Friday, June 09, 2006

Sarasota Architectural Jewel

Article published in the Sarasota Herald Tribune Jun 9, 2006

Riverview High is a jewel in Sarasota's architectural legacy

The demolition drums are being pounded yet again in Sarasota with the accompanying litany that the doomed building in question -- Riverview High School -- is, pick one: in terrible condition, falling apart, beyond repair, an eyesore, obsolete, dangerous to be in, too expensive to renovate. We've heard it all before, and consequently Sarasota continues to be diminished as unique community.

Riverview High is not my alma mater. I went to Cardinal Mooney and Sarasota High, so I have no sentimental attachment to the school.

I do have an interest in buildings of historic importance, particularly those which are significant enough to have put Sarasota on the international map as a haven of talented modernist architects who derived inspiration from the beauty and ambience of what was a Gulf Coast paradise.Collectively, these men became known as Sarasota School architects, and of them, Paul Rudolph, the man responsible for Riverview High School, was the most talented -- a rising star in his field.

The group was mentored by an urbane and worldly gentleman (albeit controversial) named Philip Hiss, chairman of the Board of Public Instruction for Sarasota County. The first spurt of schools under the Hiss regime was started in 1955 and ended in 1959 with eight completed: Brookside, Alta Vista addition, Riverview, Fruitville addition, Englewood, Booker, Brentwood Elementary and Venice Junior High.

With their completion, the Sarasota County school system was recognized around the country for its innovative designs; the 1959 Architectural Forum lauded the county as having "the most exciting and varied group of new schools in the U.S."Riverview was Rudolph's first building. He had earlier distinguished himself with his singular home designs, of which the Revere Quality House that he did with Ralph Twitchell was nationally recognized. (A comprehensive account of Rudolph's work can be found in the book "Paul Rudolph, The Florida Houses" by Christopher Domin and Joseph King.)

After Rudolph left Sarasota, he chaired Yale's Architecture Department from 1957 until 1965, a stint he followed with some monumental and inspiring buildings around the country and in Singapore, Jakarta, and Hong Kong. He died in 1997.

The work of the members of the Sarasota School is of great national and international interest. It's not uncommon for visitors to come to the area searching for information and addresses of the remaining homes and buildings of these men.In Riverview High School, Sarasota has a blemished jewel that needs to be polished and saved. Its fate is in the hands of the School Board, which at this time seems more disposed to let it go than to expend the money and effort to save it.

Not too long ago, when there was talk that the 1926 Collegiate Gothic-style Sarasota High School might be razed, there was immediate and widespread public outcry. City Commissioner Mollie Cardamone said that high school, from which she was graduated, would be demolished over her dead body.

The support to save Riverview is growing. A number of concerned citizens, among them Cardamone, architect Carl Abbott and Janice Green of Save Our Sarasota, have banded together to lobby the School Board to maintain this important part of the Sarasota story.

The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation is holding its Annual Conference in Sarasota in 2007. Interestingly, the theme is "Ringling to Rudolph -- Sarasota's Legacy of the Arts." Surely the group will want to tour Ca' d'Zan, the Revere Quality House and, of course, Riverview High School. I hope no one is put in the unenviable position of telling them that Riverview has been demolished.

Jeff LaHurd is a Sarasota author and historian.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

School Board Meeting Tuesday, June 13, 10:00am at Landings SCSB bldg.

Article published Jun 11, 2006


Riverview High School has already undergone some changes, but history and architecture buffs hope to save it from the wrecking ball now. The school district says the talk was always about demolition, but opponents of replacement say they weren't told before.
Paul Rudolph fans to speak out

SARASOTA -- Preservationists and architects who want to save the Paul Rudolph-designed buildings on Riverview High's campus in Sarasota say if they had known the school district wanted to demolish the structures they would have stepped in to save them sooner.

Now, they hope they're not too late.

On Tuesday, the school district will hold a workshop to discuss plans for rebuilding the school -- specifically, a facilities assessment and a University of Florida professor's feasibility study on restoring some of the school's glass-and-steel structures.

The preservationists will have 15 minutes to convince the School Board to reconsider its decision and save the buildings. With a $90 million new school construction project at stake, it's likely to be a tough sale.

School Board member Laura Benson says that the ultimate plan for the school has always been to rebuild Riverview and tear down the existing buildings.

"The informal conversation in the district and in the community has always been demolition," she said. "There has never been a remodel conversation."

Architect Carl Abbott says it's a waste of buildings that are sound enough to be remodeled. There are ways to preserve the buildings without spending any more than the $90 million the district has said it would cost to rebuild a new school at the same site, he says.

The school district has local experts at its disposal who have never been invited into the discussion of what should happen to the buildings, says historic preservationist Lorrie Muldowney.

"The School Board doesn't come through any local review when it comes to construction and preservation," she said. "There have been changes made to the building over time and they have been made through an internal process.

"Talk of this Riverview replacement has gone on within that inner circle for years, but as far as decisions being made ... I never saw anything on it until February."

As late as September 2004, rehabilitating the Rudolph buildings appeared to still be part of the architectural firm's master plan for a new school on the same 42-acre site.

A memorandum to Superintendent of Schools Gary Norris from BMK Architects advised "plan on replacing all existing buildings on campus over time, with the exception of the original Rudolph buildings, which should be rehabilitated."

But to the surprise of local and international Rudolph devotees, this year the School Board announced a multimillion-dollar plan for building a new Riverview that meant all of the existing 48-year-old school's buildings would be demolished to provide space for parking.

David Baber, general manager for the Sarasota County History Center, says the board approached them about its intent to demolish the building in January.

Darrell McClain, principal of BMK Architects, said he doesn't know when the district decided on its current course to tear down the school, but that is what his firm was asked to do when they signed a contract back in September 2005.

Abbott says how the board got from rehabilitation to destruction is a question he has not been able to get answered.

"There has been an internal discussion about what to do with Riverview for maybe 10 years, and I can understand parents, students and teachers being very frustrated," he said. "But out of that frustration, to say 'fine, tear it down,' that's unfair to the community."

Most of the plans for saving the Rudolph-designed buildings involve getting the structures onto the local historical registry and eventually the National Park Service's registry of historic places.

The buildings feature the overhangs, the big glass windows, and the modern look that typifies the work of Rudolph and other practitioners of the Sarasota School of Architecture.

Historic designation would allow the district to minimize costs associated with federal emergency management regulations and allow a more flexible interpretation of the state building code, Abbott says.

It would also open the door to annual grants from the state's division of historical resources.

Since 2003, the Sarasota County Historic Preservation Board has been working through a blanket nomination process for structures that are considered part of the Sarasota School of Architecture. That would allow buildings like those on Riverview's campus and others throughout the world to be registered.

The state's review board has already recommended to the national registry that the nomination be accepted, said historic preservationist Muldowney.