Even as appreciation for the work of Kennedy Center architect Edward Durrell Stone grew over the past decade, the building he designed at 400 S. Ocean Blvd. in Palm Beach, Fla., faded. All the elements that make the city magical for people–sun, sea, sand–took a toll on the six-story, 64-unit building.
Stone designed the residential complex to fill a niche in post-World War II Palm Beach. People who wanted to come down for the season but didn't want the headache of a staffed mansion had few alternatives beyond the limited residential options at the exclusive Everglades Club.
A group of affluent businessmen and professionals, many of them young members of the Everglades Club, decided to remedy this, so they incorporated and bought the waterfront site on South Ocean Boulevard. In 1962, the corporation began construction on the 400 Building, a rental property with a rooftop pool, private dining room, and full hotel services. But the building was scheduled for occupancy during the 1963-64 season, and the business plan collapsed as rentals lagged in the uncertain times after the Bay of Pigs and the Kennedy assassination.
Rather than relinquish the building, across the street from the town beach and steps from the upscale shopping and dining on posh Worth Avenue, the group decided to convert it into Florida's first condominium, with units selling for less than $100,000. Two original buyers still occupy 400 Building condos, many of which are now owned by heirs of the original families.
Like Father, Like Sons
By 2000, the 400 Building showed its age. The occasional chunk fell off the façade. Balconies seemed to sway with the palms. Rusting steel elements stained the light-colored cement and stucco. The board formed a construction committee–including resident Robert Gilbane, CEO of Gilbane Development Co., a nationwide construction and real estate development company based in Rhode Island–and in late 2000 and commissioned a building condition survey for what turned into a $10 million renovation project.
The board levied a special assessment for the project to pay for the repair, restoration, and upgrading of the common elements. Members were also assessed individually for the costs of replacing sliding doors, windows, and–in the penthouse units–skylights, as these were deemed part of the individual units. "It was increasingly evident that if we didn't do it, the building was probably going to be condemned," says Gilbane.
The owners committee tapped architect Hicks Stone, one of Edward Durrell Stone's sons, who completed designs by what he calls "extending Dad's language." Although the original plans for the building exhibited the elder Stone's signature trademarks recognizable from the Kennedy Center–such as a flat, overhanging roof, airy ornamentation in luxurious materials, strong vertical lines, and a water element–many of these flourishes had been minimized or eliminated during the 400 Building's construction, as the original developers had pushed for a speedy completion and reduced costs by doing things like substituting painted cement for Stone's preferred travertine stone in public areas.
In late August 2001, the owners committee hired engineer Tim Marshall of A.T. Designs in North Palm Beach, Fla., to oversee the project. Larry Striebinger and Luis Valencia of The Weitz Co., general building contractors with offices in West Palm Beach, managed the work. "When an inexperienced board of directors tries to manage something like this by themselves, it's a disaster," says Gilbane.
Unfortunately, the recent survey undertaken in 2000-01 fell short of assessing the full extent of cement damage that went several feet deeper than initially thought. The atrium, designed to circulate cooling air from sea level up past the units, had acted as a funnel for corrosive salt air that weakened the exterior walkways connecting the units on each floor. "Some of the balconies weren't safe. It was bad," says Striebinger. Further examination revealed electrical, mechanical, and safety systems needed upgrading. All the exterior walkways needed work. The textured coating used instead of the travertine marble called for in Stone's original design was removed and replaced with about 40,000 square feet of travertine, Valencia says. The lobby was reconfigured to Stone's original specifications, he says. Hicks Stone's designs incorporated his father's lacelike cement grillwork.
Landscape architect Edward Durrell Stone Jr., another of the original architect's sons, designed a water garden for the atrium. He also created gardens for the ground-floor units. On the roof, where the restaurant had long ago become a party room, Hicks Stone redesigned the pool reducing the cabana area to make way for a fitness center with sweeping ocean views.
–Elizabeth Hughes is a freelance writer in San Francisco.