Mar-a-Lago Estate, Palm Beach FL
is one of America's most elaborate 20th century mansions. The site, the style, and a large amount of the decor was personally chosen by Marjorie Merriweather Post (then Mrs. Edward F. Hutton), who had the house built. After searching the area south of Worth Avenue for many months with her agent, Lytle Hull, Mrs. Post found a property which was suitable for the construction of the kind of residence she wanted. The property, overgrown with lush vegetation, consisted of approximately seventeen acres on a coral reef located between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth, The reef provided a firm base for the house which was anchored to it with concrete and steel, and has withstood hurricanes and heavy tropical storms over the years. The name Mar-a-Lago means between sea and lake.
Construction began in 1923, at a time when Addison Mizner was the rage in Palm Beach, creating tile-roofed palaces for wealthy patrons in a style inspired by the architecture of Spain. Mrs. Post, however, retained Marion Sims Wyeth, a graduate of Princeton and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, as her architect. Many of the ideas that went into the house were Mrs. Post's. She had traveled extensively in Europe, visiting the palaces, estates, and great museums of the continent. She had seen many decorative motifs which she wished to adapt for her own residence and had acquired a collection of architectural remnants and fine furnishings which were incorporated in the house. It was her idea to bring together the Spanish, Venetian, and Portuguese styles into one harmonious and striking effect.
Joseph Urban, noted among his many accomplishments as an interior designer, was chosen to oversee the interior decoration and carved ornamental stone work at the Mar-a-Lago estate. He was responsible for bringing his fellow Viennese, Franz Barwig and Barwig's son Walter, to Palm Beach to execute the interior and exterior sculpture. Father and son worked nearly three years developing the various motifs, including the parrot, monkey, ram's head, eagle, and griffin figures which adorn the outside and cloister walls and for which the residence is so famous. Their modeling shop, where much of the carving and casting was done, stood near the present entrance to the beach tunnel. The original plaster models are still stored on the premises.
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