panning an era from the Gilded Age to the Great Depression, cast with the movers and shakers of the period, moving from Manhattan's fashionable Fifth Avenue to bucolic Vermont and then to Palm Beach, Eliza (Lila) Vanderbilt Webb's life unfolded in a manner historians have called "mythically grand."
A window on Lila Webb's time was opened when Robert Ganger began to explore the history of Miradero, her 1930s winter home in Gulf Stream, Florida. He discovered that Lila's story was at once a tale of romance and despair, of the blessing and curse of wealth and power, and above all, of the remarkable Victorian woman who drew strength from adversity, gracefully adjusting from a life of privilege to one marked by tangible accomplishment.
The author relates the major events in Lila's life to the development of the Palm Beach communities she first visited in the late 1890s. Her grandfather, shipping and railroad magnate Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt, had earned his fortune by helping to open America's west to settlement and commerce. During Lila's early adulthood, a new generation of entrepreneurs transformed south Florida from a tropical wilderness to a resort and agricultural paradise. Lila and her siblings, heirs to the Vanderbilt fortune, helped to put Palm Beach on the map when they began annual winter pilgrimages at the turn of the twentieth century.
Born into the wealthiest family in the nation and enjoying a lifestyle few could imagine, Lila Webb might easily have become a spoiled heiress. Instead, this least well know member of the Vanderbilt clan emerged as a truly admirable character. Her life story, like the walls of Miradero, is a treasure worth preserving.