Addison Cairns Mizner
(1872 – 1933) was an American resort architect whose
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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
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