Siesta Key's Harrison House is a cedar-shingle standout


The Lee and Teresa Harrison home, built in 1929 on a part of Higel Avenue that is unknown to lots of people who think they know every part of Siesta Key, is just as beautiful from the back as it is from the front. That’s because the back of the house actually used to be the front entrance.




Did the house get moved? “No, the street did,” said Teresa Harrison, who along with her husband, Lee, bought the home in 1983 after 10 years of looking for the perfect old house. The couple, who met in Sarasota when they were New College students, sensitively added to their house, starting almost as soon as they moved in.

REHigel“The day we had our infant daughter’s naming party, there was heavy construction equipment in the yard,” recalled Teresa. “We took down a 1950s addition that didn’t make sense, and removed a lot of Australian pines from the yard. We rehabilitated the shell-and-coral fountain that was original to the property when William Neubauer built the house in 1929. We left the shell drive and the old oaks, lychee nut and kumquat trees. I fell in love with this house the moment I walked into the living room. I knew without a doubt that this would be the place that Lee and I would raise our family and live our lives together. My instinct was right.”

The Harrisons raised three children in the big, rambling, two-story house that has original Craftsman features throughout, as well as four wood-burning fireplaces, heart pine and oak floors, three sleeping porches, five bedrooms and plenty of home entertaining spaces both inside and out.

The children, Samantha, Hannah and Michael, built a treehouse and set up a climbing rope in the Cuban laurel tree. They fished, went shrimping and swam in the wide backyard canal that connects Big Pass to Sarasota Bay. They kayaked and boated everywhere.

“And with two staircases and lots of areas that unexpectedly connect to other areas in this house, it was a great place for hide and seek,” said Teresa. “We walked to Out of Door School and biked to the beach. Over the years the house was a gathering place for the children’s friends. It was full of kids, and we loved it that way.”

Teresa also remembers that their home and the Harry and Gertrude Higel house were the only two-story homes on on the street or canal; the rest were small houses and cottages.

“At the time, the neighborhood still had the feeling of a small fishing village that it once had been,” said Teresa, “with shrimp and snook running in the canal.” Over the decades, the Harrisons took the house from about 1,800 square feet to nearly 4,800 square feet. They enclosed the sleeping porches (one is a breakfast room) but scrupulously maintained the architectural integrity of the home.

Now the three Harrison children are grown and have moved on with their adult lives in Boston and California. Lee Harrison died last year. Teresa no longer needs a big house.

“This wonderful place did its job for us,” she said. “We raised our children and Lee and I had a happy married life here. Now, I’m ready to downsize to a condominium, hopefully on Siesta Key. And I’ll probably want a small condo in San Francisco, too, which will put me close to my daughters.”

The Harrison house is on the market for $2.1 million through Kim and Michael Ogilvie of Michael Saunders & Co.

The original Craftsman features, such as built-ins, wainscoting and paneling, are still intact and have been lovingly preserved. Lee Harrison had a passion for local history and worked to have the home put on the state registry of historic places.

When he and Teresa began their addition, he searched the country for old windows that would match the ones already in the house. And he put the same kind of brick in the front entrance and back patio that was used for the piers of the house and for the demi-lune stoop that was once the front entrance.

The Harrisons added a swimming pool, updated the plumbing and air conditioning, and, in 2003, they replaced the roof. They also maintained a guest house on the property that is legally rentable.

Lee Harrison was constantly researching and documenting places and spaces on Siesta Key.

“Lee was a well-known student of Sarasota history and ardent supporter of local preservation efforts,” said author and historian Jeff LaHurd. “He had the most comprehensive collection of Sarasota post cards I’ve ever seen. And he was always willing to share his vast knowledge of Sarasota history and the memorabilia he had collected over the years. A book I wrote, “Come On Down! Pitching Paradise During the Roaring ’20s,” was based on Lee’s collection and knowledge of Florida during that era. He also helped me with a book titled Sarasota, Roaring Through the ’20s.

The Harrison home is in a secluded part of north Siesta Key, a few doors away from the onetime home of Harry Higel (1867-1921), a major political and civic leader and developer during the early years of Sarasota. Higel was a five-time member of the town and city councils, and he was elected mayor of Sarasota three times. Higel owned the town pier and helped form the Sarasota Yacht Club, where he was its first commodore. He also acted as the first agent for regular steamer service to Sarasota.

Higel was a key player in the development of Siesta Key, building the Higelhurst Hotel and adjoining bath houses on Big Pass in 1915. A huge success with seasonal visitors, it burned to the ground two years later. Higel was also a driving force to have a bridge built to Siesta Key. The first bridge to the island, located at Stickney Point Road, opened shortly after Higel’s hotel burned. The second bridge, which connects Siesta Drive to Siesta Key, was completed in 1927, and although it was dedicated to Higel’s vision for the island, he did not live to see it completed.

On a January morning in 1921, Harry Higel’s battered body was found on the side of a beach road. A suspect was identified in the savage attack (a known Higel enemy, Rube Allyn), but lack of evidence meant that the case was never officially solved, and no one was brought to justice for the murder of one of Sarasota’s most influential citizens.

In happier days, Higel platted most of Siesta Key (once called Little Sarasota Key) and contributed greatly to its development and infrastructure in way both massive and practical. He was Sarasota’s first retailer of kerosene and gasoline.

Higel promoted Siesta as “a place to rest and have peace and comfort,” certainly a definition of the kind of family life Teresa and Lee Harrison found for themselves and their children for many years in their old cedar-shingle house by the waterfront.


Marsha Fottler

Marsha Fottler has been a newspaper and magazine lifestyle, food and design writer since 1968 first in Boston and in Florida since 1970. She contributes to regional and national publications and she is co-publisher and editor of a monthly online magazine that celebrates the pleasures of the table called Flavors & More. (941) 371-8593.
Last modified: December 8, 2013
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