Thursday, February 5, 2015

Whitehall, Part II

Whitehall, the Flagler Museum,
 Palm Beach, Florida, in a 1960 view.
Image:  Florida History Archives
As a continuation of the previous post of The Devoted Classicist, the docent-guided tour of Whitehall ends with the return to the Grand Hall.  The tour of the Second Floor is aided by a personal audio tape and begins after climbing the main staircase.  After ascending to a low landing which also opens to the courtyard, there is a split to a matching pair of triple-runs to the Second Floor.
The marble staircase, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum
The Second Floor held the Master Suite of Henry and Mary Lily Flagler, fourteen guest rooms, twenty-two servants rooms, and nineteen bathrooms.  Each guest room included a private bath and a large closet plus a distinctive décor.

The Second Floor Plan as redrawn from the original
1/8 inch scale plans by Carrère & Hastings.
Image: Historic American Building Survey
The central courtyard provided the opportunity for cross ventilation aided by the louvered loggias at the north and south ends.  Guest bathrooms without windows and adjacent passages have skylights.

Second Floor Loggia, Whitehall.
Photo by John J. Tackett for The Devoted Classicist
Typical skylights in a guest room passage, left,
and in a guest bathroom, right.  Whitehall.
Photos by John J. Tackett for The Devoted Classicist.
Today, some of the guest rooms have been converted to exhibit space to display artifacts from the Flaglers.  Other guest rooms have been restored to the original Pottier and Stymus decorating schemes based on period photographs and historic documents.  The rooms were named according to their décor.

The Colonial Chamber, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum.
The Colonial Chamber, the largest guest room, is located at the northeast corner.  While most of the bedroom furnishings were ordered to be specially made for Whitehall, this furniture came Flagler's home, Satanstoe, Mamaroneck, New York.

The Blue, Gold, Green, and Pink
Guest Bedrooms, Whitehall.
Images: Flagler Museum
In the Master Suite, Henry and Mary Lily Flagler were said to have shared the bedroom, a practice not common in Gilded Age mansions.  (He was 72 and she was 35 at the time of the house's completion).  The bedroom is decorated in the Louis XV Revival style.  Samples of the original bed fabric and wallcovering provided the documentation that allowed reproduction.

The Master Bedroom, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum.
There are His and Hers Dressing Rooms with fitted cabinetry.  For museum interpretation, some clothing from the period is on display.

The Master Bathroom, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum
The Master Bath is about the size of a typical guest room with slabs of marble forming a tall wainscot and squares of matching marble covering the floor on the diagonal.  In addition to a double bowl onyx lavatory and a wood tank flush toilet, there is a bathtub and needle-spray shower stall plus the most modern convenience, a telephone.

The Silver Maple Room, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum
The Silver Maple Room features furniture in the style of the English Arts & Crafts Movement.  The bed painted with the Muses of Music on the headboard and the Four Seasons on the footboard is original to the room, as is the chest.

The Yellow Roses Room, Whitehall.
Image:  Flagler Museum.
The last guest bedroom on the tour is referred to as the Yellow Roses Room which features matching fabric and wallpaper in the "Marechal Rose" pattern reproduced from a fragment behind the mirror over the washbasin.  This room was used by Henry Flagler's (male) secretary J.C. Salter, who also usually served as secretary on of the Board of Directors for Flagler's corporations.

The Morning Room, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum
At the southwest corner of the Second Floor overlooking Lake Worth is the Morning Room which served as Mrs. Flagler's boudoir.  She used it as her personal space for writing letters. practicing the piano, and playing bridge.  The Louis XV Revival style folding screen and console piano are original to the room.

A typical servant's room, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum.
Twelve bedrooms for servants once filled the west wing of the Second Floor.  Part of this space is now used for exhibitions.  In addition, there were ten rooms on the Third Floor for use by the staff of the Flaglers' guests.

Whitehall's Laundry Building can be seen in the
distance of this 1903 photo of a luncheon on the grounds.
Image: Flagler Museum
There was a separate building off the northwest corner of the house that contained the Laundry on the ground floor with rooms for black servants above.  It was demolished in 1925.

One of the many original heat grilles in Whitehall.
The Flaglers typically occupied the house only in
January and February, but a minimal staff stayed
there year around.  In the humid summer months,
the house was kept closed with the heat on to
stabilize the humidity indoors.  The grilles are now
used for air-conditioning to maintain the interior climate.
In March 1913, Henry Flagler fell down the stairs at Whitehall and broke his hip.  At age 83, he never recovered from the injury and died two months later.  Mary Lily inherited the bulk of his fortune estimated to be worth between $60 and $100 million.  It is complicated to translate that into 2015 dollars, but it could easily be as much as $24 billion today.  In any case. she was reportedly the richest woman in the U.S.  The house remained closed for the next two seasons, but was opened in 1916 and 1917.  She married Robert Worth Bingham in November 1916, and died under suspicious circumstances eight months later.  (More may be read about that in THE BINGHAMS OF LOUISVILLE: THE DARK HISTORY BEHIND ONE OF AMERICA'S GREAT FORTUNES).  Whitehall was bequeathed to her niece Louise Clisby Wise who sold it to a group of investors who converted it into a hotel with the addition of a 300 room, ten story tower to the rear.  The mansion was used as public rooms and special event rooms for the hotel.

The Whitehall Hotel, 1925 to 1959.
Image Florida History Network.
Jean Flagler Mathews, Henry Flagler's granddaughter, heard that the hotel was in financial difficulties in 1959 and bought the property.  She formed the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum as a nonprofit corporation that opened Whitehall to the public in 1960.

The hotel's dining room remains as a events space.
Image: Flagler Museum
The hotel addition, with the exception of the ground floor, was removed, leaving the hotel dining room as a durable space for events.  Adjacent spaces are used for museum-related activities, including the museum store.

is one of the many selections available in the gift shop at Whitehall.
A separate building in the Beaux Arts Revival style, the Flagler Kenan Pavilion, was completed in 2005.  Inspired by Gilded Age railroad stations, the Smith Architectural Group designed the pavilion to accommodate the museum café and serve as another events venue as well as an elaborate exhibition gallery for Railcar No. 91.  Henry Morrison Flagler's private railcar, built in 1886 and one of two that he owned, was restored and visitors may walk through to get an idea of luxury travel in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Henry Flagler's private railcar on display
in the Flagler Kenan Pavilion, Whitehall.
Photo by John J. Tackett for The Devoted Classicist.
Visitors should not fail to admire the spectacular fence when entering and leaving the property.  Designed by architects Carrère and Hastings to an important aspect of the whole architectural effect, it is iron with bronze details spanning almost 1,000 feet across the front of the site.

The entrance gates to Whitehall, Palm Beach.
Photo by John J. Tackett for The Devoted Classicist.
The Flagler Museum is to be congratulated on its efforts in conservation and interpretation.  A visit to Whitehall offers an educational and insightful look back to America's Gilded Age.


  1. Great tour -thanks - I would love to visit some winter to tour these amazing buildings built by the Flaglers

    1. My projects have usually had me there in the summer. But Palm Beach is a great winter destination for relaxing. You would love it.

  2. I was at Whitehall some years ago, and it is an impressive house museum--good restoration and so many original features. I don't remember that Yellow Roses Room--the pattern does seem a bit much and rather oppressive. I wonder if it was documented as being on every surface like that.

    They did a nice job on the Flagler Kenan Pavilion; I was taken with the elaborate interior of that private car, but it had seemed kind of dumped off to the side. Its new home displays it in style.

    1. Although I am not absolutely certain about the Yellow Roses Room, at least some of the guest rooms had been professionally photographed during the Flagler period. The present décor may have not been installed at the time of your visit as it is my understanding that the pattern was reproduced especially for this room. The FK Pavilion is big-budgeted space, clearly an indication of public support for the museum as a venue. Thanks for commenting, Jim.

  3. Over 20 years ago I remembered that Pullman, on the side of the house...seemed so forlorn in the hot humid day unprotected, nice too see now revered & cherished for what it was, a traveling jewel box of comfort. I recall the interiors of the home as rather a mashup of many styles, an overwrought excess...not the glamour of Marblehouse created by Alva Vanderbilt and Richard Morris Hunt...low ceilings out of scale especially the Entry. I will say though the Billionaire Boys Club still parties there as evidenced by the Coconut Ball with fireworks an aside Ms. Mary Lily looked far beyond her years in the previous post image, certainly not a Ms. Nesbit. Wonderful post on a National you are!!

    1. No, not quite Newport, but the Flagler Museum is still working at fine-tuning the furnishings with apparently a lot of progress in the past 15 years. (This was my first visit inside the house). The house is indeed a National Treasure; as for me, I am glad to share what baubles I can. Thank you for commenting.

  4. Excellent post, John. As we have discussed before, I spent time in the house many years ago, and at that time the rail car was still outside. A friend who lives in Palm Beach told me that he had a few too many champagnes one evening and couldn't make it home, so he slept it off in the Flagler train car. They kept it unlocked, apparently. Nice to see that it is more carefully protected now. The whole site is a marvel, and I am pleased to see that the restoration continues.

    1. It was so fun to walk through the railcar and see the bathroom, kitchen, etc. With so many house museums financially struggling, it is such a relief to see one that is so well-set for continued preservation. Thank you for commenting Cynthia.

  5. John this is a tour I would love to take and of course visiting in the winter would be a dream! There are so many unique treasured within and the exterior iron fence is incredibly beautiful.

    Love the story of Cynthia's friend sleeping in the train car!

    The Arts by Karena

    1. That fence is actually much more handsome than my photo shows. I appreciate your comments, Karena.


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