The long-running battle to save Paul Rudolph’s Riverview High School in Sarasota, Florida, is fast approaching what may be its final stand. On June 17, the Sarasota County School Board is set to decide the fate of the 1958 school, Rudolph’s largest Florida commission and a widely admired work by the well-known modern architect.
School authorities, which are spending $135 million to build a new high school on the 42-acre campus, have long wanted to demolish the structure to make way for a parking lot. In short, despite an outpouring of sympathy from Rudolph fans—and the school’s listing on the 2008 World Monuments Fund watch list—county officials have called for the preservationist camp to put its money where its mouth is.
COURTESY SARASOTA ARCHITECTURAL FOUNDATION
DIANE LEWIS ARCHITECT
“We have hundreds of letters of support, but what we really need is money,” said Lenore Suttle, a member of the Riverview committee of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, which has helped spearhead the battle to save the structure. Specifically, the foundation has said it needs $200,000 by tomorrow’s school board meeting to cover legal expenses, as well as filing and professional fees associated with an alternative plan that Rudolph advocates have put forward for the site.
That plan, created by New York architect Diane Lewis, in association with RMJM Hiller, Beckelman + Capalino, and Atelier Ten, calls for the school to be incorporated into the Riverview Music Quadrangle, a multi-purpose space that has received broad support among Sarasota’s large musical arts community. Advocates say the plan would not affect the new high school’s construction and would provide a dynamic new use for a venerable work of architecture.
All parties acknowledge that the Rudolph complex has suffered from a dire lack of maintenance, tacky additions, and its plain unsuitability as a school for 2,900 students. Still, a relatively small infusion of cash at this stage in the preservation effort could well turn the tide, advocates say.
“We very strongly support the preservation of the building,” said Theodore Prudon, president of DOCOMOMO US, the modern-movement preservation group. “We’ve all written letters to the superintendent. But it’s something of an end-game.” While Rudolph’s architecture has received much more attention in recent years—including his 1963 Art & Architecture Building on the Yale campus, which is now undergoing a sensitive renovation and addition by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates—the nation’s building boom has put Rudolph’s lesser-known works in peril, Prudon said. “He’s very much in everybody’s mind, but somehow the outcome of all of that has not been very happy.”
Donations can be forwarded via the Sarasota Architectural Foundation. However, pledges larger than $2,000 should be faxed to the attention of Craig P. Colburn of Kirk Pinkerton, 50 Central Avenue, Suite 700, Sarasota, FL 34236 (fax 941-364-2490; tel. 941-364-2400).
Update June 18 and 19:
Dealing a setback to Rudolph supporters, the Sarasota County School Board has voted 3-2 to raze the Riverview High School, contending that preservationists could not come up with enough funding for their alternative plan.
"The time to show me the money was today," said board member Shirley Brown, according to a Herald-Tribune report. "I'm sorry."
Despite raising $100,000 in pledges, advocates could not persuade board members to continue working toward the building's salvation. Fearing that the project cost of $15 to $25 million would never be raised, board members pulled the plug after a four-hour-long meeting, refusing to put taxpayer funds toward preservation.
Backers of the Rudolph plan, however, said that they are still fundraising and exploring alternatives, including a review of legal options. Suttle said that students will remain in the Rudolph building for another year, postponing any imminent demolition and giving advocates time to regroup. "Let's just say it's not over," she said.