"I didn't have to sell Fraser anything. It was just a fortuitous meeting of two people with the same thought. Fraser came down with some of his Sea Pines executives. We toured the property. He was supposed to return home the next afternoon and I was to take Jim Light to Dorado. When I called that morning, Jim said, 'There's been a slight change. Charles wants you to have breakfast with him." Breakfast became lunch. I was there all day. A day of questioning by Charles Fraser can be overwhelming. I have never met a man who gets so quickly to the point. History. Construction. Economics. Weather. He wanted it all."
It is perhaps the mark of Fraser's success that, for all his ability to impose his will on others, he did not hesitate to sublimate his tastes to those of Padilla. (Sublimate in the philosophical sense; Fraser runs the show financially.) The logic was clear: Padilla knew the ins and outs of Puerto Rican bureaucracy. He also presented a building theme that would be compatible with the Latin taste.
In turn, Padilla had no trouble working within the framework of the Sea Pines influence, with its high standards of ecology and design. It helped Padilla to know, too, that Fraser was not dogmatic on the issue of what is or is not "natural." The Mediterranean motif called for greater use of colors "in order to get more gregariousness." Fraser went along. More important, he expressed the desire to "relate to the country. To the country's economy. And to make something that Puerto Ricans, as well as Americans, would enjoy." And invest in.
Then Padilla went back to the Mediterranean to gather examples on film to show Fraser. "I took pictures of every major seacoast town and hillside resort. I took hundreds of pictures of everything I liked. I had them developed. They were an abomination. First, because it rained the whole time. Second, because I am a lousy photographer. But Charles is an extraordinary man. He could see through my photography."
In the summer of 1971, with Steve Padilla as their guide, the Frasers and the Lights took in the objects of Padilla's affections firsthand. They began in Lisbon and worked cast, acting like tourists for a month. On the first night, at the Ritz Hotel in Lisbon, Fraser wore a tie. After that, he did not.
Steve Padilla has what Charles Fraser calls his "pasta speech." It is actually the choreography of his dream, which (he makes no bones about it) is the distillation of all the good that he found in those eight years of examining Mediterranean hill villages and seaside resorts. An instant Riviera, without dregs. When he begins, which is whenever two or three are gathered, his audience instinctively leans forward. Mike Ainslie, executive vice-president for Palmas, says you can practically feel the surge of spaghetti sauce.
"This will be the heart of all of Palmas," Padilla said one night as we sat with our coffee in a villa below the inn, the master plan laid out beneath the saucers. He had brought a spoon from the dinner table; the operational end of it was on the area marked Cala de Palmas.
"It will bean operating harbor, capable of providing sustenance for 800 boats, and a center of water sports. Everything is on schedule. Eons ago it was a kind of bay that silted up gradually. Some idle tongues have held there were mangroves in there, but like the existence of the phoenix, that has never been proved. What it was was a dying swamp that had lost its ecological value. And, of course, during Prohibition it was also a haven for whiskey smugglers."
He bent to his map and carried us, by spoon, into the inner harbor. "This will be the center of gregariousness at Palmas," he said. "And, of course, the home of certain hard-drinking boating types. People who want extreme privacy can get it by putting in with their boats at one of the island moorings in the inner harbor, or they can go other places"—the spoon dragged us back to the low-density condominiums and the beach, golf and tennis villages—"but you must come here at night to see the wicked on display. At seven o'clock every night it will be your moral obligation to be out in the plaza to see who has arrived and who is trying to, uh, meet whom.
"What we want to create is a setting for people to act out their greatest fantasies. We are providing the opportunity and the elements and the amenities to do it." He smiled, showing his teeth. "This may or may not be dangerous."