Like a lot of Canadians, I first visited Florida as a kid–so it was a land of grapefruit, condos, and DisneyWorld. I’m not crazy about grapefruit & I’m not a fan of the Mouse…but I went back to Florida to spend a month travelling around the state, & I saw lots of alligators, ate some great barbeque, and saw some amazing houses. I kicked off the tour in Sarasota, which I thought was the epitome of golf course developments & not much else…boy was I wrong. The super-sized condos & houses on golf courses are just a more recent manifestation of a real estate story that has basically created Florida as we know it today, with whole cities made up of suburban sprawl. All across the state, there are plots of land that were either swamp, orange grove, or sandbar, which now have neat street grids and ranch houses…for better & for worse…
What makes Sarasota special is that, in that development boom, there have been some modernist visionaries. I was fortunate to find Martie Lieberman’s Modern Architecture Driving Tour (you can download it for free from her website); I printed it up & off I went. I was mostly looking forward to seeing some 50s houses designed by Paul Rudolph.
But the house that stole my heart is the Hiss Studio, built in 1952. This street view shows the original house–which was an office for Philip Hiss (the developer who developed this Lido Shores key from a sandbar into a high-end residential neighborhood). His personal house, across the street, has been torn down, but this office, along with a conference room, kitchenette, and bathroom, still contain some of Hiss’ furniture; there’s a large addition on the back by Bert Brosmith & Carl Abbott, built for Hiss’ children & their nanny, but I didn’t troop across private property to photograph it.
Tim Siebert, a young apprentice to Paul Rudolph, built the office–and lived there during construction, since he was also supervising Rudolph’s “Umbrella House” going up next door. Like many modern flat-roofed buildings, the roof of Hiss Studio leaks…Siebert has been quoted as apologizing, saying he was, after all, very young at the time.
What I love is how the now-classic glass box, balanced on its solid plinth, tucks beneath the massive banyan tree on the property.