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Watler House

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The Watler House Project

WatlerSpeechThe “wattle and daub” Watler House was built some time in the very early 1900’s, in the Savannah District, close to where the AdventistChurch now stands, by a Caymanian, Frank Watler, Sr., who lived in theU.S.A. but visited Cayman occasionally.  He built the house for his mother, Olivia Watler and his sister, Minnie Watler.  After the deaths of Frank Watler, Sr, and his mother and sister, the house was inherited by his son, Frank Watler, Jr.  Since Frank Jr. also lived in the U.S.A., the house remained unoccupied for many years. However, on one of Frank Watler, Jr.’s visits to the Cayman Islands, he arranged for the house to be occupied by his cousin Kenneth Eden (eldest brother of MLA Anthony Eden) who lived there for many years.  After Kenneth moved out of the house, it remained unoccupied.

In 1986, Frank Watler, Jr. died, and several years later, his widow, Carolyn Watler, came to Cayman and indicated to Carol Banks, her late husband’s grand-niece, that she wanted to sell the property.  In an effort to keep it in the family, Carol Banks (nee Watler), who was working as a realtor, purchased the land and the house. Soon after she purchased it, an American investor offered to buy the house and move it to his property in Breakers, but the moving costs proved prohibitive and those plans were abandoned.

WatlerGallerySome time in 1994, John Doak, a local architect, recognizing the historical value of the wattle and daub house and the importance of preserving it, called Mrs. Banks and volunteered to find someone to buy it.  Soon after, the Hon. Thomas Jefferson (Minister of Tourism) called Mrs. Banks to say that the Government intended to purchase the house as a historic building. In late 1997, the transaction was completed, and in early 1998, Heather Bodden, Member of the Legislative Assembly for BoddenTown, arranged for the house to be carefully moved to the historic Pedro Castle site. This was accomplished by workmen from the Island Paving Company who inserted steel beams under the house and used two cranes to lift it onto a low-boy trailer. Evans Jackson, one of that crew, said it took almost two hours to move the building gingerly to its present location at the Pedro Castle site.

WatlerRibbonThe house was secured and anchored in its new home, but although the exterior and roof of the building were intact, the interior walls, floors, windows and doors were in a state of ruin.  In 2002, Leslie Bigelman of the National Gallery, architect John Doak and Dave Martins of the Tourism Attractions Board (TAB) spearheaded an effort to have the house renovated.  Unfortunately, a sponsor for the project could not be found.

However, some five years later, in 2007, Dave Martins of the TAB brokered a partnership agreement between the Visual Arts Society(VAS) and the Tourism Attraction Board (TAB) to repair the house and operate it as an art exhibition/meeting space. Further information about VAS is available at:
www.visualartcayman.com.

The renovation work was carried out by Steve McCoy, Phillip McCoy, Theron McCoy, Luis Turrcious, and Jose Turrcious. Electrical contractor Elsmer Rankin and air-conditioning technician Mitchell Rankin also worked on the project.

The official opening ceremony for the Watler House was held on Saturday, June 2nd, 2007 on the grounds of Pedro St. James.

(Photos courtesy of Ms. Eziethamae Bodden.)

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