A Century of Genius

Celebrating Victor Lundy, the Architect Behind Some of Sarasota’s Most Famous Buildings

“He reveled in the unconventional, breaking the rules and not being limited by traditions of thinking.” 

By Kim Doleatto October 27, 2023

Architect Victor Lundy

Architect Victor Lundy

During the residential boom after the end of World War II, a group of Sarasota architects began overhauling dated notions of design—replacing them with unadorned lines, lots of glass and cantilevered overhangs, to name just a few novel elements of the time. The idea was to use new materials to create functional spaces that harmonized with the local climate. This trailblazing style that burgeoned in the early 1940s through the late ’60s is known as the Sarasota School of Architecture, or just the Sarasota School for short.

The Sarasota School architects left a lasting mark, and of them, Victor Lundy’s contributions perhaps stand out the most. Now 100 years old, the Sarasota School forefather, revered as both artist and architect, was born in New York City to Russian immigrants in 1923, but spent 1951 to 1960 in Sarasota, where he opened an architecture firm in 1954. Lundy was educated in the Beaux-Arts and Bauhaus schools of architecture, separated by his service in World War II, during which he was awarded a Purple Heart. After the war, he attended Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design under Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.

While his work in Sarasota remains inspirational, he never considered himself part of the Sarasota movement. “There was no Sarasota School of Architecture,” Lundy said in a 1999 interview with Sarasota Magazine. “At least, I didn’t belong to one. I was a lone wolf.” Like a succulent among flowers, Lundy’s work stood out from that of his fellows as what many describe as sculpture. In fact, a documentary about him is titled Victor Lundy: Sculptor of Space, while a 2018 book by architect and author Donna Kacmar is titled Victor Lundy: Artist Architect. The man is a prolific painter, too.

“He was a bit of a renegade,” says Morris “Marty” Hylton III, president of Architecture Sarasota, which is honoring Lundy Nov. 2-5 during its 10th annual MOD Weekend. “He reveled in the unconventional, breaking the rules and not being limited by traditions of thinking.” 

The Blue Pagoda

The Blue Pagoda

Image: Greg Wilson

You’re likely already familiar with Lundy’s head-turning work. His most prominent building is perhaps the Blue Pagoda, built in 1956 and originally designed for the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. The single-story, city-owned building at 655 N. Tamiami Trail boasts Lundy’s signature curved roofline, and the rooftop is finished with vivid blue celadon tiles. Even today, it’s a humble oasis on a bustling thoroughfare now largely populated by high-rise condos. 
“To him, it was more important to get the shape,” says renowned architect Carl Abbott, the youngest member of the Sarasota School. “He was clearly after forms more than any other architect might be.”

The story leading up to the design of the Blue Pagoda is classic Lundy. In 1955, then in his early 30s, he entered a watercolor of the Notre-Dame cathedral into a local art fair, winning best of show. One of the jurors was Karl Bickel, the former head of the United Press Association and a local mover and shaker. He was also chairman of the Chamber of Commerce’s search committee, and asked Lundy to submit a proposal. But instead of a traditional rendering, Lundy submitted watercolor paintings, and won the commission anyway.

Like many of Lundy’s buildings, the Blue Pagoda is more roof than walls, since the roof’s eaves are less than 7 feet from the ground. Also like other buildings he designed, the roof is supported by “glulam” beams made of layers of thin wood boards that are glued into laminated timbers.

St. Paul Lutheran Church

St. Paul Lutheran Church

Lundy also designed several local churches. “I think I received calls from a number of churches, mainly small congregations with limited budgets and often not sophisticated in the arts, because they figured for a church building an architect who was also an aspiring artist made sense,” Lundy told Sarasota Magazine in 2016. “My architecture was my art form.”

His most significant religious project was the St. Paul Lutheran Church fellowship hall and sanctuary on Bahia Vista Street, characterized by a dramatically swooped roofline reaching toward the heavens. He was paid $500 to design it at the time. 
Abbott recalls when Lundy invited him to assist with the church’s design. “We talked often and I sent him photos and described how things were progressing,” Abbott says. “He was always generous and thoughtful with his words and deeds. And he even listed me as an architect in a book one time, even though I was only assisting.”

Lundy also designed the Bee Ridge Presbyterian Church and Anna Maria’s Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, which has a 30-foot steeple. While all are unique, they each share a dramatic roofline that mimics hands in prayer.

While Lundy embraced innovation and new technology, like laminated woods, glulam beams and precast concrete, his designs embraced nature in both name and form. The 1959 Herron House in Venice has swooping lines that evoke a bird in flight. It’s named for the owner of the Warm Mineral Springs Motel, who hired Lundy to design his home after Lundy designed the North Port motel. The “butterfly wing” at Sarasota’s Alta Vista Elementary, meanwhile, is named for its angled roofline. When he designed the Galloway Furniture Showroom near Sarasota High School (now the Sarasota Art Museum), existing pine trees were incorporated into cutouts.

Of the Warm Mineral Springs Motel, Lundy said, “I was searching for a form that would somehow symbolize the thought of the Fountain of Youth by a plastic flowing shape, that would also echo the organic growing shape of a tree,” according to an interview with the Florida Association of Architects in 1958, the same year it was built.

As stunning as they are, many of Lundy’s buildings have been significantly altered over the years, as air conditioning systems were installed, smothering some of the design elements, and sliding glass pocket doors were replaced with doorways. Some had their support beams shorn off and some, like Lundy’s Venice drive-in church, were demolished. The Galloway Showroom’s windows have been covered, and the building is now unrecognizable. Other structures, like the Waldman Building on Washington Boulevard, are neglected.

It’s said that Lundy, who moved to New York in 1960, and later to Texas, in the 1970s, was “heartbroken” to learn of his visions’ demise. After some convincing, Lundy revisited Sarasota in 2016, at the age of 94, when he was the focus of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation’s MOD Weekend, during which he was presented with a Lifetime Art and Architecture achievement award. (Sarasota Architectural Foundation is now Architecture Sarasota.)

“Everyone told me he wouldn’t come,” says Janet Minker, who led the foundation from 2012 to 2017. How did she manage to appeal to him? “He has a sweet tooth,” Minker says. “I mailed a letter in a cool metal box to persuade him to consider joining us in Sarasota. I had Araya Artisan Chocolates and flowers delivered by Donna Kacmar to his home in Houston, Texas. He was honored and said he was surprised.”

As for the state of his buildings, many now hovering around 60 years old, there are bright spots. A fundraising campaign is underway to restore the St. Paul education building and replace its soaring glulam beams and roof after the state awarded it a $209,750 historical structures grant last year. The Galloway Showroom, meanwhile, is now owned by Ringling College of Art and Design, and is being used for storage by the Sarasota Art Museum, but there are rumors of a potential restoration. And in 2021, Sarasota County made an offer on Lundy’s South Gate Community Association building, with plans to demolish the pool, but association members refused to sell, out of fear of its demise.

After Lundy moved away from Sarasota, he went on to design more high-profile projects, like an IBM complex in Cranford, New Jersey; the United States Tax Court building in Washington, D.C.; and an American embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka. But his Sarasota work remains beloved. The MOD Weekend schedule includes a tour of his churches and a symposium at St. Paul, where the education building serves preschoolers. To celebrate his 100th birthday on Feb. 1 of this year, Lundy received a video of the children gathered in front of the church to sing “Happy Birthday.” 

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