Latest News

Bradenton by design: Building the future


Changing the past can alter the future, believers in time travel say. That definitely goes for changing architectural styles.

Travel five years back, and people would say we were destined to be a condo city.

Maybe 20 years ago we were headed toward an old Florida style.

And 80 years ago, Mediterranean Revival was popping up so much that a time traveler would suspect the Italian and Spanish influences would certainly be thriving in downtown Bradenton today.

In 2009, they would all be half right.

Truth is, our city has a variety of architectural styles defining its skyline. And with various city groups planning to revive downtown Bradenton, a makeover certainly seems in order. But it’s a huge challenge to define the city’s visual future by blending a plethora of old styles in with the new.

“Architecture is the mother of all art,” says Palmetto-based architect Carlos Ugarte. “And we have to not only provide something that’s functional and works, we also have to provide something that’s beautiful.”

The future might bring a fresher look downtown, with projects such as the artistically fueled Artisan Avenue walk and the ultra-contemporary presence of Metro Marquee, a mixed-use project featuring a grocery store, condos and retail space. Both are picturesquely promising.

But before Bradenton moves into that future, it must take a closer look at what architectural concepts worked in the past — and what didn’t.

A rush to build

In Florida’s early heyday, many builders had a “get-it-up-quick” mentality, says Bradenton architect Rick Fawley. It was a theology that continued through the recent housing boom.

Fawley likens the expanding development to what happened in the Wild West.

“They came in and everything was built really quick,” he said. “Florida’s kind of that way. It started out very agricultural and then all of a sudden it evolved.”

Then the economy took a nose-dive. Now, one thing is certain: Builders are thinking more about the aesthetics of their product and to whom their creations will cater. That, says Fawley, can only mean good things for the area’s cityscape.

“With that comes the sophistication,” he said. “To create not just a downtown, but a community that has substance to it that’s timeless, if you will.”

The Herald talked with several experts about buildings that define the area. Here are their thoughts:

Tom O’Brien, O’Brien Architects in Bradenton

The Monk Building stands out for O’Brien, who has his office there. He likes the classic look of the building as well as its history.

The brick structure on 906 Ninth St. W. was built in 1925, housing the Florida Avenue Drug Store and Clarence Sanders Grocery. Thomas Monk bought the building the following year. He enlarged the space, adding a second story of apartments, according to Herald archives.

Years later, the building was transformed into an ABC Liquor store. After the business left, it sat vacant for some time. Residents and city officials pondered whether it should be torn down until Scott Tibbetts bought the building, renovating it in 2006.

“It’s kind of a nice addition,” O’Brien said of the Monk Building’s revival.

Rick Fawley, Fawley Bryant Architects in Bradenton

Fawley talks fondly of Bradenton’s old downtown churches, including First Baptist Church, which established its current sanctuary in 1914.

The large meeting house at 1306 Manatee Ave. W. has old-fashioned stained glass windows, arches and pointed towers that stretch into the sky — everything expected of a traditional church.

“From a historic standpoint, it’s one of the best examples of really fine masonry that I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Fawley said. “It’s very highly detailed. Great stained-glass windows.”

It is an example of the Eclectic Romanesque Revival-style of architecture, which was popular for many American churches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Joan Altabe, art and architecture critic

Altabe, author of “Art Behind the Scenes: One Hundred Masters In and Out of Their Studios,” appreciates the fusion of old and new in some area structures. One of her favorites is on the 400 block of 12th Street West in Bradenton, in a strip known as Jennings Arcade.

In its early years, the circa-1926 strip held offices and stores, including Foster’s Tonsorial Parlor, according to the Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court’s list of historic buildings.

It went unused for a few decades before the building was revived by contractor Mike Carter, Altabe said. Featuring a Mediterranean Revival Arcade style — a reawaking of the Italian Renaissance that’s blended with classic and Spanish designs — the building still has its original balustrade and wrought iron grill work. Other features include skylights and its original light fixtures.

“What you see there is real and authentic, and I like that,” Altabe said.

Today, the space houses Fav’s Italian Cucina restaurant, Bella Coffee House, a consignment shop and offices.

Mike Carter, Mike Carter Construction Inc.

The eight-story Professional Building at 1023 Manatee Ave. W. is a favorite of Carter’s. Simple and old-fashioned in design, the circa-1926 structure was Bradenton’s first “skyscraper” and was home to many flourishing businesses in Bradenton. Operations included Glenn Grimes’s law practice, Sharp’s Drugs and the Bradentown Bank & Trust — which folded during the Great Depression, according to Herald archives.

The luminous side windows, fan lights and original hand-operated elevators are the gems of the Neoclassical Revival structure.

“One of my favorite features is the original Otis elevator,” said Carter. “It is still manually operated by an attendant. The building underwent an extensive historic renovation in the mid-1980s and won state and national awards. The downstairs lobby is a great picture opportunity.”

The Professional Building won the annual Florida Trust for Historic Preservation Award in 1986 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Herald archives. It is still home to Grimes’ law firm — the oldest continuing law practice in the town, which is now known as Grimes Goebel Grimes Hawkins Gladfelter and Galvano.

Fredi Brown, Family Heritage House Museum

Brown’s pick is the historic Covington House at 614 11th Ave. W., near downtown Bradenton. The structure was built in the early 20th century by Charles Covington, a prominent farmer and carpenter. He used his gift of carpentry to construct many of the homes in Bradenton’s black community, according to Herald archives.

The home has nine rooms with pine floors throughout and two fireplaces. “(The area) was one of the few, of course, where people in the black community had a house of that stature,” Brown said. “It had a music room, and it really was a fabulous house.”

Joe King, Joseph King Architecture

For King, the historic Manatee County Courthouse in downtown Bradenton is a great work of architecture. The 1913 structure’s interior has transformed over the years, but the outside maintains its majestic appeal with white columns gracing each side of the building. It is an example of Greek Revival architecture.

“Its proportions are great, it looks great,” said King. “It’s set in the middle of that open space in the middle of town, which is really attractive and useful. . . . I really like the yellow brick. It’s sort of a lighter color than you would have up north. That suits our area.”

Mike Kennedy, executive director of Bradenton’s Downtown Development Authority

Kennedy is drawn to the downtown icon known as the Pink Palace. Built in 1925, the Mediterranean-revival styled structure has hosted former President Herbert Hoover, gangster Al Capone and several Hollywood celebrities. Back then, it was called the Riverpark Hotel.

The Manatee River once flowed near it, where Third Avenue is now. By the 1950s and ’60s, that area, which includes the South Florida Museum, ArtCenter Manatee and Rossi Park, was completely filled in with land.

For Kennedy, there’s just something about the old hotel’s frosted pink color and what the building represents.

“It’s one of our few reminders of Bradenton’s past,” he said. “I think we should do all that we can to save it.”

Efforts to reawaken the hotel over the years have failed, however. One plan included developing the building into condos; another featured turning it back into an assisted living facility — its last reincarnation before it closed in 2006.

Outside Bradenton

There are also several examples of significant architecture in the greater Manatee County area:

Carlos Ugarte, Carlos Ugarte and Associates in Palmetto

Ugarte particularly likes Palmetto’s Riverhouse Reef and Grill Restaurant. Just over the Green Bridge from downtown Bradenton, the structure is an island in itself, sitting along the Manatee River front at the Regatta Ponte Marina.

The three-story structure has wrap-around windows and a spacious, covered outdoor deck with a great view of the river. For as long as Ugarte remembers, the site has been home to a restaurant of some sort. It has been damaged by fire on several occasions and modified over the years.

Ugarte, who recently renovated the space, loves the mix of the old Florida cracker style with a modern appeal.

“That building is a nice rendition of what I think the area could be,” he said. “I think in terms of regional architecture it’s unique.”

Don Lawson, Lawson Group in Sarasota

In East Manatee, Lawson likes the new Willis A. Smith Construction corporate headquarters in Lakewood Ranch. The building, at 5001 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., blends in with the scheme of lightly colored buildings in Lakewood Ranch.

But Lawson likes it because it’s “green.”

The structure won a Green Building award for its use of sustainable design principals and materials.

Building “green” helps minimize a structure’s effect on the environment, he says. The Smith building, for example, includes solar panels, quality lighting, recycled products and materials used for landscaping.

“Willis Smith decided it would really invest in creating this working laboratory of sustainability to use as a model in our community and the state,” Lawson said. “They’ve done an exemplary job from that standpoint.”

Cathy Slusser, Manatee County Historical Records Library

Slusser appreciates the beauty of the Fogarty House on 1400 Bay Shore Drive, Terra Ceia Island. Built in 1875 by William and Eliza Fogarty, the house is one of the oldest in Manatee County.

William Fogarty was one of four brothers who came from Key West and settled in Fogartyville, now known as West Bradenton.The simple two-story wooden home with an inviting porch was one of three that Eliza Fogarty lived in while residing in Manatee.

“Architecturally, I like the fact that the house is designed in a typical Florida layout to keep the inside of the house cool,” said Slusser. It’s “elevated off the ground so air can circulate underneath; high ceilings, roof and porches to block the sun; lots of windows and doors placed for ventilation. It is a very simple house, but all that the early settlers — and modern-day Floridians for that matter — really needed.”

January Holmes, features reporter, can be reached at 745-7057.

Related stories from Bradenton Herald