail. November 2021.
East elevation, November 2021.

One of Palm Beach’s natural wonders …

Island Road. November 2021.

Photography Augustus Mayhew

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