‘Lamolithic House’ on Siesta Key’s Avenida del Mare wins Sarasota County historic designation

Structure designed by Twitchell and Rudolph constructed just after World War II

This image, included in the application, shows facets of the design of the Lamolithic House. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Sarasota County Commission has approved the historic designation of yet another house on Siesta Key, this one located at 5546 Avenida del Mare.

The April 6 decision was unanimous, but with no discussion from the board members and no comments from the public.

It is the fourth house on the barrier island in the past several months to win a place on the Sarasota County Register of Historic Places. Others are located on Point of Rocks Road and on Sanderling Road.

In this latest instance, on Jan. 26, the county’s Historic Preservation Board reviewed the application submitted by an authorized agent on behalf of the owners of the Lamolithic House on Avenida del Mare, a staff memo explained. The Historic Preservation Board members concurred with a staff recommendation that the house met two criteria outlined in Section 66-114(b) of the County Code: The house is associated with the post-World War II development of Siesta Key and the Sarasota School of Architecture, the memo said, and it is “a noteworthy example of the post-war International Modern Style of architecture.”

Further, the Historic Preservation Board members agreed that the house “possesses all seven attributes of integrity” listed in the same section of the County Code, the memo added: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, association and feeling.

The revised, Jan. 8 application for the historic designation, prepared by Lorrie Muldowney, former manager of Sarasota County Historical Resources, and David Baber noted that Siesta Key “appeared on early maps as Clam Island, Muscle Island, Palm Island and Little Sarasota Key.” It “was known as Little Sarasota Key when a subdivision named Siesta was platted in 1907 on [the island’s] northern tip by the Siesta Land Company, organized by pioneers Harry Higel and Captain Louis Roberts. Development included the Sarasota Yacht and Gun Club and later the Bay Island Hotel.”

Then, in the early 20th century, “[B]ungalows, sidewalks, canals and roads were built,” and a U.S. post office opened in 1915. “As the key developed,” the application pointed out, “the entire island came to be called Siesta.”

The application further pointed out that the county “experienced a population explosion” during and after World War II, 1941-1966.

“Sarasota County’s Coastal Zone Survey that was published in 1990 identifies several concentrations of historic structures on Siesta Key,” the application added, noting “three collections” — one at the southern end of Flamingo Avenue and Roberts Point Road, one at Point of Rocks and south along Midnight Pass Road, and one at Sarasota Point, in the Sarasota Beach and Mira Mar subdivisions.

This is the Sarasota Key Beach plat, with part of the 5546 Avenida del Mare site noted. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The house standing at 5546 Avenida del Mare was part of the Sarasota Beach subdivision, the application said. It was built on Lot 10 and part of Lot 11 of Block 27. “These lots were part of a larger transfer of property that occurred” on Oct. 31, 1947 between F.J. Archibald, trustee for Eloise J. Archibald, and John Edward Lambie Jr., the application noted.

Eloise Archibald “was the widow of a prominent Sarasotan, Ira G. Archibald,” the application explained. He was the president of the Archibald Hardware Co., the Archibald Furniture Co. and the Morris Plan Co., as well as vice president of American National Bank.

Then, in late April 1949, the property at 5546 Avenida del Mare was transferred from the Lambie family to R.E. Sprague and his wife, Pauline. No evidence exists that the Spragues ever lived in the Avenida del Mare house, the application added; they continued to occupy a home located at 129 Edmondson St.

Research has found that the first occupants of the house constructed at 5546 Avenida del Mare were Adolph Orion Infanger and his wife, Louise, who stayed there until close to the time of their deaths, the application pointed out.

Adolph was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Feb. 16, 1887 and died in Sarasota in 1996, the application added. Louise was born in Manhattan on Sept. 22, 1898 and died in Sarasota on Sept. 8, 1992, it noted.

This is a December 2016 street view of the house at 5546 Avenida del Mare. Image from Google Maps

In 1933, the house was purchased by Nancy Smith, who sold it to its current owners, Mark and Lorrie Bogart, in 2009, the application said.

The architects

The Lamolithic House was a project of Ralph Spencer Twitchell, who was born in 1890 in Mansfield, Ohio, and Paul Rudolph, who was born in Elkton, Ky., in 1918, the application noted.

On June 1, 1920, Twitchell received a Bachelor of Architecture from Columbia University and then, on June 1, 1921, a Master of Architecture, the application said.

In 1925, “Dwight James Baum hired Twitchell to supervise the construction of Ca’ d’Zan,” the home of John and Mable Ringling, the application continued.

Ralph Twitchell. Image from Wikiarchitecture.com

On April 23, 1926, the State of Florida granted Twitchell his architectural license, and he soon opened his own office in Sarasota, the application noted.

“In early 1941,” the application said, “there was an occurrence that, at the time may have seemed inconsequential, but would ultimately have a profound impact on Twitchell’s legacy as well as architecture in Sarasota. A young graduate from Alabama Polytechnical Institute (now Auburn University), Paul Rudolph, came to work in Twitchell’s office as a draftsman.” That fall, the application added, Rudolph began graduate studies in architecture at Harvard.

When World War II began, the application continued, Twitchell served in the military, spending the war in the Southeastern United States. However, he kept his Sarasota office open part-time, the application added.

After the war, he returned to Sarasota to work full-time.

Rudolph’s studies were interrupted by the war, the application noted, but he ended up earning his master’s degree in architecture from Harvard in 1947 and then returned to Twitchell’s office as an associate. In 1949, the application indicated, Rudolph became a full partner with Twitchell, a position Rudolph maintained until 1952, when he began an independent practice in Sarasota, the application said.

Rudolph “is considered ‘the dean’ of the modern architecture movement that occurred in Sarasota and became known as the Sarasota School of Architecture,” the application pointed out.

The Lamolithic House itself

The Lamolithic House was built by John “Jack” Lambie Jr., who was a founder of St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Siesta Key, the application continued. He also was president and treasurer of Lamolithic Buildings Inc.

“The most well-known of the Lamolithic houses is the Revere Quality Institute House,” which stands at 100 Ogden St. on the northern part of Siesta Key, the application added. Completed in May 1948, that house also was designed by Twitchell and Rudolph, the application noted.

The residence at 5546 Avenida del Mare was built in 1948, as well, the application said.

“The significance of the Sarasota School of Architecture was recognized by the National Register of Historic Places in the form of a Multiple Property Documentation Form (MPDF) adopted in 2007,” the application explained. The MPDF said, “From the International Style Sarasota School architects took an understanding of the concept of borrowed space, the logical use and expression of structure, the separation of structure and enclosure, simple building form and detail, and honest use and expression of materials. From earlier Southern regional designs they took modular construction, a raised floor, and efficient environmental control systems. To these the architects added the use of low maintenance materials, a play of light and shadow, and a desire to humanize International Style environments. It is the successful blending of these elements that creates the Sarasota School Style.”

This is the original floorplan of the Lamolithic House, as shown in the application. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“According to Christopher Domin and Joseph King” in their book Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses, the application continued, “the Lamolithic Houses represent Rudolph’s first opportunity to experiment with a more urban design approach.”

Moreover, the application pointed out, an October 1948 article published in The Architectural Forum Magazine of Building said, “[T]he Lamolithic Method of Construction was inspired by research done by Thomas Edison into the feasibility of mass-producing concrete homes. J.E. Lambie, Sr., a founder and half-owner of the Foreign Division of General Motors, developed the necessary building equipment in 1923.”

The term “Lamolithic” was a combination of Lambie’s name and the word “lithic,” which means made of stone, the application explained.

Originally, the house at 5546 Avenida del Mare was one “of four identical structures, constructed on a speculative basis,” the application said. It is nearly square — 36 feet wide by 31 feet deep — with its entrance into the living room. The kitchen, to the rear, “was separated from the living room by a floating screen of striated plywood,” the application noted. The house also had two bedrooms and a bathroom.

It had the “feeling of a modest beach front residence built of materials meant to last,” the application pointed out, with a flat roof and large windows.

In 1998, a small addition was constructed to the east of the original house, the application said, while a two-car garage was built to the west of the main house.

1 thought on “‘Lamolithic House’ on Siesta Key’s Avenida del Mare wins Sarasota County historic designation”

  1. Awesome. So sick and tired of developers trying to raze our history. Siesta Key was NOTHING like it is sadly portrayed on MTV. I grew up on this island and after watching it’s natural beauty , wildlife and way of life get destroyed for the last 50 years, in particular the last thirty, it is nice to see something preserved that is precious to my childhood memories

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