Preservation society gets keys to Collier County's first bank; contents to be sold at rummage sale
The Everglades Society for Historic Preservation has a project it can take to the bank. Its own bank, as a matter of fact.
The onetime Bank of the Everglades, a building on the National Register of Historic Places, was presented to the society last month by the building's owner, Robert Flick. After nearly five years of searching for a buyer who would keep the building intact, he turned to an organization that he knew would do it.
It is an historic building, Collier County's first bank. It has even been on the "11 to Save" list of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. But the concrete dowager that presides over West Broadway Avenue in Everglades City has been empty for at least five years. It will require the most massive restoration campaign the society has ever undertaken to restore it.
Hollywood in the Glades:Everglades film boosted Christopher Plummer's fame
With the belief there's no time to start like the present, the society is holding a rummage sale of the building's contents from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 17.
The two-story Roman classical-style building was operated as a bank from 1927 to 1962, even expanding with a rear addition. But after the bank closed, it went through a series of lessees and owners. At one time it was the publishing house for the Everglades Echo. It served as a boarding house and got a makeover to become a bed and breakfast, with a spa shortly after 2000.
Empty building blues only part of the problem
It has been empty since the bed and breakfast closed. Broken windows and an aging roof have contributed its dire condition, according to society vice-president Patty Huff, who is supervising the cleaning and sorting.
But part of its critical deterioration was preordained right from construction, pointed out fellow society member Marya Repko. The bank was built on a foundation of wooden pilings that have begun to rot. It must all be replaced with concrete.
"The first job," she said, "is to stabilize the building."
The organization has already put together a flyer seeking donations from the town. But it knows it will need to go further.
"We're going to look for grants and gifts and donors and approach foundations," Huff said. "It will be a lot of work, we know."
Then there's that roof. It must be first on the list of replacement needs so that leaks won't totally ruin its surprisingly sturdy wood floors or do more wall damage than one can see from the intermittent patches of wavy wallpaper and leak-rotted ceiling.
"People who have expertise in this tell me it will be in the seven figures," said Huff, gazing at the punctures above her. "We'll have to gut the building."
Inside restoration needs some original views
But in that process, she and other members of the historical society hope to see whether its bones — including framework from an oversized Palladian window on the second floor — are still intact, and whether they give clues to the bank's original interior. They'll even analyze the sea-green paint on the building now, to find out when it may have been applied. Huff's guess is that the original color was white or cream.
"Was part of the front open (from the second floor) so people could see that window from inside?" she wondered aloud. Or perhaps, she suggested later, that expansive view of the town was reserved for a center office upstairs. The group has photos from the outside, but they'd like to find some of its original inside.
Whoever saw those views likely included the Collier County commissioners of its heyday; Everglades City was Collier County's first government seat.
lts status was doomed in 1961, when Hurricane Donna nearly submerged the town. Water wooshed through the bank; even its money got soaked. The local legend is that bank employees pinned the dollar bills to a clothesline to dry. When they came out to fetch the dried currency, every bill was still on the line.
"It's still that way," said Huff, with a touch of pride. "It's safe here."
There's little bank, lots of b&b left
People who come to the sale Saturday. should be forewarned there are not many bank relics for sale. That is, unless the adding machine that looks like a miniature maze, all wires and a metal box of works, is in it, with one or two other vintage pieces of equipment. The vault is intact, but it's not going anywhere; at one point it was the breakfast room for the B&B, and the sign still hangs there.
What's largely inside now is, in fact, from its Victorian-style bed-and-breakfast years. There are a large assortment of mirrors, lamps and shades; graceful, but massive, glass-front cabinets; framed art; curvy couches in need of reupholstering and mid to dark wood furniture, including chairs and rockers.
A bin holding a jumble of loose doorknobs hints at the building's life as a boarding house. Close by, a 1950s chip-dip dish radiates kitschy, orange green, gold and brown stripes around its bounty of room keys. They could possibly fit into those door knobs with some dedicated matching.
Now, however, is not the time for dedicated matching. Huff and her fellow volunteers have filled two dumpsters with mildewed fabric, broken furnishings and other unsalvageable remnants. They're not done.
Protecting the Everglades: Big Cypress hike explains the effects of oil drilling
They've taken home old china to wash up. Items to be offered at the sale are getting a dusting and perhaps even a washdown to clean them of what Huff calls "Irma mud"; the Sept. 10, 2017, hurricane of that name sent water sloshing through the building again.
The society's ownership of the building is so new, it hasn't settled on exact usage for the entire 2,381-square-foot building. Members want to move the visitors center there, and perhaps add room for exhibition and cultural spaces. But upstairs, which is closed for now, could be a spot for artists' studios or it could be business offices. Huff hopes an elevator could be in the plans.
Those are questions the organization hopes they have the good fortune to wrestle with, and the sooner the better.
Declared Huff: "I'm 75. I want to see this completed."
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.
Want more local news? If you're already a subscriber, thank you! If not, please subscribe and help keep coverage of the most important local news coming.
When: 9 a.m-2 p.m. Saturday, April 17
Where: Bank of the Everglades building, 201 Broadway Ave. W., Everglades City
Something else: While you're in Everglades City, there are plentiful seafood spots and some quirky places to dine, such as the Camellia Street Grill (202 Camellia St W.), Nely's Corner, if you're coming for breakfast (201Collier Ave.), and the Everglades Rod and Gun Club, where you can hope to catch a table where Mick Jagger once dined (200 Broadway W.)