Sarasota sure is getting some glamorous new apartment buildings. There’s the supermodel skinny 624 South Palm (originally called the Echelon), the ultra-modern Jewel, and of course the already iconic Vue. But what happens to the old-timers, the buildings that have been here for decades and are, well, not quite so glamorous?
Some are getting torn down. At the Versailles on Gulfstream Avenue, the owners were bought out by a developer who made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Other buildings remain the same no matter what. Even when Dolphin Tower started to fall apart and had to be evacuated and reconstructed, it ended up looking exactly the same—a rather bland apartment building from the unglamorous 1970s.
But other buildings are discovering the classic Sarasota remedy for aging—a facelift.
Take a look at One Watergate, right next to the Vue. An attractive but dated building (1974), it now seems like it went away for a while and came back looking 20 years younger. The changes are subtle—glass railings and new windows—but now it can hold its own with its brand-new neighbor.
And then there is the little condo that could. 650 Golden Gate Point—also known as Harbor House—had a lot going for it. There was a spectacular view of the city skyline, the marina and the bay. The 14 apartments were all spacious (around 2,000 square feet) and well laid out, with open concept plans, large master baths and walk-in closets. There were 10 deeded docks, a big plus for a building downtown.
The building started life in the early 1960s as a rental. Over the years it had been remodeled several times. It got its latest look back in the 1980s when Mediterranean architecture was all the rage. But now, 30 years later, the ornamental pillars and posts seemed dated, the curlicue railings no longer in style, and the arrangement of the windows was chaotic and tended to block out the glorious view.
Spearheaded by board president Mike Post—who has a naval background and the kind of energy you pray for in a condo board president—the residents started thinking. The building needed maintenance. Many items were outdated and had to be replaced. “Why not use this as an opportunity to bring our building up to speed?” Post thought.
The owners contacted architect Tom Denslow and engineer Brian Stirling. Harbor House had great bones (literally—it has steel-beamed construction) and good lines.
But the first challenge was to get all the owners to agree on a plan. There were 14 units and 13 different owners (one owned two units.) “We had a lot of different opinions, but we worked our way through it to get every owner on board,” Post says. “Any one of them could have killed the whole thing.”
It was Denslow’s drawings that presented a pretty convincing argument for change. “Our goal,” he says, “was to recommit the building to simplicity.” The railings and Mediterranean motifs came off, and the new façade he designed is super clean and simple, emphasizing the original proportions. The railings are now glass, a logical choice to let in the view, and the balconies have been extended two feet, turning them into very usable outdoor living areas. The awkward window arrangements have been replaced by sliding glass doors across the front of each apartment. The center unit on each floor—there are three units per floor—now boasts a dramatic wall of glass facing the view of downtown.
Bill Breidenbach is one of the lucky owners of a center unit. He bought his apartment largely because it comes with a deeded boat dock right downstairs, allowing him and wife Melanie to go out to lunch by boat. (Their favorite spots are Mar Vista and the New Pass Bait Shop.) But he was always a little puzzled by the closed-off alcove at the end of his living room. Now, post renovation, he has a wall of glass revealing a drop-dead gorgeous view of the downtown skyline.
The renovations at Harbor House were not cheap, with each owner paying a different amount depending on what was done to his unit. But the effect is more than cosmetic. The building itself is stronger and less vulnerable to hurricane damage. And the chic new look—part modern, part coastal—blends beautifully with the brand-new luxury condos that are its neighbors. It could soon be part of a trend—downtown matrons getting a little work done and looking better than ever.