Bubil: Thomas Reed Martin, and enduring architecture


The architectural and home tour season is warming up early this year. It is going to be a busy one.

It starts with the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation’s Oct. 13 bus tours featuring the work of Sarasota’s first great architect, Thomas Reed Martin.

Then, on Oct. 20, the new Center for Architecture Sarasota will present an open house at architect Guy Peterson’s Spencer House, also known as “the Perforated House,” on Orange Avenue at Prospect Street in Sarasota. That event will benefit CFAS as it begins its mission to promote architectural education, research and innovation.

This Tuesday night at Ringling College, Eames Demetrios</CF> will give a presentation on the careers of his famous grandparents, Charles and Ray Eames, presented by the Sarasota Architectural Foundation. The theme is “Design vs. Style,” and for most good architects, that is a big debate, as they tend to despise the use of the word style. “I am just interested in good design,” they will say.</i>

The Martin bus tour — two of them — will be narrated by Ron McCarty,</CF> curator of the Cá d’Zan at the Ringling Museums. He said the two tours, with 55 seats each, sold out “about an hour” after a story about the tour was published by the Herald-Tribune.

“A zillion people are mad because they can’t get a seat on the bus,” said McCarty. Local history and architecture have a passionate following here.

Proceeds of the tour will go to the restoration of the Mable Ringling Fountain, designed by Martin, on U.S. 41 near Orange Avenue.

Martin designed about 500 structures in his local career, from 1911 until his death in 1948.

“He was the most important architect of the early land boom, and he chose Sarasota to be involved in, staying through the good and bad times of the real estate market,” said McCarty. “He worked to expand the area, and was an incredible architect for this community, sensitive to Mediterranean Revival and, later, modern design.”

Martin did early design work for the John and Mable Ringling mansion before the project was turned over to Dwight James Baum. It seems John Ringling offered Martin a fee reduction, which the architect declined.

Good for him. There is plenty else to remember him by, such as the Municipal Auditorium, Burns Court, the Columbia Restaurant in Tampa and a whole bunch of fine houses from the 1920s Florida Land Boom.

Martin came here from Chicago — he worked there for the famous firm Holabird and Roche — in 1911 to work for socialite Bertha Palmer. He flourished during the boom, designing many houses and buildings in the Mediterranean Revival style, and on both sides of the trail, for both the wealthy and working families.

“Although Thomas Reed Martin is probably best known for his Mediterranean Revival-style residences, in fact, he designed many buildings in other architectural styles and was an accomplished landscape artist and designer,” wrote historian Lorrie Muldowney</CF>, of the Sarasota County History Center, in 2004.

“A Classical Revival-style building that has graced the eastern side of South Orange Avenue, between Main Street and Ringling Boulevard, since the mid-1930s is the Wilson Building, at 27 S. Orange Ave. Historically known as the R.S. Cain Building, Martin’s design employs cast stone and 12 classical columns to create a grand entry for the one-story building. Its design was developed to complement the adjoining post office, today’s Federal Building, to the south.”

McCarty said the tour will concentrate on Martin’s buildings downtown, as subdivisions tend to have a lot of tree cover, “which is not good for a large coach with 55 people.”

Should you be tempted to follow the bus (leaving from the Van Wezel parking lot at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.) or to take your own self-guided TRM tour, the stops will include:
• The Chidsey Building, built as a modernist library with “slight art deco designs,” on North U.S. 41 at Sixth Street.
• The Art Association building next door, designed by TRM and his son Frank.
• The art deco Muncipal Auditorium, just north of the Art Association, designed with his son Clarence, said McCarty.

Two 1920s houses on South Washington Drive on St. Armands Key — the William Burns Residence and the Case House next door. Burns’ lot was donated by John Ringling, who developed the neighborhood. William Burns was “the Sherlock Holmes of America,” said McCarty. He had his own detective agency and was head of the FBI before J. Edgar Hoover. Ringling also donated a marble fireplace for the house, which cost an impressive $50,000 at the time.

The classically inspired Wilson Building on Orange Avenue south of Main Street.
• Burns Court, developed by Owen Burns, who was no relation to William Burns.

Laurel Park. Martin designed several houses there that will be on the tour, including his own house on Oak Street, where he lived briefly before moving to Granada, which he helped design, south of Siesta Drive. He died in his Granada house in 1949.

When a man designs 500 buildings, his work is everywhere, even though we don’t realize it.


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: October 5, 2013
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