Sarasota Bath Houses and Beach Pavilions

By | January 25, 2014

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bath-housesIn Sarasota there has always been a need for beachfront facilities to accommodate sunbathing and recreation. Sarasota’s first bathhouse was built by C.I. Archibald on Crescent Beach. Its dressing rooms were a great improvement over the bushes for changing into one’s bathing attire.

The first public bathhouse in Sarasota was built in Venice in 1925 by Dr. Fred Albee. Albee first visited Sarasota County (then Manatee County) in 1916 and became convinced that this was the place for him to invest. An early settler of Nokomis, Albee purchased land from Mrs. Potter Palmer there, as well as additional land that would later become the City of Venice.

The open design of Albee’s bathhouse embraced the Gulf of Mexico with open porches on two levels and a three story tower that provided far reaching views. Wicker chairs and rockers lined both levels of the pavilion where activities and functions were sometimes staged. The Venice Company offices were briefly located in the upstairs part of the building.

Albee’s bath pavilion was lost to a storm in 1932. It was located in Venice on the North Explanade at the west end of Ormond Street where the Sandbar Beach Resort now (2003) stands.

A new beach casino was built as a Works Progress Administration project in 1932 at a nearby location. Its barrel clay tile roofs, wooden porches and asymmetrical plan were representative of the Mediterranean Revival Style that was popular during the 1920s.

The Venice Beach Casino, later known as the Venice Bathhouse, was located at the west end of Venice Avenue, on the Gulf of Mexico. It was later replaced by the Venice Beach Pavilion, a thoroughly modern building that was dedicated in 1964. The pavilion was needed to respond to the shortage of public facilities brought on by Sarasota’s post World War II population boom.

Designed by architect Cyril T. Tucker and engineer William Lindh for the City of Venice, the pavilion’s roof was designed in the form of a hyperbolic paraboloid, a shape popularized in the country by Argentinean architect Eduardo Catalano, a founding member of the North Carolina State University School of Design. Catalano used the innovative form for the room of his own house located in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The Catalano house was highly publicized as “The House of the Decade” by House and Home Magazine in their August 1955 edition and later became recognized as one of the key residential buildings in the United States. Demolished in 2001 despite heroic efforts to preserve it, the building was credited with inspiring architects, students and laypeople for many years after its construction, as well as eliciting praise from Frank Lloyd Wright who wrote, “It is refreshing to see service of shelter so imaginatively and ably treated as in the house by Eduardo Catalano.”

The Venice Beach Pavilion, together with the Nokomis Beach Pavilion and Siesta Key Beach Pavilion, represent an important collection of publicly owned modern buildings here in Sarasota County. Each uniquely reflects their environment and the vision of their designer, while possessing common design elements. These elements, illustrative of the Sarasota School of Architecture, include a seamless blending of indoor and outdoor spaces, and the innovative use of materials.

On Siesta Key, Tim Seibert designed columns for his pavilion that were pre-cast on site, the hoisted into position. In Nokomis, architect Jack West enticed artist Hilton Leach to donate a mural to grace his simple yet elegant pavilion, and in Venice, Cyril Tucker and William Lindh designed Sarasota County’s only hyperbolic paraboloid for a mere $54,000.

Courtesy of Sarasota History Alive!

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