It’s Christmas Eve in post war 1940s at Pinewood Estate, the Lake Wales winter retreat of Bethlehem Steel Vice President Charles Austin Buck. His daughter, Lucy Buck Fox, with her husband, Ned, and their three children, oversees seven to nine servants as they prepare an important dinner for Ambassador Sumner Welles and his wife.
The Victrola in the grand hall is playing Bing Crosby’s hit song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” when the estate’s only telephone rings. Buck’s son, Robert, a sergeant serving in the chemical division of the Army, announces his surprise. He’s returning home from the war next day to spend Christmas with the family.
The story of the Buck’s Christmas reunion sets the scene for Bok Tower Gardens’ 22nd annual Holiday Home Tour at Pinewood Estate with this year’s design theme, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas!”
“This is the second year we’ve written a story the designers use as inspiration to design the rooms so the house flows,” said Stephanie Eckstein, Pinewood Estate manager. “As opposed to being a showcase for designers, it’s actually a showcase of Pinewood and the people who lived in it.”
Visitors are invited to re-imagine the 20-room, Mediterranean-style mansion as the center of the Buck family’s Christmas activities, spending days hunting, fishing and picnicking, and hosting elegant festivities at night.
“We’re stepping back in time to celebrate the Buck’s victorious celebration. It’s about pulling out all the stops. It’s about uniting as a family. It’s about coming home for Christmas. It’s about making amazing memories after the very difficult years of the war.”
Decorators are members of Bok Tower Gardens’ Amaryllis Club, Nettle Creek Interior Design (Lucy’s Bedroom), Citizens Bank and Trust (Mr. Buck’s Bedroom) and the Lake Wales Museum (one of the guest bedrooms). The Buck’s home movies play in the history room.
It takes a team of 25 volunteers a day for 45 days to host the tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Jan. 8.
“We had 16,320 visitors just at Pinewood last year and expect to increase this year with our new paths, new children’s garden and new offerings,” said Stephanie, as she reveals this year’s glittering designs. “It’s stunning. The level of elegance is unmatched in previous years. The color scheme is a majority of white with a pop of red here and there. As seen in the outdoor live decor, the amaryllis and poinsetta displays, we’ve polished all the silver trays that are filled with sugary goodies.”
Children are encouraged to tour the historic estate and participate in a fun hunt for a family of Pinewood Christmas squirrels, Tucker and Tilly, who are hiding throughout the Estate. Before or after the tour, families can also enjoy the all-new Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden with nearly three acres of nature inspired play areas and gardens.
“I have a passion for history and preservation. Watching these young parents bring their children through Pinewood and instill their love of history, preservation, art and architecture into their children is my favorite part of my job.”
Snacks and drinks are available at Pinewood Place located adjacent to the Estate
Admission is $20 for adults; $9 for children ages 5-12. Members are $7 for adults; $6/ children ages 5-12. All prices include general Gardens admission. Children under 5 are free. Call 863-712-1222 or visit boktowergardens.org to purchase tickets and for more information.
Buck, not Bok: The history of Pinewood Estate
Though Pinewood Estate is located on the edge of Bok Tower Gardens, it was never the home of Edward Bok, whose death in 1930 preceded the construction of the home that began in 1932.
Buck was a chemist when he joined Bethlehem Steel and rose to the position of Vice President of Raw Materials in 1913. He received a Doctor of Engineering degree in 1932 and became an influential lecturer at Lehigh University. When his wife died in 1925, the widower with nine children and 18 grandchildren wanted a place where he could enjoy winters with his family and pursue his love of gardening that took root when his father was the head gardener and grounds superintendent for Lehigh University.
While attending Harvard, Buck was a star student of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the landscape architect who designed Bok Tower Gardens. Pinewood’s landscape design was created by William Lyman Phillips, a partner in the Olmsted Firm and the dean of Florida landscape architecture who also designed Fairchild Tropical Garden.
Phillips was supervising the completion of Bok’s Sanctuary on Iron Mountain when Buck visited his sister’s Mountain Lake home. Buck purchased the 7.59-acre property located within sight of the Singing Tower and began an unhurried collaboration with Phillips.
❝The charm and beauty of my garden is beyond my expectations❞
Buck wanted the garden design to guide the architecture of his mansion and wanted a home that reflected the easy Latin lifestyle he enjoyed as a young man working in Cuba, Chile and Venezuela.
“The charm and beauty of my garden is beyond my expectations,” Buck wrote to Phillips. “Even in its unfinished state, and when the trees and shrubs are grown and the hedges clipped it will be simply perfect.”
In the early 1920s, Florida’s new Mediterranean-style architecture was the rage. It promised the romance of exotic lands with American plumbing. Spanish, Venetian, Tuscan, North African and Moorish motifs were reflected in the building designs that featured thick stucco walls, red tile roofs, fountains, wrought iron balconies, towers and ornate trims.
Though trained in architecture, Phillips brought in architect Charles Wait, an affiliate of the firm, to complete the design. The 12,900-square-foot home is noted for its handmade Cuban floor tiles and colorful Tunisian tiles, thick wood doors made of cypress with different unique patterns on each door. The family room, called the Loggia, has large arched pocket doors that slide into the walls.
Buck’s daughter, Lucy, donated her father’s red leather- bound guest book in which the family’s visitors signed their names from Dec. 25, 1934 until Buck’s death in 1945. Eight to 10 house guests would visit the family during their six-week stay each winter. They played golf every morning and bridge at 11 a.m. by the fireplace in the music room. Carillonneur Anton Brees would join them for a lunch buffet every Wednesday and play the piano. A formal dinner was served in the dining room. Buck adored his grandchildren but they were not allowed to visit his private bedroom suite.
When Nellie Lee Bok, Edward Bok’s daughter-in-law who was president of the board of directors, led the drive to acquire the property in 1970, it was named Pinewood for its 165-year-old longleaf pines (Pinus palustris). In 1985, the estate was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Originally named El Retiro, Spanish for “the retreat,” the estate was owned by two other families, the Kerrigans who named the estate Encierro, “retreat” or “seclusion” in Spanish, and the Keens who called it Keenwood.
Christmas at Bok Tower Gardens Events
Christmas Carillon Concerts LIVE!
Geert D’hollander performs Christmas music from around the world at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. every Thursday through Sunday on the 60-bell Singing Tower carillon.
Winter Walking Tours
Gardens’ volunteers lead an hour-long winter walking tour, sharing information about the flora and fauna and guiding visitors through the Gardens from the Visitor Center to the Singing Tower. Mondays through Saturdays at 10 a.m. and noon; Sundays at 2 p.m.
Gingerbread Houses with Mrs. Claus
Dec. 11 from 2-4 p.m. Decorate gingerbread houses and tour Pinewood Holiday Home Tour. Each participant will receive their own gingerbread house to decorate and storybook to take home, which will be read by visiting Mrs. Claus. $40 per child, includes admission to Holiday Home Tour, gingerbread house and storybook (price includes admission for one chaperone). Regular admission applies to additional chaperones and guests.
1940’s HoliDAYS at Pinewood Estate
Dec. 6, 13, 20 and 27 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. See vintage Model A’s outside Pinewood Estate, meet historical characters from the 1940s, and catch a few surprise personalities from the past.
Sunset & Symphony Holiday
Concert with the Orlando Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra with special guest Michael Andrew Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. Enjoy the sounds of the season as the Orlando Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra and Singing Tower carillon perform in one of Central Florida’s favorite holiday concerts. Visitors are encouraged to prepare themed picnics and arrive early to participate in the instrument petting zoo beginning at 4:30 p.m. Advance tickets $20/adults; $8/children ages 5-12. Children younger than 5 free.
Holiday Happy Hour at Pinewood Estate
Dec. 7 from 6-8 p.m. Join your friends for an early evening tour of Pinewood Estate and toast the season with a complimentary drink, light fare and holiday tunes. $35/person; ages 21 and older.
Lunch & Learn: Holiday Color with Plants
Dec. 7 at noon Horticulture experts from UF/IFAS Extension teach how to incorporate plants into holiday décor as well as what plants will add a festive flair to yards during the holiday season.
Holiday Home Workshop “Living Succulent Wreath”
Dec. 10 from 9 a.m.-noon. or 1-4 p.m. Spend the morning with Project Blooming founder, Linda Worle creating a succulent wreath. Workshop includes instruction, basic framework materials, and plants. $70 advance tickets required.
UF/IFAS Extension Partnership Celebrated Chef Series:Three Authors and A Rancher
Dec. 17 from noon-2 p.m. “Field to Feast, Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs, and Artisans” authors Heather McPherson, Pam Brandon and Katie Farmand, along with members of the Lightsey Cattle family, cook, entertain with stories, and serve small bites of everything from rib-eye hot off the grill to delicious olive oil cake. Each guest receives a signed copy of “Field to Feast” ($29.95 value). Tickets $55.
Carillon & Chorale Concert plus Holiday Home Tour
Open Late Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Hour-long carillon concert with a live choir under the stars. Pinewood Estate remains open late for a special nighttime tour complete with hot chocolate and cookies. Light dinner available at the Blue Palmetto Café before the concert for an additional fee. Last entry to Pinewood Estate 7 p.m. Concert Only: $10/adult and $5/child. Concert & Home Tour: $18/adult and $11/child.
Christmas Day at Bok Tower Gardens
Dec. 25 Celebrate Christmas Day and enjoy the sounds of the season with live carillon concerts at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Holiday Home Tour open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Café and gift shop open noon-5 p.m. Regular Gardens admission and Holiday Home Tour rates apply to Christmas Day.