Former Miami Herald architecture critic and long-time Miami Beach resident Beth Dunlop will share her tenth book, Addison Mizner: Architect of Fantasy and Romance, at this year’s Miami Book Fair. Dunlop developed an appreciation for Mizner’s work during her 17 years at the Herald which began in the early days of Florida’s historic preservation movement. She calls Mizner “probably one of the best architectural storytellers in American history.”
Mizner is known for his designs in the Spanish, Moorish, Venetian, and Mediterranean style and is described as “[t]he go-to architect for the Jazz Age elite of South Florida and beyond” in the book’s promotional materials. “Addison Mizner created a new architectural style and a new lifestyle for the wealthy and socially prominent of Palm Beach – America’s preeminent winter resort town of the time. Building mansions, clubs, hotels and apartment houses with a bent toward fantasy and romance, Mizner established a design vocabulary and tradition that to this day influences architects, designers, and builders.”
While a lot has been written about Mizner, Dunlop says previous works are “much more biographical than architectural.” Her book includes fresh material now available through digitization. “I had access to a lot more primary material than I ever saw in the past” including “first-hand accounts of houses as they’ve been built."
Dunlop also had access to material only available to a few scholars including Mizner’s scrapbooks. “Mizner as a storyteller” was evident.
“He talked about how he wanted his houses to feel like you had basically entered history,” she said in a recent interview with RE:MiamiBeach. In his scrapbooks, he labelled everything – lampposts, a Roman arch, mosaic tile in a floor, a mantelpiece. Some were central American, most were European or classical antiquities, she said. “He clipped anything that interested him.”
Later, Mizner “established his own industry [designing] furniture, roof tiles, objects and pottery,” Dunlop said. She has a piece in her living room that she thinks might be a 1920s Mizner industrial table that she acquired from a woman who lived on 30th Street just off Pine Tree Drive.
Both Palm Beach and Miami Beach were among the first to create local historic preservation laws which had an influence on her writing, she said. “As an architecture writer, I thought it was important to identify and write about places that were part of our historic culture, part of our visual memory, and try to make sure as I could as an advocate that they were preserved.” After leaving the Miami Herald, she served on the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board from 1999 – 2005.
While both cities have a significant inventory of historic buildings, “Miami Beach is the polar opposite of Palm Beach,” Dunlop said. “Palm Beach tells the story of enormous wealth and the joining of architecture, art, and culture.”
“The buildings here were built by immigrants, designed by immigrants, occupied by immigrants during the Depression at a time when they were triumphant. They were built to offer a joy. They were exuberant with their towers, zigurats, and friezes and everything that made them kind of jazzy.”
The country may have been in a depression but the attitude of those who built Miami Beach was “We’re going to get ourselves out of it,” she said.
“They came to celebrate the weather and the beach and the place and I worry that we’re going to lose that appreciation of our culture.” She credits the Wolfsonian and Miami Design Preservation League for “trying against the odds to not bow down to the lowest common denominator culture.”
You can hear Dunlop talk about her book at the Miami Book Fair, Saturday, November 23, 10:30am at the MDC Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami, Room 7128. She will be introduced by RE:MiamiBeach’s Susan Askew.
Tickets to the fair can be purchased in advance or at the door for $10. The Book Fair runs November 23 and 24. More info on tickets and schedule here.
Buy the book from Amazon.
*Note: This is an affiliate link which means a small percentage of any book sale goes to RE:MiamiBeach. It’s not enough to buy one of Susan Askew’s beloved lattes but every little bit helps us continue to bring you the local news you’ve come to rely on.
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