Sarasota's oldest house is for sale

The Wildrick home on Pleasant Place in Sarasota. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

The Wildrick home on Pleasant Place in Sarasota. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

SARASOTA — Mary Wildrick may be living in the 21st century, but she has a 19th-century way of living.

“I like history, I like old-fashioned things,” she says.

How old fashioned?

There’s the calligraphy she does, for one, and the canning, and the spinning wheels she uses to create yarn.

But perhaps the biggest manifestation of Wildrick’s passion for the past is her house on Sarasota’s Pleasant Place, where she and her husband, Tony, have lived for more than four decades and where they raised a pair of daughters.

It’s likely the oldest house in Sarasota County still used as a residence, dating to the late 1800s. It was built by citrus baron Richard Cunliff, who called it “Bay View Cottage.” Today, he has a city street named after him.

The only other contender for “oldest house” honors is the Bidwell-Wood House, built in 1882, but it hasn’t been a home since 1966.

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“I like my old-fashioned house,” Mary Wildrick said. “It makes me very happy because I am living in a different century. I am content here.”

But now in their early 70s, the Wildricks say it’s time to move on. The house’s roughly 6,000 square feet is a lot to take care of, and the stairs are getting harder and harder to climb.

The couple has put the house on the market for $1.1 million.

Getting that much money may not be easy, even though the house is considered a treasure.

Recent sales in the Bay View Heights neighborhood have ranged from $278,000 to $1.52 million, records show, with most of the sales in the $400,000s.

Next door, a 1970 house on a half-acre sold in July 2013 for $800,000.

Coming up with a price for the Wildrick home “wasn’t easy,” Michael Saunders & Co. agent Peggy Wellman acknowledged.

She admits, too, that the place needs about $200,000 to bring it up to snuff.

“That’s not a lot for this neighborhood,” Wellman said.

A time machine

The Wildricks acquired Cunliff’s house for an old-fashioned price of $26,000 in 1970.

cunliffLorrie Muldowney, manager of the Sarasota County History Center, says houses like the Wildricks’ are a window into another time.

“The craftsmanship and the materials would be impossible to create today — they are no longer available, and craftsmen of those skills are few and far between,” Muldowney said.

The house has five bedrooms and two bathrooms in 5,400 square feet.

It still has original oak flooring, pecky cypress trim and crown moldings, a fireplace, French doors, built-in book cases and sash casement windows.

When it was built, the house had neither plumbing nor electricity.

The house has been added to over the years, beyond pipes and electrical wires.

Mary and Tony Wildrick/ (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

Mary and Tony Wildrick/ (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

What the Wildricks have not added is paint. On the contrary, they let the coating slowly peel off the original cypress shingles outside to expose the natural color.

Inside, a stairway crafted on site has a banister wide enough to slide down. The Wildricks’ daughters, Eva Wildrick and Sarah Hamilton, did exactly that when they were teenagers with their girlfriends.

“I suffered from estrogen poisoning,” Tony Wildrick said.

Eva Wildrick remembers the house lacked sufficient water pressure when she was growing up. She suffered through showers.

These days, she’s a flight attendant and wine representative who lives in Manhattan. Hamilton, a homemaker, lives in Maryland with her family, including two teenagers.

First "mansion"

The Wildricks aside, a lot of local history has happened in, or near, the house — including the assassination of Sarasota postmaster Charles Abbe in 1884.

Cunliff, who moved from Connecticut in 1876, was a leader of the pioneer community that took root before downtown. He grew citrus on 40 acres around the house — land he’d purchased for $1 an acre — and plowed much of the profits into adding to the residence.

His house was considered the nascent town’s first "mansion."

“It is a house that has had very little modification over time,” Muldowney said. “So with regard to its architectural integrity, its early date of construction and its historical significance, it would be one of our most important structures in the community.”

When Cunliff died in 1896, the property was inherited by his nephew, Lemuel, and his wife, Abbie. She died in 1931 at age 88. The Cunliffs owned it until 1922.

In the 1950s, the property was owned by architect William Zimmerman, who eventually sold it to developer Reid Farrell, who still lives next door with his wife, Adelaide.

Farrell ended up acquiring the entire block, and offered the Wildrick house to the fire department for practice — until he realized his own place might go down in flames during the exercise.

When the Wildricks moved to Florida from upstate New York, where they lived in a house from the 1700s, they had no intention of staying longer than five years.

“I had a job offer in Copenhagen,” said Tony Wildrick, a retired architect. “We came down to have a little fun here and then go there.”

Tony Wildrick recalls the seller wanted $6,500 more than they could offer or borrow at the time, and in the years since, the expenses of owning a big house on a big lot have piled up.

“It has been more than you would normally spend on a house,” Tony Wildrick said.

Still, his wife was determined to stay.

“We couldn’t leave the house,” Mary Wildrick said.

Although the property is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the Wildricks have resisted applying for the designation, citing privacy concerns.

“In the years we have lived here, we have worked very, very hard at trying to preserve it and keep it in character with its past,” Mary Wildrick said, adding she hopes future owners will do the same.

They expect to stay in Sarasota when and if the house sells, but can’t say where, exactly.

“We don’t know, and we don’t want to know,” Tony Wildrick said of where the couple is headed. “Then we would be in a rush and it would get complicated.

“When we moved down here, we put our stuff in storage and we took a leap off the deep end. And we haven’t regretted 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: July 15, 2014
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