Let me warn you that Sarasota, in addition to being home to some of the finest museums & house museums & gardens in the United States, is well-populated with an abundance of the best antique stores in the country. I have made many happy purchases there! (Hubby says, “Too many!” but really, what does he know?)
Some town history- in 1763, the area was dubbed, probably by the Spaniards, as “Zarazote.” The town was incorporated in 1902 & then as a city around 10 years later. There is a definite ambiance of age everywhere you go in the city.
When I want to expand my Florida house museum experiences outside Tampa Bay, it is a delightful day trip. If you are taking the kids (or yourself) to Disney in Orlando, it is just over 2 hours. But check Google Maps. There’s almost some bit of construction slowing things down to a crawl.
If you want to make a longer trip of it, you can lie on Sarasota’s white sand beaches. Visit the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium with more than 100 species of marine animals. Touch a stingray. Their shark tank is enormous with over 100,000 gallons of water!
For those of you who prefer mammals, there’s also Big Cat Habitat where you can do yoga with tigers.
BUT I GO TO SARASOTA FOR THE HOUSE MUSEUM!
And well, yeah, the antique shops. So, let’s hop in the old Caddy & go.
The Ringling is a 66-acre complex of attractions, each one extraordinary in its own right. I’ll start with the Museum of Art. Completed in 1930 as a gift to the people of Florida, Ringling, an avid collector of art, sought to widen the knowledge & curiosity of the wider world. Please read the history of the museum on its page on the site so that you can understand the true magnificence of this gift.
Walking through the courtyard that joins the galleries you are transported to a world in which beauty reigns supreme & you get a glimpse into the genius & sheer vitality of Ringling.
In 1927, Ringling made Sarasota his winter headquarters & many performers relocated there, generously donating costumes & other memorabilia from the earliest years of the circus here. Again, view the website for images of the museum displays. There you are transported to an era when the circus announced its coming with colorful posters & when the train arrived, gathered the town for a circus parade down Main Street complete with a brass band, elephants blanketed in spangles & bejeweled carriages pulled by horses wearing headdresses.
As a child, until I attended school, I wore only costumes, refusing to appear in regular clothing. I was a ballerina, a mermaid, a bride, a tightrope walker, draped with all sorts of ornamentation that my dear mother cheerfully provided for her imaginative daughter.
In this museum I saw what my little girl self had so clearly imagined when she adorned herself in her mother’s cast-offs- hoop skirts & sparkles & tassels & feathers & tutus & shoes that laced to the knee. After hearing my mother’s stories of her own childhood in the early 20’s, seeing these colorful, period items were a fantasy come true.
You can also see a real circus wagon complete with calliope that was used in the parade when they arrived in town to invite everyone to come to the Big Top!
Wait, there’s more. There’s a miniature circus complete with the circus train that runs through old towns to arrive at its destination. You see tiny people who set up the tents, the bleachers, the mess area. Again, the early world of my mother tales which made it all the more wonderful for me.
Please let me know about your visits to the museum in the comment section below. I hope it touches you as it did me.
(House of John)
That’s the Venetian. In Italian, it would be Casa di Giovanni. Much less exotic, they made the right choice!
Ca’ d”Zan is John & Mable Ringling’s 36,000 square foot home, modeled on the great architecture of Venice. It displays a number of architectural styles, including that of Venice, Italy, Spain & the Moors from different historic periods. The Venetian Gothic influence predominates. The style is likely to have originated in the 13th Century & experienced a revival in the 19th Century inspired by the writings of my buddy, John Ruskin whose quote about the nature of the home introduces the blog.
As amazing as the architecture & interior features are, the furniture & décor are astonishing in their beauty & opulence. The Ringling’s were world travelers & collectors & every piece was chosen to enhance the beauty of the house.
I am not a big fan of displays of wealth, but I have to admit that house museums, from modest settler houses to grand mansions are my favorite places to visit. Again, look at the website to see images of this amazing house but realize, it doesn’t compare with what will what you will experience gazing at the ceiling of any one room.
This garden, completed in 1913 under the watchful eye of Mable Ringling, has everything I love, rose gardens, banyans & a Dwarf Garden. My mother & grandmother grew roses & you already know how I feel about them! I love banyan trees because they are so Florida & so ancient. Though native to India & Pakistan, they escaped cultivation & in all of North America, they grow only in this state. Their branches grow roots that grow down into the soil & these roots can become as large as trunks, making a single tree look like a thicket.
Here I am in my favorite overalls, having a lovely respite in the garden after a day of being bedazzled by the museum. The statuary is extremely lifelike & adds an intriguing bit of life to the gardens.
Historic Asolo Theatre
By the time I made my way to the theatre, I was completely exhausted! So, just see what the website has to say about it.
Please let me know about your experiences in these places that are so dear to me. Feel free to comment below!
I am often asked why I care so much about preserving old buildings. For some it’s a veiled challenge with no plan to listen to the answer, but some hang around long enough, without yawning, to hear my answer & some actually hear me as I pour out my soul & my passion. And for some, the light turns on.
This is why I keep picking myself up after the wrecking ball wins the battle, keep talking, keep writing. For this light.
According to the New World Encyclopedia, the word community “is derived from the Latin communitas (meaning the same), which is in turn derived from communis, which means “common, public, shared by all or many.” Communis comes from a combination of the Latin prefix con- (which means “together”) and the word munis (which has to do with performing services).”
It’s the ‘con-” part that I like the best. I spent much of my adult life (MY STORY here.) as a neighborhood activist, fighting to keep those bits of turf our own & not give them over to corporate America- to keep us & our neighborhood culture together.
WHY PRESERVE? VIDEOS
The people in the videos below say it better than I do, in fact, as I was reviewing them tonight, I was wishing that 20 years ago, I could have chained my local Eagle Rock councilman to his chair & not let him so much as wiggle until he had watched every speaker in hopes that he would understand what the building we were trying to save would do for our community, that a new chain store in a sea of parking, wouldn’t/couldn’t/hasn’t/never will.
TEDxCLE – Rhonda Sincavage – Building Community Through Historic Preservation (10:53)
There are sound quality issues at the beginning. They go away very quickly.
TEDxCLE – Jeff Siegler – Building Community Through Historic Preservation (10:03)
Historical Preservation- A Radical Conservative Liberal Concept: Wayne Wood at TEDxRiversideAvondale (15:49)
Historic Preservation 101 (44:14)
This video is much longer than any of the others but it fully explains the history & evolution of preservation in the U.S. It goes on to explain the different preservation organizations & programs, both public & private as well as the levels of protection afforded at each level.
It is a clear & thorough orientation to the subject. Learning all of this, bit by bit took me years!
My YouTube playlists are chock full of information vital to bungalow owners. From paint removal to the history of bungalows to stories about old growth wood, you can find a rainy afternoon’s entertainment & learn some stuff too.
“I have a friend who’s an artist & has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say ‘look how beautiful it is,’ & I’ll agree. Then he says, ‘I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart & it becomes a dull thing,’ & I think that he’s kind of nutty,” states Richard Feynman, scientist, teacher, raconteur of renown & not incidentally, an accomplished conga drummer.
“First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people & to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes.
The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery & the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”
Richard P. Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman
OK, BUT WHAT DOES PHYSICS HAVE TO DO WITH BUNGALOWS?
I never really understood why I take such joy in learning, talking & writing about bungalows. Why am I compelled to know these things about bungalows? What force makes me read Jane Powell’s books, with their truly dreadful puns & teeny-tiny print again & again? Why is every day off spent visiting old house museums & driving around vintage neighborhoods & end with a visit to an antique store?
Thank you, Richard P. Feynman. It’s to experience the other dimensions of bungalows.
When I look at a bungalow, I see its rich philosophical, aesthetic & emotional history- the degradation of the culture caused by the Industrial Revolution. I honor the memory of the wee ones who worked barefoot in the factories to provide a morsel of bread for their families & I honor William Morris’ goal to revitalize this debased society through aesthetics.
I see the long extinct old growth forests & the hard & dangerous lives of the men who cut them down. I see the boys lost in war & the mothers who grieved for them. I see the celebration of new lives being conceived, born & dying on big brass beds.
I see architecture born of the culture & technology of the times. I see Stickley’s perception of the intrinsic beauty of the log cabin. I see the joyous anticipation of a family waiting at the station, for their kit house being delivered by the 5 o’clock train. I see the joy of recapturing the details lost to trends, foolish decisions, economic necessity & outright greed.
I see neighborhoods once united by trolleys tragically bifurcated by highways, but now joyfully united by purpose. In my heart, I see those with whom I have shared this purpose. Some of them are only a phone call away, & some of them, I mourn.
Looking at a bungalow is a rich, comforting, calming but refreshing experience for me. The purpose of my blog is to memorialize those who created & lived in these wonderful houses, those who taught me so much about them & fought with me for their preservation & to share all this with you, so that when you look at a bungalow, you too can see it in all its dimensions.
I wrote the E-book, 7 VITAL Things to Do Before You Hire a Contractor, after reading terrible & sad stories on the old house, Facebook, group blogs. In every single story I could see the exact moment at which the project fell apart, the money got ripped off, the house got ruined, the heart got broken. After 45 years as a specialty contractor (wood floors) & old house restorer (5- here’s the most awful one!) I have seen my share of horrifying surprises, so I decided to write a little book in hopes of making someone else’s path a wee bit smoother.
I established my company based on the firm policy of always exceeding the customer’s wishes & any time I failed to do this, examined every step of the process to find out how I could make it better next time. It’s always easy to cast blame on the other guy, & with any failed job, there is always plenty of blame to go around. However, there was always some piece of it that I had to call my own whether or not it made me highly uncomfortable to do so.
So I took my experiences on both side of the contract to see if I could create some advice that would be useful to a homeowner when they leap off the cliff & hire an old house contractor. I’m a big believer in jumping off that cliff & building my wings on the way down, but it helps to at least have a bag of feathers & maybe some chicken wire before giving it all up to gravity.
This article is just a teaser. To get the whole book, you have to sign up for my mailing list. But that’s a good thing to do. You’ll like it!
HIRE AN OLD HOUSE CONTRACTOR- STEP BY STEP
You have purchased a 100 year old (give or take) bungalow. You have your home inspection in your hand & you want to move forward on your restoration. You are not a DIY’er & do not plan to be one. You have a demanding job, perhaps a family & other responsibilities. You’ll need to hire an old house contractor or contractors, & you’ll be depending on the kindness of strangers to turn your house into a home. So, how do you find the best strangers?
I wrote training manuals for 40 years so I am big on proper sequencing & I loves me a checklist. So here are my suggested steps.
What is a bungalow? What are best restoration practices?
What are your own needs?
How do I find good tradespeople?
What else do I need to know about them.
C. Go legal.
It’s only at this point that you start talking to people.
How do you conduct the first interview? What should you ask? What should you request?
The Proposal- what should it include?
How do I make sure that the restoration is satisfactory?
I go through each one of these steps in detail, in fact, each step is a section with sub-sections! I like to break it up to make it easy to understand & doable. I talk about your goals, your expectations, your money, & living life on a jobsite. I spend a great deal of time addressing the contract because that’s the basis of all that will transpire.
(That having been said, I am not a lawyer & this is not to be construed as being legal advice. As is the case with this entire book, it is friendly advice- my tale of what has & what has not been effective for me. While I’m at it, I will mention that I have done all the steps I suggest & still gotten a crappy project. ‘Tis the human condition but, when I haven’t done it, I have gotten a crappy project 100% of the time!
I have no training beyond what I got in a ballet studio, no credentials, no licenses, no nothin’ in the construction trades nor in law. I have only my experience from which I draw & I can boast of losing over $50,000 on a single project because the contractor should have been in jail!)
The story of the Chicago bungalow isn’t about the houses, it’s about the humanity. I call it, “Grits & girdles history.”
Because our houses tell the stories of the lives of the people who built them & how they lived, worked & formed their communities- the intimate details if you will. (In fact, I produced a historic documentary film about a bungalow neighborhood in Tampa that was full of the juicy goings- on of the time.)
The Chicago bungalow may be the most striking example of regional uniqueness to be found in the United States, in terms of single-family housing. There is no mistaking a Chicago bungalow which has many character defining features that are simply not seen in other areas of the country because they do not provide the same history or environment.
These features were developed out of the events that happened in the city, the natural resources & challenges, the man-made materials & technology that were available in the area during the period of their planning & construction.
There were a great many influences that resulted in the Chicago bungalow, the first of course, being the Arts & Crafts Movement in England, a pushback against the overproduction of shoddy goods that characterized the Industrial Revolution.
The philosophy & design of the Movement were imported to the U.S. by Gustav Stickley, a furniture designer, writer & innovator. The Chicago bungalow veers wildly from Stickley’s ideal of a log cabin in the woods as they are built of brick & sit on a 125’-by-25’ lot in a city, which by 1910 was the home to over 2 million souls, the second largest in the United States, after New York. Not the low, wide structures of the American West on their expansive lawns, nor Stickley’s rock chimneyed log house in the woods, but bungalows they were-tidy compact brick muffins sitting prettily on the narrow city lots.
The Chicago bungalow provided exactly the modest refuge that was needed by the working class at the time, many of them immigrants, who had come to work in the factories & meat packing plants. Nearly 80,000 homes were built, each one with its own subtly distinctive charm & character.
The next great influence was the Chicago Fire of 1871, which started in a barn & burned for over a day, killing 300 people. Because of the pressure to build houses to accommodate the growing population, buildings had been constructed using quickly assembled, cheaply constructed balloon-framing, with studs running from the foundation to the roof. Fire travels upward & there was nothing to stop it as it roared up the walls & turned the houses to ash, making a third of the city homeless. After this disaster, the city enacted new building codes & rapidly rebuilt the city according to those codes. With brick.
When you think of a Chicago bungalow, brick does come instantly to mind. The area was gifted with an abundance of clay by the glaciers that moved through the area over 10,000 years ago leaving their assorted debris so the resultant, fired bricks are speckled in a variety of colors. To satisfy the demands of the building boom in 1910, nearly a billion of these cheap bricks were produced. When I say cheap I mean cheap, averaging $7 per thousand while the better, more homogenous brick sold for as high as $35 per thousand.
So, builders took advantage of this cheap brick & used it to build areas that were not so visible, like foundations, structural walls, chimney flues & the back & sides of the house. Because Chicago is centrally located & a railroad hub, it was easy to bring all types of brick from all over the country so the front facades of bungalows show a charming diversity of brick types.
THE CHICAGO BUNGALOW STORY-ILLUSTRATED
The images that you see here are created by Wonder City Studio by Phil Thompson & his wife Katie who are obviously in love with their town. He has created many drawings of Chicago buildings of all types, including capturing the sweet, sturdy hominess of the bungalow.
He features prints of his representations of the city, but, he also does commissioned portraits of homes anywhere. When I lived in Eagle Rock we had plein air painters (an Eagle rock tradition, historically) lining the walking tour route, many painting the homes of the tour hosts. The paintings were then auctioned for charity at an exhibit later & the homeowners were always the highest bidders for the paintings of their own homes. A portrait captures the soul of a house much more eloquently than a photograph (well, than a photograph of a mere mortal. You have to allow for the work of Alex Vertikoff.)
But, wait, there’s more! Katie Lauffenburger, wife, mom & founding partner of Wonder City Studio, will sculpt a custom planter Mini-Me of your home. And you can put flowers in it!
Although we may dream of living in our homes forever, sometimes life necessitates change & having either a beautiful drawing or a tiny 3-D model of it could mend a broken heart.
THE CHICAGO BUNGALOW ASSOCIATION HAS THE FULL STORY
What I can tell you about Chicago bungalows is a tiny fraction of the knowledge that the Chicago Bungalow Association posses & teaches. I just wanted to whet your appetite for this architectural form, unique in all the world to the Windy City.
By attending old house classes, a conscientious steward can learn the basics of old house repair & maintenance. Owning an old house is not for sissies, nor for the uninformed. When I owned The Hare House, my 1910 Craftsman in Eagle Rock, I made some mistakes that I would have not made, & tossed away money that I would still have in my pocket, had I access to any of the education offered below.
Even if you are not a hands-on restorer, by inclination, aptitude (or the lack of) or physical condition, you need to have some knowledge of these skills.You can also use them to educate any trusted tradesman that you have working at your home to expand their skills. This can save you money & provide you with services to which you might not have access in your area.
I suggest contacting the event producer about any classes that appeals to you that might require physicality beyond your own capabilities, to see if they can accommodate you. They want you to learn so they will make it as easy as they can for you.
The best thing about attending is that it gives you the opportunity to meet like-minded folks. I have met wonderful people in my preservation activities & formed many strong friendships. I urge you to participate. It will enrich your life!
I AM FULLY AWARE THAT MY LIST IS WOEFULLY INCOMPLETE! Please let me know what I have missed so that I can add them.
The Association offers an extensive menu of seminars, webinars & hands-on workshops, designed to help you preserve & improve the appearance, usability & value of your home.
Though they focus on bungalow, they offer help to anyone who owns an old house of any style or age. They are some of the friendliest people in preservation that I have ever met. I have called them several times with questions regarding bungalow characteristics in the Midwest & they have always gone out of their way to obtain the information requested & relay it to me.
Take advantage of their many educational videos on many subjects, all beautifully & clearly presented.
Sign up for their email list so you can stay informed whether or not you live in Chicago! If you do live there, you’re welcome.
Bob Yapp, after traveling the country, teaching preservation skills, had the dream of establishing a hands-on trade school, delivering workshops to students of all ages, lasting from 2 day to 8 days. His students come from all parts of the world to learn from this master.
The Beleveder School is lodged in the historic brick, antebellum, 1859 Italianate, Alfred Lamb Mansion which also holds his wife’s bed & breakfast. Known for its delicious breakfasts, the B&B provides a wonderful setting for making lifelong friends.
“Whether you’re an individual or part of a group or business, if you believe in a future that honors our old buildings, beautiful towns, and our culture, you are a part of Rethos.”
Rethos is a non-profit organization offering hands-on & Zoom classes as well as informative videos to homeowners in all aspects of preservation. They are perfectly amenable to your attending a workshop without physically participating. You can learn a great deal by just watching! They offer classes such as:
Lead, Asbestos & Radon
Old Home Certified for Realtors®, a regional designation
Drafting a Maintenance Plan
Not local? You can see their educational videos here.
PROFESSIONAL (OR WANNA-BE PRO) WOOD WINDOW RESTORATION EDUCATION
This group, composed of the most knowledgeable people in the field from all over the country, is a trade organization dedicated to saving old wood windows. In addition to connecting pro’s with homeowners, they assist everyone from those who want to have careers in wood window restoration, to established pro’s.
The WPA provide resources & information on products & materials as well as general information on running a successful business. They also “help preservationists find the tools they need to educate building owners, architects, and other decision makers about the value of original windows.”
If you wish to host a old house classes, contact them to see if they could provide you with a speaker/demonstrator. If you, or someone you know would like to spend your life returning old houses to their former glory, they are standing by to give you the education & assistance you need to be a successful professional.
PRODUCE OLD HOUSE CLASSES IN YOUR AREA
I am working on a manual (It’s pretty close to being done.) for hosting such an event, laying out step-by-step what to do to choose topics, attract craftsmen & volunteers, promote it & make some $$$ for your organization, & run a smooth-running day of hands-on, old house learning.
The manual is divided into sections, & I have included a timeline that cross references the sections so that you can go step-by-step through locating a venue, attracting speakers & demonstrators, recruiting enthusiastic volunteers & promoting the event to the public.
Let me know if you or your organization is interested in learning how to host classes & I’ll get working on this thing a bit faster! I’m going to sell it for a whole $25.00 because if you pay for it, you’re more likely to use it.
LOCAL HISTORIC PRESERVATION ADVOCACY GROUPS’ CLASSES
Many preservation groups host classes so if you are interested in attending, contact your local group. I am building lists of such groups, but it’s taking a ridiculously long time to create such a list for all 50 states so if you don’t see it here, Google “historic preservation your city.”
If you are involved in a preservation group, please encourage them to host old house classes. It’s a good P.R. activity, will encourage membership & it also can raise some serious funds.
THE BENEFITS OF OLD HOUSE CLASSES
Even if you have no plans to live the DIY life, it is important to understand how your house works. If any of these topics interest you, but you don’t have the physical capabilities perform the work, most of them will allow you to participate as an observer.
These are also great learning sources for the tradespeople who work for you. You need to have someone you can count on who has these skills & it may be up to you to ensure that they get them.
There are young people all over the United States who would love to be trained in these trades & make this work their vocation. You can do your bit for preservation by letting them know about these opportunities. I have a book in my hip pocket that is about 50% complete, about how to run a successful specialty contracting business. My plan is to complete the dang thing & somehow raise the money needed to have it printed & then donate the books to high schools. So, someday I may be coming to you, asking for a hand-out & for your assistance in placing them!