SarasotaMod, Saving Iconic Modernism

by | Oct 13, 2014

Sarasota Mod WeekendAt the Sarasota Mod Weekend, an audience member asked  John Howey, “What makes Modern architecture likable to the public?”

Howey responded, “I don’t know. I’m an architect, and the public is the public.” The most unlikeable style of architecture from 50 years ago now defines cool.

The Sarasota Architectural Foundation (SAF) sponsored Sarasota Mod, Oct. 9 – 12, their first event to raise awareness that Sarasota is a true Modernist Mecca. Two hundred people attended; some of the faithful came from as far away as Chicago and New York to see and hear five of the founders of the Sarasota School. Gene Leedy, 86, a student of Paul Rudolph’s at Yale, told (and retold) the story of how the name was made up at a cocktail party. As the spotlight turned to Sarasota, Leedy happily took credit for coining the name.

Sarasota school panel

L-R, John Howey, Carl Abbott, Tim Seibert, Gene Leedy,
and Frank Folsom Smith. Architect Joyce Owens moderated.

Fifty years ago, The Sarasota School Of Architects designed for wealthy clients who wanted homes on barrier islands Siesta Key and Lido Shores. Today, a new generation of wealthy clients eye some of the same sandlots and see the opportunity to build their tropical homes.

It’s all about the view, so clearing the land often means demolishing a 50-year-old dilapidated beach bungalow. “Scrape jobs,” says Sarasota Herald Tribune real estate reporter, Harold Bubil.

If a Sarasota School Architect designed that aging beach cottage, it’s as rooted in the history of the place as the mangroves that surround it. It’s iconic to Sarasota because it is one of the birthplaces of Modernism – a Mecca. Devotees want to see the origins and appreciate the work of Paul Rudolph, Ralph Twitchell, Gene Leedy, Carl Abbott, Victor Lundy, and the 16 others, classified as the Sarasota School.

exterior view

Many significant Modern buildings have just reached the 50-year mark, and they aren’t old enough to be appreciated. That’s why the Sarasota Modernist Movement must work fast to raise awareness that they have these cultural treasures.

Many gleaming beachfront palaces now  sit on top of the bones of midcentury rustic originals; in the future, archaeologists will no doubt excavate the sites  to recover a lost period.