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Southwick-Harmon House

Buildings: Sarasota History

Source: Sarasota County Public Records
Credit: Sarasota History Alive!
Location: 1830 Lincoln Drive, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - Southwick-Harmon House photo

The Southwick-Harmon House, located at 1830 Lincoln Drive was built in 1926 during the Florida Land Boom and is situated in the Avondale Subdivision of Sarasota. The Avondale Subdivision experienced tremendous growth during this boom time and as such represents a broad trend in the history of the development of Sarasota. Although the home has undergone some modification, it is architecturally a significant example of the Mediterranean Revival style.

Historic Significance

Platted in 1923, the Avondale Subdivision was originally developed by the Sarasota Improvement Company for families of average means. In the January 7, 1915 edition of the Sarasota Times 75 lots were advertised for sale in Avondale at a cost of $250 each, with fifty dollars down and ten dollars due per month. Plans for the addition of sidewalks and the grading of streets were also announced. To boost interest in the subdivision, a $1,500 bungalow was to be given away. Despite these promotions, the subdivision developed slowly.

On April 23, 1923, the Sarasota Improvement Company sold a number of lots in Avondale Subdivision to the Bellevue Land Company, a corporation formed by Irving Bacheller, Edward Brewer and Fred S. Wooley. On March 10, 1924, the name of the corporation was changed to the Baccheller-Brewer Corporation. On October 14, 1924, the corporation filed a new plat for Avondale, consisting of their land holdings. The property was subdivided into 11 blocks, lettered “A-K.” Those blocks were further subdivided into approximately 80 lots. Individual lots were enlarged and the streets widened, making the area more exclusive and attractive to higher income property buyers. A new water system was installed, and a seawall was constructed along Hudson Bayou. Henceforth, deed transfers within the subdivision would identify Avondale as a “model suburban development.” The company planned to build model homes to promote the development of a subdivision where restrictions required that no dwelling costing less than $5,000 would be constructed. Such restriction would remain in force until January 1, 1950. Several homes were actually built for promotional purposes. The sales of lots increased, in part due to the frenzy for real estate investment that marked the Florida Land Boom at its height (ca. 1923-1925).

In 1925, the Avondale Subdivision experienced remarkable land sales and gained recognition as one of the finest subdivisions in the Sarasota area. The November 17, 1925 edition of the Sarasota Herald reported that “all lots, except those facing on the bayous in Avondale” were sold. It also announced that the Bacheller-Brewer Corporation had hired the architectural firm of Clas, Sheperd, and Clas of Milwaukee, who were designing residential and commercial buildings in Sarasota and Ft. Myers during the period, to construct a 600 foot concrete pier on Hudson Bayou, which had already been dredged for powerboats and sailboats. To promote the remaining twenty lots along the bayou, the article stated that the Bacheller-Brewer Corporation had plans to build a “magnificent residence near the pier” for approximately #30,000. The strategy was to market the remaining estate size lots with a Spanish style model home.

One of the earliest homes to be completed in the newly platted Avondale neighborhood was one at 1830 Lincoln Drive. On December 1, 1925, the Bacheller-Brewer Corporation sold Lot 6 of Block C to Henry and Gladys Southwick. At that time, the Southwicks executed a mortgage to the development company in the amount of $1,350 for the purchase of the undeveloped lot. Subsequently, on June 13, 1926, the Southwicks took a much larger mortgage in the amount of $5,000 for the construction of a residence on the property and paid off the Bacheller-Brewer mortgage on the lot.

Although it is not known exactly when the house on Lincoln Drive was completed, the Southwicks were still living in their former home on Osprey Avenue, known as “Orangecrest,” as late as April of 1925. On March 26, 1925, an announcement appeared in This Week In Sarasota regarding the impending marriage of their daughter Elinor Southwick to Charles Stanley Bolden of Tampa. The wedding reception was to take place at the Southwick home. The wedding celebration of another couple also took place in the Osprey Avenue house on April 9, 1925. They were Ida McKinley Young and Lester Earl Wilson. Of note is the fact that both Elinor Southwick and Lester Wilson were employed by Martin Studios in Sarasota. Martin Studios was the firm of Thomas Reed Martin, one of Sarasota's premier architects from the 1920s until his death in the 1950s. Martin designed a number of Mediterranean Revival style residences in Sarasota during the 1920s. Considering the fact that Elinor Southwick was employed by Martin at the time plans would have been drawn for a new home for her parents suggests the possibility that Martin may have designed the residence; however, this supposition has not been verified. It is certain that the new residence had been completed before November 17, 1926, because an article appearing in the Sarasota Herald on that date stated that the Southwicks were entertaining visiting relatives of Mr. Southwick from Chicago at the house on Lincoln Drive.

Henry Irwin Southwick was born in Warren, Ohio, on April 23, 1878. He moved to Thomasville, Georgia, in 1915. He and his wife, Gladys Whitney Southwick, came to Sarasota in 1922. Mr. Southwick served as Sarasota City Clerk for four years from 1923 to 1927, two years of which he resided in the subject residence. Between the time the house was completed in late 1926 and 1939, various mortgages were executed and satisfied by the Southwicks. On May 24, 1939, a lien was placed on the property by the Home Owners' Loan Corporation for foreclosure action against Gladys Southwick, who was by then a widow. A Final Decree was issued on August 15, 1939. On October 6, 1939, an Order Confirming Sale was entered into court documents. A Masters Deed was then executed on October 7, 1939, giving ownership of the property to the mortgage holder.

On January 22, 1940, the property was sold to J.D. Harmon and Elsie Porter Harmon, his wife. The Harmons had two young daughters at the time they purchased the property. Their daughters, Leila Harmon Windom and Lou Ellen Harmon McLean, grew up in the house. On April 16, 1941, the Harmons purchased the west 35 feet of Lot 7 from Henry and Henriette deHoll, which enlarged the subject site to its present size.

James David “J.D” Harmon was born May 11, 1902 in Columbia, Tennesee. He was the son of James D. and Ellen June (Ragan), who were descendants of old Tennesse families. The younger Harmon was educated in Columbia public schools and later attended the Commercial Business College of Columbia. Upon leaving school, he was employed in wholesaling periodicals along with retail sales of cigars and magazines. Harmon first visited Sarasota for a short stay in 1925 and returned to Tennessee to sell his business interests in that city.

James Harmon moved permanently to Sarasota in February, 1926. A few months later, in May, he traveled to Ocala, Florida, to marry Elsie Malinda Porter Harmon, a native of Williamsport, Tennessee. Mr. Harmon and his wife had been acquainted earlier in their home state of Tennessee where Mrs. Harmon was a graduate of Ward-Belmont School for Girls in Nashville. She had moved to Ocala with her family after leaving school. J.D. Harmon's first job in Sarasota was in the advertising department of the Sarasota Times where he remained for the first year in the city. He later became the owner of two auto dealerships, one for Kaiser-Fraser and the other for Studebaker. He also was active in real estate investments and was associated with his brother, C.E. Harmon, in the brokerage business in Tampa.

In 1927, Harmon purchased Worth's Block, (National Register, 1997) an early 1900s commercial building at the corner of Main Street and Lemon Avenue in downtown Sarasota and converted it into a retail cigar store and news stand. It was originally called Harmon & LeValley Cigars & Tobacco, but shortly thereafter renamed the Corner Cigar Store. He subdivided the building to accommodate an additional storefront on the Lemon Avenue side of the building. That new storefront housed a soda fountain that was popular with local high school students. The Main Street store continued to sell tobacco products and added newspapers and magazines to their inventory.

In Harmon's Corner Cigar Store facing Main Street, Harmon installed a ticker-tape and scoreboard in the store to keep track of current sports scores. According to his brother, W.M. “Mac” Harmon, the store “wasn't just the gathering place for them (high school students). Anyone who wanted to know anything about sports in Sarasota, they'd call the Corner Cigar Stores.” “There was also a radio speaker out front where people could gather at night to listen to shows like Amos and Andy and at night when nothing was going on, the fellows who weren't dating would either sit around and play checkers or arm wrestle.”

The store and soda fountain on the first floor continued under several names over the next few years under Harmon's continual ownership. During the 1930s, the second floor was used for storage and the manager's office. By the mid-1930s, the soda fountain business waned and Harmon gave it up in 1936. Prohibition had ended in 1933 and Harmon converted the former soda fountain in the Lemon Avenue store into the Gator Bar & Grille. The Main Street store was renamed the Gator Cigar Store. The bar and grill operation began to build a clientele of circus performers from the Ringling Brothers Circus, especially the animal handlers and blacksmiths who frequented the club for many years to come. In addition to attractive prices and slot machines, modern air-conditioned comfort helped draw patrons.

In 1937, along with his younger brother, William M. “Mac” Harmon, James Harmon founded Harmon's men's clothing store on Main Street in downtown Sarasota next to his bar and grill where the entire first floor had been converted into D. Harmon Liquors. In the following years, Harmon and his brother continued to operate the men's furnishings store and obtain income from various real estate investments. Mr. Harmon was a member of the Elks and Kiwanis Club. He served as a director of the Chamber of Commerce. Mr. and Mrs. Harmon were pioneer members of the First Christian Church in Sarasota. Mr. Harmon died in 1988 and Mrs. Harmon in 1995.

The Harmons sold the house on Lincoln Drive on August 20, 1971, to Gene and Nancy Bewley. Mr. Bewley was the owner of Gene Bewley Designs, Inc. The Bewleys retained ownership of the property until July of 1974. Since that time, the property has had many different owners: the Kowalyskis, the Lancasters, the Merrills, and the Hazlewoods.

Architectural Context

The Spanish Colonial Revival Style gained prominence during the late nineteenth and earl twentieth centuries. This style was popularized by the Pan-American Exhibition in San Diego in 1915 and the work of architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. Goodhue had previously written a study of Spanish Colonial architecture. He wanted to go beyond the then popular Mission interpretations and accentuated the richness of Spanish precedents found throughout Latin America. The major development that occurred during the 1920s throughout Florida brought a new architectural identity to Sarasota. The Spanish Colonial and Mediterranean styles popularized by Henry Flagler in St. Augustine and Addison Mizner in Palm Beach were reflected in major Sarasota buildings.

The Mediterranean Revival style became another choice in the stock of borrowed European styles popular with American architects at the time. What was known in the 1920s as the “Spanish Boom” incorporated stylistic qualities of Spanish, Colonial, Byzantine, Moorish, Mission and Italianate styles and is generally today called Mediterranean Revival or Mediterranean Eclectic. For Florida, the style proved a perfect marketing device for resort communities such as Sarasota, conveying the exotic beauty of the area, while also drawing upon a link to the Spanish Colonial heritage.

The Mediterranean Revival style soon became as popular in Sarasota as it was in other developing areas of south and central Florida. Its success may have been the result of its appeal to Florida's sense of history and the association (though inaccurate) with what the early Spanish explorers and settlers must have built. It is as likely that an analogy was made between the mild climate of the Mediterranean coasts and that of Florida, and that the architecture of the former was therefore determined to be appropriate for the latter. Regardless of rationale, the Mediterranean Revival style was soon the prevalent design idiom for most of the major and many of the minor buildings in Sarasota in the 1920s, with several elements constituting the style in general Characteristics of the style included stucco exterior walls, arched openings, clay barrel tile roofs, casement windows, ornate glazed tile, wrought iron gates and window grills, and pecky cypress doors and trim.

Architectural Significance

The Mediterranean Revival style of the Southwick-Harmon House is expressed in its irregular plan, lightly textured stuccoed exterior walls, multiple roof forms and particularly the arched porch on the main façade of the house. The arched motif is continued in the arched porte-cochere on the west elevation that passes beneath a second story bedroom that has similar arched windows. These arches are also found on the one-story garage addition that was constructed on the east elevation of the residence in 1986. The house's clay tile roof is also characteristic of the Mediterranean Revival style, as is the tall, stuccoed chimney with its clay tile cap.

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