The Old Guard

Palm Beach's most exclusive club opens up, but not too far

"My Jimmy says the same thing," Dean responds.

"So I never find myself in trouble, I just wear a tie to everything," Duggan says, touching the Windsor knot with the fingertips of his right hand.

It's not like Duggan to follow tradition. As Four Arts president, he has led the effort to begin cracking open the closed organization -- well, at least a little.

Colby Katz
At top, Talbot Maxey pours tea for the first time at the Four Arts. Longer-standing members, including Valerie Fleming, at right, take half-hour turns acting as servants at the tea parties. The Four Arts rents out a team of white-clad maids, one of whom is shown at left, to pass out finger sandwiches.
Colby Katz
At top, Talbot Maxey pours tea for the first time at the Four Arts. Longer-standing members, including Valerie Fleming, at right, take half-hour turns acting as servants at the tea parties. The Four Arts rents out a team of white-clad maids, one of whom is shown at left, to pass out finger sandwiches.

After taking the $183,000-a-year job two years ago, the blond and handsome Duggan quickly developed, in good corporate-America style, a planning committee to set long-range goals. Like Duggan, the group reports to the 55-member board of governors. Duggan's planning committee did away with old-style planning sessions that were nothing more than dinner parties held randomly at members' homes.

Duggan also started a successful program called Campus on the Lake that brings in nationally known speakers. The $25 tickets to the lectures, which in 2003 will include author Frank McCourt and former first lady Barbara Bush, are open to the public as long as members don't take all the seats. Outsiders can also attend Four Arts-sponsored concerts, which this year will include the Florida Philharmonic and the Brazilian Guitar Quartet. Outsiders can even buy $2 tickets to attend the tea parties, although this fact is not advertised. Balls, which are held only every two years, are still for members only and likely always will be, thank you very much.

Most of these events were first opened to the public a decade or two ago, Cluett recalls, although no one's sure of the date or if there was any argument over the practice. But Duggan has actively tried to get the public to attend. He has created a website and issues regular press releases for events. He says he hopes talking with New Timeswill help attract young people.

Duggan took this job after an illustrious Washington career that began in 1964 as a Washington Postreporter, continued as a presidential speechwriter, and ended as president of PBS for six years, starting in 1993. The walls of his office are testaments to his accomplishments and are adorned with photos of Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush, all standing with Duggan -- who sports various hairstyles, from fashionably long to cool and short.

A few minutes talking with Duggan explains how he advanced. He carries himself with a James Bond-like confidence and the hospitable air of a man who grew up among the gentry of Manning, South Carolina. Among Four Arts members, he's famous for stories that pack the perfect punch line. "I've got many of them," he says coyly. "If we had all the time in the world, I'd tell you all of them. Perhaps one day over a drink."

He came to Palm Beach, he says, for the chance to educate people who have the means, if they so choose, to pursue a life of learning. "This isn't just a gated community with a golf course," Duggan says of his new island home, an apartment on the Four Arts grounds provided to him as part of his job. "This is a full community, and we add a sort of cosmopolitan feel to a small town."


Walk out of the Four Arts art gallery, through the main building with its vases under glass, past the garden with its koi ponds, and into the reading room of the library and you'll find a bizarre mix of modern and old worlds. In this bleached-wood-paneled, rectangular room, two rows of massive bookshelves attached to metal tracks run along the floor. Push the buttons on their sides and the shelves roll slowly left or right to create aisles, as if a robot were moving them for you.

It may not sound fancy to an average citizen of the 21st Century, but the high-tech storage, which increases the capacity of the room by removing aisles, is part of a library that has no computerized book index. Instead, members find volumes they desire by using a throwback from the last century: the Dewey Decimal System. Or, more likely, they ask someone to fetch them a book. "Most of our readers don't know how to use the computer," Hope Annan, the Four Arts member in charge of the library committee, says in a carefully articulated voice much like Audrey Hepburn's in Breakfast at Tiffany's. "Instead, we [members] walk up to the desk, and the woman there says, 'Mrs. Jones or Mrs. Smith, here is the book you are looking for.'"

Annan, who is 70 years old, is something like the island's Dick Clark. Four decades of photos kept at the Palm Beach Historical Society, which keeps a three-volume dossier on the group, show her opening new sections of the Four Arts library or standing proudly in the sculpture garden -- looking not much different than she does today. Her black hair is still curled into her neck in Mary Tyler Moore fashion, just as it was in the 1950s. A few wrinkles have emerged at the corners of her eyes, but her figure still has an hourglass shape.

It would seem she hasn't had much to stress about. Her first husband, Arthur Atwater Kent, made millions from a radio-manufacturing business he began in 1895 (yes, that's the 19th Century). Her current spouse, John, does something that has to do with investing... or something, she says. "It's always one of those difficult questions," she says. "I don't know what he does."

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Miami Concert Tickets
Loading...