Sarasota's historic Chidsey Building to be rededicated


It took some vision to create Bayfront Park as a Works Progress Administration project during the Great Depression. The result for Sarasota was a civic campus that included a municipal auditorium, a lawn-bowling facility and a public library, with enough land left over for an art center and a chamber of commerce building, to be built in the 1950s.

The Chidsey Library building in the early 1940s. It was closer to the bay then, as the land for the symphony building and Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall had not yet been dredged and filled. Herald-Tribune archive.

The Chidsey Library building in the early 1940s. It was closer to the bay then, as the land for the symphony building and Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall had not yet been dredged and filled. Herald-Tribune archive.

It also has taken some vision to save this campus over the decades, as real estate values have soared. Can you imagine the value of that high land, on a crest of the Tamiami Trail and with a commanding view of Sarasota Bay, to today’s developers?

Now the task of vision falls to the Friends of the Sarasota County History Center, a not-for-profit organization that has become the custodian of the 1941 Chidsey Library building, which last served as a library in 1976. Affiliated with the Sarasota County Department of Historical Resources, formerly the Sarasota County History Center, the FOSCHC will care for the three permanent historical exhibits as well as temporary exhibits, such as the current one, titled “Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses.”

At 11 a.m. Thursday, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at the Chidsey Building to officially announced the FOSCHC’s new role. Arnold Berns, a longtime champion of local history and a former vice president of the group, will present a check for $10,000 to FOSCHC to fund future exhibits. A plaque, honoring Pete Esthus, founder of the Friends, and Berns will be unveiled.

Volunteer docents will staff the building, which is open, free of charge, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

The effort to build the Chidsey Library was led by the Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1941. The building was designed by one of Sarasota’s most prolific architecture firms, Martin Studios. Thomas Reed Martin and his son, Frank, were the principals. The elder Martin came to Sarasota from Chicago in 1911 to design a house for Bertha Palmer and decided to stay.

“He was the most important architect of the early land boom, and he chose Sarasota to be involved in, staying through the good and bad times of the real estate market," Ca’ d’Zan curator Ron McCarty told me in 2013. “He worked to expand the area, and was an incredible architect for this community, sensitive to Mediterranean Revival and, later, modern design.”

In fact, the library could be considered an older cousin to the “Sarasota school of architecture” buildings; it was that different from the standard fare of the day. Except that this structure had art deco leanings – the transoms, the lettering above the door, the glass block – that I found especially fascinating.

By the time of his death in 1948, Thomas Reed Martin’s office was responsible for about 500 houses and other buildings, including Burns Court, many of the Spanish-style houses of Laurel Park, St. Armands and elsewhere, the Municipal Auditorium, and, of course, the library.

I first visited the library in the late 1950s, on a day, I imagine, when my mother was desperate for some way to occupy her hyperactive son. It was to be a place I visited many times for school projects, and when the library moved out in 1976, I wondered, “Why?”

In 1941, the Herald-Tribune wrote of the building, “The enrichment of mind and heart that may come to future generations in this city from the free use of this library is incalculable.”

I’m proof of the accuracy of that statement.

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: December 7, 2015
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