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I’M JUST BACK from Florida’s Gulf Coast, where I attended Sarasota Mod, a conference aimed at educating the public (and hopefully saving) the city’s stock of innovative post-WWII housing and public buildings. But before I delve into all that — and delve I will, on this blog and in a piece for Architectural Record – I couldn’t resist a post about another, earlier love: 1920s Mediterranean Revival-style cottages. Sarasota developers built them to meet the needs of people beginning to discover the charms of what had been wilderness a few decades before.

Top, not a cottage — that’s Ca’ D’Zan, an over-the-top Venetian-style palazzo built for circus impresario John Ringling and his wife Mable in 1926, now restored and re-furnished down to the original china and silver. We were treated to dinner on the terrace there, below, sunset included.

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One lunch hour, I strolled the back streets of Sarasota’s business district and found, in the shadows of condos and parking garages, a few 1920s buildings that have survived the relentless march of commerce. Can you spot one in the photo below?

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What fun it was to come across Burns Court, below, a rare, intact street of stucco cottages, each painted and decorated with Florida flair. Built in 1926 by developer Owen Burns (who also built Ca’ D’Zan), Burns Court is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Just east of Orange Avenue, in the streets around Laurel Park, there’s a whole neighborhood of wood-frame 1920s bungalowsBelow, a small apartment complex in that red-tile-roof, arched-windows ersatz Spanish style so beloved in the Twenties. Most, though not all, of the homes in the Laurel Park area are well-maintained, with landscaping that is beyond lush, sometimes obscuring the houses from the street.

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Must add this guy to my mailbox archive:

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Hiss Studio, Tim Seibert

CERTAIN PLACES ON THE PLANET — often unexpected places, like Columbus, Indiana, and Tel Aviv, Israel — have been blessed with impressive inventories of important 20th century architecture. One such place is Sarasota, Florida, on the Gulf Coast. I was there once many years ago, so many that all I remember is collecting seashells on Sanibel Island (they’re also blessed with an impressive inventory of seashells).

Umbrella House, designed by architect Paul Rudolph, 1953, photo by Bill Miller Photography, New York Umbrella House, designed by architect Paul Rudolph, 1953, photo by Greg Wilson

Umbrella House, Paul Rudolph, 1953 

Now I’m getting another chance. The weekend of October 9-12, I’ll be in Sarasota for Sarasota MOD Weekend, a celebration of the area’s 1940s through ’60s architectural heritage, when architects like Paul Rudolph, Ralph Twitchell, Victor Lundy, Tim Seibert, Gene Leedy, Carl Abbott and others produced a stock of residential and commercial buildings responding to local climate and culture with great modernist style.

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Photos: Ezra Stoller

This group, which became known as the Sarasota School of Architecturefound its initial inspiration in the philosophies of the Bauhaus, but soon incorporated regional Southern features, “using patios, verandas, modular construction and raised floors to open up buildings for greater ventilation in pre-air conditioning days,” as the website of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation puts it. “They added a play of light and shadow, and the color and texture of indigenous low maintenance materials softened the cold machine aesthetic of the Bauhaus. This approach… allowed Sarasota School buildings to respect and blend well into their sites. The result was a regional modernism which blurred the distinction between the indoors and outdoors and accommodated the lifestyle and climate of southern Florida.”

Healy Guest House, aka Cocoon House, designed by architects Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph, 1950, photo by Greg Wilson

Healy Guest House, Ralph Twitchell/Paul Rudolph, 1950

In other words, cool modern beach houses with architectural pedigree. Some are even on the market. What could be better? Perhaps a weekend full of lectures, tours (walking, trolley, boat) and parties celebrating same?

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Jet Blue flies direct from NYC to the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. I’ll be on one of those flights. You in?

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GRAVEL, ROCKS, PALMS AND TOPIARY, that’s what Las Vegas landscaping is made of. My wasband just got back from a visit there with these images in his pocket, taken in Paradise Palms, a neighborhood of mid-century houses by architects Palmer and Krisel, best known for their Palm Springs developments, that are pretty swell in their own right. (The houses, by the way, are real bargain by East and West Coast standards. One in fairly good condition might go for around $230,000. Others need a complete makeover.)

Something about these freewheeling front yards makes me want to laugh. Is it the anthropomorphic look of the pruned hedges, the casual strewing of boulders, the symmetrical line-up of mini-cacti in gray gravel? It’s so different from what we call a garden here in the East. Scroll down for a look at what can be done under pretty arid circumstances.

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Photos: Jeff Greenberg

 

 

 

 

 

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LUCKY LU ANDREWS. She was the secretary for the architecture firm of Ralph Twitchell, which in its 1940s-’60s heyday helped make Sarasota, Florida, an epicenter of important modern architecture. Over the years, Lu Andrews’ employers designed three houses for her. This, the third of them, built in 1959, is a 909-square-foot, 2 BR, 2 bath jewel, with brilliantly pared-down lines and compact design.

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In my view, this is a highly covetable winter/retirement or year-round home, its small size mitigated by sliding glass walls that visually extend the house out into its lush tropical setting and insure abundant light throughout the day.

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I was in Sarasota once many years ago and don’t know it well. The location is said to be prime though — “west of trail” and close to downtown, the bay, parks, marina, restaurants, galleries, beaches, St. Armands Circle (a high-end shopping/dining district), and the Ringling College of Art and Design.

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The house is listed by Martie Lieberman of Premier Sotheby’s International, who specializes in modern properties and cares enormously about their preservation. As she says about this one, “I’d like to see it get into safe hands.”

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The official listing, with more photos, slideshow and video tour, is here.

To read more about the Sarasota School of Architecture, go here and here.

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Photos: Glenn SRQ360.com  courtesy Martie Lieberman

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ONCE-MIGHTY TROY, N.Y., one of the nation’s wealthiest cities in the glory days of the Industrial Revolution (iron, steel, precision tools, shirts and collars), fell on hard times in the 20th century, but much of its impressive — in fact, gorgeous — architecture remains intact. Some of its brownstones are more stellar, even, than Brooklyn’s best, and its commercial buildings, in the uniformly antique downtown area, are great beauties.

There’s much for an architecture aficionada to explore, and explore I did last Saturday, in the company of my travelin’ cousin Susan and Brownstoner columnist Suzanne Spellen (aka Montrose Morris), a new Troy resident and now expert on the buildings of that city. (Her recent New York Daily News article on the revitalization of Troy is here.)

photoHere we are at Lucas Confectionery, a hip new wine bar/ restaurant/grocery that retains the name of the original 1863 store in this space, toasting the wonders of the city named after the ancient Troy, whose motto is “Ilium fuit, Troja est (Latin for “Ilium was, Troy is”) — and, young entrepreneurs and real estate developers hope, will be.

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Above, Suzanne with Lucas Confectionery owner Vic Christopher, formerly of…Brooklyn!

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The obvious place to begin a walking tour of vintage Troy is Monument Square, where a towering column topped by a figure of Liberty commemorates Civil War dead, and around which are a few thriving boutiques like Truly Rhe and a phenomenally unspoiled Victorian bar/cafe, Illium Cafe (photos below of the building that houses it and its wholly original interior). Try the strawberry mimosa.

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The elegant 1904 McCarthy building on Monument Square, of terra cotta with a proscenium-style arched window, below, just waiting for the right tenant.

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Angling off Monument Square toward the Hudson River — narrower here than in New York City, but the original source of Troy’s commercial success — is River Street, below. The spectacular wedge-shaped Rice Building, an 1871 High Gothic landmark at the corner of River at First, replaced an earlier structure wiped out in an 1820 fire that destroyed all the businesses and warehouses along River Street, which had been a busy commercial district since the 1790s.

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River Street is optimistically dubbed Antiques Row. More buildings are vacant than occupied at present, though the potential in its sturdy, attractive building stock, below, is evident. One of the best stores now open: Country Charm at #188, where painted cupboards and iron bedsteads similar to those found in Hudson, N.Y., shops are offered at a fraction of the price. Another goodie: Playing on the Furniture, a place to find cheerily repainted and refurbished secondhand pieces.

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Off Monument Square in the other direction, on River and Third Streets, are livelier boutiques, vintage clothing stores and flower shops (The Botanic Studio specializes in terrariums), and more fine commercial buildings in need of tenants.

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Above, Dang! That’s Cherry, a vintage clothing boutique that also sells mid-century kitsch and kitchenware.

Troy seems to have no shortage of fine public buildings. Below, the interior of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, an 1870s auditorium with original pipe organ, long famed for its acoustics, has a full calendar of important names in classical, jazz and popular music.

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Below, the Troy Public Library, remnant of proud bygone days, with magnificent iron sconces.

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Below, two early buildings at Russell Sage College, founded in 1916 in a public park in Downtown Troy.

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There are numerous blocks of well-preserved row houses — a few early Federal clapboards and many later homes of brick or stone, in Italianate, Romanesque Revival, and other fanciful late 19th century styles. The best of them seem to be along 2nd Street, which we wandered, admiring bay windows, cupolas, friezes, ironwork, cornices, and other details.

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Above: the Federal style Hart-Cluett House, built in 1827 with a marble facade, now the home of the Rensselaer County Historical Society.

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Eventually we came to Washington Park, below, established in 1840 and one of only two private ornamental parks in the state, open by key to residents of surrounding buildings (the other such park is Gramercy Park in NYC). Some of the homes are freestanding mansions, below; others are row houses.

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Above, one of the last remaining cobblestone streets in Troy.

We returned to Monument Square along 3rd Street, where the homes are more modest. There are two interesting houses of worship: the 1827 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, below, whose 1890s interior is all Tiffany; stained glass windows, woodwork, metalwork and lighting. And a cute blue-painted 1870 synagogue, in continuous use for the past 144 years.

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Wherever you roam, there’s interesting stuff to see, like the leaded glass storefront and rusting Art Deco hotel sign, below.

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That’s Troy 101 for you. What do you make of it?

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