The three-story brick Sarasota Times building on First Street in downtown Sarasota has been home to a newspaper office, art school, architect's studio and guava jelly factory. But for the past 20-plus years it's been vacant, allowed to quietly deteriorate while the Tamiami Trail-Gulfstream Avenue area around it has blossomed with swank new condominiums and office towers.

Now Don and Lisa Murphy of D. E. Murphy Construction have rescued the grand old office building, purchasing the 9,500-square-foot structure for $1.4 million last spring. They spent last summer restoring the exterior to its original condition: repairing the cupola, balcony and mansard roof and replacing the original steel windows with exact replicas that were manufactured in New York.

That first phase of restoration, along with refurbishment of the adjacent parking lot, should be completed this month, Murphy says. "We wanted to bring it back to life. Then hopefully we'll make a decision on what to do with it inside." The obvious uses, he says, are a restaurant and professional offices, and he's already been in conversation with a couple of restaurateurs.

Built during the Florida land boom of the mid-1920s, the Sarasota Times building was designed by architect Dwight James Baum, who also was responsible for the design of the Sarasota County courthouse and John and Mable Ringling's Ca d'Zan. Its first tenant was the area's first daily newspaper, the Sarasota Times. Developer Owen Burns, who built Burns Court and the now-demolished John Ringling Towers, started a guava jelly factory there after the Great Depression brought an end to his real estate holdings.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, renowned abstract expressionist painter Syd Solomon had his studio and operated the Sarasota School of Art there. Many great artists, such as Conrad Marca-Relli and Larry Rivers, were visiting teachers.

Victor Lundy, a star of the Sarasota School of Architecture, later moved his architectural offices there, and modernist architect Carl Abbott lived and worked there from 1969 to the early 1980s. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The late architect and historic preservationist Don Chappell saved the building when he bought it in the '90s. And then it sat empty.

Murphy, who moved to Sarasota in 1977 and started his construction company in 1983, has had experience restoring historical buildings in upstate New York, notably the Old Forge Hotel in Old Forge, N.Y., another old brick building that's also on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Sarasota Times building has been beckoning for many years, he says. "I've looked at the building on and off for several years," he says ""She's a solid old girl, the last stand in Sarasota as far as historical buildings. I would hate to see it torn down." 

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