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Revere Quality Institute House

Buildings: Sarasota History

Source: Sarasota County Public Records
Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Location: 100 Ogden Way, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - Revere Quality Institute House photo

The Revere Quality Institute House located at 100 Garden Lane is an early example of modern architecture categorized as the Sarasota School of Architecture. It was designed in 1948 by the architectural firm of Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph for the Revere Quality Institute. The residence embodies many principals first developed under the International Style in its planning and design which was adapted to the climate and geographical setting of Florida. It also reflects a new attitude to planning that melded interior and exterior space through an expanded use of glass walls and a minimum of visible structural elements. The Sarasota School architects contributed new design and material elements that distinguished their works from earlier International style precedents. Like the majority of the buildings designed by the small group of architects that came to form the Sarasota School of Architecture, the building is a highly individual stylistic statement, a one-of-a-kind design created to suit the needs and tastes of a client for a comfortable and visually distinctive residence.

Historical Context

The Revere Quality Institute

The post-World War II residential building construction industry raced to meet the housing demands of returning veterans. Wartime restrictions on the manufacture of consumer products and new construction were lifted. Raw material consumption and factory production, previously dedicated to the American war effort, now refocused on the domestic consumer market. It was a period of exciting new advances in residential construction. New and improved light metals and plastics came into common use. Synthetic resins revolutionized plywood building products. Traditional materials like wood, masonry and concrete, re-engineered for more cost-effective wartime erection, found a new place in home building. Prefabrication and other wartime production efficiencies became integral to peacetime construction.

In order to promote their products in this booming new market, the Revere Copper and Brass Company joined with the Southwest Research Institute, part of the Housing Research Institute, to create a national program to advance “better architect-builder relations and the general improvement of the quality of speculatively built houses.” The program solicited proposals featuring quality modern design, which Revere considered more cost effective and livable than traditional residential design. Participants juried into the program would build ten or more economical, single family homes designed by a professional architect. Local and national publicity would promote the homes, architects, homebuilders and Revere Copper and Brass products throughout the country.”

The Institute was not primarily concerned with architectural styles, but experience has demonstrated that intelligent planning for convenience and comfort, economy in the use of materials and site labor, and the elimination of superfluous ornamentation, usually results in distinctive contemporary houses. Furthermore, it was believed the public is better served when a choice is made available between houses of traditional styles, of which many are built, and other houses which do not adhere to the limitations of any traditional style. The value of retaining capable architects was emphasized. The cost of a house designed by a professional architect was not necessarily prohibitive. Frequently, architect designed homes actually cost less than those not professionally designed.

Architectural Significance

The Twitchell/Rudolph Plan

The design submitted by Ralph Twitchell (1890-1978) and his young associate, Paul Rudolph (1918-1997) was one of eight prototypes endorsed and commissioned by the Revere Quality House Institute and Architectural Forum. Built in 1948, the house was meant to demonstrate how industrial materials could fashion a durable, attractive and affordable private residence and embodied a long-term interest among technologists in developing a viable, economical concrete technology for building houses in Florida that would resist moisture, termites, and hurricanes. It was constructed by Lamolithic Industries, a local company that developed reusable modular steel forms and a mobile concrete mixing apparatus, intended to become a widely used construction system. John Lambie, the founder of the company, built five speculative houses using his Lamolithic concrete technology. Promoted as low-maintenance and fireproof, the concrete structure provided increased freedom in spatial configuration and the opportunity for larger expanses of glass. Built with poured concrete, steel columns and glass, the house had six-inch-thick slab walls, copper screening, wide overhangs, and non-load bearing interior walls.

The principals of construction employed by Twitchell and Rudolph for the project included “good site planning, efficient use of space, use of quality materials, employment of quality workmanship, installation of quality equipment, with planning for convenience, livability, privacy, orientation, outdoor living, and the future expansion of the house. The house was designed and placed so that a fixed glass exterior wall faced Bayou Louise. The opposite wall was a combination of fixed glass and both wood and glass jalousie windows. When the jalousie windows were opened, the house appeared transparent on two sides. A rectangular roof opening allowed for the creation of an enclosed courtyard that included a carpet of grass, adding to the blending of indoors and out. Both the living and dining rooms opened directly onto this courtyard area. Electric heating coils set into the walls provided winter heat while the overhanging roof eaves provided relief from summer heat. The interior of the house was designed to reflect the simplicity and utility of the exterior. The cabinetry and all of the fixtures were part of the overall design, and the furniture was selected by Twitchell and Rudolph. One of the more fascinating features of the interior was the copper hooded fireplace, whose flue doubled as a vent for the kitchen stove. The house drew both national and international acclaim, appearing in publications such as Architectural Record, Architectural Forum, Interiors, L'Architecture d'Aujord Hui (France), and Domus (Italy).

The design of the Revere Quality Institute House gave Twitchell a chance to more fully develop ideas that he had used in the design of his own residence at 101 Big Pass Lane in 1941. Twitchell had already begun to use a planar approach to his design and use of space, both on the exterior and interior. The flat roof forms and the extensive use of both fixed glass windows and sliding doors would mark his later works. His options, however, were limited in the design of this house because of his use of wood and Ocala block for the structural system. The materials also proved to be subject to the deleterious effects of the weather, especially the moist salty air that caused the structure to deteriorate without constant and expensive maintenance. Despite efforts to save this early forward looking example of Sarasota School architecture designed by one of its founders, the prohibitive cost of restoration made it virtually impossible to preserve “the house that started the Sarasota School.” (The house has since been demolished and a good deal of the wood beams was salvaged by architect, Joe King).

After the Revere House was opened to the public in 1949, an estimated 16,000 people toured the house, and shortly thereafter Roberta Healy Finney (1915-1966) purchased it for $18,400. She was already familiar with the work of Twitchell and Rudolph who had built the nearby “Cocoon House” on Siesta Key for Finney's parents. Upon moving into the house, Roberta Finney stated that “the design, organization, and efficiency of the house provided the thrill of living in and being part of what was not a house, in the conventional sense, but a beautifully proportioned sculptural entity that is exquisitely elegant and refined.” The house was hardly a year old, however, before it's pristine and elegant design fell prey to the necessity of expediency. After Ralph Twitchell moved into the house in 1950 upon his marriage to Roberta Finney, changes were made to accommodate the family. The carport area was converted into a master bedroom and the attached storage area into a bathroom. The interior patio was converted into an extension of the living room and the opening in the roof – which formerly had wire screening – was fitted with a skylight. Roberta died in 1966, and Twitchell married Paula Behnke (1920-1994). Twitchell lived in the house until his death in 1978, and Paula continued to occupy the residence until her own death in 1994. Members of the family continued to use the house until 1998 when the property was transferred to Doug Olsen in May of 2000. Olsen was joined by real estate developer Howard Rooks in January of 2005 to create the Odgen House Partnership to restore the historic residence to its original form and construct a new complementary residence on the site.

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