Bonnet House Opens New Doors on The Past

A new door will open into the past at Bonnet House Museum & Gardens.

The venerable Fort Lauderdale historical site, which preserves a piece of Old Florida frozen in time, is opening a new gate on its south side. The entrance, which opens Tuesday, 10, 2014 at 9 a.m., is expected to provide access for droves of tourists from hotels outside museum walls.

The new gateway is a replica of, and scant feet away from, an entranceway sealed off in 1940 by property owners seeking privacy against those same hotels and tourists.

“While seclusion might be considered a positive quality for a private residence, it’s counterproductive for a museum,” said Bonnet House CEO Karen Beard. “Guests in neighboring hotels shouldn’t have to search for our entrance.”

Which is exactly what visitors now must do.

Bonnet House’s current entrance is on its north side, down Birch Road, a side street off Sunrise Boulevard encased by condos. Even locals have difficulty finding it. Tourists from hotels that crowd against the site’s south wall must trek the length of the property to gain access.

“Local hotels say people are always asking how to get there,” said Stephen Draft, Bonnet House’s curator. “They wander up and down A1A looking for the entrance but they can’t find it.”
In 1940, Frederic and Evelyn Bartlett, former owners of the eclectic 1920 house nestled amid 35 acres of tropical foliage, sealed off the south gateway that had long been their main entrance. “The south was getting more congested, maybe more honky-tonk, at the time,” Draft said.

Now, however, the facility has become an attraction for sunburned tourists seeking an alternative to the beach. “People come into the lobby of nearby hotels all the time, asking ‘How do you get into the Bonnet House?’ ” Draft said.

The museum raised about $100,000, much of it from surviving relatives of the original owners, and in early January began construction of the new gateway. Two 11-foot-tall square pillars, topped by antique finials, frame white steel alloy gates. The pillars and finials are exact replicas of those that graced the original gateway.

A polished concrete path, complete with embedded seashells and bordered by palms, bougainvillea and ferns, leads to a new welcome booth. The entrance is for foot traffic only; while metered parking is available, most motorists will still utilize a parking lot via the north entrance off Birch Road.

At Tuesday’s opening, balloons will flutter over the new gateway and banners along A1A will display maps to its location.

Monica Estevez, the museum’s marketing manager, said the new access will “absolutely” draw more tourists. “Some of the hotels have told us, ‘Watch out, you’re going to be bombarded with visitors,’ ” she said.

By Robert Nolin, Sun Sentinel
South Florida Sun-Sentinel