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Gilded Age Continues in Tropical Playground Oil Money Built

Welcome to CityScapes, a column in which we explore some of the nation's oft-overlooked cities and towns: their local history and real estate offerings. Have a suggestion? Do let us know.

The island of Palm Beach, Florida's easternmost point, is now famous as a haven for wealthy folks with a taste for tropical climes and sprawling mansions, but it wasn't always that way. The money and will of one man created this winter colony for the rich more than a century ago, and now it boasts a seasonal population of 30,000 and a reputation as the premier winter getaway for moneyed movers-and-shakers. Bordered on the west by the Intracoastal Waterway and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, the island has been the seasonal escape for such luminaries as the Kennedy family, billionaire Revlon chairman Ron Perelman, and Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff. The early popularity of Palm Beach as a Gilded Age retreat—and the cachet of its resort hotels like The Breakers (above)— led to the wider development of Florida as a tourist destination.

THE BACKSTORY:


Henry Flagler, a partner in the fabulously successful Standard Oil, gave up his day-to-day role with that company in 1881 to pursue the development of Florida. (No, not development in Florida, the development of Florida.) In the 1880s, the state's most populous city was Key West, a deep-water island port some 128 miles south of the mainland, and much of the development since then has been built on the back of Flagler's early work. The oil baron, having first traveled to St. Augustine in a failed bid to nurse his first wife back to health, was unimpressed with the available accommodations and soon began building luxury hotels along the coast, including the now-famous Breakers of Palm Beach, along with a fabulous mansion for himself (above), designed to match the best of Newport, R.I. On this narrow, 16-mile-long island, Flagler had instructed his agents to purchase property "at any price." It turns out that tradition continues to this day, as Palm Beach property commands some of the highest prices in the country. In 2008, the Russian fertilizer baron Dmitry Rybolovlev bought Donald Trump's oceanfront mansion (below) for $95M.


WHAT'S ON THE MARKET NOW:

? Waterfront luxury doesn't come cheap in Palm Beach. This estate enjoys 200 feet of beachfront, lush landscaping, and 6,200 square feet of chintzy interiors. The three-bedroom main house is complemented by a two bedroom guest house, a sheltered swimming pool, staff quarters, and a beach cabana. So how much for that big-money beach front? $34.5M.

? The simply rich head inland for "deals," like this $5.5M French-inspired manse. At this price point, there's still the overwrought decor of beachfront joint, but easier access to the luxe shopping on Worth Avenue means the money saved might soon vanish, too. Plus there's always the pool for an aqua fix; this one's surrounded by trellis work and vines.

? This two-bedroom condominium might not be the most glamorous of Palm Beach residences, but it comes with a more affordable price tag, $1.75M, and a more modern take on the prints that are so popular in these parts. Well, except for that leopard print carpeting in the kitchen.

· Henry Morrison Flagler Biography [Flagler Museum]
· Russian fertilizer mogul scoops up Trump's Palm Beach property [Palm Beach Post]
· Magnificent Direct Oceanfront [Sotheby's]
· Maurice Fatio Home [Sotheby's]
· Elegant In-Town Apartment [Sotheby's]
· All Palm Beach, Fla. coverage [Curbed National]