Biography of Addison Mizner

Visionary Resort Architect in Florida (1872-1933)

Black and white photo of Addison Mizner
Portrait of Addison Mizner The Architect of The Boca Raton. Photo by Bettmann / Bettmann / Getty Images (cropped)

Addison Mizner (born: December 12, 1872 in Benicia, California) remains one of the most influential figures of southern Florida's early-20th century building boom. His fanciful Mediterranean style of architecture launched a "Florida Renaissance" and inspired architects throughout North America. Yet Mizner is largely unknown today and was rarely taken seriously by other architects during his lifetime.

As a child, Mizner traveled around the world with his large family. His father, who became the U.S. minister to Guatemala, settled the family in Central America for a time, where the young Mizner lived among Spanish-influenced buildings. To many, Mizner's legacy is based on his early exploits with his younger brother, Wilson. Their adventures, including a stint looking for gold in Alaska, became the subject of Stephen Sondheim's musical Road Show.

Addison Mizner did not have formal training in architecture. He apprenticed with Willis Jefferson Polk in San Francisco and worked as an architect in the New York area after the Gold Rush, yet he could never master the task of drawing blueprints.

When he was 46, Mizner moved to Palm Beach, Florida because of his ill health. He wanted to capture the diversity of Spanish architecture, and his Spanish Revival style homes won the attention of many of the wealthy elite in the Sunshine State.

Criticizing modern architects for "producing a characterless copybook effect," Mizner said that his ambition was to "make a building look traditional and as though it had fought its way from a small unimportant structure to a great rambling house."

When Mizner moved to Florida, Boca Raton was a tiny, unincorporated town.

With an entrepreneur's spirit, the eager developer aspired to transform it into a luxurious resort community. In 1925, he and his brother Wilson started Mizner Development Corporation and purchased more than 1,500 acres, including two miles of beach. He mailed out out promotional material that boasted a 1,000-room hotel, golf courses, parks and a street wide enough to fit 20 lanes of traffic. Stockholders included such high-rollers as Paris Singer, Irving Berlin, Elizabeth Arden, W.K. Vanderbilt II and T. Coleman du Pont. Film star Marie Dressler sold real estate for Mizner.

Other developers followed Mizner's example, and eventually Boca Raton became all that he envisioned. It was a short-lived building boom, however, and within a decade he was bankrupt. In February of 1933, he died at age 61 of a heart attack n Palm Beach, Florida. His story remains relevant today as an example of the rise and fall of a once-successful American entrepreneur.

Significant Architecture:

  • 1911: Additions to White Pine Camp /¬†Coolidge Summer White House, Adirondack Mountains, New York State
  • 1912: Rock Hall, Colebrook, Connecticut
  • 1918: Everglades Club, Palm Beach, Florida
  • 1922: William Gray Warden Residence, 112 Seminole Ave., Palm Beach, Florida
  • 1923: Via Mizner, 337-339 Worth Ave., Palm Beach, Florida
  • 1923: Wanamaker Estate / Kennedy Winter White House, 1095 North Ocean Boulevard, Palm Beach, Florida
  • 1924: Riverside Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida
  • 1925: Via Parigi, Palm Beach, Florida
  • 1925: Administration Buildings, 2 Camino Real, Boca Raton.
  • 1925: Boynton Woman's Club, 1010 S. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach
  • 1925: Boca Raton Resort and Club, Boca Raton, Florida
  • 1926: Fred C. Aiken House, 801 Hibiscus St., Boca Raton, Florida

Learn More:

  • The Legendary Mizners by Alva Johnston, 2003
    Buy on Amazon
  • Panic in Paradise: Florida's Banking Crash of 1926 by Raymond B. Vickers, 2007
    Buy on Amazon

Sources: Florida Memory, State Library & Archives of Florida; Boca Raton Historical Society and Museum; Division of Cultural Affairs, Florida Department of State [accessed January 7, 2016]