January 28, 2010 - Palm Beach Daily News

Sea Gull Cottage Dedication Sunday

It was the compromise that saved Henry Flagler's first home in Palm Beach.

More than 25 years ago, Sea Gull Cottage, the 1886 Victorian Shingle-style home, was moved from The Breakers property -- where condominiums would take the place of the former rental cottage colony -- back to the lake front. It landed just steps from the Royal Poinciana Chapel, and a stone's throw from Whitehall, the home Flagler built as a wedding gift for his bride, Mary Lily.

In 1985, the Town Council -- cognizant of the chapel's unwary attitude toward the cottage -- granted it a 25-year designation as an historic landmark. Even in recent times, some members of the church were less than enamored with the cottage on their ground. It was expensive to maintain and it wasn't large enough to meet the chapel's needs for Sunday school and social programs, they said.

In 2006, after a relative of Col. E.R. Bradley threatened a lawsuit if the cottage were moved to Bradley Park, chapel leaders hired Palm Beach architect Jacqueline Albarran to design an expansion and restoration of the cottage.

The possibility of the project, approved in 2007 and completed in recent weeks, helped chapel leaders and members change their mind about the old gray lady.

The structure, given permanent landmark status Dec. 16, has been updated to suit the church's needs. The former headache is now a comfortable, functional showplace, according to the Rev. Robert Norris, pastor of the chapel.

A 2,000-square-foot section was added to the north side of the building to provide a meeting room on the first floor and more space for children's religious education on the second floor, which has classrooms and a large recreation room for children.

And interior designer Valerie McGreevy Tatalovich incorporated brighter colors and patterns into custom-made wallpaper, upholstery, drapery and rugs to give the cottage a lighter look befitting its tropical environment.

Norris said the results are inspiring -- and proved to the church that keeping the cottage on site was the right decision. “While the intention was to build something that would be functionally appropriate for the chapel on this footprint (by) moving the cottage, now in retrospect, looking over the past five years, I can't believe that we would have been as happy with anything that we would have constructed or made anything as beautiful -- or maintained the footprint of Flagler's life and legacy on this spot -- than what we presently now have,” Norris said.

Following the regular church service at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, the chapel will hold a dedication of the cottage, in the parking lot area just east of the cottage. "Everybody is invited to come," Norris said. “It's a community event.” The process of renovating, restoring and expanding the cottage was a daunting, but rewarding task, according to Albarran.

The cottage had to be lifted a foot to better protect it from flooding. Crews with Conkling and Lewis Construction opened its walls to replace materials that covered the original wood structure. “The building was fortified to meet windstorm codes and impact-resistant mahogany windows matching the originals were installed. Composite siding was installed to match the original octagon, fish-scale-style siding while wood shingles were replaced on the roof,” Albarran said.

A turret lost at some point over the years was replaced and a new 300-pound, custom-made Louis Tiffany-style chandelier was installed in the tower above the staircase, which itself had to be removed and replace to allow the two-story north-side addition to be constructed.
“It was a wonderful, wonderful experience,” Albarran said.

In the 1910s and 1920s, shingle-style homes dominated the landscape of Palm Beach, before Mediterranean Revival-style mansions became the preeminent style, according to preservation consultant Jane Day, who researched details about the cottage this past year while preparing a landmark designation report.

“This house is one of just a few remaining examples of that style,” Day said. “And so it's very important architecturally for the town.”

David Rogers, Daily News Staff Writer

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