2011 Robert I. Ballinger Award Given – Bath and Tennis Wins
The 2011 Ballinger Award for outstanding restoration and rehabilitation of historic architecture was presented at the Preservation Foundation’s annual membership luncheon held on Friday, December 2nd, 2011. This year, the Foundation awarded the Bath and Tennis Club. Theatrical set designer and architect Joseph Urban designed the property in 1926.
Foundation Chairman John Mashek presented the Ballinger medal to the Bath and Tennis Club’s president Nancy Murray for the restoration of the property.
Architects Keith Spina and Danny Brown of the firm Glidden Spina & Partners did the restoration and renovation. Jessica Gomes was the project architect and Niki Bennett the project coordinator. The landscape was overseen by a variety of designers and consultants including Jorge Sanchez of Sanchez and Maddux Inc., and Keith Williams of Nievera Williams Design. The interior design was handled by Mimi McMakin and Ashley Sharpe of Kemble Interiors. The contractors on the project were Gene Parker of Hedrick Brothers Construction and Eric Plotke of KAST Construction. Gene Paul Stifter as general manager of the Bath & Tennis Club was also heavily involved.
A presentation was given honoring the property with the Foundation’s Associate Director Janice Owens discussing the history and Executive Director Alexander C. Ives highlighting the restoration and renovation work. Over 175 images by professional photographer Stephen Leek detailed the architectural features.
The project took over 4 years and was broken up into multiple phases. Notable was the discovery and restoration of the original entrance ceiling. The central star-shaped design in the ceiling is typical of Joseph Urban’s original Mediterranean Revival style. It appeared to have been hidden for over 50 years. In the post-1947 hurricane work done by architect John L. Volk the angle orientation of the entrance was changed and in the process the ceiling was made to be covered and hidden. Now it is restored for all to see this unusually deep-relief ceiling, a classic of Urban’s work.
The property for the club was originally purchased by Mr. and Mrs. E. F. Hutton. Mrs. E. F. Hutton, otherwise known as Marjorie Merriweather Post choose Joseph Urban to design the Bath & Tennis Club after a lunch meeting between the two arranged by Anthony Biddle. Urban also created the Paramount Theater and Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.
Urban took the Spanish style of Mediterranean Revival and mixed in both an Islamic-Moorish and Oriental influence. Once asked about his supposedly modern style, Urban answered, “call it modern, if you must, it is in reality Middle Age and Orient mixed.” Urban's plan for the Bath and Tennis Club is as enticing as it is rambling. The exteriors and courtyards are sprinkled with a variety of Spanish influences, Islamic-Moorish elements highlight the overall structure and a bit of the Oriental and even Eastern European creep in with interior decorations. The overall effect is one not centered on consistency and harmony of style, but of delight and ease of use. The complexity of the design has been adapted to the functions of the property. As citric Paul Goldberger said of Urban, “[h]is designs never shrank away meekly, yet they never overdid it either. They were strong, vibrant, and had just the right degree of presence: a world poised between fantasy and reality.” Urban’s design is such a success and landmark because it knows what its goals are: to be a place of social gathering, resort living and relaxation.
The Foundation engaged the organization CyArk to create a laser scan and 3D digital model of the Bath and Tennis Club. CyArk have previously documented such world heritage sites as Mount Rushmore, Rosslyn Chapel, Angkor Wat, and the ruins of Pompeii. Now the Bath and Tennis Club has been added to that list. The project achieved the most complete and precise three-dimensional model scans possible, millions of times more detailed and accurate than the best photographs or plans. It offers opportunities for archiving and study, new architectural projects, structural and engineering analysis, and development and planning issues.
At the membership luncheon, Foundation member Susan McAllister was also named volunteer of the year for her efforts in assistance of the Foundation, giving freely and readily of her time.
The Ballinger award was first presented by the Foundation in 1987 and honors the late Robert I. Ballinger Jr., former chairman of the Palm Beach Landmarks Preservation Commission. Struck by noted sculptor Edward Grove, the medal itself bears the likeness of a bust of Ballinger that was sculpted by Ballinger’s wife, Didi Ballinger, and, on the reverse, the name of the house being honored and its owners.
All images by Stephen Leek
The Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach is a private, non-profit membership organization dedicated to the preservation of the historic, architectural and cultural heritage of Palm Beach, Florida. As the community advocate for maintaining the outstanding quality of life in Palm Beach, the Foundation has created a community-wide perspective seeing the unique buildings of Palm Beach as integral to the Town’s character as well as its future. What once would have been only issues of growth have been reshaped as issues of quality of life. By combining history, inventiveness and ingenuity the Preservation Foundation has helped forge a contemporary Palm Beach informed by its achievements in architecture, culture and design, not dismissive of them.
Over 30 years, the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach has given millions of dollars for the preservation and restoration of historic properties; worked advocating for over 270 landmark properties; recognized numerous architects, owners, and properties with awards; educated hundreds of thousands of children about the architectural, cultural and environmental legacy of Palm Beach; and saved thousands of archival documents in its library, among many other accomplishments.