The Philip Hulitar Sculpture Garden
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The enhanced sculpture garden of the Society of the Four Arts honors the memory of a creative and public-spirited leader.
Philip Hulitar was a prominent American couturier and Palm Beach resident who restored several historic houses here. The garden’s evolution, from a trio of vacant lots with tangled vines and scrub palms to its magnificence today, is a continuing tribute to his vision.
In March 1965, Four Arts members learned that the property at the corner of Royal Palm Way and Cocoanut Row was about to be sold to a Jacksonville grocery-store chain. Eager to acquire the land, Four Arts members swung into action. Just two days before the sale was to proceed, Walter Gubelmann, then president of The Four Arts, made an offer to the owners of the property, the Walton family: to match the price offered by the Davis Brothers grocery store chain.
In just one weekend, pledges for the required amount were raised by telephone. The lot was acquired the following Monday morning, according to legend – just before the Davis Brothers’ lawyers arrived for the closing. Subsequently, in1967 and 1968, the Society bought the two adjoining lots.
Sketching a Plan
By Spring 1979 the combined lots, although saved by The Four Arts, were still unimproved. Mrs. John Clifford Folger, then chairman of The Four Arts Landscape Committee, discussed with Philip Hulitar the need for beautification, and a plan emerged to establish a sculpture garden. Mr. Hulitar sketched a design for a garden wall, and when the town accepted his plan, Mrs. Folger presented a gift to the Society to cover the cost of the wall and a sprinkler system to sustain plantings along its length.
Work on the wall was completed in November 1980. Gifts from Mrs. Folger, Mr. and Mrs. F. Warrington Gillet, Jr., Marjorie Whittemore and others fueled the growth of the sculpture garden; Philip Hulitar eagerly solicited donations of sculpture from friends and Four Arts members. In 1988, he and his wife, Mary, presented a generous gift to The Society of the Four Arts for the garden’s continued maintenance.
In 1988, in recognition of his years as chairman of the sculpture garden and as a Trustee of The Four Arts, its Board voted to honor Mr. Hulitar by naming the sculpture garden for him. He spoke briefly at the dedication ceremony held on the Library patio that spring.
Protecting His Legacy
Philip Hulitar, whose artistic creativity, vision and commitment were responsible for turning three vacant lots into a handsome sculpture garden, died in 1992.
His wife, Mary, remained active in supporting and maintaining the garden, and today carries on the legacy of her husband. (Most recently, she endowed the Welcome Garden, the oval planting area which greets visitors within the main gate at Cocoanut Row.)
In February 2002, The Four Arts announced plans to enhance the Hulitar Sculpture garden by adding park-like elements: new walkways and plantings, fountains and seating, security and event lighting, an elegant plaza and fountain, and a handsome garden pavilion. The landscape architecture firm Morgan Wheelock, Inc. was chosen for the job in April 2003 and ground broken in early 2004. Now, as construction draws to a close, another chapter opens in the history of the Hulitar Sculpture Garden. Philip Hulitar’s planning, imagination and hard work continue to be reflected in its progress, however. We believe, as former Mayor Lesly Smith observed to Four Arts Trustees in late 2004, that Mr. Hulitar “would be proud to see his vision continued in this new and beautiful way.”
The enhanced Hulitar Sculpture Garden has been carefully designed to serve The Four Arts and the Palm Beach community as an outdoor museum, as a handsome urban park, as a botanical garden and as a gathering space for concerts, social occasions and other events. Starting with relatively few works on display, the Society’s curator, advised by its Art Acquisition Committee, will populate the garden carefully, adding only works judged to be of high artistic quality.