For my last entry of 2010, I think it’s only fitting I write about my most noteworthy historic preservation accomplishment this year: my thesis on the preservation of Sarasota School of Architecture buildings.
The SSOA was a group of similarly minded architects who originated in Sarasota, Florida, during the middle of the twentieth century. They designed in the modern style, and many of their works are on par with those being designed simultaneously in Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Miami, and New Canaan. The movement waned in the 1960s and 1970s, and many SSOA buildings have been torn down. In the past couple decades, a preservation movement has sprung up to bring attention to these masterworks, but it’s struggling to gain hold in the community.
I began research in fall 2009, but I did not really start my interviews and writing into January 2010. Despite a few bumps along the way, I successfully defended it to my committee and turned it in the University of Florida graduate office by the end of April. At 175 pages (including 40 photos) with about 200 sources, it was a great deal of work and I have the upmost respect for nonfiction writers.
Here’s the abstract:
For the past few decades, there has been a movement in Sarasota, Florida, to preserve its mid-century modern buildings. Known as the Sarasota School of Architecture, the development of this regional form of Modernism occurred as the small city was solidifying its reputation as a cultural capital after World War II. Members of the arts community included Sarasota School architects, who adapted modern architecture to the Florida Gulf Coast climate and environment by using native materials and climate-controlling design features. Their buildings received international praise and brought attention to the area, but the architects’ works never were fully embraced in Sarasota. In the early 1960s, the city experienced political, economic, and cultural changes, and by the middle of the decade many top architects had departed. Over the years, high land values, changing architectural trends, and lack of public awareness — among other reasons — have led to the destruction of many Sarasota School structures. The 1995 release of The Sarasota School of Architecture, 1941-1966 by John Howey helped revive interest, and some buildings have been saved as a result. These preservation efforts have paralleled those in other communities with strong postwar Modernist legacies such as Los Angeles and Palm Springs, California; New Canaan, Connecticut; and Miami, Florida. However, Sarasota continues to lose some of its best examples, as evidenced by the demolition of Riverview High School (1958) in 2009 after a high-profile preservation campaign. By utilizing books, articles, letters, Web sites, and interviews, this thesis is among the first studies of Sarasota School preservation efforts. Case study analysis on Riverview High School and two buildings that have been saved — Revere Quality House (1948) and Nokomis Beach Plaza (1956) — revealed the common factors of land, location, economics, decision-making process, perceived obsolescence, and public education and awareness. It is hoped the lessons learned from these three sites can be helpful in future mid-century modern preservation efforts in Sarasota and elsewhere.