The Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach was founded in 1981 because the community needed a private advocacy organization with a wide constituency to support the awakening historic preservation movement in the town. By the 1970s many of the magnificent mansions built in the early twentieth century were deemed old-fashioned and outdated by developers, realtors, and some owners. A Landmarks Commission was established in 1979 and a formal historic preservation ordinance was adopted by the town to save threatened structures. Within a year, a number of prominent citizens joined to create a charitable foundation, the Preservation Foundation, with the goal to preserve the architectural history of Palm Beach and educating its citizens about their heritage. The Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach, Inc. was officially incorporated under the laws of the State of Florida on January 15, 1980.
The first board members and officers of the foundation had been involved with the beginnings of the preservation movement and the formation of the Landmarks Commission. LaBaron S. Willard, Jr., was one of the first Landmarks Commissioners and served as it Chairman. He then became the first President of the Preservation Foundation. He was the bridge between public and private preservation. His organizational skills did much in setting up the foundation.
Ambassador Earl E.T. Smith [1903-1991], Mayor of the Town of Palm Beach from 1971 to 1977, became the first Chairman of the Preservation Foundation. He was highly visible throughout the town and deeply respected. The town and the foundation would not have achieved its present high standards and successes without his persistence and innumerable appearances before the Town Council to plead the cause for historic preservation.
Through the generosity of hundreds of Palm Beachers, the Preservation Foundation has, in its twenty five-year history, been able to save the town’s oldest house, Sea Gull Cottage, restore the historic Town Hall, create the Earl E.T. Smith Preservation Park, establish a heritage education program for fourth grade school children, restore the Little Red Schoolhouse, the oldest one-room school in Southeast Florida that offers a living history program under its roof, and create Pan’s Garden in the heart of the town that offers educational programs about native plants and butterflies. Town-owned open space has been safeguarded and neighborhood zoning strengthened and upheld through the efforts of preservationists. Facade easement donations to the foundation protect buildings as well as bring tax savings to owners. Millions of dollars have gone to purchase property, and into restoration and rehabilitation over the years.
During the summer of 2004 the foundation moved into a beautiful new headquarters on Peruvian Avenue that was built adjacent to Pan’s Garden. The building was designed by Jeffery Smith, well-known Palm Beach architect and foundation board member. Hugh Davis was the contractor and Scott Snyder designed the interiors. The grand opening of the building was held in January of 2005, which also coincided with the 25th anniversary of the foundation.
It is fitting and ironic that the first challenge of the Preservation Foundation, as it begins a new era in a new building, is to once again become the champion of Sea Gull Cottage, which it moved, restored and used as its headquarters from 1984 to 1989. The archives of the foundation were maintained in the cottage until ownership of the structure was transferred to the Royal Poinciana Chapel in 2000. With the support of the community, the foundation plans to restore it to its former glory for the benefit and use of the town. Preservation in Palm Beach is a catalyst not for change but for the conservation of the community.
Over the course of its long history, the foundation has been directly responsible for a variety of important and noteworthy achievements: