Jewel of Palm Beach

SUCCESS WAS ENGRAINED into Marjorie Merriweather Post from her birth on March 15, 1887. As this only child of Charles William Post and Ella Letitia Merriweather grew up, her father taught her every aspect of his grain-foods business, from basic operations—as a child, she helped affix product labels—to keeping the books. Growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan, young Marjorie absorbed it all, along with her father’s attitude that wealth should be shared.
After C. W. Post’s suicide in 1914, the fully capable Marjorie inherited the Postum Cereal Company, although she would not immediately assume running it or even serve on its board, as societal norms of the time reserved such duties for men. At this time she was married to Edward Close, with whom she had two daughters, Adelaide and Eleanor. The family’s life was centered on Close’s origins in New York, and they divided time between a Fifth Avenue apartment and an estate in Greenwich, Connecticut. But it was not a fitting life for the ambitious businesswoman, and the marriage did not last. Soon after the 1919 divorce, Marjorie married Wall Street’s E. F. Hutton, nephew of the famed broker, with whom she had her third daughter, Nedenia. Hutton was heavily involved in the growth of Postum Cereal Company, which after several significant acquisitions—Maxwell House Coffee and Birdseye Frozen Foods, to name a pair—became General Foods Corporation in 1929.
Social opportunities were abundant, and such time was spent with birds of a feather (e.g. the Astors and the Vanderbilts) in the expected places: New York and Newport in summer, and in winter Palm Beach, where Post kept a home called Hogarcito. The seaside estate was lovely, but as her three daughters grew and the family’s social needs increased, Marjorie realized that Hogarcito was no longer adequate in space or grandeur. She wanted to impress her Palm Beach friends and globetrotting guests with something truly unique. A sea view was imperative, but so was resistance to storms. The 17-acre site between the Atlantic and Lake Worth—hence Mar-a-Lago—had a coral foundation, permitting a dependably reinforced perch. For the design, she resisted the expected decision to hire Addison Mizner, then the premier architect in Palm Beach. Again, the cereal heiress had made her own mark.

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Original architect Marion Wyeth didn’t show the chutzpah Marjorie sought, so she hired Austrian architect Joseph Urban. The men ended up in a lopsided collaboration, with Urban providing nearly all of the exterior design—a tastefully extravagant combination of the best elements of the Mediterranean—and the pragmatic Wyeth reining in the excess. Most notable are the countless (about 36,000) 15th-century tiles from Spain, roofing and floor tiles from Cuba, and the stone from Italy. When it came to the construction labor, Post maintained her father’s philosophy by deliberately over-hiring tradesmen to keep their paychecks coming.
Once Mar-a-Lago was complete, her peers were all pleased to gather there during the social season for fine parties or extended holidays away from icy winds. As refined and cultured as Marjorie was, her parties were whimsical affairs marked by square dancing and more soft drinks than hard. She held twice-weekly wintertime dances at Mar-a-Lago, complete with a live orchestra and ever-ready dance instructors for those who needed them.
Post clearly enjoyed philanthropy, and many of the events she put on in Palm Beach were fundraisers. For instance, over the winter of 1920–21, she and Hutton teamed with other Palm Beach couples to put on a benefit play for the establishment of a hospital in West Palm Beach. During the Great Depression, Post stepped up her philanthropic efforts, establishing soup kitchens in New York and giving to the American Red Cross, on whose behalf she held a fundraising ball at Mar-a-Lago each winter, and the Salvation Army. Later her charity efforts helped the World Wildlife Fund, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, and various international causes large and small.
Marjorie Post died in September of 1973, and Mar-a-Lago was bequeathed to the federal government with the intention that it become a haven for sitting presidents and visiting dignitaries. In 1964, Post had offered the property to the state of Florida, but the decision-makers shook their heads when they learned its maintenance costs. For this same reason it never became a presidential winter haven; more importantly to the Secret Service, ensuring security at the estate was impossible due to its proximity to Palm Beach International Airport. So Uncle Sam gave the gift back to the Marjorie Merriweather Post Foundation, whose best course was to list Mar-a-Lago in 1980, asking $20 million. The opulent property sat more or less mothballed for years without stirring much interest among the deep-pocketed.
While visiting Palm Beach in 1983, Donald Trump was instantly taken by the sight of Mar-a-Lago, to the point where he made an almost instant offer on the manse. The deal closed at the end of 1985, and Trump used this subtropical home base for about a decade before making it into the private club it remains today. Mar-a-Lago undoubtedly deserves the “Jewel of Palm Beach” moniker it has long held, and just as in its early days it continues to be a favorite venue during the Palm Beach social season.

The Sea Cloud was Marjorie Merriweather Post’s personal sailing vessel, which remains to this day a symbol of luxurious sailing. As part of their seasonal lecture series, The Historical Society of Palm Beach County will present a discussion of Sea Cloud on Monday, March 9, 2009 at 7:00 PM at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach. Leading the lecture will be Ellen MacNeille Charles, granddaughter of Mrs. Post, and Thomas Hook, who has sailed Sea Cloud for over 20 years.

For All It’s Worth

KNOWN FOR ITS LUXURY BOUTIQUES, fine restaurants and the signature architecture of Addison Mizner, the Worth Avenue of today is a key fixture in the Palm Beach community. Bustling during ‘the season,’ Worth Avenue has been the premier shopping destination for the wintering elite since its establishment. Part of the Avenue’s lure, aside from offering the crème de la crème of shopping experiences, is a history in which the essence of the Palm Beach lifestyle is ingrained.
Today, a ‘Mizner’ home will fetch millions in South Florida, but at the beginning of his career, Addison Mizner’s unconventional architecture surprised many. He drew inspiration from his travels through the Mediterranean during his youth, but what he did with window treatments and staircases was, to put it best, unexpected. He believed in creating architecture that was interesting and unique. Without formal training, Mizner began his career in architecture while living in San Francisco and continued on to New York. At the age of 46, he decided to move to Palm Beach for his health, and once he started building, South Florida’s coast would never look the same.
It was during WWI when Mizner began work on the Everglades Club. Palm Beach Master Historian and Storyteller James Ponce, who gives walking tours of Worth Avenue, tells the story of how Paris Singer of Singer sewing machines approached Mizner to build a club, the idea being to offer a facility for officers returning from the war. Singer reportedly asked Mizner what he would build in Palm Beach if he could do anything he wanted, to which Mizner responded, “Well, it wouldn’t be wooden, and I wouldn’t paint it yellow.” This description was in contrast the prominent look in the area established by South Florida’s primary developer, Henry Flagler. Of course, the war ended once building was underway, and the structure became the elite Everglades Club.
From that point, Mizner developed the Avenue with classical courtyards and meandering alleyways. The architecture mirrors that of one of the world’s most fascinating cities: Venice. Worth’s alleyways parallel the paths of Venetian canals and in the same way, arched footbridges pass overhead. Around the strategically placed bends in the road, engineered to pique curiosity, Mizner placed beautiful vias and plazas. Many of these vias have remained unchanged to this day, and today’s shoppers can enjoy Mizner’s creations just as he intended it. As Ponce says, “If you haven’t explored what’s down the alleyways, down the vias, you haven’t really seen the Avenue.”

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During Worth Avenue’s early days, starting in the 1920s, it was a seasonal sensation. Ponce, who worked at Palm Beach’s Colony Hotel, remembers how the entire avenue would shut down by the first of May. It was not until the early 70s that the shops and restaurants would remain open year-round. He recalls that 1971 was the first year that Saks Fifth Avenue remained open through the summer season. Many early establishments, such was Kassatly’s, the Avenue’s oldest store, remain. Today, there are more than 200 shops offering the finest in jewelry, clothing and shoes and internationally acclaimed paintings and antiques.
While the times have changed, the tradition of elegance on Worth Avenue remains, thanks in part to the Worth Avenue Association. “The Association’s purpose is to provide a common direction for the Avenue’s merchants,” says John Maus, former president of the Association. “Each of the merchants here is a stand-out retailer in his or her own field. In addition, these are people who want to be a part of this world-famous street.”

Camping In The Great Outdoors

Ah, there’s nothing quite like camping around Palm Beach. Back to the basics, the woods, the trails and all the other exciting adventures that go along with camping.

Unfortunately last time I went, I forgot my leatherman multitool. It was the most horrible camping trip I think I’ve ever been on. I wanted to go fishing and needed to change some of my fishing line.

Normally, I use my leatherman for this task however, that wasn’t possible, why not? Because I forgot it lying on the table when I was packing.

That was the biggest mistake I could have made. I actually drove back home to get it. Whew, thankfully I wasn’t too far from home when I remembered.

Now I could go fishing. I gathered up my pole and my leatherman and I was able to successfully switch out the line with one tool. I could use the pliers to hold the line and the cutting part to snip it off where I needed to snip it. It was perfect.

When I caught the fish I could hold the fish in one hand and remove the hook with my plier part of the leatherman multitool. I am so grateful that I remembered it before I got too far from home. Thanks to Rangermade

I think that my leatherman is the most important tool I could ever own. I use it when I am camping to hold things, to snip wires and fishing line, to fix fishing line and to do a multitude of tasks in and around the campground where I choose to camp.

Many people think I’m kind of a nut for choosing my leatherman as my main tool to take with me camping, however, I find that it has so many tools in one that I don’t have to bring my entire tool box.

With the screwdrivers and pliers, I can do most any task. I can cut things and pull things and it’s like having a dozen tools in one.

I even used it to fix the terminals on my car when it wouldn’t start. It is amazing that people own entire tool boxes full of tools and no leatherman.

I take mine camping, hunting, fishing and hiking. There are so many great uses out there for a leatherman multitool that I can’t imagine not having one. In fact, I have several.

I bought one for each of my kids and I use mine almost daily especially when I am camping. It helps me when I am changing out the mantels on my lanterns. It helps me to pick up small items and tie my fishing lures on my line.

A leatherman is a must in anyone’s camping equipment. I don’t think I could go camping without mine. My brother didn’t use one until he saw me with mine, now, he takes his everywhere as well.

It’s amazing how one simple tool can do so many tasks. I am so glad that I got to know a leatherman tool and have several.

On The Track

The Palm Beach Steeplechase was declared a huge success by professional and equestrian aficionados. In its inaugural running, the Steeplechase marked the beginning of the winter equestrian circuit with a crowd estimated at 4,000. In addition to the five races with total prize money of $180,000, the event featured skydivers landing in the infield with a 1,000 square-foot American flag, terrier races, a children’s fair, the release of three dozen doves, gourmet food by Equestrian Club by Tavern on the Green, a wine festival and beer tent. The course was the same facility where the late Princess Diana watched her husband, Prince Charles, play polo two decades ago. The South Florida equestrian circuit is in full swing and the Palm Beach Steeplechase is the perfect start to a spectacular season.
The organizers, Equestrian Sports Productions, a wholly owned subsidiary of Wellington Equestrian Partners is composed of a group of individuals dedicated to creating excellence in horse sports. WEP created ESP to bring together the best-experienced and most talented individuals to manage horse shows, and produce spectacular equestrian events providing the highest levels of facilities and services to fulfill WEP’s goal of building the top equestrian showcase in Wellington, FL. This partnership includes some of America’s most prominent equestrian families who are committed to developing a top-level equestrian community in Wellington and providing harmony between equestrian and non-equestrian interests in and around the horse show grounds, The Palm Beach Equestrian Center.
The Steeplechase is well known for the diversity of attire its guests wear. Men wore khakis, blazers, jeans and polo shirts, while the ladies attended in beautiful sundresses, jeans, and of course, hats. The Steeplechase is a traditional form of horse racing—mainly conducted in the United Kingdom, United States, France and Ireland—and derives its name from earlier races in which orientation of the course was a church steeple, jumping fences and ditches and generally traversing intervening obstacles in the countryside. The new Palm Beach course measures one mile running clockwise, and the races are run at a distance of 2.25 miles. Even though the term originated in Ireland, steeplechase is not used there or in the UK. The formal code is National Hunt Racing. The most famous of these races is the Grand National run annually in Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool since 1837.

Steeple chasing occurs in 12 states in the U.S., offers $4 million in total purses is seen by millions of people and includes the best horses and horsemen. Each year this activity raises millions of dollars for charity while attracting an estimated one million fans. The feature race at Palm Beach is a $100,000 Grade 1 Novice Hurdle that decides the year-end novice championship. On the horseman side the very top owners, trainers and riders that competed in Wellington in the season finale.

Horses were brought from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee and the Carolinas. Before the event, Mark Bellissimo, Palm Beach Steeplechase chairman commented, “The steeplechase will be a fun family event that should attract all types of spectators from the community and beyond.” And so it was. Among the enthusiastic crowd, there were thousands of devoted fans as well as new aficionados who had never attended an equestrian event.

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Horse sports are part of Old and New World traditions. The horse is the noblest of beasts and our admiration for this fine animal continues to grow. The inaugural Palm Beach Steeplechase demonstrated that there is a great need and interest in our communities for this kind of event. Those who partake in the equestrian lifestyle are thrilled. Those just discovering the nobility of a horse are looking forward to next year’s race to see the horses on the track.