More than 100 people celebrated the reopening of the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens' south entrance at the recent Roaring Twenties Soiree.

The event featured ragtime jazz music, attendees in flapper girl attire and period costume, non-alcoholic "bathtub gin," vintage cars and other elements to evoke the early 1920s, when Bonnet House was built in Fort Lauderdale.

Susan Howell, president of the fundraising, volunteer and community outreach arm Bonnet House Alliance, said the inaugural soiree was a big success.

"We're hoping to grow it for next year and keep the 1920's theme," she said. "When we welcomed our members and showed them the new gates, they were very excited about it and the future plans."

The reopening of the south entrance is a crucial development, said Patrick Shavloske, Bonnet House's development director.

"This really connects us with the neighborhood to the south in a very immediate way that otherwise would not be possible," he said. "And with the south entrance open, we expect to be very busy this year. … The south gates allow pedestrian residents and tourists to enter directly into the grounds from the beach hotels and condos."

Helen and Frederic Clay Bartlett received the property in 1919 as a wedding gift from her father, Fort Lauderdale pioneer Hugh Taylor Birch, and they built the home as a winter retreat, finishing it in 1921. Helen died of breast cancer in 1925, and Frederic married Evelyn Fortune Lilly in 1931.

When the area to the south began to be developed with apartments and hotels, the Bartletts closed off the south entrance to preserve their privacy. In 1983, Evelyn Bartlett gave Bonnet House to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation and stipulated it be preserved upon her death.

The museum, which houses an extensive art collection and studio, lush gardens and richly appointed rooms decorated with period furniture, also hosts guided tours and is available for private special events.

Planning began several years ago to reopen the south entrance, Shavloske said.

"For a museum, you want it to be accessible," he said.

In 2013, a $750,000 campaign to fund two phases of improvements was launched. About $422,000 has been raised.

The first phase, to reopen and realign the south entrance, build a ticket booth, repair a sidewalk leading to the entrance, and commission an artist to paint the sidewalk with a philodendron leaf design, was completed in the fall. The second phase will include a 50-seat outdoor amphitheater for students and an archaeological exhibit.

"Bonnet House is important because it represents the history of Fort Lauderdale," Howell said. "… It's the last place you can see the historic Fort Lauderdale pristine and untouched."

For more information, call 954-563-5393 or visit Bonnethouse.org.

By Randy Abraham
Special Correspondent
Sun-Sentinel