Go inside the home of a Sarasota architectural scholar



For those who knew him and worked with him, Bill Rupp was an unforgettable figure in Sarasota architecture.

One of the many talented young architects who came to Sarasota in the early 1950s, Rupp, a native of Philadelphia, was tall, with bushy hair and a dark beard. He wore the round "architect's glasses" made famous by Philip Johnson and others, which only added to his image as a scholar, said Tim Seibert, his contemporary and one of his best friends.

The rRupp30mmost famous quotation of the Sarasota school of architecture is attributed to Rupp. He and a group of other architects, fresh out of school, visited the office of Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph about 1950. Of that visit, Rupp would later write, "We felt we had found The Answer."

The question: Where was architecture going?

Specifically, it was evolving to a regional adaptation of International Style modernism, with flat roofs, simple geometry, open floor plans and walls of sliding-glass panels that erased the line between interior and exterior space. In the days before air-conditioning became commonplace, patios and courtyards became integral to the design. Ornamentation was out.

Rupp would soon get a job in Rudolph's new office.

"Bill had a wonderful education and with Paul, and was a true designer, and a thoughtful and inventive architect. He was interested in how the world worked, and was very well-read," recalled Seibert, reportedly the best man at Rupp's wedding to Gwen O'Rourke in 1956, although Seibert, now retired and living in Boca Grande, does not recall that detail of their social lives. "I remember we all went out to dinner afterward. We were very close."

Rupp designed a number of houses and commercial buildings here before moving his practice to Naples in 1966.

One of them, a house at 655 41st St. in the Indian Beach neighborhood, has just come on the market at $499,000 through David Jennings of Coldwell Banker. It is owned by Andre Mele and Lisa Rainwater, environmental writers who are moving for a new career opportunity. "They flipped for the architecture," said Jennings, also the listing agent then, and bought it for $335,000 in May 2011.

Rupp designed the house in 1962, and lived there with his family until 1966, when they moved to Naples. It was featured as a "House of the Year" by American Home magazine in June 1963.

rRupp30bThose were happy days, recalls his daughter.

"I remember that house well. We did indeed live in it from '62 to '66," Susan Rupp wrote in an email from her home in Massachusetts.

"The house has changed quite a bit from how I remember it, particularly, I notice the surface materials that have been added," she wrote. "I remember it as being quite severe and simple. 'Pure,' I think Bill would have called it. It had a Japanese air to it, and I remember a stunning teak, built-in, Japanese-style tokonoma in the living room." The word often is translated as alcove.

The house, which has the Sarasota school's signature, stucco-less Ocala block walls, now packs four bedrooms, four baths and two kitchens into 1,703 square feet of air-conditioned area, including a guest cottage that shares a courtyard with the main house.

The grounds are punctuated with old oaks, bamboo and privacy fences, and the front yard has been relandscaped with gravel, royal palms and plant beds. There is little grass to cut.

Behind the 41st Street house, Rupp designed a similar residence on 42nd Street. It was rehabilitated several years ago by Sam Holladay of Seibert Architects for his personal use.

"Sam Holladay did such a beautiful job on the sister house," said Susan Rupp. Bill Rupp planned four such houses in the Indian Beach neighborhood, but only two were built, said Seibert.

College professor

Rupp ended his career as a professor of art at the University of Massachusetts, retiring as professor emeritus in 1995 after 18 years on campus.

But his life turned tragic when Gwen Rupp died in an accident.

"They were happily married, and Bill was never quite the same old Bill again," said Seibert. "There was a sadness. We have to pick ourselves up and get at it again, and he didn't have that spirit anymore."

Rupp died when the Massachusetts house he designed for himself burned to the ground in 2002, when he was 74.

"A specialist in interior design and architecture, Rupp worked with former Amherst architectural firm Callister, Payne and Bischoff before joining the faculty," read his obituary in UMass's Campus Chronicle Online. "He also had worked with Paul Rudolf (sic), a well-known Florida architect.

"He was co-author of the 1989 book 'Construction Materials for Interior Design' with Professor Emeritus of Art Arnold Friedmann. In an article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Friedmann called Rupp 'a veritable encyclopedia about construction.'"

Marketing the house

David Jennings, listing agent for the 41st Street house, said, "This is about as unadulterated a 50-year-old contemporary as you can find." He noted that the house has been respected and well-maintained, as well as updated, by its previous owners. As for selling it, the "biggest challenge is finding somebody who understands the floor plan," he said. "It is all about opening the sliders to the courtyard. That is when it starts to make sense to you."

Jennings listed the house three years ago and had "multiple offers in a considerably less-vibrant market.

"Its pedigree adds the sizzle factor," he said. "But it still has to appraise. Even a Frank Lloyd Wright (house) might not be appreciated for its architectural and cultural value.

"This is still a house, although a very cool one."


Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: June 30, 2013
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published without permissions. Links are encouraged.