Style | Swellboy

Swellboy on… acquiring a monkey

Celebrating a fabulously extravagant architect – and his pet monkey

Swellboy on… acquiring a monkey

Image: Brijesh Patel

June 28 2011
Nick Foulkes

I am thinking of acquiring a monkey. I strongly believe that we are about to be engulfed by a wave of simian chic. The basis for this preposterous prediction in pet trends is flimsy: the poster for the movie The Hangover Part II, which prominently features a monkey; and the latest cinematic outing for Captain Jack Sparrow, in which a monkey periodically appears amid the rigging of a boat sealed in a bottle.

Slight foundations, perhaps, on which to base the acquisition of a new domestic animal; but the hamster needs company, and I suppose I could always train it to clip and light my cigars and thus justify it to my accountant as a legitimate business expense. But the real inspiration for my planned monkey ownership is a flamboyant dilettante architect called Addison Mizner, a quite brilliant and, at around 300 pounds, quite literally larger than life character who used to parade around in silk pyjamas with a monkey on his shoulder.

Addison Mizner was the Zelig of gilded age America – he took part in the Gold Rush of 1897, swanned around New York in the days of Stanford White and the fabulously named Mrs Stuyvesant Fish, then went to Florida with sewing machine mogul Paris Singer just before the 1920s started to roar, where he invented a pastiche Mediterranean architecture that is probably one of the best things to have come out of America since Coca-Cola.

His greatest work to my mind was the Everglades Club, and it certainly made his reputation. Thereafter a Mizner house was something of a status symbol: he chucked a bit of everything in, from Spanish baronial, to Loire Château, to Côte d’Azur villa to Venetian gothic. He made his fortune building whimsical Mediterranean-inspired houses for the rich in Palm Beach and then lost the lot developing his dream city of Boca Raton just as the real-estate market in Florida collapsed. But he lost it in great style as the rambling scale of what he did manage to build at Boca testifies.

It is such a shame that the Depression intervened, as he had great plans for Boca, including what was to be known as the Seaboard Airline Station – an airport, albeit an airport as it might be designed by the builder of a late-medieval monastery: in a sort of Name of the Rose-meets-Terminal 5 way. Mizner clearly enjoyed his architecture and there is an omnivorous greed about the way in which he hoovered up every style he came across. He was a man for whom more was definitely more and at this time of year my mind wanders to what I fondly imagine to be the perpetual summer of Florida as he would have envisaged it: charming loggias, cloistered walkways, coffered ceilings, sunlight streaming through almost ecclesiastical fenestration, and of course chattering monkeys clambering about the place.

Who knows, maybe a few more monkeys might cheer up the otherwise rather austere oeuvre of contemporary architects such as David Chipperfield, Jean Nouvel, Santiago Calatrava et al.