John Merrifield, a Fort Myers artist and muralist of 30 years, has been hired by Wonder Gardens to repaint three large roadside signs that have been enticing visitors to the attraction for more than 60 years.
The three large murals had faded through the years. The project will brighten and protect the vivid, iconic images. Also, a sign with giant painted alligator eyes that looked over the garden’s entrance that were removed after Hurricane Irma has been repainted and will be returned. Wonder Gardens worked with the City of Bonita Springs for year-long approval of the project from the Historic Preservation Board and the City.
“Refreshing these murals is part of our ongoing effort to restore the Wonder Gardens to a vibrant and beautiful zoological park and botanical garden, while acknowledging and preserving the very best of this popular roadside Florida attraction,” said Sarah Williamson, retail and communications manager, the Wonder Gardens. “While honoring the past, we are also meeting today’s industry standards for animal care, education and guest experience.”
Weather permitting, the murals are expected to be completed by the end of July. Merrifield has been repainting from a bucket lift and scaffolding because the signs are so large. In addition to brightening the original images, the signs feature Wonder Garden’s new logo colors, as well as clear coating to help protect them from Florida weather.
In May 2017, the City of Bonita Springs Historic Preservation board gave the Wonder Gardens historical designation, including a plaque noting it as a “Historical Resource” dating to 1936. According to the board, the gardens are a cultural icon and community centerpiece that has provided generations of Floridians and visitors the opportunity to experience native plants and animals. It is recognized as the oldest roadside attraction in Southwest Florida, older even than the Edison & Ford Winter Estates that opened in 1947. The gardens opened in 1936 originally as the Everglades Reptile Garden. Changes made to the historic site must avoid destruction of its cultural significance.
About Wonder Gardens
The Wonder Gardens, a charitable zoological park and botanical garden in Bonita Springs, is home to rescued and non-releasable birds and reptiles nestled among sprawling banyan trees and plantings. While preserving the best of this site’s 86-year history, the nonprofit cares for more than 300 resident animals, is upgrading wildlife enclosures and growing the botanical beauty of the property, while delivering education programs and events and further engaging the community to enjoy this jewel in historic Downtown Bonita Springs. The Wonder Gardens at 27180 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs is one of the few remaining cornerstones of Old Florida, an enduring symbol of the history of the region, as well as a resource for learning about the environment and wildlife. For information, visit wondergardens.org or call 239-992-2591.