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El Patio Apartments

Buildings: Sarasota History

Source: City of Sarasota public records
Location: 500 Audubon Place, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - El Patio Apartments photo

The "El Patio Apartments" are located at 500 Audubon Place. The structure was built in 1926 for Ms. Lillian Piper, owner and designer of the building. The apartment building was one of many built during the Sarasota "Land Boom". It is an interesting example of Spanish colonial Revival Style, the predominant form of architecture for large scale structures at the time. The building is significant due to its association with prominent people who owned and/or resided in the structure.

It was reported in the October 10, 1926 Sarasota Herald that the "El Patio" was completed and that leasing had begun, offering eleven four and five room apartments. The marketing program that followed was handled by Brown & Crist Inc. who ran a large advertisement stating that: "Eleven Fortunate Families will solve their housing problem this autumn in delightful El Patio. Combining the rare charm of true Old Spanish design with the most modern arrangement of space, these apartments will be eagerly sought because of their convenient location. Some are furnished, some unfurnished - and there is a choice of size and location to suit every taste. We are accepting reservations on seasonal and yearly leases for September occupancy. The "El Patio" was able to attract a number of young professionals.


The name of the "El Patio" is derived from the central patio or courtyard of the structure. The building exhibits an inspired interpretation of Spanish Eclectic Style. Some of the more prominent features include its covered roof-top garden, ornamental wood work and a large patio which is surrounded by three wings. Like many of its Spanish or Spanish Colonial predecessors, this formal garden is enclosed by the stuccoed walls of the building. The fourth side is enclosed by a waist-high barrel tile capped wall which is broken only by the front gate. The central feature of this formal Spanish style garden is a small, fountain, with decorative tile. Other features include cast concrete benches, and concrete walks which lead to the fountain. These walks also connect the side apartments to the front gate and back entry hallway. Originally landscaping, such as bougainvillea vines flourished, and fruit trees were mentioned in an early descriptive narrative of the "El Patio".

The landscaping plan of the "El Patio" resembles the typical Spanish Colonial gardens found in California in the early 1800's, as illustrated by Michael Laurie in the book, "An Introduction to Landscape Architecture". Laurie traces the Spanish Colonial style to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain which was built in stages between 1350 and 1500 A.D.

The main house of the El Patio Apartments exhibits many of the defining features of the Mediterranean Revival style, such as: stucco, varied roof lines, red clay tile roofs, archways, Cyprus balconies, patios and fountains. These original design elements and detailing are well-preserved or have been rehabilitated or replaced as per the Department of the Interiors standards and guidelines for rehabilitation. Modern alterations have been sensitive to the original design of the building. Built in 1926 at the end of the Florida Land Boom, the apartment complex is significant as a fine local example of 1920's Mediterranean Revival style architecture.

Lillias Piper:

Before moving to Florida, Lillias Piper maintained real estate offices on 5th Avenue in New York City and Westchester County, New York. She moved to Florida in 1923 establishing an office in Palm Beach at the Phipps Building and began investing in lots and subdivisions in Palm Beach County.While a number of these are vacant lots today, a lot that she purchased on the island development of "Lantana" is a fine example of a "Spanish" style residence, that Piper designed and had built, making it her home in the late 1920's. She also developed a number of properties in the Coconut Grove area of Dade County.

Ms. Piper had training in interior design and while in Palm Beach worked with such notable architects as Addison Misner and Marion Simms Wyethes. Through her involvement in these endeavors she gained wide recognition for her contributions in the development of the "pure Spanish" architecture of Palm Beach . In late 1925, Piper liquidated some of her holdings and moved to Sarasota where she invested in an apartment house site in early 1926. She immediately began construction of the El Patio Apartments, which was likely influenced by the Mediterranean Revival Style that was being executed in the Palm Beach area. Following the Land Crash in Sarasota, Piper sold the El Patio and returned to Palm Beach by the 1930's where she remained active in real estate development.

The El Patio Apartments were locally designated by the City of Sarasota in 1990.

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