Walking into the Bonnette Hunt Club in Palm Beach Gardens is like stepping back in time.
Elk heads stare back from the walls in the living room, where a scrapbook with pictures of Bing Crosby and King Hussein of Jordan sits on a coffee table Alix Bonnette’s father made as a replica of the one on the TV show “Bonanza.” Crosby’s hat and bottles of liquor still occupy a wooden locker labeled with his name. Volumes of “American Rifleman” pack shelves.
The club’s days, however, are numbered. Everything in the lodge where locals, celebrities and CEOs stayed during their hunting excursions will be up for grabs at an estate sale May 13. Bonnette, whose father Bill started the operation in 1961, and daughter Jamie Edwards decided to sell the property.
They found a buyer in a local businessman they agreed not to name for a price they can’t yet disclose. The official sale date is scheduled for July 1.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but the cost of upkeep grows with the passage of time, Bonnette said. A different appliance seems to break each day. A few pans are placed strategically on the floor to catch water from the leaky roof.
Bonnette is ready to retire and travel. Edwards lives at what’s now called the Bonnette Banquet Lodge with her 10-year-old son Levi and isn’t sure what’s next. They’re proud of the family business that became a beloved community gathering place, but it’s time to say goodbye.
“There’s nothing else like it,” Edwards said. “It is bittersweet for us.”
The club started when Bill Bonnette leased about 4,500 acres to the rear of his property from insurance mogul John D. MacArthur. It lost about $430,000 in income each year when the hunting stopped and the pistol range had to shut down around 1999. The MacArthur Foundation sold the land to the developers of Mirasol, a community of luxury homes.
“That was just gone. We’ve been working that financial bind off all this time,” Bonnette said. “We worked our way out of it.”
Since then, Bonnette and Edwards have made the most of corporate gatherings and small parties. The trend of rustic weddings has been fortuitous for their country setting. Strings of decorative lights hang from the rafters of a sprawling, homey outdoor seating area where oil-burning lanterns illuminate tables near the spit for roasting ham and boar.
The weddings take place in a secluded grassy area, where the bride and groom can stand under a pergola with ancient Banyan trees in the backdrop. The woman getting married this weekend at the lodge’s final wedding grew up spending her Thanksgivings there, Edwards said.
Okeechobee resident Lila Hurley worked at the club as a teenager and had her wedding there five years ago. Her 14-year-old daughter aspired to do the same and was disappointed by the news of its closing.
“That’s got to probably be my best memory there, starting my life over with my family,” said Hurley, whose first husband passed away.