The Preservation Foundation

Sea Gull Cottage Groundbreaking
Posted Date 11/08/2007

A special groundbreaking ceremony for the Preservation Foundation and Royal Poinciana Chapel’s restoration project of Sea Gull Cottage and the chapel was held on Sunday, November 18th.  The event, held after the Chapel’s Sunday morning service, attracted a large and enthusiastic crowd.

James Ponce as Henry Flagler at the Sea Gull Cottage groundbreakingPastor Dr. Robert Norris set the day’s tone early with his sermon ‘The House That Wisdom Built.’  Following the service, dignitaries donned hard hats and picked up shovels on the west lawn between the chapel and cottage for the ceremony.  Pastor Dr. Robert Norris, Chapel President R. Carroll Peacock, Preservation Foundation President John Mashek, and Mayor Jack MacDonald all made remarks.  James Ponce also spoke, dressed in costume as Henry Flagler.

The oldest existing house in Palm Beach, and the winter residence of Henry Flagler before Whitehall was completed, Sea Gull Cottage has been a beacon of architectural splendor for nearly 120 years.  First sited on Lake Worth just north of its current Cocoanut Row location, the house attracted locals and visitors to admire its stained glass windows, mahogany staircase, marble floors and lush landscaping.

The Sea Gull CottageA Queen Anne style cottage typical of Palm Beach’s earliest architecture, Denver railroad and land developer R. R. McCormick built the house in 1886.  After seeing pictures of McCormick’s home, Henry Flagler is said to have remarked, “Why I didn’t know there was anything that beautiful south of Rockledge.” In 1893 when Flagler decided to make Palm Beach the next terminus for the Florida East Coast Railroad, he purchased the lake to ocean tract and the house from McCormick for $75,000. Sea Gull Cottage, then known as Croton House for the distinctive crotons in its plantings, became Flagler’s winter residence until the completion of his adjacent mansion Whitehall in 1902. After 1902 Sea Gull was occupied by executives of the railroad system until 1913 when it was moved to the oceanfront; became one of the Breakers Hotel rental cottages; and acquired the name Sea Gull Cottage.

Children take part in the groundbreakingWhen Sea Gull Cottage was threatened with demolition in 1984, the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach had it moved back across the island and restored near its original lakefront location on land provided by the Royal Poinciana Chapel. Using original photos as guides the cottage was meticulously restored in the Victorian style of the late 1800s.  In 1986, the Town Council granted it landmark status for 25 years.  The Chapel will move with us to landmark it permanently this year.

Time has come to fix up the cottage once more, as age has done its damage.  So far over $6 million has been raised for this latest restoration project.  Thanks to the hard work of all those involved, especially the campaign’s co-chairman, Michael Ainslie and H. Mitchell Watson, the cottage will continue its useful life of service as a reminder of Palm Beach’s unique past for generations to come.