The Revere Quality House should be in a landfill right. When its former owners sought to sell in 2003, the house’s age, condition, lack of value, location, lack of square footage, and the size of the land it sat on all pointed toward demolition. Fortunately, the Revere Quality House was not torn down. Instead, it was beautifully restored, and a larger residence with a similar design and material makeup was constructed next to it.
The Revere Quality House, built in 1948 on Siesta Key, was designed by Paul Rudolph and Ralph Twitchell–the fathers of the Sarasota School of Architecture. The house was a product of the Revere Quality House Institute, a housebuilding program sponsored by the Revere Copper and Brass Inc. and Architectural Forum magazine. The program’s goal was to showcase innovative yet affordable housing to meet the needs of postwar America, and eight houses were built throughout the country.
The Revere Quality House certainly met the program’s goals. The about 1,ooo-square-foot house was built by Lamolithic Industries and utilized their state-of-the-art monolithic concrete construction system said to be resistant to mildew, bugs, fire, and hurricanes. The concrete roof had a passive-cooling sprinkler system and was held up by a series of evenly placed lally columns. This roof structural system allowed for unlimited interior space configurations and walls of glass. The rectangular house had a carport, patio with roof cut out, a living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and laundry room that was set off from the house. Architectural features included a copper stove hood and fireplace made by (who else) Revere Copper.
As I wrote about in my thesis, the house was quite the sensation after it was built as an estimated 16,000 people toured it. Furthermore, it was published in architectural periodicals throughout the world and brought much attention to Rudolph and Twitchell’s subtropical take on the International Style.
The house was designed for Roberta Finney, and Twitchell liked his client so much he left his family and took up residence with her. (The Cocoon House was designed a few years later for her parents.) To meet the Twitchell/Finney family’s needs, the patio and carport were enclosed and a carport/guest house was built on the property. Roberta Finney died in 1966, and Twitchell remarried a third time and remained in the house until he died in 1978. His family continued to live there after his death.
Siesta Key in 2003 was hardly recognizable from Siesta Key in 1948. By that time, the island’s population had swelled, and a majority of the original houses on the island had been razed in favor of condos and monster Mediterranean Revival (Revival) mansions. Land values and property taxes soared, which forced many longtime Siesta Key residents to sell to developers. Twitchell’s descendants found themselves in just such a predicament. They had a crumbling, 53-year-old house on nearly an acre of land–huge for the north end of Siesta Key–with boat access to the Gulf of Mexico, just a couple hundred feet away. In other words, it was a developer’s dream.
But that’s when Doug Olson stepped up. He already lived in a Sarasota School house, so he recognized the Revere Quality House’s importance when he bought it from Twitchell’s descendants in 2003. His goal was to restore the house and construct an addition, but Olson realized he could not undertake the project alone and teamed up with–ironically–a developer, Howard Rooks.
Rooks asked Sarasota-based Modernist architect Guy Peterson for his opinion on the property, and Peterson came up with the plan to both restore the tiny Revere Quality House and build a new residence on the property. Peterson drew up plans for a 4,712-square-foot, three-story house that paid homage to the Revere Quality House with its design, colors, and materials. Then the Revere Quality House was restored nearly to its 1948 appearance, down to the paint colors. Furthermore, a pool was dug behind the historic dwelling so it could serve as a guest house/pool house for the new, much larger and taller main residence.
See more photos of the project here.
In April 2007, the completed project was on the market for $4,875,000, but Sarasota was so slammed by the real estate crash that it sat for more than four years. According to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser, the house finally sold for $2.1 million on August 31, 2011.
From a preservation point of view, I consider the Revere Quality House project to be a success overall. The building rests on a highly desirable land and it could have very easily been razed like so many other Sarasota School houses in favor of a soulless mega-mansion. Instead, the Revere was meticulously restored and a fairly compatible new primary residence was built next to it.
But from a financial point of view, the project was a failure. The developers of the project lost millions, and others will be wary of undertaking similar projects in the future. At least the Revere Quality House still stands as a reminder that even experimental modern buildings can be adapted to new uses as long as sympathetic people are involved. If only the numbers added up.