Step Back in Time at El Retiro
Nestled in the heart of seven and one-half lush acres at Bok Tower Gardens is enchanting 20-room Mediterranean-style mansion that transports visitors back in time to the 1930s, a distinctive period in American history. Originally named “El Retiro,” meaning “retreat” in Spanish, the home was built for Charles Austin Buck, a Bethlehem Steel executive. To preserve this architectural, cultural, and historic landmark, El Retiro was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
Nov 1 – April 30:
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Tuesday through Sunday
May 1 – October 31:
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Tuesday through Sunday
Admission to El Retiro is $7 per adult ($5 children ages 5-12) and general admission to Bok Tower Gardens is required. Admission for Bok Tower Gardens members is $5.
Purchase Combo Admission
Includes admission to El Retiro and general admission to Bok Tower Gardens.
Important Information Tour Guidelines
El Retiro has stairs leading to the second floor of the home and is not fully accessible by wheelchair or stroller. Due to the nature and design of the house, an elevator is not available. Admission must be purchased at the Entrance Gate or the Visitor Center before arriving at the home. Food and beverage inside the home is prohibited. Guides are available to answer questions about the home and its collections. For more information please contact us at 863.676.1408.
El Retiro History
Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. had designed Edward Bok’s Gardens and several private gardens inside Mountain Lake Estates, a neighboring private community. Charles Austin Buck engaged the Olmsted firm to design the landscape of his winter estate. In 1929, landscape architect William Lyman Phillips of the Olmsted firm began to design the gardens and the placement of the house. In 1930, architect Charles Wait was hired to design the house that has 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.
As 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’ 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, complete with 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, the home was acquired in 1970. Famed restoration landscape architect, Rudy Favretti, was engaged along with a corps of volunteers to restore the home and preserve the historic destination.