Monday, January 29, 2007

Letter From National Trust

Excerpts from a letter to the School System Associate Superintendent from the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

Thank you for talking with me Monday afternoon January 22nd, regarding the future of Riverview High School. From conversations conducted with you, and with Riverview’s principal Linda Nook, the National Trust understands circumstances surrounding Riverview to be complex, and that in-depth discussion regarding Riverview’s future has been ongoing. The National Trust is aware that a wide range of alternatives has been explored over a number of years. I thank you for this level of discussion.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a nonprofit organization with more than 250,000 members nationwide. As the leader of the national preservation movement, we are committed to saving America’s diverse historic environments and to preserving and revitalizing the livability of communities throughout the country.

Riverview High School, and the work of architect Paul Rudolph, is well known to the National Trust. Riverview’s construction in 1957 and the addition constructed to Sarasota High School the following year, mark Rudolph’s strongest statements of public place-making in Florida. While school administrators question Riverview’s suitability as an educational site, the building’s iconic status warrants identifying a continuing use for, at minimum, a significant portion of Rudolph’s original complex.

The National Trust shares the Sarasota County School Board’s concern that county schoolchildren be provided a safe, secure learning environment that meets 21st century educational needs. It is the National Trust’s belief that with careful planning, Riverview
can be adapted to the demands of 21st century learning.

We respectfully request you join Florida’s preservation community in developing a strategy to preserve this highly significant landmark while adapting it to future use. We offer our assistance in facilitating such an effort, including funding to engage other designers to participate.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Rudolph Designed Home Goes to the Landfill

We are saddened to learn about the demolition of the Paul Rudolph designed home in westport, CT.

WESTPORT, Conn., Jan. 13 — A Modernist house designed by the renowned architect Paul Rudolph and at the center of a highly public dispute over its demolition was being torn down Saturday, despite a last-minute effort by the state attorney general to save it.
Crews arrived at the property on Minute Man Hill Road just after 8 a.m. When they began demolishing the house, the police ordered members of the news media out of the immediate area.

As the morning wore on, trash-hauling trucks carried away the remnants of the 4,200-square-foot home designed in 1972 by Mr. Rudolph, the chairman of
Yale’s School of Architecture in the early 1960s. The house was an elongated series of interconnecting cubes, with the eastern end hovering over the ground. By the afternoon, little of it remained.

Morley Boyd, the chairman of the Westport Historic District Commission, said, “An irreplaceable piece of our town, indeed our state’s, architectural heritage has been consigned to a landfill. It’s hard to fathom.”

We hope that Sarasota's School Board and Superintendent show more concern, sensitivity a dn a sense of community history than was shown in Westport.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Riverview Demolition Nominated for National Trust's Most Endangered List

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has a story today about our group's application to nominate the planned Riverview demolition to the National Trust's 11 Most Endangered List for 2007. It is currently on the Florida Trust's Endangered List.

Article published Jan 14, 2007


SARASOTA -- Local architects are trying to dub Riverview High school one of "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places of 2007," a designation that carries no legal punch but packs a mean public awareness campaign.

In the 20-year history of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's famed listing, only two of the chosen endangered places were ever demolished: the Mapes Hotel in Reno, Nev., where stars including Tony Bennett performed, and the Madison Lenox Hotel in Detroit, one of the downtown area's original turn-of-the-century buildings.

The Riverview application, filed this week by the head of the state's largest architectural association, came with letters of support from industry leaders from New Jersey to Michigan, each making the case why the Sarasota County School Board should reverse its decision to demolish the school.

"Hopefully it will show the local folks in charge of this thing that they've made the wrong decision," said Mark Smith, a Siesta Key architect and member of the Save Riverview committee.

About 70 to 100 apply for status each year, according to the trust. Winners will be announced May 15.

The movement to save the school is picking up national support.

World-famous urban planner Andres Duany called the demolition plans "barbaric" at a City Hall meeting a few days ago.

But the national attention might not be enough to spare the buildings designed by modernist architect Paul Rudolph, who is considered one of the most talented members of the Sarasota architecture movement of the 1950s, and whose reputation in recent years has been revived.

One of his designs, the architecture school at Yale, even appears on a postage stamp.

School officials say, despite the attention, they'll hold fast to plans to tear down and rebuild by 2010.

The Proctor Street lot is too small to preserve the glass-and-steel Rudolph buildings and still build something suitable for the 21st century, they say.

They're thinking hurricane-proof, high-tech, secure, cost-efficient. They want parking spots.

When the Rudolph buildings come down, pavement will be laid in their place.

"Students first, taxpayers second and architectural design third," said School Board member Caroline Zucker.

The application to the historic trust is the latest turn in the growing war between school leaders and local preservationists since the School Board voted last fall to tear down the school.

After hearing from members of the Save Riverview committee, who believe there is a cost-efficient way to renovate the Rudolph buildings and still build a new school, the Sarasota County government decided to investigate whether there was a code prohibiting destruction of the 58-year-old campus.

School officials are planning to meet with county officials one-on-one this week to share the deteriorating condition of Riverview, from the mold to the dark classrooms, and reasons why restoring the Rudolph buildings won't work.

Several school officials said they worried the national attention might further delay the Riverview rebuild.

"It's frustrating," said Principal Linda Nook. "I'm worried about anything that could halt this."

The school district plans to restore a smaller Rudolph building on the Sarasota High campus, said Superintendent Gary Norris.

And the district is committed to including Rudolph-inspired touches at the new Riverview, such as staircases that seem to float and steel beams.

For some, that will never be enough.

"You know what the world thinks of your tearing down Riverview?" Duany said before a packed City Commission chambers last week. "It doesn't matter how many concerts you have and how many art museums you have. You will be considered forever barbarians if you take it down."

The crowd cheered.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Pelican Press Editorial

Pelican Press

Rudolph's Riverview High must be preserved

Unless you've just returned to town, you know by now that despite months of active campaigning by local and national preservationists, the Sarasota School of Architecture-styled, Paul Rudolph-designed Riverview High School, which was built in 1957, has been slated for destruction since last summer.

Since the announcement, Save Riverview, which is committed to finding a way to preserve the Rudolph structures, has generated a groundswell of international support. The county commission recently directed its legal staff to research Florida statutes and determine if there are provisions to block the school board's plan to replace the historic structure with a new one by the autumn of 2009. The commission directed County Attorney Steve DeMarsh to research both applicable laws and the county's comprehensive plan for a report about "historic preservation and off-site impacts." A report has been tentatively scheduled for Jan. 25.

And, as reported in this week's Pelican, Metropolis, an internationally known design and architecture magazine, is producing a documentary on the ongoing saga of the Rudolph buildings.

Clearly this is not an issue that is going to fade away gracefully - probably much to the chagrin of the school board, which voted unanimously to demolish the school.

On May 18, 2006, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation listed the building as one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Sites in the state. Then, to the surprise of local and international Rudolph devotees, one month later, the school board announced a multimillion-dollar plan for building a new Riverview that means all the existing school's buildings would be demolished to make way for parking.

The school district had already paid approximately $1.2 million for an in-depth facilities assessment by the firm 3D/International (3DI). Unfortunately - and this is really where they missed the boat - the Paul Rudolph-designed structures were left out of the assessment; because they were intended to be razed, no discussion necessary. This, despite a 2004 memorandum to Superintendent Dr. Gary Norris from BMK Architects overviewing its extensive 2002 Long-Range Facilities Review on Riverview High School, which stated "plan on replacing all existing buildings on campus ... with the exception of the original Rudolph buildings, which should be rehabilitated."

Rudolph's designs tend to be polarizing. But whether you love or hate the building is really irrelevant; it is a historically important piece of the Sarasota School of Architecture that should be saved.

Rudolph was a pioneering architect and a major figure of the Sarasota School of Architecture. Before designing Riverview High School in 1957, he focused his groundbreaking talents on designing private residences on Siesta Key and Sarasota.

In his designs, Rudolph synthesized the Modernist ideas of Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Louis I. Kahn. He used sweeping monolithic forms and intricate interior spaces to create a powerful sculptural quality.

This community should have enjoyed a lasting, living legacy with its Sarasota School of Architecture. Instead, the school and what it represented are rapidly becoming relics of the past. And remaining structures designed and built in this style are becoming as rare as affordable housing.

Each historic building's importance increases exponentially every time another piece of our local history is destroyed. The need to preserve this small slice of Sarasota's past becomes painfully obvious when one starts considering all the historic places that have been destroyed in favor of "progress."

Grant money is available for places on the Historic Register, especially if it is being renovated for public use. Contributions from local foundations, federal and state funds and matching grants could be explored.

If the worldwide response to this issue is any indication - and it should be - Riverview must be protected as a historic structure.

The powers that be have managed to whittle away much of what was an already very limited local history.

Do we really want to be remembered for destroying what little remains? Do we want that to be our legacy?

More on the Metropolis Film

The Pelican Press has a report this week about the film being produced by Metropolis Magazine concerning the planned demolition of Rudolph's Riverview High buildings:

Film will be seen around the country
Magazine making documentary on Rudolph buildings


An internationally known magazine that focuses on architecture and design is producing a documentary on the historic Paul Rudolph buildings at Riverview High School in Sarasota, which are scheduled to be demolished to make way for new facilities set to open for the 2009-2010 school year.

Susan S. Szenasy, editor of Metropolis magazine, told the Pelican Press that she had learned about the saga of the Rudolph buildings while she was researching historic architecture on the Internet.

In her commentary for the November issue of the magazine, which is based in New York City, Szenasy wrote of the primary Rudolph structure at Riverview, "Its breakthrough features, such as an ingenious system of cross-ventilation, concrete sunshades, and daylighting, have been subverted through decades of 'modernizing.'

In fact the Rudolph design is now barely recognizable. But, the old school's advocates say, the wounds can be healed and the building brought back to teach a vital lesson of connections between people, architecture, and nature."

She added in the article, "These days the precedents established at Riverview, as well as other regional Modern buildings in the county, offer helpful lessons to current practitioners who are challenged to find new ways to save energy and realign their buildings with the natural world. Rudolph's experimental architecture can pass on what he learned about observing climate (subtropical), terrain (the building was sited to blend in with the surrounding pines), and culture (progressive Modern buildings represented the aspirations of the county as a center for the arts)."

The plan for the documentary, Szenasy told the Pelican, "is to take it around to large architects' offices and public meetings about architecture and planning." She added, "I have commitments to take it around the country. ... [People] are really interested in this."

She hopes to bring the film to Sarasota, as well.

The documentary crew arrived in Sarasota on Nov. 28 and completed its work on Dec. 3, Szenasy said. The magazine had secured permission from the Sarasota County School District to film at Riverview, said Sheila Weiss, supervisor of communications and public relations.

Interviews were conducted with numerous people, Szenasy said, including representatives of BMK Architects of Sarasota, which designed the new high school.

Among others interviewed were architect Carl Abbott, former Mayor Mollie Cardamone and former school board chairman Lee Byron, all of Sarasota. They are members of a group called Save Riverview, which is committed to finding a way to preserve the Rudolph structures at the high school.

Abbott and two other members of the group - including Mark Smith, incoming president of the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects - most recently addressed the school board during public comments at the Nov. 21 meeting.

Editing of the film is to start by the end of the year and be completed in February or early March, Szenasy added. While she understands that members of the public have expressed concerns about the age of the main Rudolph building at the school, Szenasy said, "If we think that way [about other structures], then we might as well blow up our world and get the hell out of here. ... Old buildings have a lot of significance to us."

She found the main Rudolph structure at Riverview to be "so incredibly powerful and beautiful," though its state of disrepair, she added, was "really demoralizing and depressing."

Asked how it happened that Metropolis, a magazine, chose to take on a film project, Szenasy pointed out, "Magazines do all kinds of things these days. ... We're in the business of disseminating information." Film, she added, is "a natural progression."

Returning to the topic of the Rudolph building itself, Szenasy pointed out that "sustainable building" - designing and erecting structures that can endure over a long period of time - has become very important. "We have to talk about those issues in an open forum ... and create a public dialogue."

Szenasy ended her November column by asking, "Can we afford to lose Rudolph's legacy?"

Museum of Florida History Has an Exhibit of Architecture by Paul Rudolph

Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses Exhibition

December 14, 2006-February 11, 2007

The Museum opens a new exhibit on mid-century modern architecture by architect, Paul Rudolph. He was one of the architects whose work came to be known as the Sarasota School of Architecture. The book by the same title will be sold in the History Shop.

The flat roof and open horizontal plan were characteristics of the Rudolph style. The exhibit contains panels, photographs, and models representing the architect's work in Florida.

Museum of Florida History
R. A. Gray Building
500 South Bronough Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0250