Editors Note: While Harold Bubil takes some time off, we’ll reprise some of his popular columns. This column originally appeared on May 28, 2018
Recently on Facebook, I asked people, “What is your favorite building in Sarasota?”
The responses varied quite a bit. Janet Minker, former chair of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, showed a photo of the Umbrella House in Lido Shores.
Architect Max Strang commented with a black-and-white photo of the Syd Solomon House on Siesta Key designed by Gene Leedy, who designed a house Strang lived in as a child and inspired him to go into architecture as a profession. Unfortunately, the Solomon House, once 400 feet from the Gulf of Mexico, was torn down in the early 2000s, a victim of erosion.
Strang also likes the Cocoon House and the Harkavy House, both in Lido Shores and both designed by Paul Rudolph, who also designed the Umbrella House.
Builder Josh Wynne likes Victor Lundy’s Herron House in Venice and Rudolph’s addition to Sarasota High. Others like the original Sarasota High, the brick building that is becoming the Sarasota Museum of Art. Doug Logan likes the Federal Building, where he once worked.
The Belle Haven was a big vote getter, and Ca’ d’Zan was mentioned, of course.
The dozens of responses indicated to me how much the built environment is appreciated in Sarasota.
The likeability of a building, largely a factor of its architectural distinctiveness or someone’s personal experience in it, is one thing. But its significance in the community is quite another. So, based on their cultural, economic, social and architectural contributions, here are my Top 5 non-residential Sarasota buildings:
• Ca’ d’Zan. It could be argued that no one person had a bigger impact on the development of Sarasota than John Ringling. Ca’ d’Zan was the first building he built on his north-bay property, and it elevated the architectural and cultural stature of Sarasota by several levels. It was a magnet for the rich and famous in 1926, and, after its restoration in the early 2000s, it is among America’s finest house museums, thanks in large part to the efforts of keeper/curator Ron McCarty, who is retiring in August.
• The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. It was built five years after Ca’ d’Zan to house the Ringlings’ notable art collection. Today, it is the state’s No. 1 art museum, period. How many people get off the plane and immediately go across U.S. 41 to see The Ringling campus? These two gems mean almost as much to the local economy as the white sand of No. 1 Siesta Beach.
• Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Before the Van Wezel, which was completed in late 1969, the cultural scene was confined to the Municipal Auditorium. It remains a fine building in its own right, but the Van Wezel brought Sarasota into the cultural big leagues. Acclaimed for its architecture and its acoustics, the VW has welcomed big-name orchestras, entertainers, musical productions, guest speakers — and countless graduates. It has been voted the No. 1 performing-arts hall in the United States on several occasions by Venues Today magazine.
• The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. They call it the “Ritz-Carlton effect.” Wealthy vacationers come to Sarasota to stay in a hotel of the Ritz-Carlton’s reputation, and they end up buying property here. The hotel opened a few weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but that did not stop it from upgrading the local economy. The hotel was renovated a few years ago, and things have changed. But overall, most online reviews are still in the “excellent” category. John Ringling tried to build a Ritz-Carlton on Longboat Key in the 1920s and fell victim to the collapse of the Florida Land Boom. This one, while architecturally banal, is a winner.
• Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Those newcomers demand quality medical care. SMH gives it to them, providing big-city service in a medium-city setting. The campus seems to be ever expanding, and the new buildings are architecturally appealing and speak to the progressive nature of the hospital’s practitioners.
As for my Top 5 houses, that’s another column, but I would not be surprised if the Umbrella House, the Spencer House and the Chapell-Lifeso House are on the list.