El Mirasol


 

El Mirasol in the 1920's

by Barron Bohnet

It was the grandest home ever built in Palm Beach and it would start Addison Mizner on a long and prosperous career as the town's favorite architect. The house of Spanish architecture was situated on a large tract of land that ran from the ocean to the lake. It was built on several levels with interlocking rooms, various loggias and patios. On the lakeshore there was a small teahouse and a dock for Mr. Stotesbury's yacht Nedeva. It was a virtual paradise and it was home to Edward and Eva Stotesbury for three months each year.

The Stotesbury's primary residence was Whitemarsh Hall, a 147 room palatial home just outside Philadelphia, with gardens and grounds to rival those at Versailles. Here they resided in regal splendor every spring and fall, and spent the summer months at Wingwood House, their vast neo-colonial home in Bar Harbor, Maine. It was a time when, if you could, you traveled with the seasons and your three or more homes were distinctly different from each other giving you great variety, and desired change.

The beginning of January each year would see the Stotesburys leaving Whitemarsh Hall for El Mirasol. Mr. Stotesbury would make the trip on his private yacht Nedeva, traveling the inland waterways wherever possible. Eva, because she was easily prone to sea-sickness, always traveled by train. In the early years she would always travel in a private railroad car.

One week earlier, a contingent of servants from Whitemarsh Hall would make the trip by train to Palm Beach. Approximately thirty-two servants would supplement the permanent year round staff at El Mirasol, bringing the total required staff to about forty. They would travel in reserved Pullman cars and upon arriving tend to the many chores required in opening the house for the season. At least two people traveled by automobile: Eva's chauffer would drive her custom-built Rolls Royce limousine down, and Mr. Stotesbury's chauffer would bring his black Chrysler sedan.

The servants were a mixed lot having different duties, but they all knew each other as the turnover was minimal. There was the housekeeper, the butler, the five footmen, personal maids and valet, parlor maids, pantry maids, chambermaids, housemen, cooks, kitchen maids, secretaries and watchmen, etc. All were needed for a properly staffed El Mirasol. During their stay in Palm Beach, Mrs. Stotesbury would frequently rent bicycles for their use on their day off and would arrange picnics for them. They were well taken care of.

The Stotesbury's entertained at least several times each week and these affairs might be small afternoon teas, cocktail parties or dinner parties, a musical concert or a lecture. Eva's dinner parties for twelve to twenty favored guests were always memorable events. Her parties were the finest Palm Beach had ever seen.

Every year Eva would throw a huge birthday party for Mr. Stotesbury on February 26, inviting five to six hundred guests. From the banker to the local grocer, they would raise their glasses in a champagne salute to the grand old gentleman of Palm Beach, while we would beat on the drums as he did in the Civil War. His drum playing became an annual event that everyone looked forward to.

With guestrooms to spare, Eva played hostess to many over the years and it must have seemed like one long party at times, stretching over three months. Royalty and movie stars alike, along with family and friends could have breakfast (of their choice) in bed if desired, or out on the patio. An automobile and driver was at their disposal if requested, and they were assigned a house servant as needed. Eva would personally make sure that their stay was a pleasant and memorable one.

Parties to give and parties to go to and a constant stream of overnight guests provided much activity, and before one had realized it the season was drawing to a close. It was the beginning of April and time to head north. Mr. Stotesbury would board the Nedeva , and taking some friends along, cruise to Philadelphia. Eva would retrace her steps by train and the chauffeurs would return with the automobiles. One week later the servants, after closing up the house, would leave on the train. All activity over for another year, El Mirasol would now go into a deep slumber with only the sight and sound of mowers to break the quiet.


 


 

Thoughts and Observations On the Stotesburys, Their Homes and the Era In Which They Lived

by John H. Deming, Jr.

In 1912 when Edward Townsend Stotesbury married Eva Roberts Cromwell he had been a widower for thirty some years, had two married daughters and was a wealthy man. Had he not married Eva, he would probably have slipped into obscurity and be remembered today only by business and financial historians. But he did marry her, and left behind a social legacy few others could or did equal.

Edward, or Ned, as he was known to those close to him, was born in Philadelphia. His Quaker father was a successful sugar refiner. After several jobs Edward found employment with Drexel & Co. After the death of Anthony J. Drexel he took over the helm of the company and his fortune began to grow. He remained faithful to the Quaker tradition  of making money, but keeping a low profile. 

That all changed with his marriage to Eva. He was so much in love with her there was nothing that he would not do for her. Her desire was to be at the top of society. In Palm Beach and Bar Harbor she got her wish. She became queen of society in both locations. But in Philadelphia, where "old money' families ruled, she never made the very top. For that single reason , she never did come to love Philadelphia, or like to think of it as home.

Edward provided Eva with three palaces all designed to suit her. First came Whitemarsh Hall in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania in 1916. It ranked within the top five largest homes ever built in America, having been designed by Philadelphia's leading classical architect, Horace Trumbauer. 

As Whitemarsh Hall was being completed in 1921, at Palm Beach, Florida the Stotesbury winter home was just beginning to rise. Addison Mizner had designed his first major residence in the area in the Spanish style that was to become his hallmark. It has been reported that Horace Trumbauer had designed a residence for them in Palm Beach, but Eva found the design unacceptable. This provided Mizner the golden opportunity he sought. Eva named the house El Mirasol and had Mizner expand the house at a later date. Although Mizner was to go on to design dozens of Spanish houses in Palm Beach, and elsewhere, a few even larger, none had the complexity of plan as that provided at El Mirasol.

If you could afford a winter house then what you needed was a summer house. Philadelphians traditionally summer at Bar Harbor, Maine, and so the Philadelphia architectural firm of Magaziner, Eberhard & Harris was called upon to design Wingwood, the Stotesburys' summer house at this costal enclave/resort of the wealthy. Wingwood is best described as a massive colonial having close to one hundred rooms and was completed in 1927. It sat some one hundred feet behind the seawall, overlooking the Atlantic.

If there were any doubts as to whether Edward could afford all this new construction he announced he was worth 100 million dollars (at least on paper) in 1929. Less than two years later it was a different story. The crash of 1929, in is early days must have convinced Edward that there was a strong possibility that he and Eva might not be able weather the storm. They closed up all of their real estate, with the idea that they might never return. They booked passage to Europe. But in time, it became apparent finances for the Stotesburys were not all that poor, and they eventually returned to the United States.

They resumed their pace of years before. However, Edward exercised spending restraints at all of their properties. Cuts were made in staff members, and if one looked closely one could see the gardens  were less elaborate than they had been. These cuts allowed them to continue on in grand style. When Edward died in 1938, the estate was surprisingly small at just a bit over five million, when only nine years earlier it had been twenty-fold that figure.


 

The Dinning Room


 

El Mirasol

by Alfred Branam, Jr.

Even though Henry Morrison Flagler founded Palm Beach, it took Eva and Edward Stotesbury to put it on the map

In 1917, when the Stotesburys decided to build 'El Mirasol," they were a couple in the right place. at the right time.

In those days, Palm Beach was a place where most entertaining was done in the ballrooms of hotels. With the exception of Flager's own imposing Colonial mansion, "Whitehall," there were few private villas. After the Stotesburys broke away and decided to build their own place, the Genie was out of the bottle. Soon, everyone who WAS anyone, and quite a few who wanted to become SOMEONE, had to have their own residence.

The beauty and novelty of a Spanish styled house like "El Mirasol" generated a tidal wave of taste that swept Palm Beach from shore to shore as builder after builder  clamored for this style that was both picturesque and practical in a warm climate.

"El Mirasol's" architect, Addison Mizner was kept busy at his drawing board constantly trying to devise new ways to combine the towers, turrets, cloisters and balconies which typify the Spanish vernacular. I time, other Palm Beach houses were grander and more lavishly appointed, and still others were perhaps more convincingly authentic designs, but "El Mirasol" always occupied a very special place, because it was the first.

The Stotesbury's 70 ft. yacht "Nedeva."
(The first of two Nedeva's)

 

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