Monday, March 18, 2013

Lakeview House, Palm Beach

Lakeview House, Palm Beach, Florida.
Photo:  Cleveland Public Library.
The Devoted Classicist has been enthralled with a twentieth century neo-classical residence known as Lakeview House in Palm Beach since reading about it in the 1961 book 100 Most Beautiful Rooms in America as a youngster.  In the early 1990s, working on a John Tackett Design project nearby, he discovered it at 319 El Vedado Way, shuttered for the summer but still as it appeared in the book from outward appearances.  Hearing rumors early last year that it had been razed led to a search that found it still standing, but being offered for sale as a "tear down" for $5.5 million.

Lakeview House, 319 El Vedado Way,
as it appeared in real estate listings.
Image:  Corcoran.
Despite what appeared to be evidence to the contrary, various real estate sources described it as hopelessly out-dated and in unretrievably poor condition.  The offering to "custom build your dream home on one of Palm Beach's most beautiful estate area streets" was alarming. 

Google Map showing the location of
Lakeview House, Palm Beach, Florida.
Granted, Lakeview House is not the over-scaled pile of a smack-down interpretation of opulence so popular with so many of today's mansion seekers, but is it really completely undesirable?  As in all real estate transactions, it only takes one person to want it.  Lakeview House was bought in February, 2012, for $5.2 million by Virginia Mortara, widow of Michael Mortara who was a senior partner at Goldman Sachs.  Thankfully, instead of being razed, it is currently being restored.
Lakeview House under restoration, February, 2013.
Photo by John J. Tackett for The Devoted Classicist blog.
The house has an illustrious history.  According to Palm Beach historian Augustus Mayhew who wrote an article about the house for New York Social Diary, architect Clarence Mack described his own style in Palm Beach as "Tropical Empire."  Cleveland born Mack, who moved to Florida in 1935, typically lived in each of his houses before selling them;  that is thought to be the case for Lakeview House, built in 1936 according to sources.

The principal (south) facade of Lakeview House.
Dated January, 1940.
Town of Palm Beach Building Records.
Image via Augustus Mayhew for  New York Social Diary.
In addition to being architecturally significant, Lakeview House has had a history of interesting owners.  Clarence Mack sold the house to John Wendell Anderson and his wife who made it their winter home starting in the 1942-43 season.  Anderson was a Detroit attorney who organized Ford Motor Company and held a large financial interest.  Anderson was also a former consul-general in Montreal, but it was the Ford connection that really built his wealth. 

A self-portrait by Channing Hare.
Image:  Liros Gallery.
After Anderson's death, the house was sold to Channing Hare, a portrait artist well known in the social circles of the day.  A member of both the exclusive B & T (Bath and Tennis Club) and the Everglades Club, Hare was married but separated from his wife.  Referred to as 'Uncle Bunny' by his adopted son Stephen "Stevie" Hopkins Hensel Hare, he also owned a large villa, "Son Julio" in Majorca (possibly now the hotel Son Julia?).  In 1952, Hare moved to an apartment on Worth Avenue and sold the house to Audrey Emery.

Princess Anna and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovitch.
via forum.alexanderpalace.org.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Anna Audrey Emery was the youngest daughter of a real estate millionaire who became Princess Anna after her 1926 marriage to H.I.H. Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovitch, the grandson of Emperor Czar Alexander III.  After divorcing in 1937, she married Prince Dimitri Djordjadze.  That marriage ended in divorce as well, and she was known as Mrs. Audrey Emery.  References mention that interiors of Lakeview House were featured in the January, 1953, issue of Town & Country magazine, but no digital images have been found.  The two images in the book 100 MOST BEAUTIFUL ROOMS IN AMERICA by noted photograper Jerome Zerbe date from the Emery occupancy, however.

An evening view of Lakeview House.
Note the uplights in the urns on tall plinths.
Photo by Jerome Zerbe from
100 MOST BEAUTIFUL ROOMS IN AMERICA
The grand salon during the occupancy
of Audrey Emery.
Photo by Jerome Zerbe from
100 MOST BEAUTIFUL ROOMS IN AMERICA
Audrey Emery's son from her first marriage, Prince Paul Romanoff-Ilyinsky, a.k.a. Paul Ilyinsky, was Mayor of Palm Beach for three terms.
A 1956 news clipping.
Via Augustus Mayhew for NYSD.
In 1956, Lakeview House was sold to Col. and Madame Jacques Balsan.  Jacques Balsan was a pioneer of flying and heir to a fortune in his family's textile manufacturing business which supplied the French army with uniforms from the time of Napoleon onward.  He is best known in this country, however, as the second husband of Consuelo Vanderbilt, whom he married immediately after her divorce from the Duke of Marlborough (of Blenheim Palace) in 1921.  (Later, the marriage to the Duke was arranged to be annulled).  Downsizing from their famous Maurice Fatio-designed house Casa Alva in Manalapan (listed for sale in 2007 for $23 million and finally sold a few months ago for $6.8 million), Jacques Balsan died in November of 1956.  But his wife was known as Madame Balsan for the rest of her life.

A portrait of Madame Balsan
by Channing Hare, 1956.
NYSD.
Madame Balsan, the only daughter of William K. and Alva Vanderbilt (later Belmont), used the home as a seasonal winter retreat.  In summers, she moved, along with some of ther favorite furnishings to Southampton, Long Island.

Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan
in the grand salon of Lakeview House.
Life Magazine August 4, 1964.
The Balsan grand salon famously held two pairs of lacquer cabinets on stands, one pair in red and the other in black.  Horst's color photos of the Balsan interiors were featured in an earlier post of one of this writer's favorite blogs, The Downeast Dilettante.  After Madame Balsan's death in 1964, her grandson Lord Charles Spencer-Churchill inherited the house and contents;  the furnishings were sent to auction (with photos of the rooms appearing in Augustus Mayhew's article in NYSD) and the house was bought by Alice Warfield Tyne Earthman, previously of Nashville.

The late Alice Tyne.
Alice Tyne married her brother-in-law Girard Polk Brownlow in the grand salon of Lakeview House in 1967.  In 1971, she divorced Brownlow and married Cutler Godfrey.  In 1972, Lakeview House was leased to Kitty Miller, daughter of Jules Bach and widow of Broadway producer Gilbert Miller.
The cover of Celia Lipton Farris' autobiography
MY THREE LIVES.
Victor and Celia Farris were the next owners of the house.  Married since 1956, he was known as the inventor of the paper milk carton according to popular legend, and she was a Scot-born singer/actress.  The Farrises were frequent hosts to parties in Lakeview House, often honoring foreign nobility and Hollywood stars.  Their lifestyle was recorded in the 1977 British documentary Whicker's World. 

Mary Duncan Sanford (left) with Celia Farris
photographed in the grand salon of Lakeview House.
Photo via NYSD.
After her husband's death in 1985, Celia Lipton Farris focused on philanthropy and was named Dame Grace of the Venerable Order of Saint John (of Jerusalem).  After her death in March, 2011, Lakeview House was listed for sale by Corcoran Group Real Estate.

Lakeview House as seen from the street, 2011.
Corcoran.
The rear of Lakeview House, 2011.
Corcoran


The pool pavillion of Lakeview House, 2011.
Corcoran.
The swimming pool of Lakeview House
and the view towards the Lake Worth Lagoon, 2011.
Photos taken by Augustus Mayhew in 2012 may be seen in an April, 2012, article written for NYSD here.  With 2012 being a very busy year for filings of Palm Beach County demolition permits to make way for new mega-mansions, thanks is given for the preservation of Lakeview House.
The new owner of Lakeview House
Virginia "Gina" Mortara.
Palm Beach Shiny Sheet.

27 comments:

  1. Perhaps Mr. Mayhew can put together the core seed of Preservation in Palm Beach Architecture and History...appalling that ANY knowledgeable Realtor would list this as a tear down...we lost much in Beverly Hills over the last 30 years, but thanks to writers, garden groups and architects a new ordinance has now protected these homes with legendary auras, too bad for dear Mrs. Wrightsman's Maurice Fatio.

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    1. Dear Swan, it sadly seems that nothing was really learned from the loss of the Williams-Wrightsman house Blythedunes after its demolition by L. Wexner (who apparently decided after the social backlash that P.B. wasn't the place for him after all). I tried to put my hands on the exact number of demolition permits issued last year; there were more than I had time to count. Of course, taste and the issue of significance can be subjective, but how much bigger house could really successfully fit on this lot, anyway? Thanks for commenting.

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  2. I fell in love with this house via the same route--and it is a lovely grace note in the neighborhood. Glad it isn't going to be replaced by yet another Mediterranean or Regency Palm Beach mash-up. The island is going to sink under the weight of all the very bad new architecture.

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    1. D.E.D., there are so many old-but-good examples of stylistic interpretations in Palm Beach, that one would think could serve as a model. Fortunately, those ficus hedges grow quickly. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. Methinks I remember reading also that Mme. Balsan's lovely Casa Alva at Manalapan has also sold---I wonder if it, with its lovely rooms, also has a happy future, or has the demolition permit been issued?

    This tear-down thing has really reached the point of ridiculous, hasn't it?

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    1. Casa Alva did indeed sell. Located on about 5 acres with over 500 feet of direct water frontage, we'll have to see what happens next. I had once seen some efforts to market it with the potential as a private club.

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  4. It is great to see there are still people around who appreciate these houses and are willing to put out money to restore them.

    It may be hopelessly outdated, something easy to change, but charm and good bones are hard to replace.

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    1. Julieta, I can accept tearing down a house to build a new one -- as long as the replacement is better. Thank you for commenting.

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  5. The "under renovation" picture already seems to improve the house, even if it's only by changing the colour. Am I right in thinking the three poticos in the centre are garages? That is ever so slightly irritating, if true.

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    1. Columnist, it is my understanding that the three central ground floor openings were always garages. Although the exterior lacks an indication of a grand entrance, I think it is an exceptional solution to a front-loading garage integral to the house, always a problem on a limited site. And having the principal floor (with the good furnishings) raised so high above sea level is a good idea as well. Thank you for commenting.

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  6. Hello Mr. Tackett!
    I am thoroughly enjoying your blog!
    This house in Florida is exquisite and I am glad it has survived the "wrecking ball".
    I also very much enjoyed reading your offering of Trumbauer's last house. It is sad that his works don't seem to have survived. Whitemarsh Hall gone and Lynnewood Hall in ruin.
    Again thanky you for a very enjoyable read!
    Kind regard from Ray

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    1. Ray, thank you for your comment. The confusion is understandable, but the essay about Trumbauer's Rose Terrace was on the blog of ArchitectDesign. Unfortunately that great house did not survive.

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    2. Hello again and please forgive a "Senior Moment" on my part. I realized my error after submitting the comment. My thanks for the link on your blog to ArchitectDesign. I have read all your posts and do indeed enjoy the information you offer.
      Ray

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    3. Ray, don't give it another thought. All of us who leave comments have hit the 'Publish' key and then had second thoughts. It is all part of the blogging conversation and I am happy to have you part of it.

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  7. Sad provenances, after the first ownership. I wasn't sure I wasn't reading Thomas Mann. Very scrupulous presentation.

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    1. Laurent, I think my only familiarity with Thomas Mann, sadly, is "Death in Venice". And that is the film rather than the book. The average age in Palm Beach tends to be rather advanced, so there is a large percentage of widows. Thank you for your comment.

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  8. Thank goodness for Mrs. Mortara!

    Very good posting, Mr. Tackett!

    DF

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  9. Have always loved this house and glad to know it is being preserved. A small correction: Audrey Emery's onetime surname, per official Romanov decree for her and her descendants, was Romanovsky, and her princely title, also to be held by her descendants, was Ilyinsky. (And when she wed Grand Duke Dmitri, she took a new first name, Anna.) These are often combined as Romanovsky-Ilyinsky. At some point her son dropped the Romanovsky and the family became Ilyinsky only.

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    1. Many thanks, Mitch. It makes sense that Romanovsky/Romanoff/Romanov would be referenced in the name. I will look into it and appreciate your comments.

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  10. I hope I got that right, re the Russian titles.

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  11. Thank you for the history of this house, which I know from having stayed elsewhere on El Vedado over the years. I am very happy to learn it is to be spared the wrecking ball: when I was in Palm Beach last month, far too many of the older houses seemed to be under threat. I hadn't known before of the connection with Mme Balsan, having likewise watched her former home on Manalapan await a new owner in recent years. Again, the impression I had when there most recently was that the new owner intended to keep the current building.

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    1. I appreciate your comment Irish Aesthete. (And I urge those not already familiar with your blog to visit). The house with the garages on the ground level and living quarters above is a great model for new seaside construction. Yes, major renovation is currently underway.

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  12. Thank you for such an informative post on this historic Palm Beach house. I walk by Lakeview House at least once during every visit I make to the area, and was happy to see work being done this year. It does have an odd entrance with no real distinctive or visible front door, unless this is only the rear view which is accessible street side. So many of these old Palm Beach homes are treasures worth preserving. People ask me why I visit and it is all about the architecture. Palm Beach is lucky to have more than a handful of architecturally significant homes.

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    1. Lisa, the entrance is one of the few things that I would change about the house. There are indeed a number of wonderful houses in Palm Beach, not just the 'famous' ones. But these days, more and more are concealed behind tall ficus hedges. Thank you for commenting.

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  13. Very interesting, but... who was Jules Bach ?

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    1. J.-C., most Devoted Readers will know the name of Jules Bache because of his art collection. But he would be better remembered by the general public as the man who bought about the availability of the average person to invest in Wall Street.

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