Posts Tagged ‘Florida Cracker’

Sarasota is either a big town or a small city, depending I guess on how you define the terms, but it certainly isn’t a metropolis. Which, of course, is one of the things we like about it. Something else we like about it is its impressive architectural heritage, one made especially impressive by its relatively small size. It even has an eponymous style of architecture, the “Sarasota School,” or “Sarasota Modern,” pioneered by well-known modernists including Paul Rudolph, Ralph Twitchell, Victor Lundy, Philip Hiss, and Gene Leedy. Examples can be found at Lido Shores, in Burns Square, and scattered around the rest of downtown Sarasota.

Add to its modern legacy an older, more vernacular (and ever charming) one of so-called Florida Cracker bungalows, like the ones we rent here at Laurel Park Management, and Sarasota punches above its weight class. For those of us who truly love quality Sarasotan architecture, the kind that people will be proud to live or work in 100 years from now, that passersby will stop to admire, that students will study, it hurts to see how many disposable buildings have also sprung up. The strip-malls and such, buildings raised to make a buck and little else. So we were thrilled to discover another small city with an elevated architectural pedigree. Looks like we need to step up our game…

Columbus, Ind., looks like any other small town, with its small shops and restaurants. But what sets this town apart is its architecture.

The Modernist buildings — mostly geometric and made of glass and steel — are not immediately visible, interspersed as they are with old, 19th-century, gingerbread-like structures; but more than 60 public buildings in Columbus have been built by a veritable who’s who of modern masters — I.M. Pei, Eero and Eliel Saarinen, Cesar Pelli, Richard Meier, Harry Weese, Robert Venturi and James Polshek, to name a few.

In 1991, the American Institute of Architects rated Columbus sixth on its list of the top 10 American cities for architectural quality and innovation, right up there with Chicago, New York and San Francisco. That’s pretty amazing for a town of just 44,000 residents. Six of the city’s modern buildings have also been designated as national historic landmarks, and enough people travel from nearby towns and states — and even other countries — to see them that the local visitors center gives walking tours.

One such tour takes you past a large, arch-like sculpture by English artist Henry Moore. It sits across from a library designed by architect I.M. Pei and built in 1969. The building’s facade is made of brick with nearly invisible mortar — Pei mixed red brick dust into the white mortar to make it blend in.

The first modern building in Columbus is opposite the library. Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen built the First Christian Church in 1942. Grim and factory-like, the church has a tall, rectangular tower and small, rectangular windows. It helped launch a local design revolution that World War II promptly put on hold. Then, in the 1960s, thanks to some design-conscious decisions by the biggest business in town, the architectural revolution soared, with schools, fire stations, an all-glass bank, a courthouse, city hall, a world-class golf course and a jail — a really attractive jail.

As tour guide Bob Bishop puts it, “This is Columbus. We don’t build anything that isn’t attractive.” continue reading at npr.org

Wouldn’t this be a great mantra for Sarasota to adopt, and adhere to? We certainly have enough historic precedent to know good architecture when we see it.


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So, this week’s post is a bit of an aberration, as we are not only giving a direct plug for a restaurant, but one that isn’t even especially close to Laurel Park. However, Laurel Park Management and J.R.’s Old Packinghouse Cafe do have something in common—a love of old Florida and a belief that the best of ol’ cracker life can coexist just fine with the modern city. Walk around Laurel Park and you’ll see people happily living in traditional bungalows only a stone’s throw from Main Street. Step into the Old Packinghouse Cafe and you’ll find a diverse crowd enjoying the traditional digs, honest food, and good music a stone’s throw from highway 75.

Known for good food, cold beer and live entertainment; it was used for packing locally cultivated celery beginning in the 1920’s. South of the Border offerings complement sumptuous southern dinners. A large variety of sandwiches are available, some prepared with “jerk”, a semi-mild Jamaican spice. And don’t forget to try the home made desserts, especially the bread pudding and key lime pie.

Celery can still be found here in the “Celery Plate with Dip” as can a bevy of other tasty menu items prepared fresh daily. Locals like the down-to-earth atmosphere of antiques and old photos, but it’s mainly the food they come for. Some favorites include: Black Beans and Rice, Cuban Sandwiches and Grouper Filet. Owner J.R., has been in the restaurant business for 25 years. He invites you to come out, enjoy a good meal at a fair price and have some fun. Six nights a week there is live music.”

The Old Packinghouse Cafe is located at 987 South Packinghouse Drive in Sarasota. You can reach them by calling (941) 371-9358 or checking out oldpackinghousecafe.com


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Sure, Laurel Park is a historic neighborhood known for its restored Arts & Crafts and Florida Cracker cottages and its proximity to Main Street and downtown Sarasota—not to mention Burns Square and the Sarasota Bayfront. And sure, as the epicenter of Florida’s cultural coast Sarasota is well known for its fine arts. But did you know that Laurel Park also boasts one of the best comics and gaming shops you’ll ever find? The Dark Side, located at 408 S. Washington Boulevard (in a small plaza alongside a yoga studio and barber shop, among several others) is both a comic book shop and the home of Sarasota’s biggest gaming community.

Creative Loafing recently tabbed The Dark Side the Best Gaming/Hobby Location on the Suncoast. Here’s what they had to say:

Looking for a great gaming and hobby destination that has something for everyone? Well, it is time to crossover to the Dark Side, Sarasota’s premier comic book and family gaming location. Visit the state of the art gaming center and play Heroclix, Magic the Gathering, Warhammer, Xbox 360, Star Wars, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft, or anything your gaming heart desires. You’ll also find a huge selection of back issues, graphic novels, games and collectibles of all flavors.

The Dark Side provides parking in a rear lot accessed via Julia Place. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to live in or near Laurel Park you can always reach them on foot or bike. Their phone number is 941-363-0840, and you can find The Dark Side online at darksidecomics.com. If you, your kids, or your grandkids are comic book or gaming enthusiasts, The Dark Side is not to be missed.

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“To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t given much thought to vernacular architecture until fairly recently. I grew up in New England, surrounded by old buildings, and I suppose I’ve always taken them for granted. One of my childhood homes was a 200+ year old farm house complete with big red barn. I loved its charm, its character, its sagging floors, but from a young age my aesthetic sensibility preferred the clean lines and zen minimalism of modern design.

“After college I moved around the country, exposing myself to various vernacular or vernacular-inspired forms. I came to appreciate regional design as an essential expression of place. I understand why modern design and the International Style have proliferated, beyond any financial motivations, and I think that aesthetic diversity sends a message of participation and relevance in a global era. It suggests that a place ‘gets it.’ What a tragedy it is, though, when an intact tradition is wholly supplanted or abandoned to squalor.

“The retention of vernacular architectural practices maintains a place’s connection to its past. It also informs the direction it charts into the future. I’m currently living in a small town in Florida—Sarasota—that has had its share of troubles during a growth process that has seen disparate vernacular styles such as Florida Cracker and the Sarasota School emerge, prosper, decline, and slowly reemerge. A new crop of craftsmen/builders are reviving traditional design, including Devin P. Rutkowski, founder and president of Bungalow Builders, LLC.

“Devin is a Florida licensed contractor and a member of the US Green Building Council, the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America, the Congress for New Urbanism and the NAHB. He is one of a select few to receive the Certified Green Professional (CGP) designation from the National Association of Homebuilders.

“Bungalow Builders’ design philosophy, from their Web site:

The “Arts & Crafts” movement popularized at the turn of the 20th century and coinciding with the birth of the classic American Bungalow has been rediscovered at Bungalow Builders, LLC. We trade excess square footage for efficient use of space and include rich architectural details, intimate nooks, character and comfort. Our homes are designed for low maintenance and low operating costs.

Each of our new (old) homes includes a traditional front porch, classic proportions and  authentic materials all within an energy conscience compact footprint. We believe in a “less is more” design philosophy that results in an authentic Bungalow home. We respect every future home owner and home site and work tirelessly to create that special place to call home.

I sat down with Devin yesterday to get his perspective on vernacular architecture.

planologie: What exactly is vernacular architecture? Is it design influenced by the local climate? Does it suggest buildings largely built by hand? Does it require local materials?

DR: I think it’s all of those. In general, I think vernacular architecture should respond to the demands of the local environment, and it is typically built by local craftsmen using indigenous materials. But a fourth quality is how it expresses a local interpretation of outside influences. Just as the Spaniards brought Spanish Mission, American vernacular architecture is always influenced by outsiders.

planologie: Do you consider the homes you build to be in a vernacular style?

DR: They have components of Florida vernacular, which is a cousin to a Craftsman style, which is itself a step-brother to the Arts & Crafts movement. It all stems back to just building honestly, building with those three concepts you mentioned. I try to include as many traditional design features as possible, but within a modern envelope. Is it vernacular architecture? It has characteristics. But a pure form of vernacularism? I don’t think that exists.

planologie: What makes a traditional-style house different than other new construction?

DR: An obvious difference is the [lack of attached] garage. As soon as you remove an enclosed room for a two ton piece of metal you change the box. I refuse to build a house with an attached garage, the only exceptions being in situations that allow rear-loading. What are called traditional homes were mostly built before cars, and removing the garage is an immediate step away from suburban-style design and toward something more traditional. Now you have room to add a real front porch.

planologie: Why build traditional-style homes?

DR: Not everybody wants to live in the same house, so by simply offering people a choice you open up the market. We went from living in traditionally designed homes—it wasn’t long ago that all homes were traditional homes, no matter where you’re from—to mass-produced homes that are built as quickly as possible, as cheaply as possible, and there’s a segment of the population that doesn’t buy into that. They’re seeking an alternative. I try to provide that.


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