I moved to Palm Beach in the fall of 2006 after Hurricane Wilma destroyed my house in Key West the previous October. Concerned that I would not like the famous town, several well-meaning friends cautioned me, saying “most people are snooty in Palm Beach.” Happily, and probably because I was very familiar with Palm Beach County, I gave those fears no credence and quickly discovered I was quite at home on the charming paradise island. In fact, I became enchanted with the city, its architecture, history and many of its residents.
Part One: Addison Mizner 1924-1933
Addison Mizner was nearly overwhelmed with excitement, for on this beautiful winter evening in 1924, he would have the first of what he planned to be a daily event: drinks at his new house with his friends and clients.
He also was experiencing a heightened sense of satisfaction and pride. Only five years earlier, he had arrived in Palm Beach with his career in shambles. His Long Island, New York house had been foreclosed on and he had been living in a borrowed apartment in Manhattan. Since his coming to Palm Beach, he had built ever more grand homes for his clients, but had yet to have his own creation to live in for more than a few months. This time, he knew he was finally home. And this was not just a house. It was a residence that combined comfort with functionality and was “suitably grand” for his self-image and for entertaining without overshadowing his more socially ambitious clients.
Part Two: Rose and Mortimer Sachs 1939-1985
Mortimer and Rose had a highly developed sense of honor, decency, and commitment to Palm Beach. The couple converted to Catholicism due to, in the words of their grandson, Ira, “a respect for order and a sense of hierarchy.” The Sachses were determined to select tenants who lived up to their high moral and ethical standards. When they acquired Via Mizner, the once grand Mizner Industries’ headquarters contained a house of prostitution. In a 1973 interview with Mr. Sachs, which appeared in the Palm Beach Post, Sachs is quoted as saying, “Mrs. Flood had a beautiful business but we couldn’t let it continue.”
Once Via Mizner’s carefully selected tenants all lived up to the Sachses’ standards, the couple remained steadfast in their conservative ethics, but liberal in enforcing the leases. If a leaseholder was having difficulty paying the rent, Mort and Rose used to tell them to “pay whatever you can and just focus on getting back on your feet. We have faith in you.”
Part Three: Transition 1985-2003
Various attempts to alter the home’s use were thwarted, including one sad concept, which was nearly successful. Sara and Damon Gadd, the founder of Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont, tried to turn the villa into a private club—an effort that was narrowly rejected by the Landmarks Committee. The Gadds’ endeavor was likely the last of this type of threat, because the Villa became a Historic Landmark in 1992. After Ian Kean successfully broke up the via into condominium sections, he listed the newly, legally freestanding villa for sale the same year.
By the end of the decade, Robert and Gay bought the King and Queen of Norway’s summer residence in Norway, and Robert spent much of that first summer there. Shortly after his return, he announced to Gay that he wanted a divorce.
One witness to the events that followed asserts Robert threw all of Gay’s clothes out onto Worth Avenue which was not exactly what the Everglades Club’s Board of Directors was looking for in their new members.
Part Four: Nick and Dee Adams 2003-Present
Nick Adams’ initial impression of Palm Beach had been guarded. This quickly changed when he entered the villa. He recalls the moment clearly saying: “the minute I walked in I was smitten – it was love at first sight. I was seeing an entity and it was saying ‘I am there for you.’ It was madness. I was in the midst of doing a renovation up north and buying a house in Palm Beach was madness.”
“We are part of the via,” Dee says, smiling. “That’s just the way Mizner intended the occupants of this house to be. When we are here we don’t want to leave. It’s so hard to leave! The house won’t let us out. It creates one diversion after another. We never just pick up our bags and walk out like we can do in other locations.”