Designing Sarasota An Architectural History, is on exhibit at the Center for Architecture Sarasota from January 12 to April 17, 2021
Created by the Center for Architecture Sarasota in partnership with the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation and the AIA Gulf Coast Chapter. This exhibit provides an overview of the built environment in Sarasota from earliest times to the present.
In creating this exhibit we encountered many interesting facts and stories that we were unable to include in the exhibit. This document provides additional information about the history of Sarasota’s architecture. Hope you enjoy.
For additional information about our partner organizations visit:
Wall 1: Early Florida to World War II
Wall 2: Sarasota School of Architecture
The wall features the architecture of seven architects of the era.
Wall 3: Today’s Architects
What is endangered? What has been saved? What has been lost? What can you do to help?
THREE THEMES ARE WOVEN THROUGHOUT THE EXHIBIT:
1. Living in Nature Through Time
Architecture responding to the regional environment
Beginning with the earliest inhabitants, certain design elements continue in Sarasota’s architecture: raised buildings, wide overhangs, screens, indoor/outdoor living.
As far back as the time of the Paleoindians, archeologists discovered structures raised on stilts to provide cooling breezes and featuring large overhangs for shade from the intensely bright Florida sun. These practical features, adopted by settlers and by early Sarasotans, continue today as seen in the current development of Sarasota.
Architecture adopting new materials
Construction in Sarasota switched from wood to cement and stucco after a fire in the early 1900s burned the downtown. These stronger, safer and more durable materials became an essential element of Sarasota’s architecture. In recent years, the changing climate required the need for more long-lasting structures designed to address sea level rise and increasingly intense storms. Examples of this new type of construction can be seen in the work of Today’s Architects.
2. Generations of Architectural Mentorship
Ralph Twitchell arrived in Sarasota in 1926 to be the construction site manager for Dwight James Baum, the architect who designed Ca’ d’Zan for John Ringling. Over the course of the next half-century Twitchell hired and mentored a series of extremely talented young architects beginning with Paul Rudolph. In turn these architects hired other young architects, creating a tradition of mentorship spanning nearly one hundred years which is unique to Sarasota and on going to this day.
Sarasota is fortunate to have important architectural examples of buildings and neighborhoods from all eras that should be celebrated and preserved. Examples of adaptive and creative reuse are part of Sarasota’s architectural heritage. Preserving historic architecture “in context” is of vital importance.
Beginning with the archeological evidence discovered off our beaches, and under our streets, we look at the way early inhabitants lived and adapted to the Florida climate.
With Settlement in the late 1800s, came development of wooden buildings featuring wide covered verandas that were raised on wood or brick piers to promote cooling airflow. Residential and commercial development ensued with a tourist-oriented economy. In 1915, a significant part of downtown Sarasota burned. Re-building began with new more durable and fire resistant materials: stucco and cement.
The 1920s was a boom time for Sarasota. Mediterranean Revival became the popular style with its flamboyant architectural detail, arcades, courtyards and heavy thermally protective walls and roofs.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Sarasota saw the construction of significant municipal and public buildings, funded by the WPA and private philanthropy.
After the end of WWII, a new era of optimism and expansion began. Young architects, fresh out of military service and architecture school, arrived in Sarasota. A new design movement, later titled the Sarasota School of Architecture, reformulated the International Style of 20th Century European architecture into a freer version adapted to the Gulf Coast environment. Sarasota was internationally recognized as a hub of exciting architecture: a golden age. Though much has been lost to subsequent development, iconic examples remain.
Today Sarasota remains a center for creative architecture, as shown in the fifteen outstanding Sarasota architecture firms in this exhibit.
Wall 1 – Board 2: Early Florida
Archaic Period 9,500 – 3,000 years ago
Around 5000 BC, people started living in villages near wetlands. Favored sites were likely occupied for multiple generations. Florida’s climate had reached current conditions and the sea had risen close to its present level by about 3000 BC. People commonly occupied both fresh and saltwater wetlands. Because of their reliance on shellfish, they accumulated large shell middens (piles of discarded shells), repurposing them to build platforms for their houses and mounds for ceremonial structures. People began creating fired pottery in Florida by four thousand years ago.
Manasota Culture 2500 – 1300 years ago
People of the Manasota culture were fully adapted to a coastal environment. Settlements located near bays and estuaries provided access to fish and shellfish, as well as terrestrial plants and animals in the nearby pine flatwoods and in freshwater streams and ponds.
Linear settlements about 5 miles apart ran close to and parallel to the shore. Each settlement appears to have contained a few related families.
When people died, they were buried near their home or in cemeteries located near the settlement. The absence of grave goods or any indication of differential treatment in death suggests that Manasota society was relatively egalitarian. Leadership in the community was probably based on individual ability, and was acquired rather than inherited.
During the later part of the Manasota era, a new ceremonialism developed with the use of sand burial mounds and the placement of ornately decorated pottery with the dead.
SOURCE: Pinellas County.org Manasota – The Culture of Yat Kitschee
The Stratification of Society
Tocobaga Indians (Safety Harbor Culture) 900 – 1500 AD Tampa area
The Tocobaga Indians lived in small villages at the northern end of Tampa Bay from 900 to the 1500s.
New political and ceremonial practices developed in response to increased population. Safety Harbor society was highly stratified with a noble class, warriors, slaves, and peasants. Politics and religion were closely related, and political rulers were often believed to be gods who demanded respect and tribute in return for ensuring peace and prosperity.
Each village was situated around a public area that was used as a meeting place. The houses were generally round and built with wooden poles holding up a roof of palm thatches. The chief’s home and the Temple or council hall were each built on a mound. Mounds were built outside the village for burying the dead.
One of these temple towns, Tocobaga, was located near the modern town of Safety Harbor. Lesser rulers resided in smaller towns and collected tribute from the still smaller villages and hamlets that dotted the landscape. Some of this tribute was kept by the local rulers and the rest was passed on to the supreme chief.
Calusa – 800 to 1700 AD
A. Who were they?
Earliest evidence of the Calusa on the southwest Florida coast dates to the first Century AD. The Calusa dominated Florida’s southwestern coast from 900 AD until the 16th century. Located in Estero Bay near Ft. Myers, Mound Key is one of the most prominent archaeological sites of the Calusa, and is thought to have been the capital of the Calusa Kingdom when the Spanish arrived.
Mound Key was inhabited sporadically between 500-900 AD due to sea level fluctuations. Stabilization of sea level brought re-occupation and major construction beginning around 1000 A.D. Local hierarchical forms of political organization coalesced. Labor pooling permitted larger scale buildings, the construction of canals and collective public works.
At its apex, the political complexity of the Calusa was unparalleled among known non-agricultural societies. The Calusa created the only non-agricultural kingdom in the New World and represented a high point on a spectrum of fisher-gatherer-hunter societies.
The Calusa were the most powerful tribe in peninsular Florida at the time of Spanish contact in the sixteenth century. The Calusa king exacted tribute from a population in excess of 20,000 distributed among 50–60 Calusa communities and extending to scores of additional towns throughout southern Florida.
B. Calusa Construction
Supported by an economy rooted in the estuaries and bays of southwestern Florida, the complexity of communal construction shows a highly organized workforce with time available beyond subsistence food gathering.
The early Calusa may have built some of their homes on stilts without walls and using woven palmetto leaves to fashion roofs. The rise of the Calusa Kingdom saw a shift to larger multi-family structures, similar to communal longhouses. These massive communal houses were built of wood and palmetto thatch and were sited atop mounds or shell middens. This appears to be of the type in use at Mound Key at the time of European contact. In 1697, the population was documented as a thousand residents, all of whom lived in sixteen buildings, another indicator of the massive scale and communal nature of Calusa housing.
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés visited the Calusa capital in 1566. He described the chief’s house as large enough to hold 2,000 without crowding, indicating it also served as the council house. When the chief formally received Menéndez in his house, the chief sat on a raised seat surrounded by 500 of his principal men, while his sister-wife sat on another raised seat surrounded by 500 women. The chief’s house was described as having two big windows, suggesting that it had walls. Five friars who stayed in the chief’s house in 1697 complained that the roof let in the rain, sun and dew.
Communal projects constructed of shell also included, temple mounds, rows of conical mounds, canals, semicircular ridges or ditches or both, and sets of parallel ridges. A fifty-foot-wide canal created a thoroughfare separating two major mounds at Mound Key and filled with water at high tide for canoe transport. The extent and complexity of communal construction shows a highly organized workforce with time available beyond subsistence food gathering.
C. Calusa Lifestyle
The Calusa Indians did not farm like some Indian tribes in Florida. They relied on coastal fisheries and estuaries as opposed to mammal or plant based food, They collected wild plant foods, and used only a handful of plants from home gardens including tropical species such as chili peppers, papaya, gourds, and squash. Most importantly, they did not engage in any type of maize agriculture, which formed the basis of surplus production and political complexity for many groups across the larger southeastern U.S. landscape.
Their lifestyle necessitated boat-making skills. The tribe relied upon southern yellow pine to construct canoes up to fifteen feet in length that were used to navigate rivers, canals, lakes, and bays.
There is evidence of a Calusa trade that directly or indirectly reached as far as the northern and central US.
Most of the physical evidence of life in Sarasota before European contact has been destroyed by development, or it is under water.
Archaeological research has revealed ceremonial mounds, platforms and burial mounds located near the shore and parallel to it, a pattern developed during the Manasota Culture. Yellow Bluff Mound in Sarasota was radiocarbon dated as early as 185 BC. Located 1 mile north of downtown, the mound was 8’ in height and measured 95’ x 120 ‘ at the base.
As societies grew in population and complexity Sarasota was located between two power and cultural centers. The Tocobaga (Safety Harbor Culture) centered in Tampa and the Calusa capital at Mound Key in the Ft. Myers area. Each arose to power around 900 A.D. with the Calusa becoming the dominant force throughout the Gulf Coast and southern Florida, collecting tribute from all others.
Remaining evidence shows that construction in the Sarasota area encompassed ideas from both sources. Round platform houses on poles with thatched roofs and no walls, ceremonial buildings raised on mounds, long 3’ high ridges of shells, plus burial mounds. No evidence of long houses like the buildings in the Calusa capital of Calos has yet been acknowledged. SOURCE: The Florida Anthropologist Volume 64 number 1 March 2011 Yellow Bluff Mound by George M. Luer
Sarasota and the Destruction of History
In the late 1960s the Earl Putnam Organization Inc., purchased two pieces of land for development containing the Yellow Bluff Mound and the Sarasota Bay Mound.
Yellow Bluff mound was destroyed in anticipation of a phase two condominium construction that never happened,
The Sarasota Bay Mound at Mound Street and Palm Avenue was destroyed to make way for the Embassy House Condominiums, an 18 story tower.
Both mounds were constructed on top of natural high ground and offered impressive views of the Bay.
Sarasota Bay Mound
Originally “a few yards from the water,” the Sarasota Bay Mound was located south of downtown and north of Hudson Bayou, at the turn in the road of present day Mound Street.
A sizable sand mound dating to the Safety Harbor period (c.a. A.D. 1000-1500), the Sarasota Bay Mound was a burial mound 20’ high with a 100’ base.
Early damage to the mound occurred in 1920 when the top of the mound was leveled for the construction of the McClintock residence.
In 1974 construction began on the Embassy House Condominiums and the mound was gone.
There is a claim of finding radial burial practices in the Sarasota Bay Mound, though there is no documentation. The following was reported regarding Laurel Bay Mound at the southern end of Longboat Key.
Unsubstantiated report from 1890s by J.H. Simpson
“Mr. John Crowley of Braidentown (sic) reports a sand mound on the south east of this key in which many persons were buried. He says there were three layers of bodies which had been placed about six inches apart. In each layer the heads had all been placed pointing toward the center of the Mound.”
Widespread reports exist of such burials in peninsular Florida.
SOURCE: The Florida Anthropologist Volume 58 Numbers 1-2 March – June 2005
Sarasota Bay Mound: A Safety Harbor Period Burial Mound, with Notes on Additional Sites in Sarasota by George M. Luer
Places to Visit
Ancient Florida Architecture Lecture by William H. Marquardt
Florida Museum of Natural History
From Shell Midden to Midden-Mound: The Geoarchaeology of Mound Key, an Anthropogenic Island in Southwest Florida, USA
Victor D. Thompson. William H. Marquardt, Alexander Cherkinsky, Amanda D. Roberts Thompson, Lee A. Newsom, Michael Savarese
PLOS one copyright 2016
Collective action, state building and the rise of the Calusa, Southwest Florida, USA
Victor D. Thompson. William H. Marquardt, Karen J. Walker, Amanda D. Roberts Thompson, Lee A. Newsom
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 52 (2018) 28-44
Manasota – The Culture of Yat Kitschee Pinellas County.org
Yellow Bluff Mound by George M. Luer
The Florida Anthropologist Volume 64 number 1 March 2011
Sarasota Bay Mound: A Safety Harbor Period Burial Mound, with Notes on Additional Sites in Sarasota by George M. Luer
The Florida Anthropologist Volume 58 Numbers 1-2 March – June 2005
BOARD 3A: Settlement Era 1880 – 1920 – Vernacular Architecture
“There is much to be learned from architecture before it became an expert’s art. Untutored builders demonstrate an admirable talent for fitting their buildings into the natural surroundings. Instead of trying to “conquer” nature,.…they welcome the vagaries of climate and the challenge of typography.”
Architecture Without Architects
by Bernard Rudolfsky, A study of non-formal, non-classified architecture, Doubleday & Company, Copyright 1964, Bernard Rudolfsky
Exhibition at Museum of Modern Art NY 11/9/64 –2/7/65
CHARACTERISTICS OF SARASOTA’S VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE 1860-1920
Several types of domestic architecture developed in Sarasota and throughout the South between 1860 and 1920. All structures were raised off the ground to allow air circulation underneath.
A long, rectangular house one room wide to make the most of cross ventilation. Called “shotgun” because you could “shoot a gun in the front door and it would go out the back door”.
Two living areas separated by a covered central area, often with front and back porches, to provide shade and protection from the weather while permitting maximum airflow. The main feature was a large breezeway through the center of the house to cool occupants in the hot southern climate Chimneys were almost always located at each gable end of the house, with each serving one of the two main rooms. Most dogtrots had full-width porches to the front and/or rear.
BOARD 3B: Settlement Era 1880 – 1920 – Tourism and Leisure
Attracted by the climate and rich opportunities for hunting and fishing, visitors (tourists) were the major source of economic growth for Sarasota.
Long before Disney arrived, Florida was the land of fantasy and dreams; promising a paradise of beautiful warm weather, palm trees and white sand beaches.
In 1900 Sarasota was a five-block long community of 20 houses, without sidewalks, but with a nine hole golf course. By 1909, there was electricity, a paved Main Street and a narrow hard surfaced road from Sarasota to Bradenton.
Institutions of Leisure
Col. Gillespie Golf Clubhouse
Raised off the ground, surrounded by a covered porch with a cupola on top, the building was designed to maximize cooling breezes.
PHOTOS: Provided by Jeff LaHurd
John Hamilton Gillespie (1852-1923)
PHOTO: Courtesy of Sarasota County Historic Resources
Sarasota Yacht and Automobile Club
Founded in 1912, the Yacht and Automobile Club was built off the ground with car storage under (a very early parking garage!). The building featured a 400 seat auditorium with stage on the 1st floor. The second floor included dining rooms, a library, a lounging room and “one room for ladies’ use.”
On top was a 20-foot cupola, which was furnished with chairs and hammocks for enjoying the 360-degree views of downtown and Sarasota Bay. The exterior was painted white with green trim and the interior was plaster with dark green stained woodwork.
The verandahs surrounding the building and the cupola created an upward air movement and cooling convection. Floor to ceiling windows and French doors aided cross ventilation and cooling breezes.
The Yacht & Automobile Club building was converted to apartments in the early 1920s.
Sarasota Women’s Club at the Yacht and Automobile Club around 1910
PHOTOS: Provided by Jeff LaHurd
Hotels & Tourism
PHOTO: Provided by Jeff LaHurd
The Halton Hotel opened 1908. It had been converted from a sanitarium owned by Dr. Jack Halton. The building featured deep porches and a screened porch on the left.
Bertha Palmer stayed at the Halton on her first visit to Sarasota, as there was no room at the Belle Haven. From their base at the Halton Hotel, the family spent more than a week touring the area. Before the year was over, they had begun purchasing what would become 90,000 acres in the Sarasota-Venice region of what was then Manatee County.
In 1915, a significant part of downtown Sarasota burned. Re-building began with new more durable and fire resistant materials: stucco and cement.
PHOTOS: Provided by Jeff LaHurd
TIN CAN TOURISTS
BOARD 4: Boom Time – the 1920s and The Arrival of The Architects
Money flows into Sarasota launching a boom in residential, commercial and civic construction in Mediterranean Revival Style Architecture.
Architects Dwight James Baum, and Thomas Reed Martin created Sarasota’s commercial and residential identity. John H. Phillips created Sarasota’s cultural image.
Dwight James Baum arrived from New York in 1922 and was commissioned by John Ringling to build Ca’ d’Zan.
John Ringling and his wife Mable hired Dwight James Baum to build the house of their dreams. This home of the circus king and his wife, a couple from humble mid-western origins, Ca’ d’Zan stands as a testament to the American Dream of the Roaring Twenties. Inspired by and designed in the Venetian Gothic style of the palazzos that ring the Venice canals, this dazzling palatial mansion perfectly captures the splendor and romance of the Italy that the Ringlings so loved. To honor its owner, they named it Ca’ d’Zan, “House of John” in the dialect of their beloved Venice.
SOURCE: Ringling Museum of Art
Fun Fact: Giovanni Lunardi, a photographer of Ca’ d’Zan, is the father of Leonardo Lunardi, one of Today’s Architects in this exhibit.
Sarasota County Courthouse in Mediterranean Revival style was designed by Baum and completed in 1927. Restoration work was done by Hall Architects in 2017-18.
Fun fact: Baum’s brother Frank wrote the Wizard of Oz.
John H. Phillips practiced architecture in New York, where he worked on both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and New York’s Grand Central Station.
Ringling Museum of Art
John H. Phillips Watercolor Museum of Art, Courtesy of Ringling Museum of Art
Phillips design rendering of the facade for the Ringling Museum is notable both in it’s beauty and the way it evokes the era.
While traveling through Europe in search of acts for his circus, John Ringling, in the spirit of America’s wealthiest Gilded Age industrialists, began acquiring art and gradually built a significant collection. Soon after the completion of Ca’ d’Zan, John commissioned and built a 21-gallery museum modeled on the Florentine Uffizi Gallery to house his treasure trove of paintings and art objects, highlighted by his collection of Old Masters, including Velazquez, Poussin, van Dyke and Rubens. The result is the museum and a courtyard filled with replicas of Greek and Roman sculpture, including a bronze cast of Michelangelo’s David.
John Ringling opened the Museum of Art to the public in 1931, two years after the death of his beloved Mable, saying he hoped it would “promote education and art appreciation, especially among our young people.” Five years later, upon his death, Ringling bequeathed the museum to the people of Florida. Today, The Ringling, the State Art Museum of Florida, is home to one of the preeminent art and cultural collections in the United States. After many precarious times, the museum is a superb example of an historic building serving the community.
Caples Mansion was built in 1921 for hotel owner and land developer Ralph Caples.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Virginia Hoffman
Although often attributed to Alfred Clas, the architect of the Charles Ringling Mansion, John H. Phillips, architect of the Ringling Museum, designed the Caples Mansion.
A letter that Mable Ringling wrote said Phillips was the architect of the Caples mansion and that is how she met him and went on to hire him to build the Guest House that is next to Ca’ d’Zan. Following this small project, the Ringlings hired him to design the art museum.
Ron McCarty, long time Keeper of the Ca’ d’Zan wrote the following –
“I went to New College and asked to see the blueprints that they had on Caples and low and behold they have them with Phillips all over the borders as expected. So without any question, he did design the Caples. The blueprint says, Residence for R. Caples and is from Phillips Fifth Ave office.”
Thomas Reed Martin came to Sarasota in 1910 to work for Bertha Palmer. His first commission was to renovate her house, The Oaks, in Osprey.
Of all the Boom Time architects, it is the career of Thomas Reed Martin that has had the most long-lasting effect on Sarasota’s built and natural environment. During a career that spanned over forty years, he designed more than 500 buildings in Sarasota. His early design work was in the Mediterranean Revival style and transitioned over time to the Moderne and Art Deco style. In addition, to his work as an architect, Martin also practiced landscape design. His unrealized plan for the bay front south of Main Street, now Gulfstream Avenue, served as a catalyst for the town to acquire the land at a later date.
Like Addison Mizner, who worked on Florida’s east coast in the 1920s, Martin worked closely with trained artisans to realize his architectural designs, bringing employment to the area.
With advertising in the Sarasota Times, Thomas Reed Martin popularized “Floridian architecture, a home designed to suit our climate and environment…All work is personally designed by myself, I build no duplicates.”
Reagin House: The house on left was built in 1926 for L.D. Reagin, owner and editor of the Sarasota Times.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources
PHOTO: Courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources
Burns House: Listed on both Local and National Registers of Historic Places, the house was built for William Burns, a world famous detective. The house was designed to be consistent with the grandiose development concepts of St. Armand’s Circle and is shown from the water side.
Beginning in the 1920s, architects built Mediterranean Revival and Mission Revival style homes in neighborhoods developed to promote Sarasota as an exotic location. Evocative of the Mediterranean, homes were built to lure people from the rest of the country. Sarasota is fortunate to have a number of surviving neighborhoods, some of which have historic district designation. These three houses in Granada are examples of the Mission Revival style closely related to the Mediterranean Revival.
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation
End of the Era
The Florida Land boom of 1920-26 was a glorious, but short-lived phenomenon. Real estate prices rose too high too fast, leading to a land crash in 1926 three years before the Roaring 20s ended with the stock market crash of 1929.
The Mediterranean Revival Style
The wealth and obsession with leisure that defined the Roaring Twenties led to a boom in seaside resorts in the United States. Warm, tropical places such as Florida and California developed their tourist industries around these coastal playgrounds. To attract more tourists, they sought to embrace a unique aesthetic – something that felt exotic and relaxing: a Mediterranean villa.
Florida and California had something else in common: a Spanish colonial history. The remaining examples of Spanish architecture were a prime attraction to many tourists. Architects began combining Spanish features with those of Mediterranean villas and seaside palaces to create relaxing oases of style and adventure within the United States.
Characteristics of Mediterranean Revival Style and Mission Revival Style
Mediterranean homes are usually rectangular or square, and almost always symmetrical. The façade features a central door with a porch, with the same number of windows on either side of the house.
Low-pitched red tiled roof with broad overhangs
These roofs copied those of Spanish missions, which were made out of clay pots and bricks, shaped like half a tube to shed water easily. The air pocket in the tunnel of the half-tube helped to keep air cool; the tiles were fireproof.
This material was used to protect the exterior wall surfaces from rain, sunlight and hot temperatures, common in Mediterranean climates and almost always painted in white or pastel hues.
Arched doors and windows
Wrought iron detailing: door and window grills, balconies and staircases
Outdoor Living Space
Many Mediterranean homes extended the living room and placed it at the back of the home, creating an outdoor loggia which became a transitional area between the house and the garden. Balconies and terraces also help Mediterranean homeowners to enjoy outdoor winds.
- High ceilings
- Textured interior walls
- Patterned tiles: elaborately patterned tiled floors, walls and stairs.
Wooden paneling and paneled ceilings
Mediterranean Revival Style is a unique style, but also very similar to Spanish Revival and Mission Revival buildings of the era.
Spanish Mission Style is influenced by Spanish Colonial architecture brought to America during the 16th century. This type of architectural movement was popular in warm, coastal areas like Florida and California. It features cleaner lines and a lower-pitched roofline that looks heavier and thicker. Details were inspired by Byzantine, Gothic, Moorish, and Renaissance architecture. The Spanish Revival style is a more masculine type of Mediterranean home without the superfluous ornamentation that you can find in Italian Renaissance homes.
BOARD 5: Sarasota in the 1930s – Civic Architecture
Stories of Preservation, Restoration and Loss
Architecture in Context – Sarasota’s Civic Center and Theater Arts District
Just as a piece of architecture should respond to its surroundings, a group of buildings can create an environment – or context.
Sarasota has a quartet of architecturally significant buildings representing important eras in the planning and development of Sarasota. With ongoing development in this area, it is important to be aware that these buildings create an architectural neighborhood worth preserving.
Thomas Reed Martin completed two major civic buildings during the 1930s in the Art Deco and Art Moderne style: the Municipal Auditorium and the Chidsey Library.
The Municipal Auditorium
The Municipal Auditorium is one of the few surviving examples of the Art Deco/Moderne movement in Sarasota, featuring an arched roof and Art Deco-style glass blocks to optimize natural light. The auditorium opened in February 1938. The original structure included shuffleboard and tennis courts at the north side.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Stanley Bartlett Collection, Sarasota County Historical Resources
PHOTO; Courtesy of Stanley Bartlett Collection, Sarasota County Historical Resources
Restored in 2018 by Solstice Architecture, the Municipal Auditorium retains its historic design, with updated functionality.
Municipal Auditorium Restoration
Restoration of the Municipal Auditorium in 2017
The Municipal Auditorium is one of less than a handful of Art Deco buildings that remain in Sarasota. It was built as a public gathering place with funding from President Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration program in 1937. The auditorium played a role in lifting Sarasota out of the Great Depression and continues to serve the community for both commerce and culture.
Completed in 1938, it was designed by Chicago architects, Thomas Reed Martin and Clarence A. Martin and listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Frequented by more than 100,000 visitors annually, much of the building had fallen into disrepair since its last rehabilitation in 1997. Cracks, leaks, and mold further damaged the auditorium and the experience for the public.
With a $500,000 historic preservation grant from the State of Florida, Jonathan Parks AIA was hired in 2017 to update and restore the structure while also making it ADA-compliant. It was important to honor the existing architecture and strengthen it for decades of future use. By relying on original photographs and postcards, the architect repaired the exterior with an emphasis on remaining true to the architects’ original intent. New historically accurate windows and doors were installed while great care was taken to re-stucco the façade. Entrances were reimagined to be more universally accessible, adding ramps, stainless steel railings, and doorways with easier egress. The restrooms were extensively updated with a clean-lined aesthetic to complement the modern art deco style. On the west side, the Bayfront Community Center was renovated with new bathrooms and finishes while the kitchen was updated for commercial use.
The careful rehabilitation was completed over a one-year period. The result is a stunning restoration that is sensitively executed in a manner true to Thomas Reed Martin and Clarence A. Martin’s original design.
The Chidsey Library
On May 12, 1941, the cornerstone was laid for the City of Sarasota’s first public library building. In Art Moderne Style, it features simple unadorned horizontal bands of stucco, glass block walls and corner windows. Upon completion in November 1941, the building was dedicated to John and Ida Chidsey, primary donors for the $25,000 project. The building was used as a library until 1976 and is currently owned by Sarasota County.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Chidsey Bayless Family Foundation, Sarasota County Historical Resources
Art Center Sarasota
The Sarasota Art Association began in 1926, and was without an official home for 20 years before construction of the Art Center began in 1948. The Art Center was designed in the Sarasota School of Architecture style, also known as Sarasota Modern, by Frank C. Martin, son of Thomas Reed Martin.The original galleries were built around a patio of tropical plants and a sunken pool. The Atrium or “Patio Gallery” as it was called was later enclosed in 1961. In 1966 the front galleries and current front facade were designed by architect Sumner Darling.
His son, Glenn Darling, is a principal of Hall Darling Design Studio, one of the firms shown in Today’s Architects.
Notes on Sumner Darling by Glenn Darling
Please see attached historic images of the Art Center. The Sarasota Art Association (as it was called) hired my father to do the front gallery space – what you see from the parking lot. It was an addition to the original structure. The gallery was completed in 1966 and was my father’s first project under his own firm. Prior to that he was interning for William Rupp.
William Rupp and Joe Farrell designed the building housing the Center for Architecture Sarasota.
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Glenn Darling
The Blue Pagoda Building, designed by Victor Lundy and completed in 1956, was an addition to this enclave of civic buildings. A brilliant blue roof of glazed ceramic tiles, imported from Japan, floats over transparent walls, looking out on a Japanese water garden. Originally built for the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, today it is the Visitor Center for the Bay Park Conservancy. Victor Lundy was an accomplished painter and the “sculptor / architect” of the Sarasota School of Architecture. It was a watercolor painting of the design for the Blue Pagoda that won him the commission. He and Paul Rudolph both attended the Harvard Graduate School of Design at the same time, studying under Professor Walter Gropius.
Lido Casino – Loved and Lost
In 1938, Ralph Twitchell received the commission to design the Lido Casino, a Works Progress Administration project located on Lido Beach. The two-story casino featured an Olympic- sized swimming pool surrounded by cabanas, decks, locker rooms, shops, restaurants, and ballrooms. The minimalist structure was built out of exposed concrete with square glass blocks placed at forty-five-degree angles. The nine precast concrete seahorses that overlooked the pool were the casino’s trademarks. Bright murals depicting tropical scenes decorated the walls.
PHOTO: Provided by Jeff LaHurd
The casino was particularly popular during World War II as a gathering spot for servicemen training at nearby bases. “It just seems like everybody loved it. It was a beautiful place — it looked incredible,” Sarasota County historic preservation specialist Lorrie Muldowney said.
By the 1950s, the casino was in need of repairs and patronage was declining. In 1964, citizens passed a $250,000 bond referendum to restore the casino. However, government leaders decided it would be too costly and instead had the casino torn down. Only the pool was retained. A Modernist beach pavilion designed by Tim Seibert was built on the casino’s footprint in 1970.
PHOTOS: Provided by Jeff LaHurd
Art Deco / Art Moderne
What is the difference between these styles?
Art Moderne emphasizes horizontal design, movement and sleekness. Art Moderne is decidedly American, dating from the early 1930s and lasting into the 1940s.
Identifying Art Moderne: Smooth, rounded wall surfaces, often stucco; flat roof with small ledge at roofline; horizontal grooves or lines in walls (sometimes fluted or pressed metal); asymmetrical façade; casement, corner, or ribbon windows arranged horizontally; metal balustrades; glass-block windows, often curved and built into the curved wall.
Art Deco emphasizes verticality and stylized, geometric ornamentation. Art Deco had its roots in France.
Identifying Art Deco: Smooth wall surface, often stucco; smooth-faced stone and metal; polychromy, often with vivid colors; forms simplified and streamlined; geometric designs including zigzags, chevrons; towers and other vertical projections, presenting a vertical emphasis; machined and often metallic construction materials for decorative features.
Art Deco was the first widely popular style in U.S. to break with revivalist tradition represented by Beaux-Arts and period houses. Art Deco uses a style of decoration that was applied to jewelry, clothing, furniture, handicrafts, and – in this case – buildings. Industrial designers (a new emerging profession) used art deco motifs to decorate streamlined cars, trains, kitchen appliances, and many other machine-age innovations. Art Deco takes its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs and Industriels Modernes, held in Paris 1925. This event was billed as a showcase for works of “new inspiration and real originality”. The style strove for a modern and artistic expression to complement the machine age. An emphasis on the future rather than the past was the style’s principal characteristic.
Both Art Deco and its cousin, Art Moderne, were rarely used for houses; they were more common for commercial buildings and skyscrapers, and occasional institutional buildings. The styles were most popular in New York City and other large metropolitan areas that continued to grow during the 1930s and 40s. Though relatively rare compared to other more popular styles, both Art Deco and Art Moderne spread widely throughout the country into large cities and small towns alike.
BOARD 5: RALPH TWITCHELL FATHER OF THE SARASOTA SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE
Ralph Twitchell has been credited by some with bringing the ranch house style to Sarasota. His first home in this style is generally acknowledged as the home built of pecky cypress for William Sonntag. Located in McClelland Park it was completed in 1941.
PHOTO; Courtesy of Carmen Ramsey Collection, Sarasota County Historical Resources.
Influence of Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), considered by many to be the greatest of all American architects, pioneered a style of “organic architecture” that connects buildings harmoniously with the natural landscape around them.
In 1938 Wright was hired by Dr. Ludd Spivey to design Florida Southern College, in Lakeland, FL. This project brought architectural notice to Florida and influenced both Ralph Twitchell and the young architecture student he hired in 1941, Paul Rudolph.
BOARD 7: Education & Architecture – The Story of Sarasota Schools
Sarasota has a unique history of innovation in education and recognition of the contribution that architecture can make to education.
M. Leo Elliot
With population growth in the 1920s, Sarasota needed new schools. In 1926, Tampa based architect M. Leo Elliot was commissioned to design two elementary schools: Southside School and Bay Haven School on the north side of town. They are excellent examples of the Mediterranean Revival style that was flourishing in Sarasota at the time.
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Sean Harris
Sarasota High School – Preservation and Creative Reuse
In 1927, Elliot designed Sarasota High School, an impressive building that could accommodate 1000 students. In 1960 Paul Rudolph designed a New Addition to Sarasota High School. Years later, when the Sarasota County School Board no longer had a use for the original Sarasota High School, a coalition of community members came together to help determine an adaptive use for the building. After reimagining the interior and site, the former High School opened in December 2019 as the Sarasota Art Museum. Today Sarasota High School is an excellent example of preservation through creative reuse.
PHOTO: Sarasota High School Front Facade, Courtesy of Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation
PHOTO: By Ryan Gamma
Out of Door School
An Education Concept
The Out-of-Door School was established in 1924 by Fanneal Harrison and Catherine Gavin, followers of Belgian progressive education pioneer Ovide Decroly. Classes and free time were spent outside on the school’s 20-acre campus on Siesta Key, with wooden cabins serving as classrooms during inclement weather.
To educate in its fullest sense is to create conditions in which the child can live – and is led by these conditions led to live-as fully as possible through each succeeding stage of his development, meeting and solving in his own experience the problems of each stage as it comes, and so gaining the power to meet and to solve the problems that await him in further stages. Such conditions it is for a school to provide.
Dr. Ovide Decroly , Wikipedia
In 1936 Ralph Twitchell designed the school’s Library, which was built with student labor.
PHOTOS: Courtesy of The Out of Door Academy
Sarasota School of Architecture & Sarasota Education 1954 – 1962
Phillip Hiss – The Education Visionary
PHOTO: Shirley Hiss and John Howey, The Sarasota School of Architecture 1941-1966
The son of a well-to-do doctor, Hiss inherited a considerable fortune at age 21. After touring the world by boat and motorcycle, writing a book on Bali, and completing a distinguished WW II career, Hiss settled in Sarasota in 1948. With a background as an anthropologist, writer, photographer and developer, he began to buy and develop property. Hiss began building on Lido Shores and hired Paul Rudolph to design a model house for his development – the Umbrella House – “to attract attention from the road and in the Architectural Journals”.
Hiss developed a strong interest in the Sarasota public schools. He was elected chairman of the Sarasota County Board of Public Instruction in 1954. It was not long before he was able to float a bond to build new schools and persuaded the Board to hire cutting edge Sarasota architects to design the schools. Nine schools opened over two years and almost immediately the modern progressive buildings received critical acclaim.
In 1961, Hiss successfully applied for a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to study the possibility of establishing a liberal arts college in Sarasota. The result was the creation of New College, a private liberal arts college, which was established in 1964. I.M. Pei was selected as the architect for New College.
Hiss had an influence on Sarasota’s architectural history that was equal to the earlier influencers Bertha Palmer and the Ringlings.
FUN FACT: Hiss was the cousin of accused Soviet spy Alger Hiss (1904-1996)
Source: Sarasota Architectural Foundation
Innovative Educational Characteristics
- Classrooms were larger more flexible spaces.
- Team teaching was introduced to two schools.
- Emphasis placed on indoor and outdoor teaching.
Paul Rudolph designed two schools in Sarasota – the Sarasota High School addition, which is an icon of twentieth Century architecture and Riverview High School.
They faced different fates. A campaign by citizens and organizations concerned with preserving Sarasota’s architectural history successfully lobbied the Board of Education to restore Rudolph’s Sarasota High School addition. The restoration work was designed by Solstice Planning and Architecture and completed in 2017.
PHOTO: Esto, Courtesy of Solstice Architecture and Planning
The exterior glass structure was cased with a brise-soleil of carefully arranged concrete sunscreen panels that protect the building from direct heat gain. These distinct folded concrete panels are placed in a coordinated pattern to emphasize the play of light and shadow along the facade of the structure.
PHOTO: Esto, Courtesy of Solstice Architecture and Planning
Riverview High was not as fortunate. Built in 1958, Demolished in 2009.
Testimonies and letters from preservationists, historians, architects and concerned citizens from around the world made clear to the Sarasota School Board its historic and architectural importance. After much debate, fundraising and an international design competition to find another use, it could not be rescued. Despite this global campaign, the school board voted to move forward with the demolition.
Photo: Riverview High School, Library of Congress
Victor Lundy – Alta Vista Elementary School Addition and Outdoor Learning
The “Butterfly” roof was conceived as a great freestanding shade to offer shelter for the indoor-outdoor classrooms. Its eighteen-foot overhangs sheltered ample outdoor teaching spaces divided by brick walls.
PHOTO: Library of Congress
Jack West – Englewood Elementary School and Team Learning
“…one of the first, if not the first, in the United States, to be designed specifically for team teaching in a flexible ungraded curriculum. Classroom sizes were varied to include both large and small teaching groups. Moveable partitions allowed classes to be combined to free teachers for other assignments. Storage and furnishings were on casters to facilitate the creation of special working sections. A covered outside play/assembly area and patios contiguous to the classroom extended activities to lo-cost exterior areas, practical because of Florida’s climate.”
TLOAA The Lives of An Architect by Jack West, page 50
The building in the photo is the cafeteria pictured in the lower right of the rendering.
PHOTOS: Courtesy of the Jack West Collection, Sarasota County Historical Resources
Gene Leedy and William Rupp
Brentwood Elementary School – 1959 and today
Praised for the light steel structure and connection to the outdoors when it was built, over years the glass walls were replaced with masonry. In 2016 Sweet Sparkman Architects was commissioned to update the campus with a new cafeteria, renovated media center and classrooms as well as upgraded electrical and HVAC. The design won an award at the AIA 2020 Design Conference.
Carl Abbott Pineview School 1994
The school sits on a 50 acre forested site. The design is based on Thomas Jefferson’s master plan for the University of Virginia. A U shaped plan with a central green designed “to encourage individual thought and development.”
Received Merit Award for Test of Time in 2018.
Photo: CMC Archive
“In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy” John Sawhill
AT RISK: South Gate Community Center
Architect: Victor Lundy Constructed 1956
Listed on the Sarasota County Register of Historic Places
A message from the South Gate Community Association:
For over sixty years, the South Gate Community Center has been a Sarasota landmark and place of fellowship, recreation, and social gathering. Designed by Victor Lundy in 1956 and owned and managed by the South Gate Community Association (SGCA), the community center is rented out for weddings, and other third party events to cover the costs of maintaining the historic building and 4-acre grounds. As is the case for many businesses and organizations, the South Gate Community Center has fallen on hard times as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With rental income at a standstill, SGCA no longer has the resources needed to cover operational costs. SGCA is working to insure the property and historic building continue to be a place for the community to enjoy for decades to come, but assistance is needed.
The Southgate Community Association has applied to Sarasota County to acquire the property under the Parks Advisory and Recreation Council Land Acquisition Program. Proceeds from the sale would be used for the restoration of the building and ongoing management.
Reasons for preserving the property
Cultural: Sarasota is famous internationally for the Sarasota School of Architecture. One of the two most famous architects of the Sarasota School was Victor Lundy, who designed the Community Center in 1956 for Roland King and Frank Smith, the developers of South Gate.
Ecological: with 1200 feet of natural shoreline on Philippi Creek, this property’s natural shoreline represents a needed filter for the waters of the creek.
Recreational: The grounds are already a park, with beautiful mature oak trees, open space and a location with parking to launch kayaks on Philippi Creek.
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall “Crown Jewel of Sarasota Bay”
Architect: William Wesley Peters
The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Sarasota Bay was designed in 1968 by William Wesley Peters, Chief Architect at Taliesin Associated Architects of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and also Wright’s son-in-law. The Van Wezel is located within the boundaries of the Conceptual Master Plan for the Sarasota Bayfront developed by The Bay Conservancy. The proposed plan states that the park will feature a new performing arts center at 10th and Tamiami Trail, with no mention made to the future of this existing landmark performing arts hall.
This cultural landmark is immediately recognizable due to the purple color, selected by Wright’s widow, Olgivanna, because it reminded her of a seashell she found near the Sea of Japan. The shell is proudly displayed in the lobby of the unusual, shaped theater. “It was designed based on the relationship to nature and with the site; the roof based on a seashell, opening the building to views of Sarasota Bay, the dramatic interior spaces, and use of humble materials to achieve an unexpected richness. They all add up to a ‘celebration of circumstance’,” Anthony Puttnam, renovation architect quoted, observing that many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural philosophies are echoed in the work that his son in law created.
The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is named after Lewis and Eugenia Van Wezel whose 1937 Lido Key estate is a locally designated historic structure, offered protection from demolition and insensitive changes due to its architectural significance, but also the incredible role the Van Wezel family played in Sarasota’s cultural development. The Van Wezels had been diamond merchants in New York before settling on Lido Key. In 1967, when the construction of Sarasota’s performance hall fell $400,000.00 short, the Van Wezel Foundation stepped in to meet the need. On January 5th, 1970, the hall opened with Fiddler on the Roof, and since then the theater continues to attract several hundred thousand patrons to its doors each year.
This legacy structure, which has become a world-wide iconic reference to Sarasota, even to the point where it was featured in a ‘snow’ globe from Saks Fifth Avenue, now faces an uncertain future. Located within the boundaries of a Conceptual Master Plan for the Sarasota Bayfront, the Bay Conservancy, which is the organization responsible for implementing the plan states that the park will feature a new performing arts center at 10th Street and Tamiami Trail, with no mention made to the future of the existing landmark building.
Given what we know about the essential role of adaptive reuse in sustaining not only our natural environment but also ensuring that our past remains part of the story, this landmark structure could help us shape who we want to be tomorrow. For the Van Wezel Hall, which was featured in the Tour Sarasota Architecture book in 2009, the opportunities for adaptive reuse of the theatre are numerous and represent a creative challenge we should not shy away from in favor of the landfill.
New College Dormitories
Architect: I.M. Pei
In its 2018 survey of Florida’s mid-20th century modern architecture, the University of Florida’s Historic Preservation Program selected the Pei dormitories as one of only seven educational properties to be included among 50 Flagship Structures in the state and recommended they be considered for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as historic landmarks, a classification reserved for only the most significant of historic buildings in the country.
After a half a century of use, the Pei dorms have begun to exhibit signs of deterioration due to deferred maintenance, and over occupancy, most notably in First Court, the entrance to the compound. At this time some of the units are vacant.
When I.M. Pei first arrived on New College’s Bayfront Campus in early 1963, he was one among nine nationally known architects competing for a $15 million commission to develop a master plan for the fledgling but ambitious college. The architects had been invited to visit New College to participate in a unique two-day collective interview process in which they presented their design ideas to their potential patrons—in the presence of their peers. The postwar college construction boom offered attractive opportunities for the nation’s leading architects as campuses scrambled to physically accommodate increasing numbers of students.
The founders of New College were looking for an architect who had the vision and expertise to create an entire campus from scratch. Pei was known for his stylistic, modern eclecticism, and he also had experience designing educational institutions.
New College’s Architect Selection Committee unanimously selected Pei later in 1963. As befitting the distinctive nature of New College, the concept Pei came up with was unique. The Pei residences were designed after a Mediterranean village; three pavilions with interior courts containing small fountains and plantings that were clustered around a central plaza. The Brutalist-style buildings were constructed in light gray brick, with each study-bedroom unit designed for two students and opening onto a secluded patio or balcony. A geometrically precise planting of palm trees shaded the large courtyard and provided a collective meeting space.
In 2012, the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects designated the New College resident halls, student union and Academic Center as one of Florida’s Top 100 Buildings. In its 2018 survey of Florida’s mid-20th century modern architecture, the University of Florida’s Historic Preservation Program selected the Pei residence halls as one of seven educational properties to be included among 50 flagship structures in the state and recommended they be considered for landmark designation.
SUCCESSFUL PRESERVATION EFFORTS
Umbrella House – successful rehabilitation utilizing archival research and new technology
Architect: Paul Rudolph
Rehabilitation Architect: Gregory Hall, Hall Architects
Universally known as the “Umbrella House”, the single-family residence located at 1300 Westway Drive in the Lido Shores development on Lido Key, Sarasota, Florida is the crown jewel of the body of regional modern work now known as the “Sarasota School of Architecture”. Designed by noted American Architect Paul M. Rudolph and built in 1953 by developer Phillip Hiss, this spec house was an immediate sensation. Opening day crowds exceeded 2,500 visitors – causing traffic to backup along the causeway all the way back to Sarasota, nearly 4 miles away.
Several years after the Umbrella House was completed its signature “umbrella” was lost to a storm event. Multiple efforts were made to reconstruct the umbrella. Challenges faced included reconstructing a structure that no longer met current code requirements and rebuilding the umbrella in a manner that recreated the light airy appearance of the original but was strong enough to withstand future storm event.
With the aid of original construction drawings and historic photographs from the local archive, a design was developed for the reconstruction of the shade structure that matched the Paul Rudolph original in design, detail, dimension, and intent while at the same time meeting all the requirements of the current Florida Building Code. To accomplish this, concrete foundations were enlarged, all supporting columns and beams were removed and replaced, and damaged cypress in the canopy and lattice was replaced with sound material. In addition, permanent lateral reinforcement cable stays required for resisting storm-force winds that was missing in Rudolph’s original design and the 2013 reconstruction was introduced and integrated in a manner to make it visually unobtrusive.
The proposed restoration program received the full support of the City of Sarasota Historic Preservation Board and staff of the City’s Department of Neighborhood and Development Services. All work followed the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards [Department of the Interior, National Park Service]. The Owners were assisted in their efforts to reconstruct the Umbrella by a preservation architect, a structural engineer, and a preservation contractor. The Sarasota Architectural Foundation recorded the reconstruction and prepared a time-lapsed video that has been published on YouTube. The completed project is open to the public by special arrangement to allow today’s visitors to experience what was only available for a very short period over fifty years ago.
Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College at Sarasota High School – successful adaptive re-use
Architect: M. Leo Elliot
Rehabilitation Architects: K/R Architects in partnership with executive architect Lawson Group
Gothic school building on Tamiami Trail to house the growing number of high school students brought here by the land boom. In 1996, classes began to move into the expanded Paul Rudolph structure, and for several years, the old school sat empty. Thankfully in 2003, a group of culturally minded citizens began planning for a museum of contemporary art that could be housed in the structure. A partnership between the Sarasota Art Museum and the Ringling College of Art + Design began to transform the school building into an art museum and educational center. The Sarasota Art Museum opened its doors in 2019 to great success, and was the recipient of the 2020 Historic Structure Preservation Award of the History and Preservation Coalition of Sarasota County.
Taking their role as the stewards of the high school to heart, the museum began the Memory Project in 2015. “The 1926 M. Leo Elliott-designed former Sarasota Senior High School isn’t just a beautiful example of Collegiate neo-Gothic architecture, it is an important historical site that holds a century of Sarasota’s memories. As we embarked upon the transformation of the building into a new contemporary art museum, it was important for us to ensure those memories didn’t disappear.”
Using their specific expertise to preserve and interpret the history and the community’s memories of the High School, the Museum is able to continue the narrative of building. In the context of the old school, you are layering value to the experience of a contemporary art exhibit–the adaptive reuse enriches the museum.
Adaptive reuse is at the very core of the preservation movement. Allowing our historic buildings to grow and change, to continue to have a vibrant use and function in our community, creates a built environment which helps to tell the story of who we are. By keeping existing buildings out of landfills, we not only reduce the amount of new material that will need to be produced, but we allow the original materials to fulfill their lifespan, and in the process, carve a path toward a more sustainable healthy future.
Sarasota High School Addition – successful restoration due to community effort
Architect: Paul Rudolph
Restoration Architects: Solstice Planning and Architecture, Harvard Jolly Architects
Paul Rudolph’s 1960 addition to Sarasota High School was the last of nine major school building projects competed by architects associated with the Sarasota School of Architecture in just five years. The schools were designed to be innovative, better functioning, and provide a more healthful educational environment for the children of Sarasota County.
Built without air-conditioning, the building’s classrooms had large glass panels on the south side that opened to allow for cross ventilation. The interior hallways were open-air, allowing hot air to escape through the roof system. The building’s signature, vertically mounted shading panels helped control the sunlight.
Unfortunately, shortly after completion insensitive renovations were undertaken to install air conditioning which compromised the design integrity of the building.
The result was that the formally elegant design was compromised to the point that its intrinsic beauty was difficult to discern and its effectiveness as an environment for learning compromised.
The 2015 renovation occurred after an often-contentious effort by the local community to save the building. A turning point in the process resulting in the preservation of the Sarasota High School addition was a promise by the Sarasota County School board in 2009, made at the time that Riverview High School was demolished to” appropriately rehabilitate” Rudolph’s work at Sarasota High.”
The rehabilitation of Paul Rudolph’s 1960 addition to Sarasota High School has been given awards of Merit by the American Institute of Architects regionally and statewide and described as “…walking the balance line between respect for existing and recognition of new insertion” and a “Sensitive way to deal with new security issues while respecting the existing facility.” – AIA Tampa, Jury
Riverview High School
Architect: Paul Rudolph
Docomomo. US July 11, 2009
We are sad to report the loss of Paul Rudolph’s 1958 Riverview High School in Sarasota, Florida. Rudolph’s first public building in Florida, the school district owned site was leveled on June 13th despite the vocal opposition of architects and preservation organizations.
Sarasota icon gone, but not forgotten.
by architect Joyce Owens
An article originally published on www.news-press.com
Riverview High School, age 51, of Sarasota, Florida, was reduced to a pile of rubble on June 13, 2009.
Built in 1958, Riverview was the first public building in Florida designed by Paul Rudolph. The internationally respected architect, who designed several houses in Lee County – including the iconic Walker Guest House on Sanibel – was the undisputed leader of the Sarasota School of Architecture, which is south Florida’s own regionally adapted version of modern architecture of the mid-century.
Testimonies and letters from preservationists, historians, architects and concerned citizens from around the world made clear to the Sarasota School Board its historic and architectural importance. After much debate, fundraising and an international design competition to find another use, it could not be rescued.
Despite this global campaign, the school board voted last year to move forward with the demolition.
So just why is it that many modern buildings like Riverview High School – once considered daring, slick and iconic models for social change – are now forgotten, neglected, altered beyond recognition or even bulldozed?
Modern architecture is defined as a variety of building styles that share simplicity of form and a lack of ornamentation. Although the principles were conceived and adopted in the first half of the 20th century, the popularity of this building style did not catch on in the United States until after World War ll.
In Florida, the Sarasota School’s distinct approach to modern architecture considered the local climate and created a relationship with the landscape. Sunshades, large sliding doors, ventilation and jalousie windows are common features of this style, built between 1940 and the mid-1960s.
Riverview High School, one of the most progressive schools of its day, epitomized the Sarasota School’s principles.
When I toured the school in the summer of 2007, what struck me most was how effectively these buildings had been tailored to a subtropical climate.
Pioneering solutions integrated natural daylight, minimized direct sun and maximized ventilation.
The buildings were arranged in a ‘U’ shape, creating an open plaza in the center. A distinctive freestanding covered walkway of horizontal planes completed the square on the fourth side. This configuration ensured students were always protected from the sun and rain.
The two-story classroom buildings were designed with generous corridors open at both ends to ensure a constant cross breeze. Internal high-level windows in the classrooms ran the length of these corridors and on the second level; the floors once had narrow slots open to below along each side. Hot air was naturally drawn out of the classrooms and corridors, rising up and out clerestory windows in the hallway.
Before air conditioning, it worked. But the incorporation of air conditioning was the beginning of the end. Never designed to be airtight, the buildings suffered from mold. Inappropriate alterations in the last few decades followed, as well as poor maintenance. Restoration became cost prohibitive. The Rudolph buildings will be replaced with a parking lot.
Abundant examples of architecture influenced by the modern movement, and specifically the Sarasota School, survive in Southwest Florida. Should they be allowed to suffer the same fate?
These days many old buildings are saved, not necessarily because they are well-designed, but because they visually preserve history. Structures once considered modern may not look old, but are equally important. They too need to be saved for future generations to experience and appreciate.
Fortunately, a growing appreciation for the modern architecture of the past century is emerging, everywhere.
Despite its demise, Riverview High School will remain one of the most important buildings of its time and place. In life, and in demolition, let it remind us of how not to treat a modern icon.
Rest in peace, Riverview High School.
Significant Sarasota Preservation Demolitions
Sarasota County historic preservation specialist Lorrie Muldowney said the demolition of three structures — the Lido Casino, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot, and the John Ringling Towers — have had a lasting impact on preservation in Sarasota. Each building was beloved by the community, and the demolitions were met with public outcry. The Lido Casino was the first to be torn down in 1969, and its destruction was met with surprise. After the train depot was torn down in 1986 the city implemented an ordinance to try to better protect historic buildings, and the historic preservation chapter of the city’s comprehensive plan was revised after the loss of the Ringling Towers in 1999.
A Modernist beach pavilion designed by Tim Seibert was built on the casino’s footprint in 1970.