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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Lessons of resiliency from Sarasota School of Architecture

By Max Strang

Practicality underpinned the architecture scene that unfolded in Sarasota in the 1950s and 60s. As the ‘Sarasota School of Architecture’ movement was taking shape upon the shifting sands and unforgiving summers of Florida’s gulf coast… Paul Rudolph, Ralph Twitchell, and a band of “twenty-something” architects were redefining how to live by the water in America’s subtropics. According to them, the prevailing style of Mediterranean Revival architecture had no place here. Instead, a new approach of “building light and building smart” took hold. Their specific responses to site and climate contributed to a progressive new era in American architecture. In fact, today the ‘Sarasota School’ movement is internationally recognized as a high point of ‘regional modernist’ architecture. Although, the original ‘Sarasota School’ movement ended over fifty years ago I am awed by its timelessness. Many of its lessons are informing the work of my firm as we face the challenges of a changing climate.

As the seas rise and threats of localized flooding increase, coastal homes must be prohibited from using traditional ‘slab-on-grade’ construction methodologies.

At that exciting time in Sarasota, a small number of homes were raised on stilts in search of breezes and views. As a side benefit, those homes were better equipped to handle the occasional hurricane storm surge. Fast forward to today and our coastal cities are confronting compounded and existential threats from rising sea levels, Houstonesque flooding and devastating storm surges from more powerful and more frequent hurricanes. Now is the time to apply those ‘Sarasota School’ lessons and equip our homes, buildings and cities with the strategies of resiliency.

Rudolph’s Walker Guest House, a diminutive powerhouse of architectural design, hints at the strategy of raising the home above the ground. This strategy was more boldly realized with the design of the Leavengood Residence and also the unbuilt design for the Walker Main House. The first takeaway of those latter designs is the simple response of ensuring homes are built higher above the ground. As the seas rise and threats of localized flooding increase, coastal homes must be prohibited from using traditional ‘slab-on-grade’ construction methodologies. Yes, it’s more expensive, but those cost pale in comparison to the long-term financial implications of not building with the future in mind.

 

Sarasota, Florida, map

 

Currently, the Army Corps of Engineers establishes requirements regarding the minimum elevations of new structures. An opportunity exists for local municipalities to go beyond these mandated minimums. The costs associated with raising existing homes will be difficult to overcome, however, it makes sense that new construction conforms to stricter standards. Coastal cities need to encourage their residents to build higher. In the long run, the savings on insurance premiums and costly repairs will be enormous. The rewards for building higher clearly outweigh upfront costs.

The second takeaway from the ‘Sarasota School’ is the prospect of using the area beneath the home as functional and aesthetically-inspiring spaces. Current building and zoning codes prevent the effective utilization of the areas beneath a raised home. I propose that such codes be refined to allow homeowners to enjoy the full potential of these covered, outdoor spaces. A home that exceeds the minimum required height above the ground provides a much greater opportunity to create enjoyable outdoor living spaces below.

A major driver of ‘climate change’ and ‘sea level rise’ is our culture’s reliance on fossil fuels to power inefficient buildings.

A major driver of ‘climate change’ and ‘sea level rise’ is our culture’s reliance on fossil fuels to power inefficient buildings. To mitigate this issue, new buildings must become more energy-efficient.Sarasota’s early modern homes offer wonderful examples of this. Thus, the final takeaway from the ‘Sarasota School’ is the consideration of ‘passive design ’ features such as deep overhangs, sun-shading devices, evaporative cooling, daylighting and cross-ventilation.

 

Sarasota house by Paul Rudolph
Drawing by Paul Rudolph, Library of Congress

The Healy Guest House was envisioned as a small structure protected by a protective spray-on “cocoon” roofing product and wrapped with sun-shading louvers. Similarly, the beloved “Umbrella House”, one of the 20th century’s most iconic houses, resides beneath its iconic umbrella of slats. Most of the early ‘Sarasota School’ buildings featured deep overhangs and a brise-soleil. The aim was simple: to reduce the ‘heat gain’ of a building by deflecting sunlight. Aside from their inherent environmental benefits, such features often provided the architectural identity to the building. Ultimately, these ‘regional modernist’ influences informed the identity of the ‘Sarasota School’ movement as a whole.

Another innovative passive design feature was pioneered by John Lambie, a local Sarasota builder who collaborated with Paul Rudolph and Ralph Twitchell on some projects. His “lamolithic” homes had flat, concrete roofs which were covered with a layer of crushed shells. The shell membrane was kept damp and as the water evaporated under the hot Florida sun, a cooling effect permeated into home below.

While many will opt to strategically retreat from our shorelines, the allure of coastal living will continue to prove irresistible for others. Sarasota’s architectural history offers practical insights on how we must adapt for the future.

The concepts of the Sarasota School of Architecture remain the greatest influence upon me and my firm. Our work strives to incorporate the lessons of that essential modern movement and adapt them to a changed world. I suspect that these site-driven and climate-driven design responses have fueled our firm’s success. I am committed to the idea that the architectural identity of a home should be related to its relationship to its location and environment. Many of our designs feature vertical ‘fins’ that serve to reduce the home’s solar heat gain while also providing additional privacy for the occupants. As a result, these “fins” provide a striking identity for the home. The Tuckman Residence, scheduled for completion in 2018, is derived from Rudolph & Twitchell’s Leavengood Residence in which the main volume of the home is raised a full story above the existing ground. Similarly, our design for the Ballast Trail Residence in the Florida Keys is raised substantially above the ground, a move that proved crucial to its weathering of Hurricane Irma’s recent storm surge.

In 2018, my Miami-based firm will open a satellite office in Sarasota and my family will move into one of the few remaining “lamolithic’ homes on a nearby barrier island. At only five feet above sea level, that particular home is destined to succumb to the Gulf of Mexico. I remain inspired, however, by the opportunity and challenge of building new, building light, and building smart. While many will opt to strategically retreat from our shorelines, the allure of coastal living will continue to prove irresistible for others. Sarasota’s architectural history offers practical insights on how we must adapt for the future.

 

MOD Artist Chair Auction

Ten amazing Sarasota Florida artists – Carl Abbott, FAIA, Jean Blackburn, Jorge Blanco, Olivia Craig and Eric Cross, Grace Howl, Tim Jaeger, Laine Nixon, John Pirman and Nathan Skiles – will paint an iconic Eames chair to be auctioned off at SarasotaMOD 2017.

MOD Artist Chair Auction

Top Row: Carl Abbott, FAIA, Jean Blackburn, Jorge Blanco, Olivia Craig and Eric Cross; Bottom Row: Grace Howl, Tim Jaeger, Laine Nixon, John Pirman and Nathan Skiles

The auction will help raise funds to benefit the Sarasota Architectural Foundation (SAF)’s ongoing programs that educate and create awareness about the importance of the Sarasota School of Architecture movement.

Friday, October 27th online bidding will begin when the chairs are unveiled at the MOD Kick-Off Party at the BOTA Center, hosted by MOD Sponsor and developer Howard Davis. Online bidding continues through MOD Weekend, and the artists chairs will be on display at Home Resource, 741 Central Avenue, Sarasota, FL 34236.

Chair winners will be announced 11:30 am on Sunday, November 12th at the at SarasotaMOD Rosemary District Walking Tour at Home Resource. Tickets On Sale

Thank You to Our Sponsors
Michael Bush
, SAF Board Member and owner of Home Resource and Herman Miller.

SarasotaMOD Tickets on Sale

MOD 2017 Tickets on Sale

Download MOD 2017 Schedule

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SAF Members-Only Pool Party

Umbrella House

Space is limited – RSVP Today

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Annual Membership Dues:
 $50 Individual; $90 Family (2 people); $35 Student

Questions: 941-364-2199

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Join us for the fourth annual SarasotaMOD Weekend – tickets go on sale August 15th

Remaking Rudolph

Sarasota Architectural Foundation takes its mission to the streets with this traveling replica of the Walker Guest House.

Remaking Rudolph

After more than two years of planning,fundraising and construction, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation’s Walker Guest House Replica made its triumphant debut on the grounds of The Ringling Museum on November 6, 2015, showcasing the ingenuity and design of acclaimed architect Paul Rudolph in his early Sarasota days and affording architecture fans everywhere the chance to experience a Rudolph space firsthand. Within the first two months, more than 9,000 visitors answered the call.

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Shown: 1950’s Caloric CP Gas Range.

“Paul Rudolph is definitely a name Sarasota and its visitors should know,” says SAF Board Chair Janet Minker. As a defining part of the Sarasota School of Architecture, Rudolph was instrumental in bringing the region into focus during the midcentury modern movement, using broader design principles to fashion singularly Floridian creations such as the Umbrella House on Lido Shores and the Sarasota High School extension. Enlisting the local arts scene to help fund a recreation of one of the artist’s more hidden accomplishments came easily, says Minker, recounting a chilly January morning driving Ringling Executive Director Stephen High out to Sanibel Island to see the original Walker Guest House. “That really sold him on the whole project and we were able to continue.”

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Shown: The Walker Guest House is also known as the Cannonball House because of the eight counterweight balls, painted red, that raise and lower the large, wooden window shutters.

“Rudolph was an innovator, a very creative architect,” agrees Joe King, the architect tasked with figuring out how to build Rudolph’s design anew. A 24-by-24-foot interior space, the small size belies the architect’s ability, using novel design elements such as the floor-to-ceiling screened openings and minimal room separation to enlarge the space. In the absence of solid walls, wall-sized shutters hinge at the roof, to be raised or lowered according to the owner’s needs or preferences. Left to gravity, they balance at mid-level, exhibiting no architectural bias toward privacy or publicity. “Rudolph is characteristic of a very disciplined design,” he says, “a very orderly way that is used to make architectural space coherent and intentional.” Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the complex but precise rigging system controlling the shutters with pulleys, cleated ropes and red bobbing counterweights. “Even though it’s rational and clear,” King says, “there’s always a sense of mystery—‘How does it work?’” 

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Shown: A Hallicrafter S-38 shortwave radio and books from 1952 reside in the Paul Rudolph-designed bookcase recreated by cabinetmaker Dale Rieke.

The recreation was “challenging,” King admits, but with Rudolph’s original blueprints for reference and measurements and photographs from the original for comparison, the project went smoothly. Construction took only about six months, ending in October, and the hardest part seemed to be finding appropriate materials, such as wooden beams for the outriggers and proper ropes and counterweights for the rigging. Three-strand polyester rope may be out of vogue now, but “that was the latest and greatest in 1952,” reminds King. Unable to find the desired spherical red counterweights, the project resorted to fastening two steel hemispheres with a bolt and using epoxy and other materials to recreate the proper 8-inch diameter.

The crew only actively deviated from Rudolph’s design in two important ways, each angled at allowing a greater number of people to enjoy the project. Creating an exhibit instead of a habitable living space, the bathroom was removed in favor of a lift, making the exhibit handicap-accessible. And looking to make the exhibit a traveling one, the replica was created to be easily broken down, transported and then rebuilt, with King crafting custom-made palettes for just such purpose. Already put to the test, the replica was first constructed in Manatee County before being brought to the Ringling grounds, where it was reassembled without a hitch. With the replica residing on Ringling grounds until October* this year, Minker and SAF already look to the next stop, in talks with such places as the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. “People are intrigued,” she says. “Architecture is getting its due in recent years.” [*Editors Note: The Ringling Museum extended the Replica’s stay until April 30, 2017. Over 59,000 visitors have toured the house since opening on November 6, 2015 during SarasotaMOD Weekend.]

Every Item Tells a Story – Sourcing the Furnishings

REBUILDING IS ONE THING AND REFURNISHING QUITE ANOTHER, as Dan Snyder can attest. Using interior photographs from a 1953 magazine shoot by architectural photographer Ezra Stoller for guidance, Snyder and his SAF team have done their best to replicate the interior design with the same exactitude as the architecture. With doggedness and a wee bit of luck, Snyder searched the globe (and the internet) for just the right items to recapture the Walker Guest House in its original 1950s décor. 

Biggest Change Flooring  Gone are the grey linoleum floors, replaced by painted plywood. “We tried to get it,” says Snyder, “but it’s out of production.”

That Wasn’t So Hard  Pole Lamp circa 1953 Snyder thought this one would be tough, singling it out immediately when asked. The fashion of the time, he says, favored floor-to-ceiling setups, making the model in the Stoller photos outside the norm. But a quick stop to see a friend at Braden River Antiques in Bradenton was all it took. Snyder told him what he was looking for, “and he thought for five minutes,” recounts Snyder, before heading into the back and returning with the lamp. “Just like that.”

Time Stands Still  Deck Chairs  “They still make the same chairs,” Snyder says. They used to call them “director’s chairs,” he says, but the same upstate New York company that made the chairs in the original Walker House all those years ago, Telescope, still makes those same chairs. The only real difference is that the older models had rubber knobs on the feet, “like the rubber tips of a cane.”

SOMETHINGS GOTTEN IN DENMARK CERAMIC BOWL  An interesting item, but not so much for its relationship to Rudolph or Walker as that with Stoller, and how it seems to pop up in so many of his photos. “Because he had a station wagon,” says Snyder, “he carried props around in the trunk.” Without much of a lead, Snyder put out the call to his friends, attaching the images. One responded from Copenhagen, purchasing a piece from Danish ceramicist Ditte Fischer that fit the bill and donating it to the project, along with a Danish candleholder designed in 1962 by Mogens Lassen. Neither is identical to the items in the Stoller photograph, admits Snyder. “It’s the same spirit.”

INDIGENOUS LOCAL PRIDE Not one to limit himself to architecture, Rudolph designed all of the furniture in the main room—excepting the chairs—himself, including a table, bookcase, daybed and cocktail table. To recreate these one-of-a-kind furnishings, Snyder turned to local artisan cabinetmaker Dale Rieke, who, after measuring and sketching the originals on Sanibel Island and paired with a local metalworker, crafted them anew. Snyder accents the mise-en-scene with period-appropriate Time and Fortune magazines, an ashtray with a few L&M butts and flowers from his own garden. “And all the magazines are from 1952,” he assures me. “Incredible covers.”

ONLINE AUCTIONEERS EBAY  Snyder’s search through EBay helped him bring in items as wide-ranging as an Egyptian-themed wall-quilt to the surprisingly plentiful Hallicrafter S-38 shortwave radio. He found the desk designed by Paul McCobb, identical to the desk from the Stoller photograph, as well as the Lettera 22 typewriter designed by Marcello Nizzoli, which won the Compasso d’Oro in 1954, complete with carrying case, that sits upon it. But the biggest catch has to be the General Electric refrigerator, circa 1948, found from a seller in Connecticut.