Since 2003, the lush art garden behind the William Debilzan Gallery has been one of Delray Beach's best-kept secrets. Amid artist William Debilzan's colorful paintings, the garden has become a serene, clandestine spot for many locals to escape Atlantic Avenue's bustle.
But now, the future of the secret art garden is at risk. Earlier this week, code enforcement officials ruled that the bamboo overhang, plastic sheet roofing, and a handful of other improvements the artist made over the years do not have the necessary permits. The entire garden must be torn down in 45 days.
"This is my creation and an extension of my work," William Debilzan tells New Times. "Some art galleries discriminate against who walks in, but we don't do that; everybody is welcome here."
William DeBilzan creates vibrant abstract paintings, murals, and sculptures. In 2003, he acquired a former men's clothing shop on Atlantic Avenue and converted it into his gallery. Debilzan sold his artwork in the front of the store. But out back, Debilzan saw potential in the shop's gravel parking lot. Over the past 13 years, the artist estimates he has invested $30,000 in creating a secret art garden for the community.
He says the renovations started slowly. First, Debilzan enclosed the area. He tiled it. Then, he installed wood paneling and nurtured lush, potted plants. Lawn chairs, a coffee table, and a couch were brought in so art aficionados could relax. His art and sculptures were displayed outside. To keep patrons dry, he installed plastic sheet roofing. The gallery then began hosting charity events. They added a bar that served complimentary drinks in the back corner.
"I put my heart and soul in this," he says. "Now, worst case scenario, we have to turn it into a parking lot. But what good would that do?"
On Wednesday, Debilzan announced on social media that his meeting with code enforcement had been unsuccessful. People were saddened. Others were outraged. Seventy people have even signed an online petition to save the garden.
A woman named Tamera McIntosh English Kolker commented: "Really!? So sad... Such a beautiful spot to just chill and lose oneself."
Samantha Joy wrote: "OMG this is terrible...another tragedy for Delray."
Added Pattie Runyon Goldenberg: "What a loss to the city. A beautiful oasis!"
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Debilzan isn't sure what more he can do. He's taking suggestions from the public. He hopes a contractor or architect can work with him to make minor modifications that would allow him to keep the garden and not tear it down and start again.
"Everybody has been so supportive, and we are getting a lot of responses from people who want to help," Deblizan says. "We love the city and don't want to start a war. We just want to find a way to keep it."