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A Mediterranean Revival Masterpiece Revived

Saturday, February 17, 2018

At the height of his career, Addison Mizner, the exuberant six-foot-three, 300-pound father of the Mediterranean Revival, worked from the property now called 2 Via Mizner, designing

some of the most prominent estates in South Florida for everyone from Sir Oswald Birley, portraitist to the British royal family, to Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. Today, those offices are a sprawling three-bedroom condo reminiscent of the very luxurious abodes it so famously produced.

And now, that condo has hit the market for the first time ever, asking $9.995 million, following a detailed residential conversion in 2007.

The apartment has all the classic Mizner ingredients: wrought iron, red barrel-tile roofs, pecky cypress wood and white stucco.

“In the entirety of Palm Beach, I would say something under 10 percent of condos are larger than 3,000 square feet. This is more than 5,600 square feet, a very rare thing indeed,” Suzanne Frisbie, who is listing the unit for Corcoran, says.

But more than size, it’s really history that’s for sale here. 2 Via Mizner played an essential role in solidifying the so-called Palm Beach look and transforming South Florida into a fantasyland for the superrich.

“Mizner was a society architect like none of the other society architects. The other grand architects du jour were very stuffy people. They came to meetings in morning suits with what the British call a ‘stiffy’—you know, a stiff collar,” says Richard René Silvin, the author of Villa Mizner: The House That Changed Palm Beach.

Unlike them, Mizner wasn’t a formally trained architect. He spent his life traveling through colonial South America, California and Spain, and had failed as a gold miner in the Canadian Yukon and as a prizefighter in Australia. After arriving in Palm Beach, he was seen parading around town with his pet spider monkey Johnnie Brown on his shoulder and a parrot in his hand.

Mizner’s first major commission in South Florida was the Everglades Club, a hospital for the wounded of World War I that was transformed into the most exclusive private club in Palm Beach—which, of course, remains the case.

The project included a main building, eight separate villas, tennis courts, golf course, a parking garage and a yacht basin. But it was the property’s then unique “Spanish style” that would set it apart. Mizner called upon his university studies in Salamanca to create a romantic Old World retreat that would complement the Florida environment rather than compete with it—as so many of the aristocratic Tudor Revival estates of that time did. Architecturally, the Everglades Club became the starting point for today’s Palm Beach.

At the club’s opening in 1919, Mizner met Palm Beach high society queen Eva Stotesbury and promised her the grandest estate on the island in just one year. The result was El Mirasol, a 37-room Spanish Revival palace with a 40-car garage, teahouse, auditorium and private zoo.

By 1923, Mizner’s architecture and interiors were de rigueur among the smart set. He built the subject at hand, 2 Via Mizner, across the street from the Everglades Club in a complementary style to showcase his pottery and antiques, and to house his draftsman. From these new offices, he began designing the rest of Via Mizner and his own famous five-story mansion, Villa Mizner, according to Amanda Skier, executive director of the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach. That same year, he completed La Guerida, which would become President John F. Kennedy’s renowned “Winter White House.”

Mizner’s home became the fashionable destination for the less fettered members of Palm Beach society. Irving Berlin would stop by to play piano for guests and clients. Isadora Duncan performed in his living room. And it was pleasurable for Mizner, too. “There was a favorite handsome young draftsman who would sleep in Villa Mizner, after slipping across the bridge” from 2 Via Mizner, Silvin says. “Mizner was gay, but in the way that society people in the 1920s were. He was that odd combination of being somewhat flamboyant, but totally closeted. He was charming, gentle and a bon vivant.”

But Mizner’s time at his new playground was tragically punctuated. In 1925, the South Florida real estate market collapsed. The next year a hurricane ravaged South Florida. Thousands of homes were destroyed and several hundred people died. The area sank into such a prolonged depression that the stock market crash of 1929 barely made an impact, according to economic analyst Jesse Colombo. Perhaps worst of all, Mizner’s beloved monkey died and was buried just outside Villa Mizner—it’s said to haunt the property to this day. The architect himself died in 1933, penniless but with a profound legacy.

“2 Via Mizner is an iconic and significant example of Mizner’s influence on Palm Beach,” Skier says. “You could say it is the pinnacle of his career.”


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