Addison Mizner, Architect [1872-1933]
Addison Mizner [†] was born in California in 1872 and raised in the San Francisco area until he went to Guatemala while his father was a special envoy of the U.S. Government, concerned with smoothing our diplomatic relations between Costa Rica and Nicaragua to accommodate the Canal (Tarbell).
Mizner is best known for his association with Florida's aristocratic "Palm Beach Crowd" during the Roaring Twenties. A flamboyant character and member of a flamboyant family, Mizner had a well-documented lifestyle. Written works include his own, The Many Mizners, Alva Jonhston's The Incredible Mizners, and Albert Johnson's The Legendary Mizners.
His residency in Latin America, ca. 1885-1890, marked the beginning of his self-styled and highly eclectic architectural training. In Guatemala he was exposed to 16th-century ruins and things brought from Spain. At the age of 18 he went to the source and visited Salamanca. He then traveled to Hawaii and Australia while in his early twenties, supporting himself by boxing and drawing. He returned to Europe to "study" architecture by seeing, sketching and collecting photographs and engravings (Tarbell).
In Spain he visited almost every major example of ecclesiastical architecture paying particular attention to the Gothic. Mizner adored the Gothic; pictures of Burgos and Toledo hung in his Palm Beach living room. Consequently, one finds a profusion of Spanish Gothic ornamentation throughout Mizner's domestic Architecture (Seiden, p. 30).
Within a few years Mizner traveled again, disappointed by the loss of the commission of the governmental palace and the assassination of his boyhood friend Rapheno Barrios in Guatemala when the political tide turned (Tarbell). He landed on the east coast and worked for the New York firm of McKim, Meade and White in 1905. (The influential Mrs. Herman Oelrichs got her friend Addison the job.) No doubt Mizner learned the meaning of the grandiose in architectural space—if nothing else, Mizner learned the meaning of being an architect. More than likely, Mizner's association with the firm and particularly with Stanford White, gave him much valuable experience in interior decoration as well as in the use of traditional architectural forms (Seiden, p. 30).
Mizner preferred Spanish motifs to the Italian Renaissance; "as an architectural importer, Mizner does not have the distinction of beginning a 20th-century style of Spanish design in the State of Florida which found its way up the eastern seaboard to Long Island and Westchester" (Seiden, p. 30). Soon after the completion of the Everglades Clun of 1918 (for Paris Singer in Palm Beach, "Mizner Spanish" became the rage. He profoundly influenced the designers Marion Sims Wyeth, Byron Simonson and John Volk (Seiden, pp 30-31).
Mizner was lambasted by Frank Lloyd Wright and by Turpin C. Bannister in The DAB as being overly an overly theatrical architectural thief (Seiden, p. 32). But his work in the shopping arcades in Palm Beach and in the residences there and in Boca Raton testify to his skill in bringing color, good scale, superior detailing, and climatically-attuned comfort to the stark landscape of south Florida. Nor should the value of his establishment of the Los Manos (Handmade) Factory in Palm Beach be overlooked. This was begun to glaze the "Mizner Blue" craft tiles, and was expanded into a wood carving and furniture factory to make usable antique copies. Next came an iron forge and a stone casting works (Tarbell).
In the late 1920s several of Mizner's disciples started taking commissions away from him. Seiden suggests "the Spanish itch" became distasteful to the elite commissioners when it began appearing in a debased form on gas stations and bungalows (Seiden, p. 31). The Depression relegated the ailing Mizner into semi-retirement in 1932. He died soon after on February 8, 1933.
Tarbell, Ida H., Introduction to The Florida Architecture of Addison Mizner. New York: William Helburn, Inc. 1928.
Seiden, Steven Arnold. The Mizner Touch, in "Palm Beach Life," LIV (August 24, 1961, pp. 30-33.
† Carolyn J. Hamm, Historian, Historic American Buildings Survey, Riverside Baptist Church, 1975, [HABS FL-351], memory.loc.gov, accessed September, 2013.