Sarasota will soon say farewell to the replica of architect Paul Rudolph’s iconic midcentury modern Walker Guest House that has stood on the grounds of the Ringling Museum since November 2015. It closes April 30.
The plan is to formally document the replica’s midcentury furnishings, then dismantle it and put it into storage, with the hopes that another museum will express interest in exhibiting it, says Janet Minker of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, which conceived of the replica project and raised the $250,000-plus to produce it. “We’d like it to stay in Sarasota and we have a couple of possibilities in the fire; I just can’t say right now,” she told us.
The original guest house—an ingenious 24-foot-square pavilion with walls made of canvas flaps that raised and lowered via pulleys—was designed and built on a patch of beach on Sanibel Island by Rudolph in 1952 and 1953. His clients were Dr. Walter Walker and his wife of Minneapolis (whose family donated the money to create one of the nation’s most acclaimed contemporary art museums, the Walker Art Center).
An article by architect Joe King, which ran in the October 2015 issue of Sarasota Magazine, explains his replication process on behalf of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation.
The Sarasota Architectural Foundation trained some 60 volunteer docents, says Minker. “They are a passionate group and they sincerely love the house.” They led tours for more than 57,000 visitors. “People have come from all over the world [to view the replica],” says Minker. “So many were students of Rudolph or knew him or went to one of his lectures. The young kids, too, are enthralled with the beauty of the building and the design. Three French architecture students came and then wrote us a wonderful email; they’re trying to do a similar project.”
David Ortins, who volunteered as a docent twice a week for a year, says the response has been “incredibly positive. Most people who were completely unfamiliar with modern architecture would say, ‘Oh, this is amazing. I could easily live here.’ It opened them up to different ways of living.” And Ortins says many people made pilgrimages to Sarasota specifically to see the replica. “Many had known Paul Rudolph, had studied under him. We heard amazing anecdotes. I met someone who told me he’d heard about the project and specifically flew in from L.A. to see it. I only had one woman who said, ‘No, I couldn’t live here.’”
The Sarasota Architectural Foundation will give the replica a proper goodbye at a closing day party with tours, an open mic so that people can share their stories about the guest house, and a special music and dance performance. Free and open to the public, it’s from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 30.
Meanwhile, you can learn more about what it took to produce the Walker Guest House replica at sarasotaarchitecturalfoundation.org/walkerguesthouse.