Partner Joe Furen

Queer Places:
Belvedere, 33 Bayview Walk, Cherry Grove, Fire Island, NY 11782
Villa Fontana, 127 Dunbar Rd, Palm Beach, FL 33480

John Henry Eberhardt (November 18, 1921 - March 17, 2014) was born November 18, 1921 in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Ulrich Seth Eberhardt and Ruth Schmidt. John was one of four children. A child prodigy artist, he was painting murals in his church at the age of nine. John became a scenic artist and set designer. He worked for CBS, numerous Broadway productions, and also owned his own display business "On Display".

He was a pioneer developer of Cherry Grove, Fire Island, NY. A self-taught architect, he built over fifty unique houses and his own personal residence, the magnificent "Belvedere", a Baroque Fantasy Palace built in 1956, that is now a Hotel.

A long time Palm Beach resident, his home "Villa Fontana" is a showcase of his extraordinary talent. He was always the gracious host, opening the doors to many memorable parties and charity events.

He will be remembered for his love of life and positive attitude no matter the circumstances. John had a great passion for animals, especially rescue dogs. He was never without a Dalmatian, his favorite breed.

Nobody remembered exactly when gay developers John Eberhardt and his companion Joe Furen arrived after the war. Many assumed they had come with money, that John Eberhardt was from the wealthy pencil-making family. Ted Drach had heard a contrary story that they were “just a couple of GIs after World War II with a couple of thousand dollars to invest, and made their fortune here”; Fred Koester said that “both of them had worked in display at Bamberger’s in New Jersey”; Stephan Cole thought that John Eberhardt had been a scene designer. What is certain is that “the Eberhardt’s,” as they were widely called, shared a theatrical sensibility. Sometime in the late 1950s, they put up a very grand house indeed, far to the east of downtown, on the bay, calling it the Belvedere. George Gibson could still remember the first autumn after it was built: They didn’t have that high fence around it then. And it was a rainy October day, and I walked down there, and electricity hadn’t been installed yet, either. Someone had a kerosene lamp in one room and was sitting at the piano playing Chopin. And if you don’t think that was eerie on this rainy October night. . . . Architecturally, the Belvedere was a radical departure from the New England–style beach cottages and saltboxes, even the more imposing ones like Pride House. “Gay rococo,” Grover Paul Jablonski called the Belvedere, with its Versailles mirrors and mock-Roman statues. “Built like a southern antebellum mansion in Greek revival style,” wrote novelist Becky Crocker, “all columns and pediments, it sits in formal gardens.” Though some old-timers with more conservative tastes were dismayed by its size and campy splendor—“The Belvedere doesn’t belong here,” said one severely, forty years after its construction—many Grovers were “kind of pleased,” Stephan Cole recalled, to see the Belvedere go up. And they couldn’t wait to get in to see it. "I remember I didn’t know them and I just marched down and said, “May I see this house?” and they couldn’t be more delighted to show it—the antiques in it and everything good. And there’s a swimming pool, you know. . . . And their parties were always wonderful." Like it or not, the imposing white three-story structure quickly came to be the architectural icon of the community, the building that symbolized the Grove’s evolving gay sensibility and territorial claims. “I think it should be put on the National Register of Historic Places, and I’m saying that seriously,” argued Paul Jablonski. “The Belvedere is the nth degree of Cherry Grove architecture . . . and, as a matter of fact, I even overheard some straights—I assume they were serious—say, ‘Oh my God, they even have their own capitol.’” “The Eberhardts” were to become easily the Grove’s biggest landlords. They turned the Belvedere into a hotel/guest house to compete with the Cherry Grove Beach Hotel. They also bought two strips of land comprising the far eastern edge of the community and until the late sixties built another wooden house almost every year. Although their construction methods (“[in] the first house they built you could drop a dime,” Stephan Cole laughed, “and it would run right straight to the opposite corner”) caused some to call them “the spit and glue ‘girls’,” few contradicted the general judgement that their houses were “very clever and attractive.” Built, like Belvedere, in what Becky Crocker had termed “neo-antebellum” style, some Eberhardt houses were smaller-scale versions of Belvedere itself; others might be called neo-gingerbread. Fanciful doors, windows, and cupolas were brought in from wreckers’ yards, or from Long Island or perhaps Newport estates; some thought they came from a disused movie studio on Long Island.


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