Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

In County, a History of Posh Pavilions

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

In County, a History of Posh Pavilions

Article excerpt

For decades, Sarasota County has had architecturally superb beach pavilions:

In the early 1900s, local municipalities built wooden bathhouses that allowed beachgoers to change from civilian clothes into something that showed some shoulder and perhaps, for the ladies, some ankle. But these structures could not stand up to the demanding beach environment -- sun, sand, salt air and heavy use.

The 1940 Lido Casino, built by the Works Project Administration, was the first modern beach facility in the county. Ralph Twitchell designed it in an Art Deco style; preliminary design was by Albert Saxe.

"The casino was a spectacular sight: as blindingly bright as the surrounding sand; accentuated with four towers; beach cabanas arching off each end and eight giant, concrete sea horses on the second floor, staring stoically into the distance," wrote historian Jeff LaHurd in 2004. "This was Sarasota's glorious beach oasis, a symbol of what life in a resort community was all about."

But by the 1960s, it was showing signs of decay. Despite the passage of a 1964 bond issue meant to rehabilitate it, the much- beloved Lido Casino was torn down, with little public debate, in 1969. Only its pool still exists. The rest of it lives on in the memories of longtime Sarasotans.

In 1954, Jack West, in his first commission as an independent architect, designed the Nokomis Beach Plaza. A sleek modernist structure, its thin concrete roof is held aloft by improbably slender "pipe" columns that line a shaded walkway joining the pavilion to the community room. Of course, being on the beach, the elements chewed away at the plaza, and it was closed for several years.

In the late 2000s, McCarthy led the effort to restore the building. He even convinced West to come out of retirement to handle the architectural component of the rehab. West was there nearly every day and often spoke with beachgoers about the pavilion, McCarthy said. The county commission's decision to renovate, coupled with the rededication ceremony in January 2009, was "a turning point in the appreciation of modern architecture in Sarasota," McCarthy said. …

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