To the Editor:
It was nice to know that five rows of legal representatives and assorted experts did not carry the day on April 12 when the Historic Preservation Board met to hear proposals making certain changes to 161/181 Gilchrist. Kudos to Sue Sligar, Tom Bowers and others who spoke passionately and eloquently against some of the proposed transformations to the property. One part of the controversy revolves around the removal of the “whispering bench,” which is highly visible from the beach and located on an easement. This bench is a local landmark and public symbol of the ritual of viewing sunset. The bench itself, although it may seem like a small item, has historic provenance. Keeping it in its present location in no way impedes or impairs the present owners’ desire to replace the current house on the property. The whispering bench is an important surviving example of the work of Marian Cruger Coffin (1876-1957).
As referenced by Frederic Rich, renowned chair of the Foundation for Landscape studies, Coffin was one of the first two women to break into a male-dominated field of landscape architecture. Some of her commissions are still regarded as among the most important in U.S. landscape history. The “first lady” of Boca Grande, Louise du Pont Crowninshield, who knew Coffin through her work, engaged her to work on the landscapes and gardens of Las Olas, the Crowninshield estate on Gilchrist. This surviving structure has remained and deserves protection. Part of the Historic Board’s purpose (as stated on the Lee County website) is to “guard its unique way of life . . . historic character, and cultural gifts . . . through historic preservation projects.” Thank you to the Board for denying the changes as currently presented. It might now be the time for us to start proposing resolutions to preserve and safeguard these iconic structures.