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By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF, Times Correspondent
Published November 30, 2007
Because I love old houses about as much as I love learning about Florida history, it makes sense that one of my favorite places to visit is the Pinewood Estate at the Historic Bok Sanctuary.
My favorite time to visit is, of course, Christmas, when designers from all over Central Florida and Tampa transform the romantic 1929 Mediterranean Revival estate into a visual holiday feast.
The 20-room Lake Wales mansion built by Charles Austin Buck is decorated for the holiday season. Buck was vice president of Bethlehem Steel "back in the days when the title of vice president really meant something," jokes Cassie Jacoby, a Pinewood spokeswoman.
This year, 11 design experts from all over Central Florida, including Nikki Couture from Tampa, took on the Christmas decorating challenge at Pinewood.
The event, now in its 13th year, drew 8,000 visitors in 2006 and is expected to bring in 10,000 this year, Jacoby says. Roughly one-third of those visitors are from the Tampa area, mostly families who travel the hour and a half into Polk County to see the historic estate at its finest.
Each room is lavishly trimmed with the kind of sophistication that good designers can bring to holiday decorating. Trees and evergreens and lights fill the rooms, including the dining room, bedrooms, loggia, pantry and powder rooms.
Buck's study has been transformed into a very grownup Santa's workshop, with a rich, autumnal color scheme, historical toys and elves that look like Victorian theatrical props.
The bedroom is decked out in a sophisticated holiday red (get a tour guide to show you his closets) and the kitchen is festooned in gingerbread and period antiques brought in by the designer.
The formal dining room is especially lovely, most notably for its six trees, evergreen-swaddled chandelier and the adjoining children's room with a holiday-cookie-flocked tree.
Much of the holiday decor was clearly influenced by the color scheme of upholstery, furnishings and woodwork, as well as the 7.5 acres of gardens designed by a celebrated early 20th century landscape design firm, whose founder designed New York's Central Park.
It should be noted that the home's original furnishings are intact, as are the original carved woodwork, tile and detailed wrought iron, all lovingly maintained by a brigade of staffers and volunteers. And the grounds, done by the landscape design firm of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. - the chief designer on the project also designed South Florida's famous Fairchild gardens - are visible from just about every room. The vistas are vast and dreamy, and three porches off the home allow for uninterrupted views.
The Historic Bok Sanctuary acquired the estate and its furnishings in 1970, says Jennifer Beam, director of visitor services and programs.
To get to it, you have to drive a mile and a half through the 220-acre sanctuary grounds, which gives you time to meditate about the fact that you have left overdeveloped Florida and entered a slice of preserved sanity.
The sanctuary and its 205-foot marble and coquina rock bell tower were built during the 1920s by a friend of Buck's, Edward K. Bok, a Dutch immigrant, humanitarian and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.
The whole place is walkable. You can sit in the gardens and listen to one of the daily carillon concerts or hike the trail along the Lake Wales Ridge. (There's also a good restaurant and a gift shop with a nice collection of books on Florida history and gardening.)
In a state where many tourists see little of Florida except for Disney World, this is a historic treasure. At Christmas, the lavishly decorated Pinewood Estate becomes a jewel.
"We're one of Florida's best- kept secrets," Jacoby says.
Says Beam: "We get visitors here every day who say, "This is so beautiful. I've never heard of this before."
IF YOU GO
Christmas at Pinewood, in Lake Wales
Christmas at Pinewood is open through Jan. 1 (closed Dec. 24 and 25). Tour hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Special evening tours of the estate, including carolers, free hot chocolate, cider, tea and cookies, will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
Admission for all holiday tours is $18 for adults, $7 for Historic Bok Sanctuary members, $9 for children ages 5-12 and free for children under 5. Price includes sanctuary admission.
For more information visit www.boksanctuary.org or call the event line at (863)734-1222.
[Last modified November 29, 2007, 07:47:33]