The Long View On Riverview

If the recent charrette on the proposed re-development of the School Avenue property across from Payne Park taught us nothing else, we learned that civil and productive dialogue on important issues of land use needn’t be preempted by paralyzing discord between warring self-interests. Building on the consensus that gelled throughout the three-day session, the developer can now shape the run-down property into one whose look, feel, scope and purpose will be a source of pride for everyone.

Next up on the community agenda is another issue whose final resolution has the potential of casting a long shadow over Sarasota’s burgeoning reputation as Florida’s cultural hub. It pits the city’s status as the birthplace of a significant architectural movement—The Sarasota School of Architecture—against the irreversible effects of an indiscriminant wrecking ball. In March, Sarasota’s Board of Education will once again weigh their option to demolish Riverview High School, one of the movement’s most iconic structures. Not to mention one of the most progressive school buildings of its day.

The news that Riverview is atop the endangered species list has reverberated far beyond the environs of Southwest Florida. The London Times reported on the school board’s possible decision to raze the structure and major architectural journals have spread the word of its pending demise.

It doesn’t take a giant leap to understand why so many well-intentioned people are in favor of scrapping the old Riverview once its brand new replacement—now under construction—makes its much needed debut. The 50-year-old school almost seems to sag beneath the crush of its present-day student body and the increasing weight of their academic demands. Much of the school’s original grid of innovative breezeways, courtyards and sunshades—designed to mitigate the effects of excessive heat and sun before the days of air conditioning—are in obvious disrepair or obscured by less inspired annexes and downright ugly portable classrooms.

With the involvement of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a charrette was held last March to ponder a fate more becoming of Riverview’s stature as an architectural jewel. Its original design is one of the most outstanding representations of the Sarasota School of Architecture, of which its designer—Paul Rudolph—is considered a founding father. Completed in 1958, Riverview turned out to be a major turning point in Rudolph’s distinguished career. In the fall of 1957 he was appointed Dean of the Department of Architecture at Yale University.

As a result of the Riverview Charrette, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation offered Sarasota’s Board of Education a highly palatable alternative to the school’s wholesale demolition. A proposal to restore the original Riverview and transform it into a community facility for music and the arts—known as the Riverview Music Quadrangle (RMQ)—has met the requirements of the board for possibly saving the historic building. Such an alternative would not only rescue a revered structure, but would build on Riverview’s reputation as one of Florida’s finest Music Demonstration Schools even as it adds another venue to Sarasota’s cultural landscape.

The Board of Education will meet soon to decide Riverview’s ultimate fate. If the demolition plan goes forth it will be sad irony when graduates of the new Riverview, who go on to study architecture in college, learn that their alma mater’s original structure—now a monument to a revered genre of American architecture—is nothing more than a picture in a textbook.

Please add your voice to ours in petitioning members of the board to vote in favor of saving this architecturally significant building in much the same way as the original Sarasota High School is being preserved. Both structures are classics and their renaissance as artistic venues will further enhance our city’s draw as Florida’s cultural capital.


  • User Gravatar deborah dart
    February 24th, 2008

    Thank you for publishing the Riverview project in Sunday’s paper and including this on you website Blog. You and your company continue to stand out in our community by taking a position, often on controversial issues and projects to help make a difference. I wish your lead was followed by more companies and businesses in Sarasota.
    Thank you for your commitment to maintaining a high quality, unique community.

  • User Gravatar Michele
    February 25th, 2008

    Michael –
    Thank you for spreading the word and supporting what makes Sarasota one of the ‘best small cities’ in America. The idea of tearing down an icon of modern architecture is truly unfathomable in our age of cultural enlightement. Further – this is one of the first ‘green’ building in America. We must show to the world that we care about this place and cherish the wonderful gifts that this small group of architects and artists have given us..

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