Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner’s Bella Costa, at 111 Dunbar Road, saved from the wrecking ball by Benjamin and Elys Wohl in 1999, has been restored and is now offered for sale by Sotheby’s International Realty for $8.95 million. It has eight bedrooms, five bathrooms, one half-bath and 9,682 square feet inside and out.
Costa Bella is one of Mizner’s earliest homes, designed for Elizabeth Hope Gammell Slater in 1920, built after the Everglades Club in 1918, and in 1919, his shops and apartments on Worth Avenue, Villa Yalta for Clarence Jones, El Mirasol for Edward T. Stotesbury, the Munn residences, Amado and Louwana, and Mizner’s own home, El Solano.
Elizabeth Hope Gammell was born Nov. 7, 1854, and died Aug. 22, 1944. Her father was Prof. William Gammell. Her grandfather was Robert Ives of the firm Brown and Ives and her mother is described in a New York Times story from 1882 as “reckoned the richest woman in America, her property placed at twenty millions or more.”
Elizabeth married John W. Slater ( son of William S. Slater, one of Rhode Island’s leading manufacturers and owner of the manufacturing village of Slaterville) on May 19, 1880. The marriage was on the rocks a couple of years later. Many details about that are in the 1882 New York Times story, but it’s hard to say if the marriage was on or off. Either way, she seems to have been known as Mrs. EHG Slater for the rest of her life.
In the early years of Palm Beach, Mrs. Slater is often mentioned, opening and closing her houses for the season, as well as hosting parties and prominent visitors.
She also built another grand house in 1902, Hopedene, in Newport, Rhode Island, designed by Peabody & Stearns, and, interestingly, it’s presently owned by Palm Beachers Craig and Michele Millard.
She was obviously a mover and a shaker, and her mansion, Bella Costa, ended up being a mover and probably had its fair share of shaking in the process.
Here’s that story: Palm Beach builder, Ed Cury, who bought the Dunbar property in 1999, planned to demolish the house, subdivide the land, and build two spec houses. But, instead, Benjamin and Elys Wohl bought the Mizner home from Cury, turned it 90 degrees, and moved it dozens of yards to the west. Cury later sold his oceanfront piece of the property to builder Bill Elias.
“We’ve always had an appreciation for architecture,” Elys says.
“We had been looking for a house in Palm Beach, and we saw how many of the old houses were being destroyed. We started to read the demolition applications for ARCOM, and we saw that the Barton house had come up for demolition,” explains Benjamin.
“We drove by to look at it and we were dumbfounded that this house with its significance and architectural details was slated to be demolished.
“We asked Ed Cury if we could save it and move it, and he was happy to oblige,” Benjamin says.
“After we moved the home, we restored it,” Elys adds.
The exterior paint, for example, is its original shade of pink, the color they uncovered after scraping through layers of paint. They tried to determine the original colors inside, as well.
“We felt we were saving a piece of history,” Elys says. “It has a heavy wooden studded door, a chandelier, numerous lighting fixtures, and a gorgeous several-hundred-year-old Tunisian tile floor in the entrance foyer.”
She believes that the plasterwork in the dining room was replicated from photographs of the Alhambra that Mizner had taken during his travels.
In Mizner’s Florida, author and historian Donald W. Curl noted that “Mizner’s detailng included a ‘stalactite’ lighting fixture and Gothic tracery for the dining room ceiling.”
Curl also noted the home’s “massive carved stone staircase,” and that, although more formal than Mizner’s typical work, “the extensive fenestration created an open and light vacation house.”
Descending down that stone staircase is impressive, Benjamin says. The green coral floor and sink in the powder room are unique and he’s never seen anything quite as black as the pure Belgian black marble in the foyer.
Other Miznereque features include the pecky cypress beams in the entry and living room, hardwood floors, tile, wrought iron work, arches, decorative columns and corbels, stone carvings and stone-carved mantels. Another interesting feature in the dining room is the terrazzo floor with thin metal dividers to create a tile effect.
“I can’t help but feel the touch of Addison Mizner, as I walk the marble floors, or when I’m just sitting in the grand ballroom reading a book to my kids,” Benjamin says.
“Having Shabbas dinner in the dining room has been enjoyable, too.”
“We’ve hosted so many guests there. The dining room is so regal, so grand, it makes the food taste better,” Eyls adds.
Now, though, they and their children are renting a 700-year-old home in Jerusalem, and are thinking about finding a permanent home, there.
For information, call Wally Turner at 561-301-2060.
More about the villa in Newport, RI, built in 1897.
And on page 39 and 56 of this 1908 Architectural Review: