One of Sarasota’s most distinctive buildings began as a watercolor.
In the mid-1950s, architect Victor Lundy was relatively new to the city, and businessman Karl Bickel heard of his talent as an artist. Knowing that the Chamber of Commerce needed a new headquarters, Bickel asked Lundy to paint a picture of what such a building might look like.
Lundy, then in his early thirties, drew a vivid watercolor dominated by plants and other landscaping, with a blue-roofed pagoda-like structure in the background.
Chamber of Commerce leaders loved the design and hired Lundy to design the new structure. Since 1956 it has been a landmark in the town square which also houses the old Chidsey Public Library and the Town Auditorium.
Renovated in 2017, it became the headquarters of the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization, reports Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County.
The building is known as the “Blue Pagoda” due to its distinctive roof covered in blue celadon ceramic tiles. It has been described as “more roof than walls”, as Lundy created a pavilion in which the roof eaves are less than 7 feet from the ground.
The roof is supported by glulam beams typical of buildings in Lundy, Sarasota County. These curved but beefy “engineered wood” beams are made of layers of thin planks that are glued into glued laminated timber. They offer robustness and architectural versatility at an affordable price.
Lundy is “very sculptural and very creative,” said architectural historian Christopher Wilson of Ringling College of Art + Design.
Other notable buildings in Lundy’s Sarasota County include St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall (1958) and Shrine (1970) in Sarasota, the Herron House (1957) in Venice, and the Warm Mineral Springs Motel in North Port, also from the late 1950s. Lundy left Sarasota in 1959 before becoming design manager at the large firm HKS in Dallas.
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His work was featured in several articles in national design publications around 1959, when Lundy was 36 years old. The Herron House won an AIA competition, in cooperation with House & Home and McCall magazines, for Best Modern Home in the South.
“I want my buildings to be exuberant,” he told Time magazine in 1965. In the July 2 issue, Time paid tribute to Rudolph and Lundy in the same layout, featuring Rudolph’s Endo Laboratories in Garden City, NY, (renovated 2007), and Lundy’s IBM Building in Cranford, NJ
The irony was that the two leaders of the Sarasota school of architecture were classmates under Walter Gropius at Harvard in the 1940s, competitors in Sarasota in the 1950s, and some years later rivals in TimesMagazine.
Now 99 and retired to suburban Houston, Lundy was the featured architect for the Sarasota Architectural Foundation’s Sarasota MOD Weekend in November 2016.
“Florida Buildings I Love” is Harold Bubil’s tribute to the Sunshine State’s built environment. This story was originally published on March 15, 2017.