A 1929, 51-room mansion by architect Addison Mizner is now dust and memory. It is reported to be the last home designed by the man who is credited with shaping the lasting legacy of Palm Beach estate living, and it is definitely one of the few Mizner’s outside the state of Florida.
In the mid-1990s, I came to know about Addison Mizner from the book Kiss Hollywood Good-by, by Anita Loos. She had an unconsummated passion for Wilson Mizner, the ultimate raconteur rapscallion (my favorite quote from him: “All of us are born with traits like optimism, faith and loyalty. Just don’t deny them for the hollow pretense of being ‘smart.’ “), but her stories about brother Addison inspired me to research his work:
He made a fortune as an architect by providing the rich with fake Spanish haciendas. He erected the most elaborate palazzi without any schooling in architecture. On one job, Addison omitted a staircase and was forced to pretend it was intentional; a flight of steps running up the outside was more artistic. As a side line, Addison operated a factory in West Palm Beach where he manufactured “antiques.”
That led to the book Florida Architecture of Addison Mizner, a picture book that conclusively proves that one man’s fantasy is another man’s social prestige.
Mizner’s mansions were florid, overheated interpretations of Spanish villas, Hollywood drama tarted up as history for the newly rich who were craving instant heritage. Revivalism was a popular form of American residential architecture, and Addison just pumped up the kitsch, the square footage and the selling price. He was a self-taught architectural hustler who created a pretend Europe in Florida, something I love and admire. Luckily, the folks who still covet his homes in Florida feel the same way, so his legacy is secure.
I guess the colder climes of Pennsylvania robbed Joseph Kestenbaum of the whimsy a Mizner inspires, and he’s been such an ass during this saga that I can imagine a Scrooge-like visitation of 3 ghosts to his bedside… and Addison would be the Ghost of Villas Past, eyes twinkling with happy disbelief that his greenback PA folly of long-ago has inspired such deep emotions in this day and age.