Modern-day Sarasota is known for its thriving arts scene and contemporary homes and offices. But sprinkled among the new buildings are world-famous examples of another modern movement, the Sarasota School of Architecture, which came of age in the early 1940s and endured through the mid 1960s.
"Unlike many historical buildings, their beauty isn't encompassed in rich ornamental details, but in integrating post-war design with how to live in the tropics," said Lorrie Muldowney, Sarasota County's historic preservation specialist.
Making these older homes and other buildings even more relevant today are the properties they share with current "green" or sustainable design styles – natural air flow, passive design, connecting the inside to the outside and native-plant landscaping.
Leading the Sarasota School were architects and designers Philip Hiss, Paul Rudolph and his one-time partner Ralph Twitchell, Victor Lundy and Jack West. Hiss first developed the neighborhood of Lido Shores (just off busy St. Armands Circle), which still boasts the highest concentration of Sarasota School homes.
To start your study in Sarasota School architecture, here are some of the most interesting and accessible stops from the guidebook "Tour Sarasota Architecture," available free of charge at the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Umbrella House (1953)
1300 Westway Dr.
This Lido Shores home, designed by Paul Rudolph, is arguably Sarasota's most notable. In 2005, it was purchased and restored by museum exhibit designers Vincent and Julie Ciulla. The simple, stately cube home is shaded with a trellis-like "umbrella" installed by the couple after the original was destroyed in a storm. "It gets all of its fame from the outside, but the inside is really the beauty of it," said Vincent Ciulla, who offers tours for a fee. "It's a bunch of planes and surfaces and lots of movement in the space. Rudolph played with the space in a very beautiful, balanced way."
Hiss Studio (1953)
1310 Westway Dr.
Next door to the Umbrella House is Hiss' original studio, a glass rectangle raised on steel columns that was one of the first air-conditioned spaces in Sarasota. While you're in Lido Shores, use the "Tour Sarasota Architecture" guide to walk or drive by more than a dozen other Sarasota School homes.
Sarasota City Hall (1966)
1565 1st St.
Situated downtown on a lush lawn, the white, low building is filled with angles and planes. Architect Jack West allowed for natural light, but added overhangs to keep out the direct sun.
Joe Barth Insurance Office (1957)
25 S. Osprey Ave.
Many businesses have come and gone in this angular structure featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and steel columns, designed by Victor Lundy. Its current occupant, Genevieve Tomlinson, owner of Zen Body-Zen Health and Asian Tea Bar, says customers appreciate the integration of exterior and interior. "It's like being outside when you're inside."
St. Paul Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall (1959) and Sanctuary (1968)
2256 Bahia Vista St.
Parish administrator Arleen Austin is accustomed to receiving visitors. "We get tourists from all over the world familiar with Victor Lundy and wanting to see his architecture," he said. Admirers are drawn to the simple, soaring lines of both buildings and to the altar wall, dramatically lit by window slits along the tall sloping roof.
Sarasota High School Addition (1960)
1000 School Ave.
Architect Paul Rudolph designed many public buildings. Sarasota and the former Riverview high schools were among the best known. After much outcry, Riverview, beset with maintenance issues, was demolished in 2009. However, the addition Rudolph designed here is not only intact but receiving a needed renovation in 2012, said administrative assistant Lyn Campbell. The minimalist, all-white structure includes large openings for ventilation, raised floor levels and shaded areas on the stairs.
South Gate Community Center (1956)
3145 South Gate Circle
Walk to the back of this serenely sited neighborhood center to see Victor Lundy's large, sleek glass room, with newly restored terrazzo floors, used as a social hall. "This is a well loved building," said manager Dan Beswick. Next on his wish list is to remove the acoustical tile ceiling and restore the original pine. The center, set on five acres along Phillippi Creek, is also a perfect picnic spot.
With your tour complete, you may be in the mood for some mid-century modern merchandise. If so, Jack Vinales Antiques, 500 S. Pineapple Ave., is the place to shop. Vinales, in business since 1992, stocks furniture, dinnerware, jewelry and art from the 1930s through the 1960s, with a specialty in mid-century furnishings and lighting.
If your interests extend to bigger-ticket items, such as a mid-century home, Sarasota realtor Martie Lieberman of Modern Sarasota specializes in them and lives in one herself. Lieberman is a founder of the Sarasota Architecture Foundation, which occasionally hosts Sarasota School lectures and building tours.