Addison Mizner, Palm Beach’s Resident Architect



Portrait of Addison Mizner. Photo Courtesy of

Addison Mizner is one of the most influential figures of southern Florida’s early-20th-century architectural boom. His whimsical Mediterranean style buildings launched an architectural movement and inspired architects throughout North America. Yet, Mizner is unrecognized today and was rarely taken seriously by other architects during his lifetime.

Born on December 12, 1872, in Benicia, California, Mizner spent his childhood traveling around the world with his family. His father, the U.S. minister to Guatemala, settled the family in Central America where the young Mizner drew his influence from the Spanish-style architecture of his childhood.

Surprisingly, Addison Mizner did not have any formal training in architecture. He apprenticed with renowned architect Willis Jefferson Polk in San Francisco for three years, eventually becoming a partner in Polk’s firm. Mizner then relocated to New York and worked as an interior designer where he designed yacht interiors. He would later return to architecture and collaborate with fellow architect William Massarene and design White Pine Camp, a retreat in the Adirondack Mountains which would later become president Calvin Coolidge’s “summer White House.”

When Mizner was 46, he suffered health issues and moved to Palm Beach, Florida. He was prepared to die, but miraculously recovered and decided to make Florida his home. At the time, homes and buildings in the Palm Beach area were modeled after wooden shingle-style resorts in the Northeast. This was a style better suited for colder climates. Growing up in a tropical environment, Mizner had an understanding of how to design homes that could withstand Florida’s sometimes harsh tropical weather. Constructed of stone, tile, and stucco, his buildings were a better fit for Florida’s semi-tropical climate.

With an entrepreneur’s spirit, the eager developer aspired to transform the sleepy city of Boca Raton into a luxurious resort community. In 1925, Addison Mizner and his brother Wilson started Mizner Development Corporation and purchased more than 1,500 acres, including two miles of beach. He mailed out promotional material that boasted a 1,000-room hotel, golf courses, parks and a street wide enough to fit 20 lanes of traffic. Stockholders included such high-rollers as Paris Singer, Irving Berlin, Elizabeth Arden, W.K. Vanderbilt II, and T. Coleman du Pont. Film star Marie Dressler sold real estate for Mizner.

Mizner’s building boom was short lived and within a decade he was bankrupt, even after designing Boca Raton’s Town Hall building, which was then completed in 1926 by architect William E. Alsmeyer. In February of 1933, Mizner died at age 61 of a heart attack in Palm Beach. His story remains relevant today as an example of the rise and fall of a once-successful American entrepreneur.



-Ursa Gil

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