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Byerly Home

Buildings: Sarasota History

Source: City of Sarasota public records
Credit: City of Sarasota
Location: 344 Monroe Drive, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - Byerly Home photo

The Colonel Frederick and Jessie Byerly House is a one-story single family residential structure located at 344 Monroe Drive in the St. Armands Subdivision, Sarasota, Florida. The house was completed in 1951 and embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, period, or method of construction from The Sarasota School of Architecture.

In addition, as the design work of Ralph Zimmerman, the structure is possesses significance for being the work of the father and son architectural team of Ralph and William Zimmerman, designers whose works have been recognized and are acknowledged as part of the original generation of Sarasota School of Architecture Architects.

Historical Context

E. M. Arbogast of Marlinton, West Virginia began purchasing large tracts of St. Armands Key (by then identified as St. Armand) beginning in 1913. Arbogast was also involved in real estate on nearby Siesta Key and Bay Island, other islands off the coast of the Sarasota mainland. He initially cleared 30 acres in preparation of putting his property on St. Armands in use for truck farming. He purchased additional land on St. Armand Key in 1914.

In October, 1923, Arbogast transferred his land holdings to Owen Burns. In May of 1924, Burns in-turn transferred the same property to circus magnate John Ringling, who in July of 1925, placed the land under the ownership of John Ringling Estates, Inc.

John Ringling, who first came to Sarasota at the urging of his friend Ralph Caples in 1912, saw the future of Sarasota as a metropolitan resort that could attract many people of wealth.

In 1917, he purchased Cedar Point, today's Golden Gate Point, and in 1922, he began dredging and filling that island. At the same time, with assistance from Owen Burns, Ringling began to purchase property on the islands just off Sarasota. Burns had established himself as a major Sarasota landowner and developer and both he and Ringling were recognized as successful entrepreneurs in the Sarasota business and financial community. Ringling wanted to buy all of St. Armands Key, Lido Key, and as much of Longboat Key as he could secure.

Initially Ringling identified his all of his development plans for the islands off Sarasota as Ringling Isles, but in 1924, Ringling and Burns incorporated John Ringling Estates, Inc. to begin building on St. Armands Key.

Landscape designer and city planner, John J. Watson, completed preliminary plans for both St. Armands and Lido Keys. In February, he formally released his plans for St. Armands. His design for that island included the land area around a central landscaped traffic circle that was to be a focal point of the commercial area of development.

By late 1926 and early 1927, Ringling and Owen Burns became legally at odds with each other. Each experienced individual financial losses and legal challenges as their land holdings in the subdivision were swept up in lawsuits and financial problems. This was in part due to issues combined with the failure of the Florida land boom of the early 1920s and the onset of the Depression. The further development of St. Armands by Ringling and Burns ceased.

Samuel Gumpertz, Ringling's friend continued to own and operate the Lido Beach Hotel on nearby Lido Key and a dozen or so beach cottages were on that island which drew some visitors over the causeways but payments on lots previously sold by John Ringling Estates was not forthcoming and, despite Ringling's best efforts, at assisting buyers in various manners, Ringling would not see live to see his plans fulfilled. Vegetation took over the park and tall grass grew up among the untrimmed shrubbery. Minimal commercial or residential development on St. Armands took place for almost 20 years, more than ten years after Ringling's demise and long after Burns disassociation with the project.

The years of the Depression not only impacted any further development of the island. The Ringling Causeway was temporarily closed to traffic in 1932 due to rotten wood planks on the bridge. The city had no funds for repairs. In 1933, a Depression work project was initiated and the bridge was re-decked.

Development on the island remained virtually dormant until after World War II. In early 1946, great strides were made in liquidating the remaining assets of John Ringling's estate. This involved the sale of a number of residential lots to various prominent and wealthy buyers that perpetuated and fulfilled Ringling's plan for the island to be an upscale residential area populated by wealthy residents. At the time, the island was described as one of the most attractive developments on the west coast. The coconut palms that were planted during its early development in the 1920s had matured and lined the broad parkways. Streets, residential area sidewalks, curbs, electricity, water and planted parkways were already in existence from John Ringling Estates, Inc.'s earlier development.

Some post war St. Armands residential buyers included Edward Beattie, United Press war correspondent and author; Adolf Reich, former owner of the Sarasota hotel; Henry Taylor, co-owner of Sarasota Jungle Gardens, and Bandel Linn, cartoonist for Colliers and the Saturday Evening Post. Following the sale of these and other lots in 1946, it was predicted that "$150,000 in new homes would soon be under construction on the island."

Following the end of the war, other areas of the country began to see considerable new growth and development, but no other state developed or gained in population as much as the state of Florida and consequently, Sarasota began a major period of development and construction.

In 1946, when construction activity resumed throughout the country, new variations of the modern styles in residential architecture that had only begun to become popular before the war, began to dominate residential architectural. One of, it not the most important modem styles that fully developed in Sarasota during this period was the Sarasota School of Architecture.

The Sarasota School of Architecture

From 1941 through 1966, a group of architects working in Sarasota created a built environment that constituted a school of architecture somewhat like the "Prairie School" or the "Philadelphia School". Ralph Twitchell is acknowledged as the father of the Sarasota School and architect Paul Rudolph was another leading member of the school. These architects along with others centered their unified work in Sarasota and the west coast of Florida for a period of 25 years. The architects that comprised this group considered architecture an art form and took advantage of new building products and structural technologies. The Sarasota School had the vitality to spread to a larger group of students and architects in Florida during the decade of the 1950's.

The Sarasota School of Architecture utilizes the concepts from the Masters of Modern Architecture including: "the beauty of simplicity, the concept of sculpted architectural space, and the emotional aspects of architecture."

The Sarasota School had its beginning in architect Ralph Twitchell's Sarasota studio. Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings rose from the landscape, whereas, the Sarasota School style buildings were an element in the landscape to capture views, breezes, and minimize the impact of sun. The Sarasota School took advantage of indoor/outdoor space.

Unfinished materials such as wood, brick and terrazzo were often accented with bright primary colors. Often raw building materials were usually exposed on both the interior and exterior. Wood structural elements were painted white. Glass provided a strong link between the interior and exterior. Windows were used as glass walls defying traditional windows. The architecture worked well with the lifestyle and climate of Florida by providing a vernacular sub-tropical architecture. Geometry played an important roll in creating a defined living space.

Sarasota achieved recognition as an architectural center of activity by 1953. Ralph Twitchell was considered the "Dean" of the School. Other architects with offices in Sarasota that were identified with the movement included, Paul Rudolph, Ralph and William Zimmerman, Victor Lundy, Jack West, Mark Hampton, and Gene Leedy. From that time forward, Sarasota offered a creative climate for its architects.

As evidence of the impact the architectural movement to make to its field, the American Institute of Architects held a conference in Tampa in 1982 to bring it formal recognition. The phrase "The Sarasota School of Architecture" was introduced and it brought the movement national and international attention that continues today. In 1996, MIT published The Sarasota School of Architecture, 1941-1966 by John Howey and the Ringling School of Art and Design premiered an exhibition of the unique architecture produced by members of the Sarasota School of Architecture between 1941 and 1966. In addition, to provide a more comprehensive inventory and record of the buildings that were constructed as part of the Sarasota School of Architecture, Sarasota County Department of Historical Resources contracted with William Lee Moffitt, a University of Vermont intern in the summer of 1996 to produce, "The Sarasota School of Architecture, A Resource Survey." That survey resulted in the identification of numerous works in both Sarasota and other areas of the state that were the design work of the architects that comprised the Sarasota School.

Architects of the Sarasota School of Architecture

The following is a list of Sarasota School architects defined by John Howey in The Sarasota School of Architecture.

Ralph S. Twitchell
Joan and Ken Warriner
Paul Rudolph,
Tolyn Twitchell
Ralph Zimmerman
Philip Hiss
William Zimmerman
Jack West
Gene Leedy
Mark Hampton
Phil Hall
Colonel Roland Sellew
Tim Seibert
Victor Lundy
William Rupp

The Sarasota group of architects for this movement was an assemblage of young American architects whose fresh, innovative work following World War II captured the imagination of the architectural world. The Sarasota School of Architecture influenced generations of architectural professionals. Its architects gave Sarasota and Florida its own architectural identity.

Ralph Waldo Zimmerman and William Wallace Zimmerman-Father and Son Architects

Architect Ralph Waldo Zimmerman and William Wallace Zimmerman visited Sarasota in approximately 1933 after leaving from Chicago, Illinois on the Zarark, a 60' ketch, on their way to the South Seas. They continued down around Cuba, through the Panama Canal and onward to Tahiti and elsewhere.

After that voyage Ralph went back to Chicago where he was a partner in a design firm, Zimmerman, Sax, and McBride in that city before coming to Sarasota (ca. 1937). His Chicago firm was the official architects for the Walgreen Drug Stores.

William went on to M.I.T., then on to work on defense projects until 1944, when he moved to Sarasota and joined his father in establishing Ralph and William Zimmerman Architects, AIA. The firm was located mostly at 1212 First Street up until the time Ralph retired in 1956.

Upon Zimmerman's arrival in Sarasota, he first purchased the east point on the south side of slip on Lido Key opposite the Keith Estate in south Sarasota. The property was formerly owned by the Ringling estate. Subsequent to Ringling's death in 1936, his St. Armands, Lido, and Golden Gate land holdings were placed under the control of the St. Armands-Lido Realty Corporation with A.S. Skinner as Sales Director. In early March of 1937, the local newspaper announced that sale of Ringling's island property would begin on March 10th. Following the renewal of the sale of lots on St. Armands on that date, several buyers came forward, one of which was apparently Zimmerman. Shortly after purchasing the property, Zimmerman announced plans to build his first three houses in Sarasota on the property. The first house was to be built for himself, another for his daughter, and a third for his son. By July 31, 1937, he was drafting those plans.

William Wallace Zimmerman, the son of Ralph, joined his father in Sarasota. He and his father worked together on several projects. William Zimmerman specialized in designing individualized homes uniquely adapted to Florida's subtropical climate. His design work, other than the subject property, included the 1959 Sarasota Herald-Tribune on US 41 and he designed Sarasota's Brookside Junior High School. In later years, William was in private practice in Naples, Florida from spring of 1961 until spring of 1974. He later served as a planner for the city of Berkeley, Califorina. He died there in 1981.

According to William Zimmerman, the son of William Wallace Zimmerman, his father and grandfather were responsible for a total of at least 10 or 12 homes on St. Armands, including the Byerly House, during the 1940s and 1950s; a house on Tyler Drive; a number of homes on North Lido; 10 or more houses in Harbor Acres, a house on South Drive in Cherokee Park; houses in Oyster Bay; several homes on Siesta key; the Circus Hall of Fame on Bayshore (demolished), a house on South Palm Avenue; the Kreisle Forge (listed in the National Register) on North Tamiami Trail in southern Manatee County; the design of the 1952 Booker campus; and several commercial buildings on North Tamiami Trail.

Historical Information

According to a copy of the original plans in possession of the current owners, The Byerly House and detached outbuilding were originally designed by Ralph and William Zimmerman for Margaret Gage, Ralph's former wife and William's mother. She, as well as her sons, were natives of Chicago, Illinois. Ms. Gage came to Sarasota in 1944 from Winnetka, Illinois. For some unknown reason, she never came to own or occupy the house which was completed in late 1951. As early as 1937, the Zimmerman's were designing and constructing homes on nearby Lido Key

The first owner/occupants of the house were Colonel Frederick M. and Jessie Ruth (Keller) Byerly who began occupancy of the house in 1952. Colonel Byerly was born in Freeport, New York and was a graduate of the University of Chicago. He worked in the investment business in Chicago prior to World War IL He served in the army during World War I in which he was one of the early military pilots in this country. He also served as an instructor during that war and in Washington. He also served in World War II in Washington and the African Theaters. He came to Sarasota in 1951 and soon after purchased the property.

Jessie Ruth Keller Byerly was born in Chicago where she attended Dana Hall. Mrs. Byerly arrived in Sarasota from Mattapoisett, Massachusetts in 1950 and her husband joined her on Sarasota the next year.

Following Colonel Byerly's death in 1963, Mrs. Byerly continued to own and occupy the property until about 1970.

The Byerly House was locally designated by the City of Sarasota 1999.

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