Mention the Venezia Park Historic District on the island of Venice, mapped out by master civic planner John Nolen in the 1920s, and most people think of the graceful Mediterranean Revival homes of that era that have shaped the city’s signature architectural look to this day. But post-World War II, a whole crop of one-story ranch homes appeared all around the island. And while most have been torn down and replaced, or renovated to the point where their original style is unrecognizable, a few midcentury modern gems survive. A recent tour of five of the finest, presented by the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, opened our eyes to their many pleasures.
The Shopa/Hawks House, built in 1959 on South Nassau Street, is a midcentury tract home that’s been transformed in the spirit of the Sarasota School of Architecture.
Stephanie Shopa and her husband Mann Hawks, who’d bought the home in 2003 and used it as a vacation getaway until they retired here full-time in 2012, worked closely with Venice architect Jon Barrick to respect the existing house while updating it for the 21st century.
“The bones of the home were in good condition,” says Barrick. “At 1,300 square feet, it was a perfect vacation home, but now that they planned to live here full time it was way too small.”
The original 1,300 square feet were more than doubled to 3,285, including an expansive living room and covered porch added in the rear, and a 400-square-foot garage added in front. Two bedroom suites were added, and the home was extended five feet to the north to enlarge the kitchen. Outside, the false stonework façade that had been applied decades ago was replaced with stack-block veneer more in keeping with the midcentury vibe.
Barrick credits landscape architect Dane Spencer for developing the handsome horizontal front fence and entry planter wall, and for designing the landscape plan that “created a garden house.” Indeed, Atomic Ranch magazine last summer featured a spread on the revitalized home, singling out its “dance of indoor-outdoor living.”
The Shopa/Hawks House won the Spirit of Sarasota Architecture Award last summer from the Gulfcoast chapter of the AIA in collaboration with Sarasota Magazine. “It was noble to preserve that unassuming house; it would have been so easy to demolish it and start over,” said one judge. They also applauded its sensitivity to the neighborhood.
“We love living in it,” says Shopa, who has a long history of loving midcentury homes “before anyone called them that.” She and her husband are pleased that tour-goers “respond wonderfully to it,” she says. “They want to sit; they want to stay. What better thing can you say about a home than it makes people feel comfortable?”
Architect Barrick says he hopes this renovation inspires others. “Unfortunately most folks have the perception, ‘Let’s tear down and start over,’” he says. “You can always bring a home back; it takes a little money and some hard work.”
These four midcentury modern jewels also were featured on the recent Sarasota Architectural Foundation home tour.
The Sayer Residence on Sante Joseph Street was designed in 1955 by Michigan architect Jack Monteith as a two-bedroom, two-bath home that was expanded in 2009 with an office, laundry, master bath and front courtyard. The traditional wood paneling and crown moldings that had been added over the years were stripped away, and a handsome modern pool pavilion was built.
The Rogers/Musselman House, also on Valencia Road, was built in 1956 by Jack Bailey and restored in 2008 by architect Greg Hall. Hall says Bailey built several Sarasota School of Architecture homes in the 1950s. Among many improvements, Hall removed the thick Mediterranean Revival stucco that had been applied in the 1970s, revealing the original concrete-block façade. “This home exhibits the clear, uncluttered design intent of regional modernism, inspired by the Sarasota School movement,” Hall says.
The Magee House on Serata Street was built in 1947 by architect/builder Christopher Magee, who had worked under Frank Lloyd Wright while Wright was designing the Florida Southern College campus. Unlike the other four homes, this residence was heavily influenced by the Bauhaus movement.
The Hudson House on Valencia Road is an original Ralph Twitchell-designed residence, built in 1953 with such customary humble Sarasota School of Architecture materials as Ocala block, cypress trim and plate-glass windows and walls that open out into the landscape. Twitchell is considered the co-founder of the Sarasota School of Architecture, along with his one-time partner Paul Rudolph, who went on to international fame. It sold in early December for $800,000.