Reprinted with permission
Among the watercraft rentals and spring break parties of Fort Lauderdale lies a safe haven for nature and art: Bonnet House Museum & Gardens. Bonnet House was the winter home of artist and Chicago native Frederic Bartlett, his second wife Helen Louise Birch, and third wife Evelyn Fortune Lilly. Named for the vibrant bonnet lilies found on the grounds, the house remains a direct reflection of the Bartletts’ enthusiasm for creative expression and passion for the preservation of the untouched Florida landscape of the 30s and 40s.
Monica Estevez, Marketing Manager with Bonnet House, notes, “People are amazed at what a tranquil and secluded place it is, even though it is located in the middle of Fort Lauderdale beach.” Estevez believes the loyalty to the vision of the Bartlett family is a unique part of its charm. “They loved life and each other and created a unique winter home that was reflective of them and their interests.”
Today, Bonnet House is maintained by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation and is dedicated to serving the community as a place of artistic expression and preservation. The grounds, brimming with fauna and spanning 35 acres, host a variety of Florida’s native ecosystems, from beachfront dunes to mangrove wetlands; the gardens serve as a conservation of Florida’s ever-decreasing barrier island habitats. The interior of the House itself remains virtually untouched, offering a window into the lives of the Bartletts. Each room has its own role and personality, developed over time through the eclectic tastes of Frederic, Helen, and Evelyn. Galleries are filled with the art collected by the Bartletts, as well as a collection of Evelyn Bartlett’s personal work.
Every year, Bonnet House hosts a wide array of events, ranging from live music series to educational programs. Estevez estimates that, “11,000 participate each year, including about 8,500 youth who come on school field trips or participate in distance learning programs sponsored by the museum.” A particularly popular program, “An Eco Here, An Eco There,” invites students to perform a field study of the rich habitats surrounding the Bonnet House. The House also hosts widely attended community events such as the Orchid Festival, which is held annually at the beginning of Florida’s cool winter season. The Orchid Festival brings together local vendors featuring exotic plant life, garden art, and gourmet food trucks for a weekend of mixed drinks, green markets, culinary demos, and garden lectures. This affords visitors the opportunity to curate their own garden collection, taking the Bonnet House experience into their own homes.
The Bartlett legacy is one of artistic investment and devotion to creative expression. The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation has gone to great lengths to ensure that the Bonnet House is loyal to that vision through both the upkeep of the grounds and the devotion to the display and stewardship of the house’s interior. Bonnet House Museum & Gardens remains a refuge for creative souls, inquisitive students, and those with the desire to experience the rich artistic and cultural history Fort Lauderdale has to offer.
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