Tallahassee’s Latest Raid On Broward Money

BY BUDDY NEVINS

It isn’t enough that the State Legislature in Tallahassee bleeds money away from Broward County governments and schools every chance it gets. 

Now a little-known Tallahassee non-profit with the motherhood-and-apple pie name of Florida Trust for Historic Preservation is milking one of Broward’s handful of historic buildings, Bonnet House, like a cash cow.

 “…The money has been siphoned off by the Florida Trust to pay for things like offices in Tallahassee,” charged Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis in a letter.  

“To imply that the Florida Trust has stolen money from the Bonnet House is wrong…To state our actions as egregious is a defamation to our character…,” Ryan Malloy, the Florida Trust’s board president, fired back.

Regardless of whether its called stealing, siphoning or just plain taking, Bonnet House now covers between 60 and 73 percent of Tallahassee-based Florida Trust’s operations, according to budget documents and the mayor’s office. 

The data proves: 

Bonnet House money is propping up an a non-profit in the state Capital.

That’s money that can’t be used to protect Bonnet House from the ocean’s relentless sand and salt. That’s money that can’t be used to preserve the elaborate landscaping, the orchids and animals. That’s money can’t be used for improvements. 

And the money the Trust has already taken — estimated to be more than $2 million since 1995 with the take increasing annually — is apparently not enough.

The North Florida non-profit has now launched a hostile takeover. It wants to grab the operations of Bonnet House from the locals. 

Tallahassee-based Trust and the local stewards called Bonnet House Inc. have been talking. And talking. And more talking amid threats from the Trust.

Nothing has been resolved, Meanwhile, the money keeps flowing north.

The feud has been costly. A $5 million grant slipped from Bonnet House’s hands because of it, according to the Sun-Sentinel. 

Mayor Trantalis views the rhubarb as a threat to one of Fort Lauderdale’s premier attractions. He has written Gov. Ron DeSantis, asking for an investigation of the Trust’s actions.

Trantalis is right to be concerned.

Bonnet House is one of the rare pieces of history left in the concrete canyon we call the beach. It is a symbol of a long-lost age.

Artist Frederic Clay Bartlett, heir to a hardware fortune that eventually became True Value stores, built the home as a winter cottage for his wife Helen.  It was called Bonnet House after the Bonnet Lily.

When Helen died, Bartlett married Evelyn Fortune Lilly.  Her father was president of Indianapolis Telephone and her ex-husband was the pharmaceutical tycoon Eli Lilly Jr. 

Frederic and Evelyn Bartlett

Frederic and Evelyn Bartlett wintered at Bonnet House until his death in 1953. She continued to live in the house in the winter until her death in 1997 at 109 years old.

Until almost the end, Evelyn Bartlett “could recount how and where every plant, ornament and tile was bought and installed,” her New York Times obituary wrote. 

In 1983 she deeded the property to the Florida Trust, but gave the management of the 35 acres and the home to the local Bonnet House Inc.  

“I would so like to keep it a picture of Old Florida,” Evelyn Bartlett said in a Smithsonian Institution videotape.”I would like to think of it as a place for the birds and monkeys to be safe, you know, and happy.’’

Barlett had a thing for monkeys. She painted dozens of pictures of them, some now on display at the House. She let them run free in the mangrove ponds and towering palm trees. 

So Evelyn Barlett knew something about monkey business. 

Surely she would never condone the Florida Trust’s monkey business with her beloved Bonnet House’s money.




7 Responses to “Tallahassee’s Latest Raid On Broward Money”

  1. Sto says:

    The typewriter she wrote typed the letter on is on display at Bonnett House. It should and must keep local overseeing.

  2. Anonymous says:

    There is much money involved there must be something else going on here.

    FROM BUDDY:

    There has been talk for years about carving out a small piece of the Bonnet House property and leasing it to a developer to build something — a restaurant, an event hall or maybe some stores. The idea is that the lease would supply enough money to support Bonnet House indefinitely.

    The wisdom of paving over part of the last stretch of Old Florida on the beach — even a small parcel, something like three acres — would be up to the City Commission and perhaps a court.

  3. More than meets the eye says:

    Toothaker who is a laywer/lobbyist and executive board member and attorney representing the Bonnet house was quoted in the Sun Sentinel recently.

    Toothaker noted that the 1982 preservation agreement does allow for development. It designates that one parcel “may be developed for restaurant purposes,” and another on the southwest portion of the property “for residential purposes, including high rise,multi-family uses.”

    Toothaker and MacDiarmid exert significant influence over the Trantalis and Glassman votes on the City Commission.

    In contrast where does the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation stand on development on this land?

  4. Cp says:

    Everybody knows that the property management group is made up of land use attorneys and developers looking to develop portions of the Bonnet House property. Sounds like the land owner, the Florida Trust is exercising their right to reorganize the group of rogue locals.

  5. Central Beach Resident says:

    Mrs. Bartlett lived for many years after she wrote that letter and was very pleased wit the Florida Trusts stewardship of the property. Being of sound mind she signed over the dead to the Florida Trust for the long term enjoyment of our community. I am sickened by this local group of snobs that run Bonnet House, Inc. They are the ones who should be written about, not a statewide preservation organization with the sole purpose of being stewards to historic properties. Leave the politics out of this one. This is about the property management group, Bonnet House, Inc’s greed and lust for their country club on the beach. I cant wait for the Trust to start running the grounds, because BHI is running in into the ground.

  6. City activist Robert Walsh says:

    #3.I find it concerning referring to Atty.Tootacker and basically her influence over Mayor Trantalis and Comm.Trantalis.Toothacker is also atty)lobbyist for the AHF project.(hmm)…

  7. J Derose says:

    The Florida Trust for Historic Preservations sole purpose is to protect and preserve historic structures. They must want to restructure this offshoot property management group for a reason. Like the person above stated they found a few rogue members and under the law are restructuring the group. Buddy you should write about what led up to this change in the local rogue management group. I bet the community would love to know.

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