Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, and the Rise of America’s Xanado, by Les Standiford. Atlantic Monthly Press. 288 pages. Hardcover $27.00.
In the history of the United States, many communities have vied for the top rung on the ladder of exclusivity and attraction. Most cultural historians have declared Palm Beach the winner. Les Standiford’s delightful book tells us why, exploring the lives and contributions of the town’s creators and major residents.
They are story-book names, people with a kind of royalty (and sometimes married to royalty). The island, sitting as it does been Lake Worth and the Atlantic Ocean, was not an easy place to reach until a major entrepreneur determined to make it so.
That man, Henry Flagler, saw the promise of what wasn’t much more than a swamp. Mr. Standiford gives Flagler the lion’s share of credit for being a visionary a man who put his money and mouth together to promote one notion of an ideal community for the super-rich.
The initial problem was getting there, and as a railroad entrepreneur, Flagler got it done.
It wasn’t easy getting far south from Jacksonville and St. Augustine, but his railway made it happen, later extending access to the bottom of the peninsular – Key West and its sibling keys. Of course, the big picture of how Flagler opened the state’s east coast includes Miami as well.
In leading up to and through Flagler’s genius, the author takes note of the displaced indigenous tribes and reminds us that Flagler was a former partner of John D. Rockefeller. He sketches the rivalry and intermingling of the Gilded Age front runners, knitting together those already mentioned with the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Carnegies, and the rest of the wealth constellation.
These people, sometimes rivals and sometimes partners, needed southern climes to call their own. Flagler knew where and how to lead them.
As if practicing for his virtual founding of Palm Beach, Flagler built in St. Augustine the 450-room Hotel Ponce de Leon and a nearby home named Kirkside.
As the 1890s turned into the 20th century, Flagler more and more focused on being a developer, eventually acquiring two million acres of Florida land via a land grant act and other means. And he kept pushing south, building several estates and hotels. Standiford names and describes them all, and then the torrent of Flagler wannabes takes hold. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 11, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Venice editions. and the December 19 PalmBeach edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Palm Beach