by Aime Brooke Dunstan | Photography by Tria Giovan
It was out of a competitive spirit that Cielito Lindo, “A Piece of Heaven,” was born. At the time, wealthy Palm Beach residents competed with one another to possess the most palatial estate, to entertain the most distinguished guests, and to live the most gracious lives. In 1927, Jessie May Woolworth-Donohue, heiress to the five-and-dime-store fortune, and her husband, James P. Donohue of New York, hired well-known architect Marion Sims Wyeth to design their Mediterranean manse. The 45,000-square-foot winter home included vast surroundings that held orange groves, tennis courts, a tea pavilion, and extensive formal gardens. A tunnel beneath South Ocean Boulevard led the noble and rich safely to the beachfront pool and luxurious cabanas. A three-story tower, where actress Barbara Hutton once played with her young Donahue cousins as a child, also afforded panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth.
By the late 1940s, Jessie May was widowed with two grown children. She took an apartment in Mizner’s Everglades Club on Worth Avenue, and her sprawling estate was subdivided into five villas of 12 rooms each. Kings Road was laid to bisect the property, demolishing the 60-foot-long drawing room and cloister in its wake.
Decades later, a New York couple was inspired to take on a new restoration project.
“There was an ad in the newspaper that said, ‘Woolworth estate must sell,’ ” recalls the wife, a model-turned-investor. “I ran over the next day, took a quick tour, put a bid in, and bought it. Thirty days later, it was ours.”