Extreme makeover -- chiropractic version!
Remodeling a house is hard work, expensive, and not normally in our “bucket list” of things to do before we die.
But in the case of the B.J. Palmer winter home on St. Armand’s Key in Sarasota, Florida, it was a true labor of love for the B.J. Palmer Historic Home Foundation. The result is not only a fine memorial to the developer of chiropractic, but a way for all DCs to take a trip back in time and glimpse the very personal side of the man.
Palmer purchased the home in 1952 and no doubt chose the spot in part because of its proximity to the winter quarters of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the circus museum. He was an avid fan of the circus and furnished the home in a circus motif, filling it with circus memorabilia.
To highlight the theme, B.J. had the house painted in bright colors, inside and out. The exterior window trim as well as the backyard stepping stones were painted brilliant circus colors of red, blue, yellow, green, and orange. Inside, the living room walls were a bright orange and blue, accented with diagonal stripes of yellow.
He even went so far as to build two additions onto the two-bedroom, two-bath dwelling, including one he called “Circus Alley” that was built perpendicular to the existing structure on the north side and contained two rooms and a bath. The bathroom featured Spanish tile obtained on his travels and a parrot mural on the back wall. The back room, facing the bayou, is where Palmer wrote his last two books, published after his death.
The home was far more than simply a tribute to the three-ring circus. It was a retreat that afforded Palmer a rare opportunity to be close to nature. The waterfront property gave him the perfect vantage point to watch rare birds and marine mammals. Today, the site is part of the Pansy Bayou, a protected manatee refuge.
B.J. also built a second story addition, which he called “The Hideaway” onto the original house. During construction, the roof was used as a private sun deck. This upstairs section became B.J.’s private suite. Downstairs was home to the “house managers,” a couple who lived in the house year-round and served as curators during B.J.’s absence. At the completion of the addition in 1952, B.J. placed his signature and footprints in the new cement.
During the last 10 years of his life, B.J. Palmer spent the majority of his time at this winter home, which he called his “beach house.” His nephew, Billy Brownell, DC, lived in Sarasota and provided chiropractic care to Palmer until his death in 1961.
Dr. Brownell inherited the home, which he sold (with most of the contents) to Jack Parkman in 1962. The home changed hands several more times from 1968-78 until it was purchased by Life Chiropractic College in 1979.
By then, the home had suffered years of neglect; ceilings were falling down, there was structural damage throughout, and the Hideaway was almost totally destroyed. Life embarked on an ambitious renovation project in an attempt to restore the home as closely to its original state as possible.
The renovation was completed this year as a monument to B.J. Palmer, a museum to chiropractic, and a way for all chiropractors to form a bond with the profession’s history. It’s open for day tours, overnight visits, small executive meetings, and other events.
Visitors can virtually sense B.J.’s presence as they tour the home and view the incredible collection of memorabilia and artifacts he’d collected during his lifetime and donated by DCs around the country.
Martha Nessler, DC, expressed her feelings about touring the home on her blog
blog.drmarthanessler.com: “A silence swept over me as I realized I was about to walk through the house where BJ walked, slept, ate, had conversations with friends, wrote books, dreamed, passed on from his mortal life, and so much more... BJ’s house was an expression of who he was: a brilliant visionary ... Love him or hate him he believed in Innate and knew that expression was imperative for full expression of life. His house was much the same, an expression of his life. The house was filled with history; I thoroughly walked each hallway making sure to absorb every bit of information possible.”
If you can’t get there to visit personally, you can support the maintenance of this important part of chiropractic heritage by donating to the Foundation. A donation of $2,500 puts you at the Atlas Level … $1,500 at the Axis Level. To make a donation, visit bjph.org or call Susan Wall of the B.J. Palmer Historic Home Foundation at 770-438-9577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(The Chiropractic Journal thanks Susan Wall for her valuable assistance in providing information and photographs on the Foundation and its restoration of the B.J. Palmer Memorial Home).
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