PUNTA GORDA — The influence of Sarasota’s midcentury modern architecture did not stop at the county line. Carl Abbott, a member of the so-called “Sarasota School” of modernist architects, has often said that the Sarasota School “was not just in Sarasota, but the world.”
That includes Charlotte County, which is not often recognized as an architectural hotbed. But a house on the western edge of the city’s National Register historic district certainly has some of the earmarks of a 1950s Sarasota mod, if not the official pedigree.
Recently rescued from foreclosure, renovated and listed at $445,000, the house at 258 Shreve St. has the concrete block that is stacked on the grid for which Sarasota School “founder” Ralph Twitchell was known. It also has big fixed windows, a low-pitched roof in the style of the “builder mods” of Sarasota’s Kensington Park, and an open floor plan with exposed ceiling beams.
And, with a build date of 1959, it certainly falls into the time period when the Sarasota School flourished.
But when shown pictures of the 1,850-square-foot house, Tim Seibert, who started his Sarasota practice in 1955, questioned the house’s Sarasota School credentials.
“It strikes me as a builder house of that time,” said Seibert at his Boca Grande home, although he added that the builder likely “had a sense of what was going on” in the home designs of the day.
“The structure is lacking in concept and articulateness,” Seibert said. “This is not a clear idea of structure. Once you get into structure, you can never stop. That is one of the rules.”
In other words, posts and beams, if visible, have to clearly indicate how they are holding up the roof from the ground up. In this case, some remodeling has been done that might partially obscure that.
Mitch Austin of Punta Gorda’s Urban Development department, said the city has no record of the contractor, or if an architect worked on the house, but added, “Based on the uniqueness of the design and the quality, one would have to imagine that either somebody who was really well-versed in modern styles of architecture — a builder or draftsperson — or an architect” designed it.
People are impressed with this renovation. Weighing in on photos of the house posted on Facebook, Sarasota Realtor Catherine Seress spoke for the majority: ” I LOVE it! Exciting and understated at the same time.”
“Love the clean look, lines, practicality of the design,” said Bradenton Realtor Maryann Lawler.
“I like the kitchen and the form of the house,” said builder Josh Wynne, who has built several modernist houses recently in Sarasota, “but many of the details lose me. Taupe walls and a white base and case looks too 'subdivision’ for me. Close, but no cigar.”
Architecture aside, the house has some history to it. Listing agent Matthew Sparks of Exit King Realty said it was built for Fred King, who owned King Furniture in Punta Gorda’s 1926 Smith Arcade building on East Marion Avenue. King sold the store in 1972 and died two years later.
“He was a big part of society during the postwar boom,” said Sparks.
Punta Gorda historians say King liked to sell furniture on credit. King’s slogan, which was painted on the front of his store: “We can feather your nest with a little down.”
The house changed hands several times after King’s death, and was damaged by Hurricane Charley, Sparks said. Repairs were not made, and the house fell into distress. In 2013, according to county records, the bank bought it, selling it a year ago to Oregon-based distressed real estate investment company Gorilla Capital for $140,000.
Gorilla is the “money partner” on the project with Southwest Florida real estate investment company Bellus LLC, headed by David Frederick.
“The house was in very bad shape,” Sparks said. “The only thing that was maintained was the pool, for some reason. The bank sent someone out to take care of that.”
“It was like an onion, so we decided to replace all the plumbing and electrical. We went ahead and did everything,” Frederick said.
But neither Gorilla nor Frederick were in it for the quick flip, said Sparks.
“Flipping has a bad connotation of throwing paint and carpet on a house for quick buck,” Sparks said. “David has a vision for a house. He looks at 20 of them, steps inside and looks at the layout, and thoroughly redoes them. He aggressively tries to get them from the banks at a low price, and waits for the right deals at the right price so he can do it how he would like to do it. He went big-time on this.”
“Everything we touch, we try to do something beautiful with it,” Frederick said.
Frederick’s contractor gutted the house and installed oversized floor tiles, new drywall and trim, and an open-air kitchen that stands between the living space and the dining area. Frederick did not skimp on the appliances, either. Most items are from Thermador, including the barbecue oven on the walled pool deck, while the refrigerator is from Bosch.
“Everyone has been quite shocked at the result,” Sparks said. “I came in after six months and could not believe the difference.”
As the on-grade house is eligible for historic designation, it did not need to be elevated per the 50-percent rule on renovations to meet FEMA flood-zone regulations. That rule states that if more than 50 percent of the structure’s value is spent on a single renovation project, the house must be elevated to the FEMA standard for that flood zone.
This house is below base-flood elevation in the AE zone, as the wide Peace River is two short blocks away. Flood insurance with a $5,000 deductible will be about $3,000 a year, said Sparks — something a purchaser buying with a mortgage would need to keep in mind.
“It is going to take a unique buyer,” the listing agent said, “who wants to live downtown and be part of the community, who wants a house that is turnkey-ready so they don’t have to worry about the plumbing or electrical, and still has the historic charm with the contemporary upgrades.”
The property is walking distance to the public library, a dog park, the shops and restaurants of Fishermen’s Village, Harborwalk and the Sunday farmer’s market at the History Park. Downtown, dotted with fine restaurants, is about 10 blocks away, but the house’s porte cochere provides covered parking for bicycles.