LAKE WALES, Fla. – Nestled in the heart of seven and one-half lush acres at Bok Tower Gardens is an enchanting 20-room Mediterranean-style mansion called Pinewood Estate, a National Historic Landmark. Originally named “El Retiro,” meaning retreat in Spanish, the estate was built in the early 1930s for Charles Austin Buck, a Bethlehem Steel vice president. Having made a fortune in steel, Buck wanted to build a winter estate where he could be surrounded by his nine children and 18 grandchildren during the holidays.
Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. had designed Edward Bok’s Gardens and several private gardens inside Mountain Lake Estates, a neighboring private community. Buck engaged Olmsted’s firm to design the landscape of his winter estate. In 1929, landscape architect William Lyman Phillips of the Olmsted Brothers firm began to design the gardens and the placement of the house. In 1930, architect Charles Wait was hired to design the house that was to become one of the finest examples of Mediterranean-style architecture in the state of Florida. The estate was the result of the collaborative inspiration of Buck, Wait and Phillips.
Because Buck was a lover of nature and an amateur horticulturist, the gardens were designed first and the house was positioned later to provide a natural flow from garden to house. The estate’s external landscape and ornamental touches were designed by Phillips, who later designed the world-famous Fairchild Tropical Garden in Coral Gables (Miami). Phillips had spent time in the Canal Zone where he developed a keen appreciation for tropical landscapes.
Phillips’ contributions to the estate include several wonderful elements: a formal Mediterranean-style garden with a Spanish frog fountain that leads guests into an enchanting stone grotto at the front of the house, an Oriental moon gate fountain off the dining room porch and an English-style country garden with a rolling lawn and a pond that reflects the afternoon sunsets.
Buck was a great admirer of the Latin lifestyle and architecture, and he wanted “El Retiro” to be reminiscent of it. Wait designed the 12,900-square foot Mediterranean-style home with many characteristics of an antique villa-a barrel-tile roof, thick walls, substantial carved doors and woodwork and intricately detailed wrought iron.
Wait also included a series of three large porches to provide Buck and his guests with uninterrupted views of the sweeping vistas and a wonderful view of the Tower. The team worked to situate the entire house so that fantastic views from the house were framed by the surrounding tall pine and live oak trees.
In an effort led by Nellie Lee Holt Bok, daughter-in-law of Gardens’ founder Edward W. Bok, Pinewood Estate was acquired in 1970 and “El Retiro” was renamed “Pinewood Estate.” Famed restoration landscape architect, Rudy Favretti, was engaged along with a corps of volunteers to restore the manor to its original glory so it could be enjoyed by visitors.
Self-guided walking tours of Pinewood are offered daily. The tour price is $6 for adults and $3 for children ages 5-12 and is in addition to the regular admission to the Gardens. Children under age 5 are admitted free. The house closes for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Christmas at Pinewood decorating and dismantling.
Christmas at Pinewood
Christmas at Pinewood begins the day after Thanksgiving and lasts for five weeks. Each year, Central Florida interior designers and a team of 200 volunteer Angels transform the 20-room Mediterranean-style mansion into a holiday showcase. The designers create an ambiance similar to how the original owners may have decorated for the holidays and features a new theme each year. From traditional to whimsical, visitors experience sensory delights throughout the mansion.
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About Bok Tower Gardens:
Bok Tower Gardens, a National Historic Landmark, is located 55 miles southwest of Orlando and 60 miles east of Tampa near Lake Wales, Florida, and is open every day of the year from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., last admission at 5 p.m. The Visitor Center, Café and Gift Shop are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $3 for ages 5-12. Members and children under five are admitted free. For more information contact Bok Tower Gardens, 1151 Tower Boulevard, Lake Wales FL 33853; 863-676-1408 or visit www.boktowergardens.org.