Mr. Chatterbox

By staff December 1, 2003

If you're like me, you're getting a little sick of the Sarasota School of Architecture. Now it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, let me tell you-10 years ago it was a bunch of ugly houses from the '50s in such disrepair that you couldn't give them away.

I'm not saying it's over-rated or anything, but I do feel that it is stealing the thunder of an equally important movement. I refer, of course, to the Bradenton School of Architecture, where form met function and both lost. Sarasota had clean lines, flowing plans and glass walls to bring the outdoors in. Bradenton had chaotic lines, small, contained rooms, and jalousie windows to also let the outdoors in, but in a way that was in constant conflict with your air conditioner.

Lido Shores has the finest collection of Sarasota School houses; Bayshore Gardens the finest of Bradenton School houses. Bayshore Gardens is one of the classic Florida subdivisions from the '50s, designed mainly with Midwest retirees in mind. There are perhaps 10 to 12 basic models in the Gardens; most are typical ranch designs. But five or six are different. They have definite '50s touches and thus epitomize the Bradenton School of Architecture.

Let's tour the models:

Here is the most ubiquitous of the '50s models, which I have christened the Poodle Skirt. It's a classic '50s design, with that wonderful textured brick wall giving it a whiff-a tiny whiff, granted- of the glamorous Eden Roc in Miami Beach. To me it screams out to be painted pink and gray. The Poodle Skirt is quite pleasant inside, bright and sunny. Drawbacks are the smallish rooms and the single bath, plus the renovations over the years by previous owners, which look like they were accomplished after drunken trips to Home Depot.

Above, the surprisingly tasteful Blank Façade. This certainly wins the prize as the best looking of the Bayshore Gardens homes. Any of those highfalutin architects down in Sarasota would be proud to claim this sensitive exercise in scale, proportion and texture as their own. There's something very exotic about its lack of windows facing the street, like it's from some faraway tropical place, like Brasilia or maybe Belize City.

I call this one the Rudolph Gone Wrong. It's very hard to find; only a few were ever built. People must have hated them. But its gauche assemblage of disparate elements makes it a masterpiece of Florida vernacular architecture. It's a little bit Deco, a little bit Country, and a whole lot Bradenton. I've never been inside one but they look tiny from the outside, which only adds to their charm.

Here is the Checkerboard Square, a real winner. You get an attractive façade with a '50s frieze plus a '50s picture window plus a great interior layout. It has three bedrooms and two baths and a ceiling in the living room that, if not exactly "cathedral" is at least "small wayside chapel."

Bayshore Gardens is shaping up as the next hot neighborhood, believe it or not. Now that South Gate has been picked over, it's the coming place-it's 10 minutes from downtown Sarasota, it's got Manatee's lower taxes, and the housing stock is built to last. These houses are concrete block and the ones I've examined closely are in remarkably good condition.

And the price is certainly right. Poodle Skirts in good condition are going for $125,000; Checkerboards maybe $10,000 more.

Restoring them to their '50s splendor has only just begun. But it will continue, take my word for it. And some day Bayshore Gardens will be a National Historic District, rather like South Beach, world famous as the finest concentration of the Bradenton School of Architecture anywhere. 

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