The Blakely Family

The history of the Blakely family in south Florida parallels the land boom history of the region.

S.J. (Sam) Blakely was an estate gardener of some ability in the Boston area when his friend Harry Kelsey decided to become a developer in the then raw county of Palm Beach, Florida during the late teens of the new century. Kelsey, who had been a successful restaurateur, sold his holdings for a large sum of money and purchased land in Florida with the idea of making a home and designing a community of up scale residences. He employed the firm of Olmstead and Olmstead in Brookline, Massachusetts as his planning firm. Kelsey City became the first master planned town in Florida. The firm’s history was legendary with Frederick Law Olmstead having been the father of the new profession of Landscape Architecture, designing such memorable places as Central Park, the Biltmore estate in Asheville, North Carolina, and the Stanford University campus in California. Harry called on his friend Sam Blakely to come to Florida and design the parks for the new town and set up a nursery to provide foliage for them and other public areas of town. Sam joined his friend and began the task of building the towns main park and setting up the City Nursery of Kelsey City. In 1926 the nursery came under private ownership with Sam Blakely as the president of Kelsey City Landscape and Nurseries Company Inc.

Sam Blakely was responsible for the landscape design and installation of many of Palm Beach societ’s lavish estates of the era, collaborating with Addison Mizner, Maurice Fatio, and John Volk, the most famous of the resorts architects.

James Blakely followed in his father’s footsteps after serving in the United States Navy aboard the U.S.S. Core, an aircraft carrier, where he was in charge of all flight fuel. After the War, in the estate tradition his father had pioneered, he added among other significant clients: Rosarian Academy, Community Savings and Loan, and Perini Land and Development, two of which won National Awards for landscape design. He won the silver medal at the New York Flower Show in 1964, and installed and coordinated the landscape of the Julimar Farms Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. He received numerous other awards for design excellence including, the Enid Haupt estate in Palm Beach. Mrs. Haupt will be remembered for her generous support of the New York Botanical Gardens. Among many notable projects in a long career James Blakely was responsible for the design of Montsorrel (the estate of Mrs. Robert R. Young) and the revitalization of a local landmark, The Biltmore Hotel conversion. He was a member of a committee which forged the way for the approval of a practice law for landscape architects in 1965. He received landscape architects license No. 21. In addition to being a charter member of the Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association (the largest of its type in the U.S.) in 1952, he served at the chapter and state levels, being elected and serving through the chairs of vice presidency to become the organizations 26th state president in 1976. In that capacity he worked with Secretary of Agriculture Bob Burgland to gain federal assistance for nurserymen devastated by the effects of hurricane David. Later he served on the committee to define “Grades and Standards” for the nursery industry. He was a member of the American Institute of Landscape Architects, and later the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Jeff Blakely grew up working in his father’s nursery as a young man during summers and holidays. He worked with his father and grandmother at the nursery and frequently visited the many estates on which his father was employed. He took for granted the knowledge he had gained as a youth working with his family and decided, instead, to pursue formal training in the visual arts. He became a painter and was included in several national exhibitions before the age of 22. After graduate school he became a college instructor. With a growing family he joined the family firm and with his father formed Blakely and Associates Landscape Architects and Planners, in August 1977. The firm immediately began to broaden including the discipline of land planning, management, construction detailing and oversight. Control of the day to day operations of the firm were his responsibility, as was the acquisition of new clients. From 1983 to 1993 the firm was recognized with over 30 awards for design excellence and inclusion in many publications followed. Recent projects have included designs for notables : Neiman Marcus, Bessemer Trust, Bank America, Chase Manhattan, Mobil Land, Alcoa, The Breakers in Palm Beach, The Palm Beach Country Club and several high profile entertainment and business figures.

Jeffrey Blakely Landscape Architect

Jeff Blakely was born in West Palm Beach, Florida the son (and grandson) of a nurseryman and landscape architect. Mr. Blakely attended Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Georgia graduating in 1964 and subsequently worked with his father before attending college. He graduated from Florida Atlantic University in 1968 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in studio art. Wanting to pursue a college teaching career, he taught at the secondary preparatory level before returning to school to pursue graduate studies. He received a Master of Science in Constructive Design degree from Florida State University in 1971, and taught studio art at colleges in Texas and later Florida. He was also responsible for the gallery exhibitions and accompanying publications.

In 1977, Mr. Blakely and his father joined to create the firm of Blakely and Associates, Landscape Architects and Planners, Inc. Jeff Blakely managed this firm on a day to day basis and was responsible for its growth into the areas of land planning and large scale landscape architectural projects. In 1979 he was invited to interview for a new development in Jupiter, Florida being developed by Alcoa Properties. The firm was subsequently offered the project (Jonathan’s Landing) which would occupy the next 14 years in design and implementation, and was responsible for dozens of awards and innovations in multi family housing design.

In 1982, Mr. Blakely completed requirements for registration as a landscape architect in the state of Florida, by Uniform National Examination.

His background in the visual arts and continuing practice as a studio artist has influenced his belief in what landscape architecture can become in practice. In conversation, Mr. Blakely refers to the areas of painting, photography and the crafts as “continuing sources of inspiration,” pointing out that the most successful practitioners in landscape architecture continue to make work with a firm grounding in the language and symbol systems of art, coupled with the concerns of landscape.

Although the firm continues to design at many levels of scale, Mr. Blakely’s singular interest is in producing unique solutions for the estate residential client. He describes this work as the most satisfying because it is, “truly collaborative” and problem solving in nature. He says that, “I don’t have a signature style and don’t want to impose my ideas of correctness in garden design on others.” He further relates that “within a framework and sequence of design many successful possibilities exist to solve visual problems and heighten awareness.” He believes that the landscape architect directs the organization of form but needs to satisfy the particular vision of those for which the garden is being created, even if it is unfamiliar, bizarre or alien to the sensibilities of the designer. Passion and an abiding interest in the creation of the special nature of a place, he feels, has to be present for a space to be memorable. He observes that “everyone has visited or imagined a space in which they feel belonging, security, or a desire to linger and that they will carry with them in a collected memory.” It is the nature, character and response to those highly personal spaces that the landscape architect must endeavor to uncover. He continues, “it is through a process of reflection and response in which discoveries of the kinds of places one wishes to inhabit lead to awakening new and unique solutions. In conclusion, he observes that, “earth was man’s first shelter” and he believes our individual response to it’s continuing resonance, is the catalyst for the invention of personal and memorable spaces.