place for it,” John K. Volk said.
Jane Volk had the collection appraised in the 1990s, when it was assigned a value of nearly $1 million for insurance purposes, foundation Executive Director Amanda Skier said. A new appraisal is underway, she added.
The foundation already has begun the process of sorting through the collection, which includes more than 28,000 drawings, more than 4,000 photos, about 300 books and boxes of correspondence, and other materials, foundation Director of Archives Shellie Labell said. There also are dozens of items related to what Labell calls “social history” — photos of people, newspaper clippings, and personal letters and cards.
The collection becomes the largest of the foundation’s four archives documenting the work of prominent Palm Beach architects. The others focus on Marion Sims Wyeth, Belford Shoumate and Henry K. Harding.
“The acquisition of this collection is the realization of a goal the foundation has had for 20 years,” Skier said, noting that discussions first took place in the 1990s between Volk’s widow and representatives of the nonprofit organization.
“I think the acquisition brings us to the level of being a true research institution,” Skier said, adding that she expects the collection also will be used for educational programs and exhibitions
‘A treasure trove’
Once inventoried and cataloged, the Volk collection will be available to researchers, architects, historians and homeowners, Labell said. The ultimate goal is to have items digitally scanned for online access.
That will be a welcome development, said architectural historian Jane Day, a former preservation consultant to the town.
“This is a treasure trove for architectural historians and students,” Day said.
The collection also will be appreciated by owners of Volk-designed homes, many of which have been altered over the years through renovations or additions, Day added. “If somebody buys a John Volk house and wants to renovate it to bring it up to the 21st century, the first place to go is to look at what John Volk did himself.”
Volk, who died in 1984 at 82, designed and renovated hundreds of private homes and commercial buildings in Palm Beach. His projects include the designs of the Royal Poinciana Plaza shopping center, the Royal Poinciana Playhouse and The Beach Club along with a major 1940s renovation of the Bath & Tennis Club and a later renovation of Town Hall, to name a few.
His work also is represented in cities across the state — he designed, for example, the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, homes in Boca Raton, and renovations and additions at Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach. He also worked extensively in the Bahamas.
Austrian born but raised in New York City, Volk began his Palm Beach architectural career in the 1920s and continued practicing well into his senior years. He outlived many of his early professional contemporaries, including Wyeth, Addison Mizner and Maurice Fatio.
His work covers a variety of architectural styles, from Mediterranean to Georgian, West Indies to contemporary. One of his modern designs, for La Ronda — a since-demolished Palm Beach house built in 1969 at 444 North Lake Way — was among his son’s favorites.
“La Ronda was quite interesting — very contemporary,” said John K. Volk, a restoration painting contractor who has worked on many of his father’s homes. “He did Spanish, he did modern; he was very diversified. He was always busy.”
The collection becomes the largest of the foundation’s
four archives documenting the work of prominent Palm Beach architects.
‘A lot in these archives’
Volk’s early career included a partnership at the firm of Craig-Stevens-Volk, and after that, he partnered for several years with architect Gustav Maass, whose work also is represented in the foundation’s collection. In 1936, Volk built a Bermuda-style house, White Gables, he designed for 598 S. County Road, where he lived with his first wife, Beatrice Taylor Volk.
He later opened his own firm in Palm Beach’s Phipps Plaza on the ground floor of a 1920s-era building that he combined with the house next door and used as his residence. In 1947 he married Jane Volk, who was later a longtime chairwoman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. After her death at 88 in 2010, John K. Volk moved with his wife into his parents’ house at 206 Phipps Plaza. Lory Volk died in April, and the house is now on the market.
Following her husband’s death, Jane Volk worked closely with her daughter-in-law to organize his papers, which were stored in a second-floor room at the house. The room was packed with items, because John L. Volk rarely discarded any of his working materials.
“She called it the swamp,” her son said.
Day, who considers Jane Volk a mentor, credits her with helping safeguard her husband’s legacy by organizing the collection and publishing John L. Volk: Palm Beach Architect, a book about his work, which she put together with her daughter-in-law’s help.
“It took Jane Volk’s cataloging of the (items) to make them usable,” Day said. “There is a lot in these archives. Only when the foundation goes through it will we know the extent of it.”
Fort Lauderdale-based appraiser Robert A. Hittel has already spent several days going through the collection at the Preservation Foundation to establish a value for insurance and tax-donation purposes.
“I think the amazing thing is the breadth of the work — golf clubs, resorts, private homes, banks, apartments,” said Hittel, of Robert A. Hittel Appraisal Services.
At one point, John K. Volk said, negotiations were under way to donate the collection to the University of Florida but an agreement never emerged. In any case, keeping the collection in town rather than Gainesville was a better fit, he said.
The collection, he said, “would never be appreciated there like (it will be) in Palm Beach.”
In the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach meeting room Wednesday, art appraisers Robert Hittel and Brittany Hyde examine a drawing done by the late society architectJohn L. Volk of a design for a home for attorney Herbert Pulitzer, and dated Dec. 11, 1940. The late Lory Volk and her husband, John K. Volk, son of the late architect John L. Volk, attend a Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach luncheon in 2010.
A drawing by John L. Volk of a residence for Mr. and Mrs. V.J. Kliesrath, commission No. 379, is spread flat in the Preservation Foundation meeting room Wednesday to be photographed by appraisers.
John L. and Jane Volk were photographed in 1971 at Palm Beach Towers.