The Early Years: The American Foundation (part 5 of an 8-part series)

This eight-week blog series delves deeper into the history of Bok Tower Gardens and provides a rich historical accounting of the early days. The source document is from a collection of statements entitled “Its Origin, Meaning, and Purpose” created by The American Foundation, Inc. You can read the First Installment, Second Installment, and Third Installment, Fourth Installment at Blog Tower Gardens.

Written by The American Foundation’s President William G. Nagel, the fifth section discusses commercialism and Edward Bok’s intention for his Sanctuary and how these ideas have evolved with decades of economic factors.

A Look Back at Edward Bok’s Mission for Bok Tower Gardens

Edward Bok was a man of commerce. One of the most successful geniuses of his day, his magazine (The Ladies’ Home Journal) hawked almost every ethical product imaginable. When he adopted John Burrough’s phrase “I come here to find myself. It is so easy to get lost in the world,” commerce had been the world in which he had been lost.

So he forbid commerce in his Gardens. The Sanctuary was to charge no admissions charge, only a twenty-five-cent parking fee. Almost all of that went to compensate The Mountain Lake Corporation (MLC) for the use of the road and parking area and the salary of the MLC’s employee who staffed, for security purposes the entrance gate.

He authorized the publication of a modest information booklet. The proceeds from that booklet went to the printer and to the Sanctuary employees who sold it. In 1934, the MLC announced that it would build a refreshment stand on its land adjacent to the parking lot. None of its proceeds accrued to the Sanctuary.

Bok forbid, as did the Foundation board, the use of the Sanctuary or its Tower for any commercial, political, entertainment, or religious purpose. In 1925, Major Nornabell, speaking for Edward Bok, announced that the “director deplores the use of the Tower’s design in any commercial form, whatever source, for novelties, souvenirs, or replica.” Permission was denied to world-famous evangelists, like Billy Sunday and Billy Graham to hold revivals. Even General Motors was denied a “photo op” for one of its vehicles in front of the Tower.

Looking Ahead
Over the years, economic challenges have driven leadership at Bok Tower Gardens to realign the organization’s mission to provide sustainable income that would have been in direct conflict with the intentions described above. Adapting to change is one of the reasons Bok Tower Gardens has thrived over nine decades. Some commercialization like The Blue Palmetto Cafe and The Shop at Bok have been essential to the organization’s bottom line. Throughout our history, Bok Tower Gardens has remained respectful and dedicated to Edward Bok’s mission to “make the world a bit better and more beautiful.”