The first time I saw the Bonnet House, I was in complete awe of its beauty. The bright yellow, sprawling, open-air Spanish-style house, snuggled into 35 acres of lush South Florida greenery in Fort Lauderdale, isn’t just unique, it’s incredibly captivating. Perhaps it has something to do with its history and the people who once lived there.
Although its grounds date back thousands of years, as far back as one of the first sites of Spanish contact with the New World, it was a man by the name of Hugh Taylor Birch responsible for making it what it is today. Mr. Birch, who was a successful lawyer, purchased the beachside property back in 1895 and then as fate would have it, gifted it to his daughter, Helen, as a wedding present.
Helen was a talented writer and an accomplished composer, who adored penning poetry and making music; so it only made sense that she would marry a fellow artist. Her new husband, Frederic Clay Bartlett, was a well-studied and well-skilled Chicago painter. He also had an affinity for design and architecture.
Together and very much in love, the couple officially broke ground on “The Beautiful Bonnet House,” in 1920. It was meant to be a summer seaside retreat where they both could practice and celebrate what they loved most: art. Unfortunately, their happiness was short-lived, when Helen died of breast cancer. Needless to say, Frederic was devastated and stopped frequenting the Bonnet House.
Matter of fact, he wouldn’t fully return to the villa until love came back into his life and luckily for us – it did. When Fredric finally remarried, his new wife, Evelyn Fortune Lilly, encouraged him to return to his beloved Florida beach house and cultivate it. During that time, the house and property went through a renaissance of sorts.
The couple breathed new life into “The Beautiful Bonnet House,” filling it with amazing art, unique furnishings and spirited music. They were also known for their hospitality, hosting many guests, serving delicious food, all while using their extensive China collections. Rumor has it, if you were lucky enough to dine at the Bonnet House, you’d never eat off the same plate twice.
To this day, the house remains exactly the way Fredric and Evelyn decorated it. When you visit, you’ll see everything from the China they used, their exquisite home decorations, unique furnishings, fantastic art and even their famed music room (which was largely a tribute to Fredric’s first wife, Helen.) Although the house is, indeed, stately…
It’s also fashionably quirky. I imagine it to be a place where a lot of laughter, love and carefree living happened. There are carousel animals scattered about the outdoor hallways of the villa, a colorful bird cage in the courtyard and there’s a menagerie of monkey art in the living room (as well as real, live ones on the property, too.) Originally, it was said, Evelyn purchased dozens of monkeys to live on the land when she first started cultivating it.
Take a stroll on the grounds of “The Beautiful Bonnet House.” There’s something about nature that opens the heart and whispers honesty into the mind. At least it did for me and that’s why it’s one of my favorite things.
Read the rest of Shireen’s feature and interview with Patrick Shavloske, the museums Director of Development at www.wsvn.com.
Reported by Shireen Sandoval, Deco Drive Anchor
Posted: Apr 01, 2015