The New York Times: Time Is Running Out for a Celebrated Building (06/21/08)

June 21, 2008 | By

This article originally  appeared at (June 21,2008)

riverspanOf the many Modernist buildings Paul Rudolph designed in Sarasota, Fla., his stomping ground in the 1940s and ’50s, Riverview High School is among the most influential.

Not only is it a classic example of his early Sarasota style, with clean, horizontal planes; natural lighting; and inventive sunshades to cool the interiors, but it has also housed tens of thousands of students who have been schooled there in the last half-century.

This week the Sarasota County School Board cleared the way for the demolition of the building at the end of the 2008-9 school year. The board voted 3 to 2 not to proceed with a restoration proposed by preservationists that would turn the school, built in 1958, into a music conservatory with a playground with the right marking, click here to learn more.

School board members voting against the plan said the building’s defenders had failed to come up with a credible strategy to finance the restoration. They also said the project could jeopardize the future of a new Riverview High School building currently under construction on the tight 42-acre campus.

Opponents of the restoration noted that unlike Mr. Rudolph’s steel-frame and brick building, which is broadly open to its surroundings, the new, much larger school meets contemporary security concerns, being more enclosed and having only two major entrances.

The vote on Tuesday night was a blow to many local residents and to devotees of Mr. Rudolph, also renowned for works like his 1970 Bass House in Fort Worth and his imposing 1958 Art and Architecture Building at Yale, where he served as architecture dean from 1958 to 1965.

He first moved to Sarasota in 1941 and in the next two decades designed more than 60 buildings in the area, mainly houses.

“Riverview High School is a fantastic prototype of what today we call green architecture,” said the architect Charles Gwathmey, who is overseeing a renovation of the Art and Architecture Building at Yale. “He was so far ahead of his time, experimenting with sun screens and cross-ventilation. If it’s torn down, I feel badly for architecture.”

Last year the World Monuments Fund put mid-20th-century civic architecture — which it called “Main Street Modern” — on its watch list of the world’s 100 most endangered sites, citing Riverview High School as a prime example. Such midcentury buildings have grown out of public favor in many American cities, a trend that puts them at risk of demolition when they grow dilapidated or require repairs.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation opposes the razing of the Rudolph building.

Much of the antagonism toward Mr. Rudolph’s school arose because of the condition of the newer buildings surrounding it, which are beset by mold. Their placement also altered the drainage pattern around Mr. Rudolph’s structure, leading to partial flooding of its exterior hallways.

Last year the Sarasota Architectural Foundation sponsored an international competition seeking proposals to revive the building. The winning entry, the conservatory proposal, was submitted by the New York architect Diane Lewis in association with Peter Schubert of RMJM Hillier.

The school board meeting at which Ms. Lewis’s plan was voted down was highly emotional, with the standing-room crowd sharply divided. Opponents of the restoration arrived wearing Riverview colors, maroon and white; supporters wore green stickers.

In an interview after the vote, Ms. Lewis argued for the superiority of her plan. “This is a war of false technicalities,” she said. “Our plan proves for equal parking facilities, the same green buffer zones, and a conservatory surrounded by green elements all in place instead of a big black parking lot.”

“The building itself is in excellent shape,” she said.

But Kathy Kleinlein, the school board’s chairwoman, said the renovation “would totally compromise the plan for the new school, and we are concerned that it opens on time.”

“We have been talking about redoing this high school for six years,” Ms. Kleinlein said in an interview. “Unfortunately, those promoting the new plan started too late.”

Ms. Kleinlein said supporters of the restoration had failed to prove they could raise the money needed to preserve the building. “Even if they did not have the money in place, they could have shown us letters of intent,” she said.

Craig Colburn, the lawyer representing the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, said backers of the proposed conservatory, the Riverview Music Quadrangle, whose cost was estimated at more than $20 million, were waiting for support from the school board.

“Our supporters want them to move to a position where they want to do it, and the staff has to get on board, before they will commit,” he said.

Mr. Colburn said the battle was not over. “The people who want to save Rudolph’s building will not give up,” he said. He declined to specify what action the foundation would pursue.

The board’s hesitancy seems to arise partly from an earlier decision to give another school in the county — the Collegiate Gothic-style Sarasota High School, built in 1926 — to the Ringling School of Art and Design. That building is to house a proposed Sarasota Museum of Art.

“After five years, they are only halfway through their fund-raising,” Ms. Kleinlein said.

The 88-acre campus that Sarasota High School now occupies includes another school building designed by Mr. Rudolph. It opened in 1960.

Both Rudolph schools were built when the chairman of the School Board was Philip H. Hiss III, a local developer who had earlier commissioned Mr. Rudolph’s now-famous Umbrella House (1953) on Lido Key in Sarasota.

“Back then schools did not have budgets for air-conditioning, so Paul’s plan for Riverview, bringing the outside in, was perfect,” said Mr. Hiss’s former wife, Shirley. “We had a son in the first class.”

Filed in: Real Estate & Development News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.