The Life & Times of Architect Addison Mizner

From the circular driveway, the jazz-age mansion built by Architect Addison Mizner will captivate you. His definitive Spanish-Mediterranean style intrigues those who know and have yet to discover his life’s work.

About Addison Mizner

Addison Mizner is widely known for introducing Mediterranean style architecture to Florida. Over the course of his career, he built over 67 structures (mostly homes) in Palm Beach and nearly 27 in Boca Raton. Though he designed many private residences his most notable work includes the famous Everglades Club (1918) and the Boca Raton Resort and Club (1925).

Meizner would likely give credit to his father Lansing B. Mizner, in helping him discover his life passion. Lansing was an American lawyer, diplomat, and politician and served as President of the California Senate and was US Minister to Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In August 1889 at age 15 Addison accompanied Lansing on a trip to Mazatlán, Mexico. This was his first encounter with Spanish architecture and culture, and he often described it – like he did other things, “the best day of his life”.

He traveled with his father for almost a year before returning to California in 1890 to attend the Bates School. Unfortunately, Mizner was never able to finish his formal education partially due to the misbehaviors of his brother (Wilson Mizner) which caused them both to be expelled. Shortly after his father died in 1893, Mizner took on a 3-year apprenticeship ( 1894-1897) with San Francisco architect Willis Jefferson Polk was the only formal training he received.

In 1904 he left the firm and returned to Guatemala; this time to pursue ventures in coffee trading. The trip ultimately turned out to be the catalyst for his independent career as an architect, and instead of buying beans he found great pleasure spending his days in Antigua where he familiarized himself with the buildings and a plethora of Hispanic antiquities. For nearly four months he passed his days sketching, studying, and learning about the culture all the while buying copious amounts of antiques.

When he came back to the states he moved to New York City and adorned his apartment with his Guatemalan purchases. Over time he became somewhat of an antique dealer and would sell his belongings to friends and acquaintances.

The following year (1905) Mizner took his first buying trip to Spain. Over time he became known for these elaborate buying trips and collected many different items to be used in his designs stateside.  He enjoyed elaborate pieces of wrought iron, sometimes entire staircases, heavy gilding and architectural pieces. Additionally, he enjoyed fabrics, both velvets, and damask as well as rugs and ornaments; all seemingly normal items to collect in comparison to his other fascination with reliquaries, vestments, and religious paraphernalia.

Mizner moves to New York

Mizner spent a year in New York City and then moved to Port Washington Long Island where he cared for his ailing Mother, Ella Watson. While living on Long Island he was commissioned to work with William Massarene to design a summer retreat known as White Pine Camp, in the Adirondack Mountains (1907).  The property would eventually become U. S. President Calvin Coolidge’s “Summer White House”.

Though Mizner was described as an exceptionally likable and caring man, the 6 foot 2, 250 lb bon-vivant had a knack for storytelling. Self-Described as a lifelong bachelor, Mizner had many failed attempts at love and “mysterious” short-term romances often ending in unproven tragedy. Those who were close to Mizner never allowed his fables to get in the way of his work or friendships yet nearly everyone close to him confirmed his personal narrative as “highly embellished”.

Yet one thing was for sure, Mizner was an incredible architect. Though he was often belittled for his lack of formal training he proved to have many skill-sets that made his on the job training viable. For example, he took the initiative to learn basic electrical, plumbing and roofing skills, and was a proficient draftsman.

From 1905 – 1915 Mizner worked primarily in the northeastern region and built several homes for prominent families in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and upstate New York. One of our favorite home designs by Mizner is located in Colebrook, CT and is currently operating as a luxurious Country Inn.

Rock Hall in Colebrook, CT

The home was originally designed for Jerome Alexandre and his wife the heirs to The Alexandre Steam Ship fortune.

In 1918 at the age of 46 Mizner’s health began to decline and he had prepared himself for the worst. It was at that time, Paris Singer, heir to Singer Sewing Machine reached out to Mizner and insisted (for his health) he come to Florida.

Much to everyone’s surprise Mizner recovered, that’s when Singer asked Mizner to design a convalescent hospital for WW1 soldiers. The war ended before the completion of the project and the building became the Everglades Club.

The club was completed in 1919 and in 1925 Mizner officially moved to Boca. He began building oceanfront homes in his iconic Mediterranean style. Utilizing indestructible materials such as stone, clay tile, and stucco, his designs were able to withstand the semi-tropic climate and uncertain weather patterns.

While Addison Mizner was a great architect he was also known for his interior design style. The homes he built often featured beautiful courtyards and gardens, libraries, arcades and galleries, expansive rooms with exposed beams, intricately tiled pools and grottos as well as supporting details such as arches and columns. In cases such as the Rock Hall estate, Mizner even dabbles with elaborate concrete fireplaces and pseudo-Crawford paneled walls. The Rock Hall Home is a fabulous display of his work. See it here!

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