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.”
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
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!