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Addison Cairns Mizner (1872 – 1933) was an American resort architect whose Mediterranean Revival style left an indelible stamp on south Florida, and which continues to inspire architects and developers.  He was the brother and sometime partner of businessman, raconteur and playwright, Wilson Mizner.

Born in Benicia, California, he traveled as a child around the world with his father, Lansing Bond Mizner, a lawyer and the U. S. minister to Guatemala. Little is known about his sketches and artwork prior to his architectural career, but his subsequent work shows him to be a fine draftsman and an artist who painted beautiful watercolors. Although he lacked formal university training, Mizner served a 3 year apprenticeship in the office of San Francisco architect, Willis Jefferson Polk. While in San Francisco, he co-illustrated a book with Ethel Watts Mumford in 1903 entitled The Limerick Up To Date Book. He eventually relocated to New York City, where he designed numerous country houses across Long Island and the region.

 

At age 46, he moved for his health to Palm Beach, Florida. His Mediterranean Revival designs, beginning with the Everglades Club, won the attention and patronage of wealthy clients in Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. The 6 foot 2 inch, 250-pound bon vivant would epitomize the "society architect." Rejecting modern architecture for its "characterless copybook effect," he sought to "make a building look traditional and as though it had fought its way from a small, unimportant structure to a great, rambling house."

 

Mizner designed the 37-room El Mirasol (now The Sunflower), completed in 1918, for banker Edward T. Stotesbury, head of the town’s most notable family of the time, and for whom he installed a 40-car garage, a tea house, an auditorium and private zoo. Another fanciful mansion, Villa Flora, was built in 1921 for a banker at J. P. Morgan. La Guerida ("bounty of war") was built in 1923 for Rodman Wanamaker of Philadelphia, heir to the Wanamaker's department store fortune. It was later purchased by Joe Kennedy for a paltry $120,000 in 1933, and eventually would become John F. Kennedy's Winter White House. Mizner's own Palm Beach home was built in 1925. It was called El Solano after the hot, oppressive wind which blows off the Mediterranean Sea in eastern Spain, but also for Solano County, California, his birthplace. Sold to Harold Vanderbilt, the estate was later purchased by John Lennon.

His houses were generally one-room deep to allow cross ventilation, with kitchens located in wings to keep their heat away from living areas. Other characteristics included loggias, colonnades, clusters of columns supporting arches, French doors, casement windows, barrel tile roofs, hearths, grand stairways and decorative ironwork. In West Palm Beach, he founded Mizner Industries to make the tiles, cast stone trim and columns, wrought iron and, eventually, furniture for his buildings. He designed and built the Riverside Baptist Church in Jacksonville, completed in 1926. Because he promised to build it in honor of his mother, Ella Watson Mizner, the architect refused payment for his services. The church is Mizner's only work of religious architecture. In 1928, he designed the original Cloister Hotel at Sea Island, Georgia.

 

But in early 1925, Mizner entered into the Florida land boom with disastrous consequences. He formed the Mizner Development Corporation, a syndicate of prominent investors, to buy and transform Boca Raton from an unincorporated town into a resort dubbed the "Venice of the Atlantic." The group purchased over 1,500-acres (600 hectares), on which was planned a 1,000-room hotel, golf courses, parks and a 160-foot (49 meter) wide grand boulevard called Camino Real, all envisioned by Mizner. In an address before 100 salespeople, the architect declared:

 

"It is my plan to create a city that is direct and simple... To leave out all that is ugly, to eliminate the unnecessary, and to give Florida and the nation a resort city as perfect as study and ideals can make it."
 

At first it appeared his enterprise would succeed. Sales at Boca Raton reached $26 million in the first 24 weeks, and Mizner used the money to design and built infrastructure, the administration building, a 100-room hotel called The Cloister Inn, and some houses, although none of the proposed oceanfront mansions. By 1926, however, land sales were declining as the speculative real estate bubble deflated. To revive investor confidence, sales and working capital, Mizner promised in advertisements to continue the project regardless. But nervous Mizner Development Corporation members started resigning, including T. Coleman du Pont and Jesse Livermore, concerned that Mizner's promise held them financially liable in failure. Unpaid contractors began to sue for payment. Then in September the 1926 Miami hurricane hit the coast, causing considerable damage. The project was, as Wilson Mizner put it, "nixed by nature." Addison Mizner went bankrupt. The Boca Raton holdings were sold to public utility magnate and syndicate member, Clarence H. Geist, for $71,500 and an assumption of about $7 million in debt.

 

Mizner died in 1933 of a heart attack. In March of 2005, an 11-foot tall statue of the architect by Colombian sculptor Cristobal Gaviria was erected in Boca Raton at Mizner Boulevard and U.S. 1 to commemorate his visionary contributions to both the city and Florida architecture. In addition, an elementary school in Boca Raton was named for him in 1968. Once dismissed by critics for their idiosyncratic traditional aesthetic, today Mizner's buildings are highly prized. Many are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

 

 

 

 

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