The House That Bill Built

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During the 1960s, Bigoney had designed floor plans for new Fort Lauderdale subdivisions with a local developer, Bob Gill, who built hundreds of homes in Fort Lauderdale. These modernist dwellings inevitably feature jalousie windows oriented to catch and channel air flow. He and Marjorie divorced, and in 1968, he married Constance Louise Fetterman, who joined the design firm as bookkeeper. David was born in October 1973, a year after his sister, Amy. The '70s found Bigoney père working on custom home projects, and much of Bigoney's work in the 1980s consisted of building resorts on Paradise Island in the Bahamas and luxury residences in the Las Olas Isles.

When Marjorie Bigoney moved out of her own Bigoney-designed home, Bill and Connie rented it to Don Wilkin and his wife, Sharon. During the mid-1980s, Sailboat Bend's seediness didn't lure many urban pioneers, but they loved living back in the jungle, and when the chance came to buy the home, they jumped at it.

"You write my check every week, so you know what I can afford," Wilkin told Connie. So a contract was written, he explains, "structured in a way that was advantageous to us both." Wilkin remembers being burglarized twice, he says, "because we couldn't afford the $25-a-month security system."

Working at Bigoney & Associates was "one of the better opportunities a young architect could have," recalls Wilkin, who was there from 1983 until 1988. "To have him as a mentor when you're starting out, to have him pull up a stool and work with you..." Bigoney could be very direct, he says. "If he didn't like something I was working on, he'd say, 'What are you doing that for? That's awful!'"

Jeff Smith spent the '80s and '90s at Bigoney's firm, hired out of high school as an apprentice/journeyman. A self-taught draftsman, now with a design firm in Palm Beach Gardens, Smith recalls feeling intimidated by Bigoney at first. "But he was very encouraging, and everything I've done since grew out of the opportunity he gave me." The boss wanted to see his people working. "He hated seeing anyone standing around doing nothing," he remembers.

Even small projects seemed to inspire Bigoney. Wilkin remembers a tiny addition being made to an unremarkable house. "This is it?" Wilkin asked when he arrived at the job site. "What do you mean, 'This is it?'" thundered Bigoney. "Let's get into this thing!" Before Wilkin knew it, "you'd be caught up in the excitement he'd generate."

When Wilkin got an offer in 1988 to work for the large firm where he's now a partner, Bigoney gave him his immediate blessing. The next year, friends and co-workers were surprised when Bill and Connie Bigoney amicably divorced. They were even more so when he fell in love with a young woman who worked at the veterinarian's office where he took his dogs. The Wilkins attended the wedding of Bill and Margaret Ryan Nortcutt two years later, on December 22, 1990, and the two couples continued to borrow tools and wave hello during the '90s.

The marriage puzzled onlookers. "Nobody knew her very well," says Charles Jordan, then a member of the Sailboat Bend neighborhood association. "She was somewhat overweight, quite a bit younger, and it was just a very poor match." In fact, Margaret was 35 years younger than Bill. Asked what the two had in common, David is silent for a minute. "I have no idea," he finally sputters. "I honestly don't know. The truth is, my father wanted a significant other, and that was his choice. It wasn't my place to tell him what to do."

Though well into his 70s, Bigoney threw himself into Fort Lauderdale's future more than ever before. "A one-man organizational force," Wilkin calls him. Bouncing from roles as Boy Scout leader to Kiwanis member, Bigoney capitalized on daily breakfast meetings with Fort Lauderdale's movers and shakers, getting behind neighborhood associations, advisory boards, and community groups, getting his hands dirty with the city's downtown planning.

He never missed a Sailboat Bend neighborhood function. When residents talked about closing off some streets, Bigoney opposed the idea.

"Bill tore into us in that arrogant way of his," Jordan remembers. "He was always right, and he'd let you know that. Sometimes he could be condescending." Jordan compares Bigoney's flinty personality to that of the prickly Frank Lloyd Wright. The Sailboat Bend debates that rankled Bill so? "The truth of the matter is, he was right," Jordan admits today.

When he found flaws with something the city was proposing, Bigoney made his objections known. An example, Wilkin recalls, came when the city's plans for the 17th Street Causeway Bridge came with standard, FDOT-approved concrete railings that would have prevented any view of the ocean or Intracoastal. "Bill was like, 'That is not going to happen,' and he made it a cause of his to get the design changed." He put together his own studies, hired his own engineers, and convinced the city to adopt his vision instead.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton