Sarasota takes Victor Lundy's landmark 'blue pagoda' off the market



The "blue pagoda" building as it appeared in 2009. Herald-Tribune Archive / 2009

The "blue pagoda" building as it appeared in 2009. Herald-Tribune Archive / 2009

The Blue Pagoda is off the market.

Ian Black of Ian Black Real Estate said Sarasota government has decided not to rent the structure, which has stood as a landmark on U.S. 41 at Boulevard of the Arts since 1956.

“As of today, we have taken the building of the market,” Black told the Herald-Tribune in an email on Tuesday. “We did bring the city a proposal, but they have now determined that it would be best if the building were to remain in the public realm for possible use as city offices, or part of the proposed cultural district.”

The building was vacated by tenant U.S. Masters Swimming.

Black said “some prominent local architects have approached the city to in some way open the building to the public as an example” of the work of the building’s architect, Victor Lundy.

"The city is in the process of conducting internal discussions of the future use of the building," said David Boswell, Sarasota's interim purchasing manager. "No final decision has been made at this time. The city has inspected the building and found it to be in very good condition."

Boswell indicated that the lease offer brought by Black was insufficient: "In any offer made to the city, a cost/benefit analysis must be conducted and a decision made based on what is in the best interest of the city and the taxpayer. The rent offer was lower than the original listing."

'More roof than walls'

A member of the Sarasota School of midcentury modern architects, Lundy designed the building as headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce. It is distinctive because of the blue ceramic tiles on its curving, hip roof. The roof is supported by curving wooden beams made with laminated, glued lumber — a favorite Lundy device also seen at the original St. Paul Lutheran Church building on Bahia Vista Street in Sarasota.

The beams are supported by posts that are outside the 2,000-square-foot, glass-walled space, creating a pavilion with an Asian aesthetic.

“Lundy’s work has been characterized as ‘more roof than walls,’ ” former Sarasota County historian Ann Shank wrote in a Herald-Tribune article in 2000. “The glass walls enabled occupants to feel as though they were part of the environment created by the nearby garden and pond.

“The Japanese motif of the building complemented a Japanese sculpture that had been placed in the neighboring garden by the Sarasota Garden Club.”

Shank wrote that prominent Sarasota resident Karl Bickel, former head of United Press, found the roof tiles, with the assistance of former UP associates, in Nagoya, Japan. “Lundy wanted a color that would connect the building with the water of Sarasota Bay,” which at the time was closer to the building; dredging and filling later created land for the first Selby Library (later G.Wiz) and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

Lundy, now 92 and retired near Houston, was educated at Harvard, like his contemporary and Sarasota rival Paul Rudolph, under pioneer modernist Walter Gropius.

Lundy is discovered

A gifted artist, Lundy gained the attention of local leaders when one of his watercolors was selected by Syd Solomon as the best painting in an art show. Architect and historian John Howey, whose 1995 book “The Sarasota School of Architecture: 1941-1966” gave rise to the Sarasota Architectural Foundation and a rebirth of local interest in modern architecture, wrote that Lundy’s art gained the attention of Bickel, who was head of the Chamber of Commerce’s building committee. Bickel asked Lundy to envision, on canvas, what could be done on the site. Bickel was impressed and Lundy got the job.

Lundy left Sarasota around 1960 and established an office in his native New York. He designed a prominent church in Westport, Connecticut, that has two soaring roof sections joined in the middle by panes of glass.

He was design principal for HKS Architects in Dallas, working on major projects such as a headquarters building for GTE.

A recent film by the federal General Services Administration documents Lundy’s career as a “Sculptor of Space.” The GSA owns the U.S. Tax Court Building that Lundy designed in Washington, D.C.

“My art form, all my life, has been architecture,” Lundy says in the film. “It has taken me all this time to become the maker of space that I am. My strength is drawing. My drawing, usually with my ebony pencil, is linked with my thoughts. Visible marks come with words, I think.

"I have drawn, drawn, drawn all my life.”



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: November 4, 2015
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