We love our friends for many reasons, but when their sensibilities incline towards preservation I cherish them even more. Eighteen years ago a childhood friend purchased one of the first homes built on the just developing winter colony of Jupiter Island, Florida in 1927. Anyone else would probably have torn down the simple series of buildings but they had provenance and a tantalizing histoire. He and the Mrs. fell in love with the property, so much so that he put time into documenting and gaining official listing for his “Gate House” on the national Registry of Historic Places.
Designed by Maurice Fatio, the prominent Palm Beach architect of the period, “Gate House” is an outstanding example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style so integral to the early architecture of southern Florida during the Boom (1919-1929) and Depression Era (1929-1949). In quick succession, “Gate House” had three owners, one of whom was Philip Barry, a Broadway playwright whose play, “The Philadelphia Story,” starred Katherine Hepburn. In turn, she purchased the film rights and appeared in the movie version which received six Academy Award nominations…and revived her film career. Barry owned the home from 1936-1949; it was during this period that Hepburn and Spencer Tray were carrying on their love affair, the “Gate House” often serving as a secret rendezvous location.
Today, the four buildings of this rambling compound still appear as they did back in the 1920s…with a lot of TLC from the current owners…the pool house (affectionately referred to as the “donkey house,” the first building on the two acres), the main house (“Gate House”), the carriage house (where Edsel Ford actually kept his carriages) and the guest house. Each reflects versions of the identifying style of Spanish Colonial Revival — white washed stucco, separate roof forms in an irregular pattern, pecky cypress details, window grills, cantilevered balconies, arched openings and square towers.
Noted landscape architect, Richard K. Webel, also contributed his talents to the two acre property. A significant gate and garden walls are well integrated with the Gate House and other buildings through their materials, detailing and color (ie. barrel tile roofs and elliptical openings). All original, the landscaping around the buildings is lush and tropical, while indigenous plant life has been allowed to remain in its natural state near the boundaries of the property.
In their own chic way, the interiors honor the comfortable, informal feel of the Fatio design, from the entry hall with its original blue tile and terra cotta floor…
To the first floor guest room with its half canopy beds.
The small rooms on the first floor continue this cozy, winter-in-Florida feel.
A “Florida Room” (now we know where that term came from) is the only addition to the layout of the original main house.
But it is the upstairs “master suite,” which encompasses the small second floor, where the real magic exists for me. Red and white gingham linen has been upholstered on all the walls, the canopy bed and the sitting room. In the his and hers dressing room, which leads right off of the bedroom, an original corner fireplace adds warmth on a chilly winter morn.
A quirky door near the bed opens onto a narrow cantilevered screened balcony that originally housed pet birds.
And finally, the charming open porch in its original guise completes the second floor living area (with outside stairs just through the latched door).
It requires vision and commitment to take on preservation projects, but it’s worth the effort. I see it in my friend’s eyes when he recounts stories about “Gate House,” the pride of accomplishment when he shows me the State of Florida’s official recognition of his property’s historic significance. Now I wonder and await his next undertaking…