Today this magnificent 55-room mansion is open to visitors with guided tours led by knowledgeable docents. Alternatively, visitors can take a self-guided tour using the brochures provided, or pick up an audio tour wand. The marble floors, chandeliers and opulence of each grand salon make this a memorable place to visit for anyone finding themselves in the upmarket area of Palm Beach.
Whitehall is located on the eastern end of Lake Worth. When it was completed in covered 60,000 square feet and was surrounded by landscaped gardens. Flagler and Mary lily used it as a winter residence and arrived, of course, in their own private railcar #91. Now fully restored, the railcar sits in the pavilion behind the mansion and can be toured as part of any visit. Incidentally, Flagler also used this railcar to drive down the newly opened Overseas Railroad he built all the way to Key West.
If you have read my article about St Augustine, you will recall that Flagler visited St Augustine on his honeymoon with wife #2, Ida Alice Shourds. He was so impressed with the Florida climate and the area that he built the Spanish-style Hotel de Leon in the city. He used the same architects to design Whitehall, John Carrere and Thomas Hastings. It has a gleaming white façade, which has two main floors topped by a red tile roof. The lavish interior was completed by Pottier and Stymus and the inspiration for the mansion interior was the opulent French courts of the French kings Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI as well the styles favored by the Italian Renaissance.
Flagler built two hotels of note nearby – the famous Breakers Hotel, which is still in use, and the Hotel Royal Poinciana.
When you start your tour of Whitehall, you will begin in the grand marble foyer, which has stunning columns, painted ceilings, gilded decorations, glittering chandeliers and decorative moldings. The grand ballroom leads off to one side and was frequently used by the Flaglers for hosting winter parties for wealthy friends during their stay. The mansion was built around a central open-air courtyard and had 12 opulent guest bedrooms. It has a splendid example of Tiffany glass.
Sadly, Whitehall was where Flagler died after falling down the grand double staircase in 1913. He was aged 83. Mary Lily only returned once after that, in 1917. She herself died later that year. She left the house to her favorite niece, who promptly sold it off to a group of developers who turned it into a successful hotel.
Whitehall remained a hotel until 1959 when it closed and the house was threatened with the bulldozer. Flagler’s granddaughter, Jean Flagler Matthews, was determined to save the house she had no doubt frequented as a very young child. With funds raised from a grand Restoration Ball, she turned Whitehall into the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum. She was an active patron of the arts at the Palm Beach Festival. She died in 1979.
Whitehall continues to be a local landmark in Palm Beach and is well worth a visit. It is a National Historic Landmark, museum and historic attraction that still regularly hosts charitable events, concerts and exhibitions.
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