Strolling the lush and peaceful grounds of Fort Lauderdale’s historic Bonnet House, you would never suspect that this beloved landmark and major tourist attraction is ground zero in a nasty feud for control of its property and purse strings. The dispute is about to break open statewide because it involves a statewide organization that has taken on the role of a pirate and plunderer.
The little-known Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, based in Tallahassee, is about to get a much higher and negative profile for its very questionable actions that directly threaten Bonnet House’s existence. While the Trust is supposed to protect Florida’s extraordinary heritage and history, it comes off as the really bad guy for betraying its mission in what can only be viewed as a naked power and money grab.
In 1983, Bonnet House’s owner, Evelyn Bartlett, entrusted her estate to the fledgling nonprofit to ensure the property’s beauty and history would be preserved for generations to come. But the Florida Trust has broken trust with Bonnet House and the people of Florida. By all accounts, it is exploiting the estate in a greedy play for money, power, and 35 acres of prime South Florida beachfront property.
When Bartlett gifted her home to the Florida Trust, her intention was that it be managed by a local board and that revenue from events, visitors and donations would be used to maintain the nearly 100-year-old property in perpetuity. But four years into the agreement, and against Bartlett’s wishes, the Florida Trust began demanding a significant portion of the estate’s annual revenue to underwrite its own growing administrative costs and support other operations across Florida.