Hotel and Owner, FI Icons
By Jefferey Salzberger

When asked in the interview how he promoted the hotel, Eberhardt responded,” we never did much advertising for the Belvedere,” and if one has ever seen it, they understand the reason why. There is not much need to stir up publicity for such a visible monument. Upon arrival, one must pass through a set of iron gates, and up to the heavy wooden doors which were taken from a demolished mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. Much of the adornment at the Belvedere was salvaged from the wreckage of mansions on Long Island, in New Jersey and at Newport. Sculptures and furniture were taken from their almost certain end in a junk pile and reintegrated into the eclectic wonder which is John Eberhardt's hotel. He was a pioneer of urban archaeology.

The Belvedere itself did not, however, mark John Eberhardt's beginnings on Fire Island. He had come first in 1949 with a friend, and they stayed in a pup tent on the beach. After two years or so, he started to build. Eberhardt with one helper would put up frame houses in a matter of a week or so. It is estimated that he is responsible for the construction of over 50 homes through the years. These homes, unlike the hotel which he began construction on at the same time, were advertised. Ads would tempt potential renters or buyers, telling them about their dream summer homes, complete with wood deck and fireplace, all for $3200 excluding the lot. With the lot, they were a whopping $5000.

Before John Eberhardt lived in the frame house he built on Maryland walk and wintered in Palm Beach, he was living in New Jersey. Born in Maplewood in 1921, he later built and resided in a home in Edgewater with a view of the Hudson River and Manhattan. He vacationed in Key West at the time, where he had purchased a house as well. By trade, he was an artist, even though he had no formal training. Eberhardt owned a company responsible for designing and manufacturing items for the opulent window displays at many of the large New York City department stores, especially for Christmas. He made things like “Santaland, little elf houses and ducks by the hundreds, mostly out of paper-mache.” While he was building his Edgewater home out of salvaged material from a defunct mansion in Short Hills, New Jersey, he was working as a scenic artist for a small opera company and for ABC and CBS. According to Eberhardt, “on company time, I would do a lot of my home's construction, and if I was needed on the set, I had a small, fast MG sports car, so I could get to Fort Lee fast where the scenic painting company was located.” His designing jobs kept him in the money, and allowed him the freedom to build his dream homes.

It was in the summer of 1957 that John Eberhardt and the Belvedere started hitting their stride, The main section took a season to build, “without ornamentation of course,” but by July 4 of that first season there were already guests, although they did not have the luxury of a roof, and according to Eberhardt, “of course it rained, but everyone had a great time anyway.” The hotel, with its continuous building, has taken on a life of its own, according to the whims of the designer and builder. When asked what his main inspiration was to do something in a Baroque style, John Eberhardt, without skipping a beat, replied, “I was kind of thinking of Venice,” a city to which he travels often. The Belvedere is in fact such a tribute to Venetian architecture, that the Mayor of Venice sent their city's flag as a gift. It still flies above the hotel's ornate towers, along with the American flag and a Pride flag. It also has its own chapel in the quiet, gated entry-way, just like any Italian villa.

That chapel, with its beautiful statuary, is the resting place of two guests who held a special place in their hearts for the Belvedere, like so many of its visitors. Eberhardt's masterpiece is not only a place for fun and freedom, it is also a place for quiet reflection. While the clientele has changed over the past 50 seasons, some of the guests have been returning for years. When asked what draws people to the Belvedere, a word that essentially means a house that commands a wide view, and the succinct response from John Eberhardt was, “look around.”