The architectural legacy of Maurice Fatio
“Maurice Fatio: Palm Beach Architect,” by Kim I. Mockler. Acanthus Press. 256 pages. $65.
Kim Mockler’s study of Maurice Fatio’s contributions to the way of life among the powerful and wealthy denizens of Palm Beach is a treatise on American taste and splendor in the years leading up to the Great Depression and the decade that followed it. The descriptive text is crisp and clear, presenting architectural detail in a way that is at once knowledgeable, lucid and accessible to novices. “Maurice Fatio: Palm Beach Architect” is lavishly illustrated with a generous assortment of period photographs and new ones, as well as floor plans rendered especially for this gorgeously produced volume.
In presenting 26 representative examples of Mr. Fatio’s designs, Mr. Mockler incidentally provides us with a who’s who in American society and culture. If homes reflect their inhabitants and owners, then this presentation of Mr. Fatio’s Palm Beach achievement reflects the inspiration and aspiration of the American Dream. However, this landscape of material culture never forgets its European heritage.
Mr. Fatio’s designs are characterized by a variety of European influences, from Mediterranean palaces to British Colonial mansions and even homes with modernist influences. He made extensive use of quarry key stone mined in Florida, and his plans typically included a central courtyard that provided wind-sheltered outdoor entertainment space.
Mr. Mockler’s descriptive narratives include intriguing biographies and family histories; vivid word portraits of the residences; details about ornamentation, interior design and furnishings; information about additions, renovations and successive — including current — owners. We learn about where stones were quarried, which local artisans (wrought-iron craftsmen, etc.) made contributions to the architect’s vision and how the various residences were situated with respect to the ocean and to Lake Worth.
For whom did Mr. Fatio design his Palm Beach estates? His list of clients is a who’s who of American and international affluence and influence. Among them:
• Joseph E. Widener, the art collector who donated his family’s famous
so- them collection to the National Gallery
of Art in Washington,
D.C. He is
also known as the
man who brought
Hialeah Park to prominence as a world-class horseracing track.
• E.F. Hutton,
founder of the brokerage
house that bears
his name. He built his first Fatio house with
wife Marjorie Merriweather
Post and his second with his next wife, Dorothy Dear Metzger.
• And several members of the Vanderbilt family.
The book’s introduction has a biography of Mr. Fatio that includes the contours of his career and his influence on Palm Beach architecture during his lifetime and beyond. There’s also a rewarding sketch of Palm Beach social life during the period of Mr. Fatio’s enormous productivity. Mr. Mockler reminds us that the Palm Beach abodes of the elite were for the most part seasonal residences, supplemented by several other homes in similarly prestigious communities.
The study concludes with a cataloge of Mr. Fatio’s approximately 160 residential commissions on Palm Beach and nearby communities.
A Fort Lauderdale interior designer, Mr. Mockler is a native Floridian whose many years of studying Palm Beach architecture has given rise to a remarkable achievement. In expounding upon the achievement of Maurice Fatio, he has evoked the spirit of an epoch and a place as lived in by those who could afford to fulfill their dreams.
A conversation with
How did you get the idea for this book?
In the introduction, I explain how a friend and I drove around Palm Beach looking at houses as teenagers. This is a true story and pretty much lead me to my introduction to Maurice Fatio. Many of the houses I admired the most had been designed by him, although I didn’t find that out until later. Once I did discover who he was, I wanted more information about him, but could never find that much written about him.
In 1984, Dr. Donald Curl wrote a book about Addison Mizner called “Mizner’s Florida.” I loved that book, and strange as it seems, I thought a book like that should be written about Fatio.
In 1992, Fatio’s daughter Alexandra edited letters written by her parents to her grandparents and published them in a book, “Maurice Fatio, Architect.” This wonderful book was a huge help… but still left me wanting more. Then, in 2002,
Michael Kathrens wrote “American Splendor: The Residential Architecture of Horace Trumbauer,” and at that point I decided Fatio should have a book written about him like that one. And since no one else was writing one, I would have to be the one to do so.
How did you prepare yourself to create it?
I was very lucky in writing the book. Most everything just fell into place. The Palm Beach Historical Society has a large collection of the work of Treanor & Fatio, and the director of archives, Debi Murray, was very helpful in letting me have access to it. In turn, she introduced me to the architect’s daughter, Alexandra Fatio Taylor, who answered any of my questions about her father and gave support and became a very dear friend. It was Alex who, in speaking to the publisher, Barry Cenower at Acanthus Press in reference to another matter, mentioned that I was writing a book about her father, which led to my publishing the book through Acanthus Press.
What did you learn along the way that surprised you?
I never really thought of myself as a writer and couldn’t see sitting down and writing thousands of words that would be of interest to a reader. But surprisingly enough — I guess it was the love of my subject — once I started, each chapter just flowed.
What were the greatest difficulties you had to overcome?
I don’t think that I really had difficulties per se. The only problems that I did run into involved research on some of the individuals who built the houses. Not all of them were an Otto Kahn, a Harold Vanderbilt or an E.F. Hutton; I had a lot of trouble finding information about several of the people who weren’t as famous. Luckily — and I don’t how — I did finally find information about all of them.
Any similar projects in the works?
I have a couple of ideas rattling around in my head that I think might make for good books. I think I’ll see how the public likes this book before proceeding with a new endeavor.