Two years ago, as part of an annual historic homes tour in Sarasota, 1,200 people wandered through the two-story home in Washington Park that belongs to Cynthia Collins and Ron Sobotka, a couple from Chicago who bought the 1926 Spanish Revival home in 2011 and have lovingly curated it since.
The tour demonstrated a continuing fascination with how people lived in this town during the boom era. But tour goers were also interested to see how modern people are willing to adapt their living style and decor preferences to accommodate vintage residential elements that need to be preserved.
Loving an old home is sometimes not enough to compensate for the longterm disadvantages of living within its confines, and now the homeowners of this significant property have it on the market for a little more than $1 million through Bibi-Ann Allard and Kevin Moran of Michael Saunders & Co.
It turns out that the homeowners can live in this iconic home just fine by themselves, but the house can’t hold all the family and friends who visit from the Midwest on a constant rotation. Funny how that happens when you move to Florida.
“We are so happy here that we truly do want our family and friends to share everything Sarasota has to offer,” Collins said.
“Our goal is have the six children, spouses and our six grandchildren all here together for vacations, but this three-bedroom home simply cannot accommodate them all and, quite frankly, I don’t think the wear and tear on this historic house would be good for the property.
“Ron and I feel very protective of this place. So, reluctantly. We’re selling and hopefully we’ll be able to find a bigger place with at least four bedrooms somewhere in the Southside Village neighborhood, because we want to stay in an urban neighborhood so we can walk to the places we frequent every day.”
The couple suspect that even with more bedrooms they’ll still have to invest in air mattresses and some of the little ones will sleep on the floor. Additionally, their eldest granddaughter has discovered Siesta Key Beach as a spring break destination and is probably going to bring a few friends with her.
A relative was how Collins learned about Sarasota. Her brother moved here 20 years ago, and she’s been visiting ever since.
When she and Sobotkaretired, they moved here and bought a villa in a golf club community. But they wanted more of a city experience and Sobotkawanted to garden, so they were searching for a house in an established urban neighborhood when they came upon this one. They fell in love with it the first time they walked through the door.
“It had such charm and it reminded me of my grandmother’s home, a place I loved very much,” Collins said. “And the city neighborhood was ideal for our lifestyle. But from the beginning we both determined to be respectful of the home’s historic character when it came time to make any changes.”
The Washington Park house is 2,162-squarefeet under air and 3,996-square-feet over all. The three bedrooms each have an en-suite bathroom, but one of the bedrooms is in the guest bungalow detached from the main house.
The home was built in 1926 by architect Thomas Reed Martin. His 40-year career in Sarasota began in 1910, when Bertha Palmer brought him to town from Chicago to build her Osprey home, The Oaks. Martin died at age 84 in Sarasota, revered, respected and with many of his buildings still standing.
Martin designed some 500 structures in Sarasota — residential, commercial and municipal. He collaborated with developer Owen Burns to create 15 small Mediterranean bungalows in Burns Court. Some are still residential while others are law offices, restaurants or shops.
Martin built the Washington Park house for himself and when it was completed, the Sarasota Herald revealed that it had cost an extravagant $30,000. He did four manor homes in the neighborhood and some 15 smaller residences. Designed in the popular Spanish Mediterranean style, Martin’s own two-story house had pine floors, cypress beams in the ceiling, a fireplace and doors that opened to the outdoors. Of course, there was no air conditioning, and the windows were placed for maximum air flow. The front door is arched, referencing other wide and high arches that lead from one room to the other in this home.
The rooms are flexible and graceful. The immediate past owner, Walter Baldwin, lived in the house for 27 years and did most of the work to sensitively and sensibly bring parts of the dwelling into the modern world. The formal dining room he created is now a home office, but the current owners have retained its crystal spiral chandelier and the floating buffet shelf in case subsequent owners envision it as a dining room once again.
Baldwin added air conditioning and a modern kitchen with cabinetry by Ray Routh, a local legend in the woodworking world. Baldwin put in a swimming pool (it has a black bottom and black tile), redid the guest house and installed a waterfall with the help of a neighbor. Baldwin, who still lives in the neighborhood, recently complimented the current owners on the color they used the exterior. He told them the place never looked better.
Collins and Sobotka updated the master bathroom, had the floors refinished and had some of the kitchen cabinets refaced to change their color. They brought in some Art Deco furnishings as well as more modern pieces and they have taken advantage of the high walls to install bold, large-scale contemporary art. Sobotka took on a complete redo of the outside areas with the help of David Troxell of Vine & Leaf. The gardens wind around the house behind a privacy wall, and spaces are configured as a series of garden rooms, each with its own personality. Some showcase garden sculpture. Other intimate spaces are made for relaxing or reading. Another is for entertaining friends around a fire pit. The section at a back pool pavilion is for al fresco cooking and dining.
All of these garden rooms form inviting views from the inside of the house, where windows and French doors frame a variety of vistas created by art, foliage and flowers. The gardens have a microirrigation system and romantic night lighting.
The improvements made by Sobotka and Collins to the exterior of the property certainly make this historic gem even more appealing than it was in previous eras. Allard, the Real estate agent, said she believes the house is ideal for one person or for a couple who like to entertain. She also feels they have to really want to own and curate a locally famous historic house.