cover image Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, and the Rise of America’s Xanadu

Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, and the Rise of America’s Xanadu

Les Standiford. Atlantic Monthly, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2849-2

History writer Standiford (Last Train to Paradise) delivers a readable history of the wealthy Americans who developed Florida for their vacationing pleasure. Oil and railroad magnate Henry Flagler, seeking new business opportunities in the 1880s, set his sights on Florida. He built hotels and a rail line and, in the 1890s, constructed the lavish Breakers resort in Palm Beach. Flagler and his wife, Mary Lily, dominated the social scene there, attracting other wealthy people to town. One of the most important was Marjorie Merriweather Post, the only child of cereal tycoon C.W. Post; she and her husband hired Beaux Arts–trained architect Marion Sims Wyeth to design their first place, Hogarcito, and Wyeth and Joseph Urban for their second, the 128-room Mar-a-Lago, completed in 1927. Post planned to bequeath it to Florida, but the state considered it too expensive to maintain and, after her 1973 death, the fate of the property remained uncertain until 1985, when Donald Trump bought it and turned it into a membership resort. This chronicle focuses less on the personalities of the rich and famous and more on land acquisition and building, about which Standiford writes effortlessly. This book will appeal to those interested in business history. Illus. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, InkWell Management. (Nov.)