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Center Reflects Pre and Post War Styles

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann A. Shank, former County Historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Center Reflects Pre and Post War Styles photo

The first stage of development in Sarasota's Civic Center complex - which then included the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium, Sarasota Public Library, and the Sarasota Art Association building - occurred during the years before, and after World War II. The first three buildings, designed by Martin Studio between 1938 and 1949, were reflective of pre-World War II architectural styles.

The post-World War II "Sarasota School of Architecture" was reflected in the civic center's next period of construction, in the 1950s. One of the most dramatic of the new buildings in this area west of U.S. 41, between Sixth and Tenth Streets, was the Sarasota County Chamber of Commerce "Pagoda," which later became the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau (today it stands empty). The chamber hired Victor Lundy to design the new facility. Lundy had followed classmate Paul Rudolph to Sarasota and became part of the group of modernist architects who sought, among other things, to minimize the distinction between interior and exterior design.

Lundy's work has been characterized as "more roof than walls" and in this building, the laminated wooden roof supports, visible from the interior, rest on supports outside the glass walls. The chamber dedicated the new structure in 1956. The glass walls enabled occupants to feel as though they were part of the environment created by the nearby garden and pond.

The Japanese motif of the building completed a Japanese sculpture that had been placed in the neighboring garden by the Sarasota Garden Club. Karl Bickel, through his former associates with United Press, helped locate the tile for the roof. It came from Nagoya, Japan, and was sought because Lundy wanted a color that would connect the building with the water of Sarasota Bay. (At that time, the edge of the bay was much closer to U.S. 41 than it is today.)

Within four years, the Garden Club opened its first home just west of the chamber. Garden Club members had been involved with the Civic Center since its acquisition by the city in the 1930s. For years, the club provided the landscaping.

John Crowell, a "Sarasota School" architect, designed the building with three glass walls. Through the south wall, one could see botanical gardens with a pool, fountain, footbridges and benches. Framing the gardens was a shoji fence, a Japanese-style paper screen. A year later, architect Bert Brosmith designed a Japanese garden house to store the club's garden tools. For the roof, he used the same variously shaded blue roof tiles as were used on the chamber building.

To the north, not far from the water's edge behind the Municipal Auditorium, the Florida West Coast Symphony built a rehearsal hall. Organized in 1949, the orchestra spent six years rehearsing wherever space might available, and carrying out the business operations in volunteers' homes. After the Sarasota City Commission gave permission for the FWCS to build in the Civic Center complex, Erwin Gremli II, architect and first clarinetist with the symphony, designed the rehearsal hall. Also associated with the "Sarasota School," Gremli produced a building that was more focused on the activities going on inside than on connecting with the external environment. Later additions to the structure have obscured his original design.

With these additions, the Civic Center was nearly full. A decade later, as a mushrooming population called for larger cultural facilities, dredge and fill operations added to the complex's acreage. This provided space for construction of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and the first Selby Public Library (now G-Wiz).