Happy 91st, Victor Lundy



The Galloway's Furniture building, which was completed in 1959 on U.S. 41 next to Sarasota High School, as pictured in a postcard. It has been extensively remodeled and is now occupied by VisionWorks. Courtesy of Victor Lundy.

The Galloway's Furniture building, which was completed in 1959 on U.S. 41 next to Sarasota High School, as pictured in a postcard. It has been extensively remodeled and is now occupied by VisionWorks. Courtesy of Victor Lundy.

On Feb. 1, architect Victor Lundy will turn 91 years of age. Sarasota owes him a hearty round of “Happy Birthday.”

He might just get it when Christopher Wilson of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation gives a lecture titled “The Expressionist of the Sarasota School” on Thursday at the Lundy-designed South Gate Community Center, 3145 South Gate Circle, Sarasota. The event is from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

Ticket proceeds will be donated to the South Gate Community Association to help start a fund to rehabilitate the community center, which has been added to.

“The building is in need of renovation, like most things from 1956,” said Wilson, a professor of architectural and design history at Ringling College. “They have a wonderful gem of a building, but not a good financial situation.”

Wilson’s interest in Lundy’s career is recent, but his research has left him impressed.

“I really got captivated by seeing all this stuff,” said Wilson. “His work is characterized as being ‘Sarasota school,’ but only because it is in Sarasota. He went to school with Rudolph at Harvard Graduate School of Design, but they came away with a different understanding of how to make architecture. Lundy’s buildings are very sculptural — they have more roof that they do walls. He is very sculptural and very creative.

“It is a nice juxtaposition to Rudolph, who is very rational and works within grids.”

Said author and architect Joe King in a 2001 Herald-Tribune interview, “Lundy used these large, laminated wood beams . . . he took a more sweeping and romantic idea of structure with those great roofs he built.”

“That kind of talent, you cannot teach,” said architect and Lundy contemporary Tim Seibert in the same article. “You are born with it.”

Lundy, the eldest surviving member of the “Sarasota school” of modernism, only practiced here for less than a decade, running an office from 1954 to 1960. When New Yorker I.M. Pei was chosen to design the New College campus instead of a Sarasota architect, Lundy was so upset he left town — or so legend has it — and moved his firm to New York, his hometown.

And Lundy was a legend.

In those few golden years of the 1950s, when it seemed that all the possibilities and promise of postwar architecture were displayed between the Atlantic and the Pacific, Lundy helped Sarasota gain the world’s attention as a hotspot of progressive design.

He did it with such buildings as the blue-tile-roofed Sarasota Chamber of Commerce (1956, now U.S. Masters Swimming headquarters), the Warm Mineral Springs Hotel, Galloway’s Furniture (remodeled and unrecognizable as a Vision Works store), an addition to Alta Vista Elementary School, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church (1958) and the recently restored Herron Residence in Venice (1957).

While the better-known Paul Rudolph (1918-1997) was more rigidly rectangular in his work, Lundy, an accomplished sketch artist and abstract painter, loved curves and big roofs.

“I want my buildings to be exuberant,” he told Time magazine in 1965, when he was 45. In the July 2 issue, Time paid homage to Rudolph and Lundy in the same layout, featuring Rudolph’s Endo Laboratories in Garden City, N.Y., (renovated in 2007), and Lundy’s IBM building in Cranford, N.J.

The irony was that the two leading lights of the “Sarasota school of architecture” were classmates under Walter Gropius at Harvard, competitors in Sarasota in the 1950s, and a few years later rivals in Time Magazine.

Lundy has had many design triumphs, not the least of which is the U.S. Tax Court building in Washington, D.C., which was completed in 1976. Talk about a challenge: The building fronts onto a road of some importance — Interstate 395. He solved that problem by designing a steel-grid over the highway that supports a garden plaza.

The building is an array of granite-sided monoliths, with a minimal amount of glass, that conveys to some visiting attorneys the feeling that their careers have peaked, and to some of their clients the feeling that their checkbooks are about to be drained.

One critic called it “one of the best public structures to be built in this country in the past decade.” But its location was decried as “the right building in the wrong place in the right city.”

Said critic Wolf Von Eckardt, “It is cruel arrogance, because artistic talent here has been sacrificed to the incompetence of Washington’s planning bureaucracy.”

As much as it is a departure from his flowing Sarasota work, the Tax Court building makes Lundy proud. The building’s owner, the General Services Administration even made a film about Lundy called “A Sculptor of Space,” in which the architect discusses the design at length. It premiered Saturday in Washington, D.C.

“My art form, all my life, has been architecture. It has taken me all this time to become the maker of space that I am,” he tells the interviewer.

“My strength is drawing; making marks, usually with my ebony pencil, is linked with my thinking. When I think thoughts, I draw thoughts. Visible marks come with the words I think. I have drawn, drawn, drawn all my life.”

Lundy opened his own firm Houston in 1976 before becoming design principal of HKS Architects in 1984, from whose offices he designed GTE’s world headquarters. He still lives near Houston, in Bellaire, Texas.

“Victor Lundy: The Expressionist of the Sarasota School,” by Christopher Wilson, presented by the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, will be from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, at the South Gate Community Center, 3145 South Gate Circle, Sarasota. Admission is $10 for SAF members and $15 for nonmembers. Register online at saf-srq.org/events.


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: January 27, 2014
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