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An Education in Sarasota Architecture

A new exhibit showcases the history of local architecture.

Presented by Center for Architecture Sarasota January 26, 2021

Riverview High School

As a child attending school, how many of us considered the importance of the architecture of the building in which we were educated? Florida’s legendary architects did not just create homes; they also used their talents to design beautiful schools that inspired both the students and the community. The Center for Architecture Sarasota celebrates these visionary architects and the legacy of their educational buildings.

Bay Haven School

Image: Sean Harris

The 1920s boom

In the 1920s, Sarasota was experiencing a major population increase, and new schools were a necessity. Rather than simply building functional structures, the decision makers chose to create works of art. Well-known Tampa architect M. Leo Elliot was commissioned to design two elementary schools, Southside and Bay Haven. Elliot designed a plan in the Mediterranean Revival style, which was quite popular in Sarasota at the time. Both buildings were based on the same plan and completed in 1926. They include many of the signature elements of the style: red barrel tiles, arched entryways, a courtyard, and beautiful ornamentation.

Sarasota High School

More than elementary schools were required for this expanding community; they also needed a new high school. Elliot was again hired for this task, but this time he delivered something completely different. Elliot designed Sarasota High School in the Collegiate Gothic style. This style became popular around the turn of the 20th century and typically featured a horizontal building with a single, dramatic tower. On September 6, 1927, 750 students began their year in this magnificent building. The Sarasota Herald referred to the building as “as modern and complete as money and brains could make it.”

1950s & 1960s Sarasota School of Architecture

After World War II, Sarasota grew rapidly, and by the mid-1960s more schools were necessary. At the same time, a group of innovative local architects, later known as the Sarasota School of Architecture, had developed into an internationally renowned creative force.

The chairman of the Sarasota County Board of Public Instruction, Phillip Hiss, convinced the board to obtain funding in order to have the new schools designed by these acclaimed modern architects. Nine schools were completed in only two years and received immediate critical acclaim. The modern architectural style led to innovative educational practices. The classrooms were larger, with flexible spaces making both indoor and outdoor instruction possible.

Alta Vista Elementary

The architects designed these educational spaces at the peak of the Sarasota Mid-Century Modern movement. Paul Rudolph designed the Sarasota High addition and Riverview High, Victory Lundy designed the Alta Vista Elementary addition, Jack West was the architect for Englewood Elementary, and Gene Leedy and William Rupp designed Brentwood Elementary School. These schools remain as a unique portfolio of the best architects of that era.

An enduring legacy

Sarasotans of the past understood that architecture is about more than function, and they designed buildings to represent the people who lived and learned in these spaces. That foresight created a legacy that we now have the privilege of enjoying.

Although these buildings have been modified over time, most are still in use today. Unfortunately, Riverview High School was torn down in 2009. An excellent example of preservation, the original Sarasota High School was repurposed into the stunning Sarasota Art Museum. The others still serve our community as educational spaces restored and expanded by today’s fine Sarasota architects.

Learn more about the fascinating history of Sarasota architecture by visiting the Center for Architecture Sarasota’s exhibit, Designing Sarasota: An Architectural History. Designing Sarasota is on display from January 12–April 17, 2021. This is a free exhibit, but reservations are recommended due to limited capacity, at cfasrq.org/events.



Designing Sarasota: An Architectural History was made possible through collaboration with the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation, and the AIA Gulf Coast Chapter.

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