Back in 1980, when Jennifer Ash Rudick was still in high school, she interned three days a week at the Palm Beach Daily News. Her main job in the office on Royal Poinciana Way was filing photographs.

As Rudick sorted through clippings from Palm Beach’s Preservation Foundation, she came across a shot of Eva Stotesbury, a Philadelphia heiress, standing stoically in front of her Spanish colonial mansion, El Mirasol. The Addison Mizner–designed home, complete with 37 bedrooms and a zoo, was unveiled in 1920 to much fanfare. It would be demolished just 39 years later.

The picture prompted Rudick’s study of Palm Beach’s other unique designs, including Lilly Pulitzer’s jungle-inflected spaces, Charles Munn’s mansion of imposing yet airy interiors, and El Solano, designed by Mizner in 1925 and once home to Yoko Ono and John Lennon. As for the original Bethesda-by-the-Sea church, now home to the designer Mimi McMakin, it was constructed in 1889, and until its deconsecration, in 1925, was the only church in a 50-mile radius.

Rudick soon realized that since the 1896, when Henry Flagler erected the Breakers, the Renaissance Revival–style hotel that first attracted the rich and famous to the island, the town’s history was defined by great architects—such as Mizner, John Volk, Maurice Fatio. In her book Palm Beach Living, Rudick fills 340 pages with images of the subtropical island’s most lavish dwellings, beautifully photographed by Nick Mele.

There’s the colorful villa of Nina and Pieter Taselaar, its interiors designed by the late Carleton Varney, and Lillian and Luis Fernandez’s lakeside gem, designed by the local architects Stephen Roy and Virginia Dominicis, which features pergolas tinted in Yves Klein–inspired blue. Then there’s the fabulous 1928 Italian Romanesque home Casa Eleda, designed by Fatio.

“A commingling of cultures and characters,” Rudick writes in the introduction to her book, the architecture of Palm Beach reveals “kinship and connections across the decades.” —Elena Clavarino

Elena Clavarino is the Senior Editor for AIR MAIL