Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Mizner blog.

For those of us with a certain cast of mind, wandering around the Boca Raton Resort & Club is a time machine. A little bit of historic imagination removes you from our casual age and lands you in the Florida land boom, ca. 1926. Carefully appointed men in white suits and Panama hats, and short-haired women in bright mid-length dresses, arrive from the Boca Raton train station in leased touring cars to stay to Addison Mizner's newest creation, the Cloister. Bellhops carry their loads, gardeners attend to the lush vegetation, chambermaids do their work unobtrusively. The air is warm and sweet, and new hotel is gloriously Mediterranean.

I don't know if men really wore Panama hats in Florida nearly 80 years ago, but they should have. That's how I see it, anyway.

From the BRRC web site, a basic description: "The original structure of the resort estate -- the 'Cloister' -- was built in 1926 by Addison Mizner and reflects Spanish-Mediterranean, Moorish and Gothic influences. It is characterized by hidden gardens, barrel tile roofs, archways, ornate columns, finials, intricate mosaics, fountains and beamed ceilings of ornate pecky cypress."

Addison Mizner was one of those characters that make the times of a few generations ago seem much more interesting than our own, though I believe that's an illusion. In any case, The Rough Guide to Florida has this to say about Mizner:

"A former miner and prizefighter, Addison Mizner (1872-1933) was an unemployed architect when he arrived in Palm Beach... in 1918. Inspired by the medieval buildings he'd seen around the Mediterranean, Mizner, financed by the heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune, built the Everglades Club [in Palm Beach]. Described by Mizner as 'a little bit of Seville and the Alhambra, a dash of Madeira and Algiers,' the Everglades Club was the first public building in Florida in Mediterranean Revival style...
The success of the club won Mizner commissions all over Palm Beach as the wintering wealthy decided the swap suites at one of Henry Flagler's hotels for a 'million-dollar cottage' of their own. Brilliant and unorthodox, Mizner's loggias and U-shaped interiors made the most of Florida's pleasant winters, while his twisting staircases to nowhere became legendary. Pursuing a lived-in-since-medieval-times look, [he had] workmen lay roof tiles crookedly, sprayed condensed milk onto walls to create an impression of centuries-old grime, and fired shotgun pellets into wood to imitate wormholes. By the mid-20s, Mizner had created the Palm Beach Style. [He] later fashioned much of Boca Raton."

Especially the Cloister. It evolved into the BRRC, and now features several connected hotel buildings, a marina, and the Mizner Center, a large collection of meeting facilities where most of the convention I attended was held. None of the newer parts of the complex has quite the charm of the original Cloister. One detail: Near a small bar off the main lobby in that structure, I noticed a plaque describing Mizner's pet spider monkeys.

When he was a young man, apparently, his father had been part of the U.S. mission to Costa Rica (I think), and younger Mizner acquired a fondness for spider monkeys while there. After his successes in Florida, he kept them as pets, and was always seen with one during the construction of the Cloister. The bar next to the lobby is called the Monkey Bar, and if you look carefully at the front desk of the BRRC, you'll see several small brass lamps with monkey figures for bases.



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