Depression-era cottage on Siesta Key wins historic designation upon unanimous County Commission vote

Structure one of ‘few remaining examples of simple beach cottages’ constructed on the Key during the 1930s and the period right after World War II, application says

An aerial image shows the property at 7208 Point of Rocks Road, outlined in red, with the cottage landward of a house built in 2013. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser William Furst

Thanks to a unanimous vote of the Sarasota County Commission, a Depression-era structure located at 7208 Point of Rocks Road on the southern part of Siesta Key has won historic designation as the “Cottage at Point of Rocks.”

According to the application, the structure “is one of the few remaining examples of the simple beach cottages that were built on Siesta Key during the Depression and thereafter through the period immediately following World War II, when the population of Sarasota County grew dramatically but Siesta Key remained an island getaway far removed from the bustle of development [farther] north in the City of Sarasota.”

The application also noted that the property is “located on the south-central portion of Siesta Key at the southwest corner of Point of Rocks Road and the southern portion of Point of Rocks Circle in Point of Rocks Subdivision.” The application added, “It is a highly visible structure on this canopy road …”

The structure was built around 1935, the application said.

The commission vote means the Cottage at Point of Rocks will be listed on the Sarasota County Register of Historic Places, the staff memo added.

The Aug. 26 vote followed endorsement of the county’s Historic Preservation Board, according to a staff memo provided to the commissioners in advance of their Aug. 26 regular meeting. That board’s action also was unanimous, the memo noted.

To be eligible for historic designation, the application explained, a property has to have at least three “Attributes of Integrity out of seven listed. Those seven are location, design, setting, material, workmanship, association and feeling. The application said the cottage met four of them: design, setting, association and feeling. The members of the Historic Preservation Board agreed to three of those, eliminating “association.”

In this view, the cottage is shown in January, following renovations. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Historic Preservation Board members also determined that the Cottage at Point of Rocks Road complied with criteria in another relevant section of the County Code: It was “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of local, state or national history.”

In describing the historical context of the structure, the application quoted Karl Grismer in The Story of Sarasota: “Little building activity occurred [in Sarasota and on the barrier islands] during the initial years of the Depression decade of the 1930’s. The construction that did take place was largely limited to the support of two activities: tourism and public works funded by federal programs such as The Works Progress Administration.”

The application then referenced Desi Dreffin’s History of Siesta Key, published by the Pelican Press. Dreffin wrote that author Allen Mussaeus recalled “‘renting a cabin at Point of Rocks for $5.00 a month in 1944 and spending a good deal of time hunting seashells nearby.’”

Dreffin described life on Siesta Key in the 1940s as “still easygoing and neighborly … although a growing influx of residents and [tourists] necessitated some changes to accommodate them. Dogs ran free, children played in the unpaved streets, and the beaches were frequently used as roads, or as a runway for small airplanes.”

On July 15, the owners of the Cottage at Point of Rocks, Therese A. and Donald J. Liebentritt, sent a letter to the county commissioners, pointing out that they purchased the parcel at in February 2019. “[W]e were very much attracted to the quaint little cottage” on the property, they added. “The prior owners provided a lot of background on the history of the cottage and believed in its historical significance,” the Liebentritts continued. “However, a professional inspection disclosed a severely compromised structure with significant deficiencies. We were told that it would be a lot cheaper to demolish the structure than to try to correct the problems.”

In the fall of 2019, repairs to the roof are underway. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Nonetheless, the Liebentritts wrote, “[W]e loved this little cottage for what it was and represented … After consultation with a contractor experienced in working on historic structures and an expert in the field of historic preservation,” they added, “we decided to rehab rather than demolish the cottage.”

As a result, they pointed out, “The Cottage at Point of Rocks is now structurally sound and habitable. Every effort was made to maintain the Cottage’s appearance and configuration and keep it as an enduring example of early 20th century craftsmanship. It remains and will continue to be a historically significant, prominent and visible example of early beach cottage development on the barrier islands,” the Liebentritts wrote.

Along with the cottage, the property at 7208 Point of Rocks Road has a home constructed in 2013, seaward of the cottage and elevated “in accordance with current regulations related to beach front construction,” the application pointed out.

More of the history

Among other details, the application explained that the Cottage at Point of Rocks stands on land that Philip A. Gavin, a native of Omaha, Neb., bought in 1945.

“According to family members,” the application continued, “shortly after World War II,” Gavin moved a two-story house to the site now known as 7208 Point of Rocks. It was to be the residence of his fourth daughter, Sarah, who was born in 1922 in Bristol, Mass., and her husband, Charles Milton See, also of Massachusetts.

The structure’s original site is unknown, the application said.

Sarah’s daughter, Ellen Durant, reported that the porch of the cottage, which faced the Gulf of Mexico, “was built early on,” the application said. “During the Korean War,” it added, “while Mr. See was on leave from the Marine Corps, the one-story addition facing Point of Rocks Rd. and the carport were built by Mr. See ‘and a Mennonite who drove a Cadillac.’”

This is a view of the cottage in March 2019. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This is a view of the cottage in January, after its rehabilitation. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In 1998, the application continued, Sarah See sold the cottage to Pauline R. Hayden. Then Hayden’s daughter, Patricia Barnes, lived there until it was sold to the Liebentritts in 2019.

Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show the Liebentritts paid $5 million for the property. The market value of the land and structures this year is $3,969,400, the Property Appraiser’s Office records note

The application pointed out that the cottage was built with a number of materials repurposed from other structures.

“During the necessary demolition of the second-floor ceiling,” the application said, “a portion of a wooden crate was discovered reinforcing the roof joists … On the crate the marking Pittsburgh Plate Glass, Tampa, Florida is displayed. Pittsburgh Plate Glass operated in Tampa from 1933-1970.”

The application added that the portion of crate was preserved.

The orientation of the cottage and its setting have “remained relatively unchanged” through the decades, the application continued. “Its setting is not replicated elsewhere in the area.”

The cottage “has a main building block that is two stories in height with a gable end roof,” the application noted. “A one-story addition on the eastern elevation of the home includes a living room, carport and storage shed. The addition was completed around 1953,” it said, based on family members’ recollection.

The application further noted, “Later construction [on Siesta Key] was typified by the development of larger homes for more affluent families that was fueled by a burgeoning population and continued expenditure of public funds to make the keys more accessible. Later these same forces led to the development of large-scale multi-family complexes and condominium developments indicative of the 1970s.”

The Aug. 26 agenda item was listed as a “Presentation Upon Request”; no commissioner asked for a staff report or information from the applicant. Commissioner Alan Maio made the motion to approve the designation, and Commissioner Christian Ziegler seconded it.