Last year SFGN became the first publication to write in-depth on the famous architect’s sexuality and make the case that he was gay. Now new information has come to light revealing even more evidence of his homosexuality.
“Addison Mizner, Father of South Florida Architecture, Was Likely Gay,” was the headline on SFGN’s front page about a year ago. SFGN had embarked on a project to look into the background of South Florida architect Addison Mizner’s sexuality.
It was difficult research to do. We were inspired by the idea that it appeared to be common knowledge among Mizner historians that the famed Palm Beach County building boom architect was gay but there was virtually no information out in the open to support that idea.
Little survives of Mizner’s personal life and if he left any trace of his sexual orientation anywhere it would have been professional suicide while he was alive.
We were able to uncover a handful of details that further implicated his homosexuality such as Caroline Seebohm’s Mizner biography that described him as having “eccentricities” and a very “flamboyant” personality.
Furthermore she wrote, “his mature sexual taste was for very young men," "pretty boys with pretensions," and that he had "a series of young boys in tow" during his later years. We were also able to make strong connections of Mizner to known gay New York Architect Stanford White. White was a known mentor to Mizner before he came to Palm Beach and nearly all of the men associated with White in the 1910s were also known gays according to Aline Saarinen’s unpublished biography of White.
Soon after we ran our story a section appeared on Mizner’s Wikipedia page about his “homosexuality” that had not been there before. Initially it cited our article as the main source but Wikipedians corralled in updating the section and soon uncovered many other resources proving Mizner’s sexuality such as the 1932 biography on his family where Addison’s brother Wilson was described as loving women sexually, but Addison was said to simply cherish their “friendship and companionship.”
In early 2018 Stephen Perkins and James Caughman published a new coffee table biography on Mizner titled “Addison Mizner: the architect whose genius defined Palm Beach.” This is the first major publication on Mizner to directly shed light on his personal life that is well researched with many anecdotes and stories regarding Mizner.
According to Perkin’s and Caughman’s book, early clues to Mizner’s sexuality come from the time he spent in San Francisco where he was known to associate with a young man named Jack Baird. The two were playful and involved somewhat emotionally, an act that did not go unnoticed by Mizner’s then female companion, Bertha Dolbeer.
Dolbeer was a wealthy socialite who appreciated Mizner’s good nature but was concerned about his stability and reputation. At the time Mizner was an apprentice draftsman. He proposed to Dolbeer since it would have plugged him into the social pipeline of society. Mizner was optimistic about her response that she wanted to marry him but wouldn’t do so unless he found a better job and made more money. Awaiting her decision Mizner traveled to Europe only to receive a telegram in 1904 that Dolbeer had committed suicide. Mizner, destroyed emotionally, moved to New York City where he began associating with Stanford White.
Fifteen years after Mizner died in 1933, Alva Johnston began collecting information to write a series of biographical articles about Mizner for the New Yorker magazine. She solicited many people in Palm Beach and abroad that knew Mizner well and could give her material. Johnston had been close to Mizner when he was alive and saw him as a family of her own. Much of the material that came out of Palm Beach came from a series of letters from Alice DeLamar that still survive today in the basement of the old Palm Beach County Courthouse among the Historical Society Archives.
DeLamar discussed Mizner’s habit of hiring many young well-dressed men who could assimilate into Palm Beach society as companions easily, but lacked the necessary skills to help Mizner build his business. DeLamar described Mizner’s relationships with these men as “psychologically painful.”
For example, Mizner made a young man named Jack Roy manager of his furniture factory despite his lack of experience with the art of furniture making. Once Jack left, Mizner gave the management job to Jerry Girandolle, along with a new Cadillac. DeLamar went on to describe later how Mizner was rather attracted to a young painter he used on one of his houses who was described as a “strikingly handsome fellow.”
Johnston was very protective of Mizner’s reputation and place in history and used this correspondence with DeLamar as a vehicle to understand Mizner’s personality and habits, but refused to publish their content directly due to society’s disdain of homosexuality that still very much existed in the early 1950s when she published her stories.
Alex Waugh was another young man associated with Mizner in Palm Beach. The Orlando Sentinel described Waugh as a “carefully reared English boy,” with ambitions of becoming an interior designer when they interviewed him for a story on Mizner in 1966. He noted in his own 1976 autobiographical typescript, which also lives at the Palm Beach County Historical Society, that he too corresponded with Johnston and sent her several of what she called “amusing incidents” and while we don’t know what they were she felt they “quite unprintable.”
Waugh was 26 when he met Mizner in 1922 while Mizner was traveling through Paris. He was very knowledgeable in English decorative art and Mizner quickly hired him after learning he was looking for work. In early editions of The Palm Beach Daily News, in a time where society party guest lists were frequently published, Waugh was often l accompanying Mizner to such events. Waugh remarked in his typescript how he felt “all doors were open to him.” And, unlike some of Mizner’s other associated men, he and Waugh worked well together and would continue to do so until Mizner’s death in 1933.
Waugh eventually left Palm Beach to return to his native England. It is unknown whether Waugh himself ever married a woman or really what he did after he left Palm Beach. Nevertheless as a testimony to he and Mizner’s strong relationship, Waugh remained active in preserving the Mizner legacy throughout much of the rest of the 20th century often appearing at lectures, exhibits, and talks about the architect until his own death which appears to have been in 1982 according to British vital statistics records.
Mizner will always have a legacy in South Florida for jumpstarting the trend of Spanish revival architecture, of which Alex Waugh certainly assisted him with.
We can still say proudly today that Mizner may have a legacy of having been one of the first prominent gay figures in South Florida history.
If you want to read more about Mizner’s story and many of the men he was associated with, I recommend reading Stephen Perkins and James Caughman’s new book “Addison Mizner: the architect whose genius defined Palm Beach.”
Check out our other LGBT History stories here: LGBT History Month 2020