Warm Mineral Springs Midcentury Modern Buildings Will Be Saved

By Jifat Windmiller, RA
Penta Windmiller Architecture, PC

The following is a story with a very happy ending.

After 7 years of beating the drum that the 3 small mid-century modern buildings at Warm Mineral Springs in the City of North Port Florida are significant and worthy of preservation, after speaking to Mayors and Commissioners and residents and many others about this subject over and over even when they thought I was out of my mind because they couldn’t understand what I was talking about, after relentlessly holding the vision that these charming buildings could and should be preserved and restored, yesterday was the culmination of this massive effort.

I am thrilled to report and announce that there was a unanimous vote to save and preserve all 3 of the mid-century modern buildings at Warm Mineral Springs in North Port, including a uniquely charming Cyclorama which contains a 3-D multimedia exhibition of Ponce de Leon “discovering” the Springs and designating it as the “Original fountain of youth.”

Cyclorama Warm Mineral Springs FL

Above: Cyclorama building designed by architect Jack West in 1959
Photo © Jifat Windmiller

Further there was a unanimous vote to submit an application to place these buildings on the National Register of Historical Places.

When I first began speaking to anyone that would listen about these buildings, well, no one would listen.  When Docomomo announced that it was holding its 2013 conference in Sarasota, I made a submission to them and got accepted as a presenter at that conference.  It was the first time anyone had heard of the existence of these buildings let alone that they had any merit or significance!  It was no wonder, in their current state of disrepair you’d need some serious rose colored glasses to be able to see what I saw when I looked at them.  And in the case of the Cyclorama, it had been abandoned, padlocked shut and ignored for roughly 15 years.

The presentation at the Docomomo conference was very well received and subsequently written about in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, along with various websites and blogs.  This was followed by the Sarasota Architectural Foundation inviting me to give their membership a presentation about the buildings at Warm Mineral Springs.  We were fortunate enough then to be permitted to arrange a bus tour to see the structures even though Warm Mineral Springs was closed at the time.

The area was going through multiple changes in ownership and political deliberations about how the it should be managed.  The springs, the park within which it is situated, and the buildings that I speak of had during this time changed hands from being privately held and managed, to being purchased jointly by the County of Sarasota and the City of North Port, and then due to political differences it was subsequently purchased by the City of North Port, who has been its sole steward in recent years.  Throughout this turmoil the buildings were never recognized as having any value, it was the always the waters and the park that were at center stage of all the discussions.

And during all this I have had conversations and letters with every Mayor, Vice-Mayor, and Commissioner of the City of North Port (previous to that also with the County of Sarasota and previous to that with the private owners and manager of WMS), and have educated them as to why it would be to their benefit to save and restore these buildings.  It was quite the uphill battle!  They all thought I was out of my mind.  However I kept on stressing why it would be in their best interests to keep and restore these buildings.  I spoke about it in terms that I hoped they would be able to understand and get excited about.  After years of this they eventually hired outside consultants who educated themselves on the history and heritage of the buildings, assessed their conditions, were in dialogue with Washington DC to inquire about the likelihood of having the buildings placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and altogether verified what I have been stating all along.

This past week I have once again been in touch with the voting members and many many other concerned citizens of North Port who showed up to the meeting and expressed their desires to preserve the buildings.  I am so incredibly thrilled to share with you that a vote at a meeting that lasted for 7 hours and went late into the evening led to a unanimous vote, 5 to 0, to preserve and renovate ALL THREE BUILDINGS DUE TO THEIR HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE!!

This is the best news possible, and so much better because the vote was made unanimously!

Just one year ago, when there were 4 voting members, the same subject had come up for a vote and it was dismissed as a tie, 2 for and 2 against, and it had to be tabled.  Even then they were only discussing potentially preserving the Cyclorama, and maybe possibly 1 of the other 2 structures.  The 2 members who had voted against this last year were 2 of the 5 members who voted again yesterday and were among the ones who unanimously voted to preserve and renovate not just the Cyclorama, but all 3 structures.  This is the most significant aspect of this vote because it shows that there is now an understanding of the significance of these buildings even by those who were previously quick to dismiss and discard the buildings.  The journey that has taken them to this understanding has been a long road but I am so proud of them for being able to learn about an unfamiliar subject and finally embrace what is in their own backyard.

One of many letters sent to me yesterday stated, “YIPPEE it’s time to celebrate!!”  I write to each of you as interested parties to join us now in this celebration!!!  And, from here I look forward to a future date when the buildings have been restored, accepted by Washington DC to be on their Register of Historic Places, and a visit to WMS and the Cyclorama gets put on the map as an excursion for mid-century modern architecture admirers everywhere!

Warmest happy wishes,
Jifat Windmiller, RA
Penta Windmiller Architecture, PC
212 447 0047
jw@pentawind.com

PS  –  I am quite certain that being so close by to Sarasota and that the Sarasota Architectural Foundation exists to inform and celebrate the mid-century modern architecture of the area was a significant aspect leading them to being able to embrace the idea that these buildings were worth keeping and to this historic vote!

 

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North Port Modernism (NoPoMo) at Warm Mineral Springs

Jack West WMS_WindmillerLundy Motel_WMS_WindmillerWMS sign_WindmillerBy Jifat Windmiller, RA
Penta Windmiller Architecture, PC

An overview of the mid-century modern architecture of North Port, Florida, highlighting the structures at Warm Mineral Springs, including the one-of-a-kind “Cyclorama.”

In the southern portion of Sarasota County, halfway between Venice and Port Charlotte lies the City of North Port, Florida. What is remarkable about North Port is there is a tiny pocket of authentic mid-century modern architectural gems that are barely known or recognized. Some of these are part of the Warm Mineral Springs (WMS) spa, consisting of a naturally occurring warm water mineral spring that was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 for the unique qualities of the spring itself.

Within the last 3 years, WMS has been sold from its longtime heritage of neglectful private ownership into a joint ownership between Sarasota County and the City of North Port, in a 50/50 partnership deal costing $5.5 million of taxpayer money. The County and City are currently at a crossroads as to how to proceed with the future development of site, and an inability to share a common vision for WMS has forced it be shut down. It currently remains closed.

It has a surprisingly rich history, formerly discovered by Ponce de Leon in the 15th century, around the time of Christopher Columbus, and is purported to be the site of the original Fountain of Youth. Geologically it is the result of a one-of-a-kind formation via unique forces at play during the melting of the Ice Age. Even archeologically it is significant, with human bones and artifacts extracted by divers and radiocarbon dated to over 10,000 years ago, the oldest of anywhere in found in the State of Florida. Warm Mineral Springs was also the site for major celebrations during the Florida Quadricentennial in 1959, the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the state of Florida, with a speech read at the site sent there by then President Eisenhower. But up until recently there has been no one to notice, appreciate, or advocate for the beauty and unique cultural significance and heritage of its architecture.

There are several structures on the premises from the 1950’s in various stages of repair. But one stands out from amongst the others, a boarded up though very well preserved structure evocatively named, “The Cyclorama.” Inside is a World’s Fair era amusement type building, with a historical 3-dimensional reenactment of the life of Ponce de Leon, including his discovery of this ever elusive fountain of youth. It would take relatively minor effort to return this gem of a building to its original glory and permit people to have the multi-sensory experience of an architectural joy ride from 1950’s Americana. But the Cyclorama has been closed to the public for very many years, and other than a select few, no one has had the privilege of experiencing its unique splendor.

Other buildings at WMS are also noteworthy and capable of being restored to their original sheen. Nearby on Route 41 is a reasonably well preserved mid-century modern gem of a motel, originally designed by Victor Lundy of the Sarasota School of Architecture and written about in its heyday. The SAF tour on Saturday, November 2, 2013 will include these, as well as a few structures, sculptures, and signs of great appeal.

The decisions which guide the future of all aspects of WMS are being made right now, in 2013. This is the most perfect moment for raising the awareness of what exists at this site. The Friday, November 1, 2013 presentation will offer a virtual walking tour of the tiny enclave of mid-century modern attractions at and around Warm Mineral Springs in North Port Florida, and talk about the history, the present day forces at play, and the possibilities for the future of this most delightful and unforgettable spot. The bus tour on Saturday, November 2, 2013 will offer unparalleled access and will include the fabulous Cyclorama! Don’t miss out! Register today for SAF’s Warm Mineral Springs Events:
11-1-13 Lecture
11-2-13 Bus Tour
More information, contact Jifat Windmiller: jw@pentawind.com