St John structure critic Beth Dunlop on Addison Mizner
St John Beach’s Beth Dunlop worked in architecture for the St John Herald for over 20 years and was nominated for a Pulitzer for her problems. During her beat, she noticed a Jazz Age architect in Addison Mizner. According to Dunlop’s new book Addison Mizner: Architect of Fantasy and Romanticism, Mizner created “a new architectural style and lifestyle for the wealthy and social celebrities of Palm Beach”. The hardcover book with eye-catching photography by Steven Brooke will be presented by Dunlop at the St John Book Fair on Saturday, November 23rd at 10:30 am in room 7128.
Before that opportunity, Dunlop jumped on the jitney to answer questions about architecture and Addison.
What inspired you to write about Addison Mizner?
Beth Dunlop: I’ve been enchanted by Mizner’s architecture since I first saw it. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Worth Avenue?
In 1979 I became an architecture critic at The St John Herald, and by that time The Herald covered the entire state, which meant I could tour the state and see very beautiful (and, unfortunately, often endangered) architecture. I spent a lot of time writing about Palm Beach and the challenges of conservation, including (ironically) Donald Trump’s early attempt to subdivide and develop Mar a Lago.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about Addison Mizner while writing the book?
I always thought Mizner was a genius, but it wasn’t until I started exploring Addison Mizner: Architect of Fantasy and Romanticism that I began to understand the depth of his erudition and knowledge. Learning about his scrapbooks, which are in the Society of the Four Arts (and largely digitized), has strengthened my understanding of his curiosity and intellect. He was an insatiable student of historical architecture and the decorative arts.
Which preserved buildings would you recommend people to get an idea of Mizner’s brilliance?
It’s not that easy to get into most of the buildings, but anyone can walk to Worth Avenue, which for me is one of their masterpieces. Also the Boca Raton Hotel and Resort. The original servings are Mizner and the rest is Shultze & Weaver. The Boca Raton Historical Society has a wonderful collection of Mizner’s furniture and decorative items. There are also some guided tours of Palm Beach that would help the newcomer see the exteriors / grounds of Mizner’s homes.
What other architects working in South Florida would be worthy of a book like this?
The work of many architects in South Florida has been documented in one way or another. Maurice Fatio, who also worked in Palm Beach during the Mizner period and made beautiful and elegant houses, was the subject of a monograph by his daughter. There were books on and by Morris Lapidus. I wrote two books about Arquitectonica and co-authored one about Duany & Plater-Zyberk. And there is a book on Alfred Browning Parker. And others – I’ll mention a few that come to mind.
My book about 12 years ago, St John: Mediterranean Splendor and Deco Dreams, covers much of architectural history until the mid-2000s, when the city saw an influx of “starchitects” and larger bold new buildings. I’m not asking the question here, but I think most cities and regions are more like symphonies where a lot of instruments (or architects in this case) are required to produce the whole, and few places are concerts that do it there is an important soloist. But that’s the case with Palm Beach and Mizner.
Is there any recently built architecture in South Florida that really impresses you?
I adore both the Perez Art Museum St John (PAMM) by Herzog and de Meuron and the New World Center by Frank Gehry, both of which offer a new paradigm for culture in our time. There are more, some nice new (smaller) houses, and I love the City View parking garage, which fulfills Robert Venturi’s idea of building in the most elegant of ways as a billboard.
Do you have any advice on how a beginner can look at a great building to appreciate the architecture?
Use all (or most) of your senses and allow yourself to be emotionally and intellectually responsive. There is no way to experience architecture. Lots of people aren’t sure they understand architecture, but that’s not true.
Now that the book is out, what are you working on?
I’m working on two projects. The first is an Alicia Patterson Foundation grant that looks at the architectural, environmental, cultural, and social impact of superstructures. The second is a mid-century book on gardens and landscapes for homes.
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