Out of character: Casey Key estate has surprising design pedigree


With red barrel-tile roof, stucco walls and a turret, of all things, the stately house at 2411 Casey Key Road would stump many a design buff in a game of “Guess the Architect.”


Addison Mizner, who perfected the Mediterranean- revival style of the 1920s, might have done it, had he lived in a latter era. Or maybe James Gamble Rogers II, Winter Park’s prewar go-to architect. Or even the versatile Tampa designer M. Leo Elliott, who did buildings as disparate as the original Sarasota High School and Southside School in the 1920s.

casey2But no, this house was designed by a member of the “Sarasota School” of midcentury modernism — in fact, the son of its “founder.”

His name is Tollyn Twitchell, son of Ralph.

“It’s kind of a strange design for Tollyn, but that was what the client desired,” said Aaron Twitchell, the general contractor who built the house. “He wanted a house that looked like it had been there for 50 years.”

It has been there nearly 30 now. Built in 1987, the property is part of a three-house compound on 2.5 beach-to-bay Casey Key acres, and it has just come on the market at $6.9 million through Deborah Beacham of Michael Saunders & Co. Dale Lang is the seller.

The property has a guest house on the beach side and another on the bay side (at 2410 and 2413 CKR), plus a freestanding garage. The total air-conditioned square footage is 7,460.

Tollyn Twitchell is listed among the midcentury modern architects in John Howey’s 1995 book, “The Sarasota School of Architecture.”

But, said Aaron Twitchell, “a lot of things he did were in the rustic vein. The Mediterranean was not common for him. He didn’t often do Mediterranean.”

Most notably, Tollyn designed the modernist Carousel House, a round structure 36 feet in diameter, that is now a guest house in Sandy Hook on Siesta Key.

Aaron Twitchell is Tollyn’s half-brother; both are the sons of architect Ralph Twitchell (1890-1978). Tollyn was born in 1928 to Lucienne Twitchell, Ralph’s first wife, and Aaron in 1952 to Roberta Finney Twitchell.

The Casey Key house was built for a British client, Michael Rosenberg, who was an early developer of Casey Key, Beacham said.

“In addition to buying this parcel, he bought the land that has become Casey Key Estates, which is the only gated community on the key,” Beacham added. “Aaron built two homes in there. Mr. Rosenberg decided not to continue developing and sold it to another developer.

“Friends come from all over to visit the owner. It is a nice setting for families to enjoy the amenities. It has a quiet nature,” Beacham said.

“It is just a magical property. You feel like you are in Hawaii or the Caribbean,” said Beacham, who describes the Casey Key market as “crazy busy, with lots of buyers, lots of sellers.”

Most Gulf front houses from the 1980s are candidates for remodeling, but Beacham said this one doesn’t need much work.

“The coral stone is so unique throughout the property,” she said. “The floors are black walnut with wide planks and dowels. Why would you do anything different? You are seeing the new homes like this. The hardware on the doors is magnificent, brought over from England, I am told.”

A tall seawall stands between the house and the beach, but it is a recent addition.

“It had a good bit of beach when we built it,” Aaron Twitchell said. “The current owners built the seawall. It had 50 to 75 feet of grass and then another 50 to 75 feet of beach at the time.”

The main house on the property actually is a complete remodeling job, Aaron said.

“That one was a remodel from the slab up,” he said. “The coastal construction control line ran right through the middle of it. Coastal control lines are always an issue. It is above flood elevation, or it was at the time. So the 50 percent rule did not apply.

“The house that was there was probably from the 1940s. It had all the earmarks of being a four- or five-unit strip motel. It had four identical rooms in a row, all with bathrooms, all with doors on the street side and the gulf side. There was an owner’s apartment on the end that was modest and not very large. It had been modified over and over. The patios and screened areas had been enclosed over time. It had grown, but in a very awkward manner.”

Despite that, Aaron Twitchell calls the house “the most interesting house I ever built. It evolved constantly. There was never a finished set of drawings until the house was finished.”

Owners are like that; Ralph Twitchell told his son as much. Aaron said his father told him that, so fed up with the changes John and Mable Ringling were making to Cà d’Zan, even as it was being built, that architect Dwight James Baum sent Ralph to Sarasota in 1925 to oversee completion of the project.

Ralph Twitchell liked Sarasota so much that he stayed in town and designed several homes and buildings before retreating back north when the economy crashed. But he returned in 1936 and opened an architectural office, while at the same time taking note of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work designing the campus of Florida Southern College in Lakeland.

In 1941, young Auburn graduate Paul Rudolph worked in his office for a few months. After World War II, Rudolph studied under modernist master Walter Gropius at Harvard and then returned to Sarasota, forming a noteworthy, if brief, partnership with Ralph in 1949 that formed the foundation of the Sarasota School of architecture. Rudolph split with Ralph Twitchell in 1951.

Tollyn Twitchell received his architecture degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and became a partner in his father’s firm in 1956. He started his own firm in 1965.

Aaron Twitchell was born in a midcentury Sarasota icon designed by his father’s office.

“I grew up in the Revere Quality House,” he said. “My mother was Robert Finney at the time she built it, later Roberta Twitchell.”


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: April 28, 2015
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published without permissions. Links are encouraged.