One of South Florida’s Oldest Homes Celebrates its 100th Anniversary
Bonnet House Museum & Gardens, an eclectic 1920s winter retreat that became a popular tourist destination in South Florida, celebrates its Centennial in 2020 with a yearlong events calendar.
The 35-acre subtropical estate in east Fort Lauderdale resides on what is one of the last examples of a native barrier island habitat in the region.
The Birch/Bartlett family built the home in 1920 as an unusual amalgamation of art, architecture and ecology. Early settler Hugh Taylor Birch purchased the Bonnet House site in 1895 and gave the property as a wedding gift to his daughter Helen and her husband, Chicago artist Frederic Clay Bartlett, in 1919.
The newlyweds started construction of Bonnet House in 1920. After Helen’s death from breast cancer in 1925, Frederic married Evelyn Fortune Lilly. In the 1930s, the couple embellished Bonnet House with the decorative and whimsical features that draw visitors from around the world.
Frederic Bartlett was an accomplished artist producing works acquired by several respected collections. He also worked on mural projects with American architects including Howard Van Doren Shaw. Frederic’s easel art is on display in the BonnetHouse studio and his murals and faux painting decorate the main house.
Evelyn Fortune Bartlett began painting in 1933, and her work was featured in popular gallery exhibits in Boston, New York, and Indianapolis. Her works are today on display in Bonnet House’s Carl J. Weinhardt Gallery.
The Bonnet House’s main house is based on Frederic’s interpretation of Caribbean-style architecture. He designed the principal buildings including the main house, art studio, music studio and guest house. After Frederic’s death in 1953, Evelyn returned to stay at the property each winter. In the 1980s, she donated the property so the public could enjoy it.
“Throughout its remarkable 100-year history, Bonnet House has preserved the beauty, creativity and unique style of the Bartletts and Birches, and the early 20th-century lifestyle, with incredible authenticity,” said Patrick Shavloske, CEO of Bonnet House Museum & Gardens. “Not many landmarks in Florida have reached 100 years ― it is truly amazing how this estate and property have stood the test of time. It is a pleasure to help today’s community connect with the Bartletts’ architectural, artistic and environmental legacy.”
Tucked away from the development along Fort Lauderdale Beach, Bonnet House Museum & Gardens is today accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. It was listed on the National Register of Historic places in 1984 and declared a historic landmark by the City of Fort Lauderdale in 2002. In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation included Bonnet House in its Save America’s Treasures program.
The grounds have witnessed 4,000 years of Florida history with human activity on the site dating back to 2,000 B.C., evidenced by a shell midden left by the Tequesta people. Other archaeological evidence lends to the fact that the grounds were one of the first sites of Spanish contact with the New World.
There are five distinct ecosystems are present on the lush subtropical grounds. These include the Atlantic Ocean beach and primary dune, a freshwater slough, the secondary dune which includes the house site, mangrove wetlands, and maritime forest. The grounds also are home to a Desert Garden featuring arid plantings, a hibiscus garden, and the main courtyard, which is planted with tropical vegetation. Because Evelyn Bartlett was a passionate orchid collector, the estate’s Orchid Display House includes various blooming examples which are regularly rotated.
Many migratory birds make Bonnet House their home, as well as year-round birds indigenous to Florida wetland and coastal areas. On occasion, manatees seek shelter in the estate’s Boathouse Canal; and monkeys can be spotted on the grounds.
The yearlong 100th Anniversary celebration includes a variety of events, programs, workshops, tours and classes including watercolor, calligraphy and drawing workshops among other activities that capture the spirit and history of this unique property.
The marquee event takes place on Saturday, April 25, 2020 ― the Centennial Soirée presented by The Haller Foundation, which will include live art, performances, unique photo moments, cocktails, dinner and more at the Bonnet House Estate.
Bonnet House is located at 900 North Birch Road, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304 and is open for tours Tuesday–Sunday from 9 a.m.–4 p.m. For more information, visit www.bonnethouse.org.
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