MANATEE -- Bayshore Gardens may soon be history.
No, the roughly 1,350 homes in this aging development on Sarasota Bay aren't going anywhere. But they could soon be designated as the state's largest and most historically significant collection of mid-century residential architecture -- a move that would spur neighborhood improvements and put Manatee County on the map with yet another type of tourism attraction.
Built between the 1957 and early 1960s, Bayshore Gardens had the best that Florida living could offer a half century ago. The eight models of concrete block homes were solid and stylish and fairly affordable with most home models selling between $11,000 and $15,000. The community, which is bordered by Bayshore Gardens Parkway, 34th Street West
and Sarasota Bay, features a 50-slip marina, a number of canal-side homes and a community recreation center complete with shuffleboard courts.
Last spring, a group of University of Florida students studying historic preservation inventoried the homes in Bayshore Gardens. The data they came up with showed that there are enough homes in near-original condition for the community to qualify for historic preservation status. That status could awaken interest in renovationg more Bayshore Gardens homes and could draw architectural tourists to experience Bradenton's neighborhood of tomorrow as it is today.
Suzanna Young, a Bayshore Gardens resident and facilitator for the Restore Bayshore committee, said the university study plus a desire to rehab the community have a growing group of residents seeking historic recognition at the county and state levels.
"We look at it as our ticket to improve our neighborhood," Young said.
Benign neglect and the loss of owner-occupied homes to rental investors during the recent housing crisis have taken a toll on the Bayshore Gardens housing stock. Peeling paint, damaged windows and doors, unkempt yards and updates that don't mesh with original architecture mark hundreds of homes. Ranging from about 800 to 1,200 square feet, the low ranch houses also fell out of favor among buyers in recent decades as developers began building newer, more spacious homes elsewhere.
Linda Stevenson, a Bradenton architect and the adjunct University of Florida professor who taught the spring course that focused on Bayshore Gardens, said that trend could be reversed if the neighborhood becomes more desirable. Millennials entering the housing market are attracted to the clean lines and bright interiors of mid-century homes, she said.
"It was a beautiful showcase of mid-century design," she said. "A lot of millennials identify with that style of architecture."
Stevenson's students produced a 116-page report detailing Bayshore Gardens' historic significance. The report compared the community to other Florida concentrations of mid-century architecture, including Lido Shores, Cape Coral and Pompano Beach Highlands. None of those communities have received a historic preservation designation.
Young said the University of Florida report will be the underpinning of her committee's effort to get recognized. However, it will likely take months of community organizing and information gathering before the community will be able to apply for historic status.
The first designation the community may seek will likely be through the Manatee County Historic Preservation Board. Recently certified under the state's 28-year-old Certified Local Governments Program, the board and the county may soon be able to give a tax break to homeowners doing period-correct renovations to historically designated homes.
Cathy Slusser, director of Manatee County's Historical Resources, said the state certification allows the county to essentially freeze a home's property tax bill for up to 10 years. Because renovations otherwise add value and tax burden to a home, this could help spur neighborhood-wide improvements.
Slusser said Bayshore Gardens would stand out among the county's historic neighborhoods.
"We have historic neighborhoods that are on the National Register of Historic Places, but we don't have one from this time period," she said. "It's a new approach for us."
She also said she can see a revitalized Bayshore Gardens drawing tourists who want to see a well-preserved mid-century neighborhood.
"Heritage tourism has proven to be very profitable," she said.
Young said Bayshore Gardens could also be added to the Florida Master Site File, an inventory of the state's cultural and historical resources. That would require about 40 percent of residents to agree to participate in the neighborhood designation, she said.
The historic nature of the community extends beyond the homes. The nearby Bayshore Shopping Center and the State College of Florida's Bradenton campus are contemporaneous to Bayshore Gardens. An architecture buff who looks closely can easily see what mid 20th century Florida was at one time.
"If you miss the 1950s, you have another chance at Old Florida in the 50s," Young said.
Mary Callandra, manager of Wagner Realty's El Conquistador Parkway office, said home prices are slowly rising in Bayshore Gardens. While some homes have recently sold for as little as $50,000, others near the water have gone for more than $300,000. She said an increasing number of owner-occupied homes are receiving renovations, which adds to the appeal of the neighborhood.
"We call it retro," she said.
Slusser is working with Bayshore Gardens residents to guide them through the historic designation process. Applying for designation with the state will require the community to do additional documentation of the homes in Bayshore Gardens beyond what was completed by the University of Florida.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.