Some AAA Five Diamond resorts are playgrounds for A-listers like Sir Elton John, Cameron Diaz, and Sofia Vergara. Others have a history of welcoming American royalty like the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Astors. But few resorts can make both claims. And fewer still have been owned by the same family since their founding.
Henry Morrison Flagler established what came to be known as the Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1896, at the height of the Gilded Age. The railroad tycoon needed overflow rooms for the Royal Poinciana, his grand hotel nearby, so he enlarged his winter home by the mighty Atlantic and constructed a 1,000-foot pier from which guests could sail to Key West, Nassau, and Havana. Before long, visitors—among them Andrew Carnegie and William Randolph Hearst—began requesting rooms “down by the breakers” instead of a few miles inland at the Royal Poinciana. And thus, the Breakers was born.
Over the next quarter century, Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railway so it reached the Breakers’s front doors, bringing a boom to both the resort and the local economy. But massive fires twice burned the property to the ground. The resort’s current incarnation, completed in 1926 after the second fire, was designed to look like Rome’s storied Villa Medici. (It also resembles Flagler’s 1888 Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, now part of Flagler College.) Venetian chandeliers illuminate the 200-foot-long marble lobby, and the ceilings were hand-painted by seventy-five Italian artists with scenes from their country’s renaissance. It’s little wonder that on its grand reopening weekend, the Palm Beach Post-Times deemed the occasion “a milestone in the architectural perfection of American hotels.”
Despite the accolades, the Breakers never rested on its laurels—and perhaps that’s the reason it remains one of the country’s most celebrated resorts. Its owners, Flagler’s heirs, infuse it with a minimum of $30 million in capital improvements each year. More than 500 spacious guest rooms are decorated in shades of blue and white, and many have ocean views. There are four pools, ten restaurants, an indoor-outdoor fitness facility, and a Forbes Five-Star spa. Once home to Florida’s first golf course, a nine-hole stretch of manicured greens designed in 1897, the resort now features the championship eighteen-hole Ocean Course, a favorite of celebrities like Alex Rodriguez. There’s even a Lilly Pulitzer boutique on-site because, well, this is Palm Beach.
The famous still flock to the Breakers, just as they have for the last 125 years. But the biggest name attached to the resort remains that of Henry Flagler, the father of Florida hospitality and a man whose accidental oceanside resort continues to prosper under his family’s supervision. One of Flagler’s most enduring accomplishments in a resume jammed with them, the resort remains a place where visitors come to relax in style “down by the breakers.”
One South County Road, Palm Beach, Florida • 877-789-2596 • thebreakers.com
While You’re There: Take a walking tour of Worth Avenue
Since the 1920s, this four-block street from Lake Worth to the Atlantic Ocean has owned its reputation as one of the most glamorous shopping destinations in the world. Beginning in December, take a seventy-five-minute historic walking tour of the Mediterranean Revival-style district. Stop at the site of Lilly Pulitzer’s original juice stand, where she debuted her now-iconic patterned shift dress. Pop your head into Ta-boo restaurant, once a favorite haunt of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. And check out the avenue’s only residence, that of Worth Avenue’s eccentric founder, Addison Mizner. Tours are $10 a person, and reservations are not required.
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of Southbound.