The name of the game at The President of PalmBeach with its sine wave concrete canopy topped by six-stories of fishnet shadowbox concrete with a background of Chattahoochee as icing on the cake.
Palm Beach Mod: When big buildings invaded a small island.
TextPhotos Myro Rosky
Palm Beach was all that during the 1960s. It was where President John F. Kennedy and his young family would vacation. Where Lilly Pulitzer was creating her Technicolor fabrics and turning them into trendy clothing. Where old was giving into new at a mind-boggling rate as mansions that looked centuries old, but had only stood little more than a generation, gave way to Modernist multi-family buildings due to a post-war zoning change that allowed unprecedented density in the Midtown area. The little island was known for its Mediterranean Revival architecture, thanks to the phenomenal structures designed by Addison Mizner (1876–1933) and others during the Jazz Age, and for its Tropical Empire buildings of later days. Ironically, though, the striking structures that were sprouting up, which embraced their site with supreme elegance, fit into the area just as well, if not better, than some of their ornately-built brethren. For your viewing pleasure, here are a few of our favorites.
The President of Palm Beach — 2505 South Ocean Boulevard — Built by the Calig Land Company, a subsidiary of Calig Steel Drum Company of Pittsburgh, and designed by West Palm Beach architect Norman N. Robson (1919–2001), this 95-unit, horseshoe-shaped structure originally was planned as a residential hotel, featuring amenities such as a beauty salon, maid service, and room service. Costing $1.5 million to construct, The President debuted in 1963, facing the “lake,” meaning the Intracoastal Waterway, and a private yacht basin. Located just south of and adjoining the Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Club, The President offered much to outdoorsy types. Other features included a large, free-form, saltwater swimming pool in the patio. But access to the biggest saltwater source of them all, the Atlantic Ocean, came via landscaped paths that connected The President to a private beach and cabanas. By 1970, the building, which had been purchased for $3 million the year before by the Perini Corporation, went condo.
The 300 Building — 300 South Ocean Boulevard — A native Floridian, Palm Beach architect Howard Chilton (1909–1992) had hundreds of private houses in his hometown to his credit. But it’s the more than 15 curvilinear buildings he created there that earned him the designation of master of the S-curve, renowned for his ease at maximizing each site to its full potential, highlighting the structures’ spectacular view and exposure. Citing inspiration from the Greek amphitheater for his serpentine designs that would “capture all of nature’s gifts,” as he told the Palm Beach Daily News, Chilton fashioned a still-curvy but more T-shaped structure at this six-story co-op built in 1960. What could have been a conventional, non-descript building is enlivened by artfully placed embellishments. Miles of saw-tooth balustrades, reminiscent of those on the Ireland’s Inn in Fort Lauderdale, line the balconies and deep walkways, and provide cover from the elements in the stairwells. A cast concrete panel of repetitive squares and randomly placed, vaguely Aztec medallions decorates the façade. And any sense of bulk is eliminated by the catwalk design of the first five floors which welcomes in sunlight and air through plenty of windows.
One Royal Palm Way — 100 Royal Palm Way — Another curvy Howard Chilton creation, this 39-unit, six-story structure was developed by Matthew H. McCloskey, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland during the Kennedy administration, and built in 1969 on the site of Addison Mizner’s La Fontana (The Fountain), the 30-room mansion he designed for George Mesker in 1923. The full-service building with 24-hour doorman, pool, and gym offers two- and three-bedroom units and penthouses that enjoy unobstructed ocean views from floor-to-ceiling windows. One decorative element that distinguished One Royal Palm Way from being just another Modernist multifamily building was its floral New Orleans-style metalwork which encircled balconies, terraces, and the entrance. Those railings have been replaced by a less ornate and less interesting model. However, some vestiges of the past remain. Salvaged from La Fontana is the huge marble fountain featuring multiple cherubs that greets visitors at the building’s entrance. Also a series of other sculptures from the home inhabit the 10,000-square-foot rooftop garden which was originally built with lush vegetation surrounding an AstroTurf putting green.
Sun & Surf Condos — 100 & 130 Sunrise Avenue — Encompassing six oceanfront acres, this two-building complex broke ground in 1968 on a site where mansions once stood including “Sunrise,” designed in the early 1920s by Addison Mizner for steel magnate J. Leonard Replogle. Built by veteran New York City developer Jack Resnick & Sons and designed by Palm Beach-based architect Eugene Lawrence, the $14 million endeavor was the town’s most expensive luxury rental apartments at that time. It was also the largest: 17.5 acres of flooring was laid and three miles of pre-cast balcony railing in a simulated keystone finish (recently given a careful restoration) was utilized. The West Building contains 100 units; the East Building contains 142 units, ranging in size from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet. Penthouses are even roomier, measuring between 2,500 and 5,000 square feet. Lawrence’s clever plan for the seven-story, curvilinear, X-shaped structures ensured the 70% of the units would enjoy an ocean view. Two-thirds of the site was promised to be green space and 480 parking spaces were concealed mostly underground. Offering amenities such as a beauty salon and barber shop, exercise rooms, restaurants, and two enormous heated swimming pools, the Sun & Surf was, as Eugene Lawrence once remarked to the Palm Beach Daily News, truly “designed for the good life.” The buildings became condominiums in the late 1970s.
The 400 Building — 400 South Ocean Boulevard — A small fragment of Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center transplanted to South Florida, this stately International-style building, created by the renowned architect Edward Durell Stone (1902–1978) along with his eldest son the landscape architect, Edward Durell Stone, Jr., (1932–2009) opened originally as apartments in 1965. Although the six-story structure may seem imposing with its inward orientation, it is no less open to the outdoors. There are no enclosed interior hallways. Instead all units are accessed by open terrace cat-walk style walkways. The 2-bedroom, 2-bath, 1,500 square-foot apartments face a central courtyard that contains an immense pool-like fountain peppered with sculpture and trees artfully placed in circular concrete planters. All the amenities are available: rooftop pool with stunning ocean views, a doorman, gym, and party room. Clearly residents care about maintaining the integrity of their home as Hicks Stone, Edward Durell Stone’s youngest son, who is also an architect, was charged with a recent renovation.