Palmetto Bay

Philanthropist donates land, house to Deering Estate

What’s an environmentally conscious philanthropist to do with her pristine seven acres of tropical hardwood hammock and 10,500-square-foot energy efficient home when she decides to move away? She donates it to a historic and environmental preserve dedicated to hands-on ecological education that’s conveniently located right across the street.

The Deering Estate Foundation received their largest gift yet this month when next-door neighbor and long-time Miami philanthropist Marta Weeks-Wulf announced the donation of her 8.75-acre wooded property and home.

The property is on the west side of Old Cutler Road between Southwest 162nd and 164th streets, adjacent to the Deering Estate, the sprawling bay-front 444-acre historic site and preserve managed by the Miami-Dade County parks department in Palmetto Bay.

Having carefully maintained seven acres of hardwood hammock – a native South Florida habitat – under an Environmentally Endangered Lands covenant at her home of over 30 years, Weeks-Wulf said she wasn’t eager to sell her property to anyone likely to chop it up for parts as soon as the covenant expired.

The Deering Estate – an organization she had not only lived alongside for decades but also worked with as a founding member of the 100 Ladies of Deering – was a natural first choice for the gift.

“I’d always wanted to keep the property in one piece and so we talked to the Deering people and they said they’d love to [have it],” she said.

But the donation won’t just save some of South Florida’s increasingly rare natural environments from development, said Deering Estate Foundation executive director Mary Pettit. The home on the property, custom built in 1982 by Weeks-Wulf and her late husband L. Austin Weeks, will be key in expanding programming for the preserve.

The house is almost fully powered by solar energy. It sometimes even puts electricity back into the grid. And it already is equipped with a diesel generator in the event of an outage, something that Pettit said is especially handy for public facilities.

“If you look at the house it almost looks like it was designed for institutional purposes down the road – its architecture as well as its energy efficiency are incredible,” she said, adding that the home needed few if any updates.

Pettit said that although it’s too soon to tell exactly how the home and property will be used, establishing a biological field study station could be in the cards, with the house an ideal place to house visiting scientists and host small conferences.

“This could provide us opportunities to bring in geologists, marine biologists, archeologists … providing residency opportunities for periods of time,” said Pettit.

Field study stations vary widely, but are generally sites for both biological and ecological research as well as public outreach and education.

Connecting with the Organization of Biological Field Stations, an international organization of field study stations, said Pettit, “would certainly put South Florida on the map internationally – that’s a very exciting opportunity if we can make that happen.”