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Architect's Influence Apparent in Sarasota

Articles: Sarasota History

Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Architect's Influence Apparent in Sarasota photo

Students of Sarasota architecture quickly come to know the familiar name and distinctive designs of architect Thomas Reed Martin. Credited in local news accounts with having designed more than 500 buildings in Sarasota during the span of his nearly 40-year career, Martin was encouraged to come to Sarasota from Chicago in 1910, by Mrs. Bertha Palmer. His first commission here was the renovation of her home, The Oaks, on Little Sarasota Bay in Osprey.

Although Thomas Reed Martin is probably best known for his Mediterranean Revival-style residences, in fact, he designed many buildings in other architectural styles and was an accomplished landscape artist and designer. A Classical Revival-style building that has graced the eastern side of South Orange Avenue, between Main Street and Ringling Boulevard, since the mid-1930s is the Wilson Building, at 27 South Orange Avenue. Historically known as the R.S. Cain Building, Martin's design employs cast stone and 12 classical columns to create a grand entry for the one-story building. Its design was developed to complement the adjoining post office, today's Federal Building to the south.

An innovative residence designed by Martin was a home built for Newton Shockey on Golden Gate Point. In addition to being the first home constructed on the point, its modern use of glass bricks, and concrete joists and floor prompted a headline in the local news: "First Golden Gate Point Home Uses Exceptional Methods of Construction."

The concrete floor was poured over a wood base, which was later removed. This construction method eliminated the danger of termites boring away at the house's foundation. Unfortunately, this waterfront home no longer exists.

In addition to architecture, Martin also practiced landscape design. Among his post World War II beautification projects were improvements proposed along the bayfront south of Main Street in the area of today's Gulfstream Avenue. Planned improvements included a band shell and a comfort station. Although never realized, Martin's plans likely served as the necessary catalyst for public acquisition of the land at a later date. The City of Sarasota's Parks Board also asked that Martin draw up plans to convert City Island into a public park featuring a fishing pier, yacht basin and helicopter landing field.

Like another prominent Florida architect, Addison Mizner, who was practicing on Florida's east coast in the 1920s, Martin worked closely with trained artisans who supplied him with the building materials he needed to realize his architectural designs. An article in the local press, dated September 1926, listed "Mr. Martin's organization as one of the most active in the city, employing as it does, a dozen skilled artists, designers, and draftsmen."

Martin was also credited with bringing business to local manufacturers of ornamental iron, pre-cast stone, ornamental pottery and wood work.

Notable Martin designs still remaining include the Mediterranean Revival-style bungalows in the Burns Court Historic District, the 1938 Art Deco Municipal Auditorium, and the 1941 streamlined Moderne Chidsey Library building which now houses the Sarasota County History Museum and the Sarasota County Visitors Bureau.

In September of 1925, Martin was appointed fee architect of the Federal Housing Administration for the county. His duties included inspection trips of houses being built with money insured by the FHA to determine if the houses were constructed according to the plans and specifications drawn up when the loan was made.

Thomas Reed Martin died at his home in Sarasota's Granada subdivision in October of 1949 at the age of 84. In his nearly 40 years of practice in Sarasota, he contributed enormously to Sarasota's legacy of architectural and artistic design.

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