Not to be outdone by the other notables in the much-lauded Sarasota arts group of the 1950s (which included writers, painters and the ground-breaking proponents of the Sarasota School of Architecture), Victor Lundy arrived here in 1951, soon to become world-famous in architecture.
Born in Manhattan, Lundy traveled through Europe and back to the United States as a child. His architectural education, interrupted by service during World War II (for which he was awarded a Purple Heart), was completed at Harvard under Bauhaus eminent Walter Gropius. As a talented colorist, Lundy came into the Sarasota environment as more artist than architect.
In fact, his Sarasota career began when he entered a watercolor painting of Notre Dame Cathedral in a Sarasota art show. Artist and jury member Syd Solomon picked Lundy's piece as "Best of Show," and as a result, Karl Bickel, chairman of the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce building committee, requested that Lundy do a series of watercolor paintings of what he thought the proposed site evoked. Lundy's paintings convinced Bickel and his committee he was the right architect for their project.
Lundy's final chamber of commerce design was a sensuous curved beam, deck and blue-tile roof rendition, which seemed to float over the interior of offices, reception and displays. Now home to the Visitors Information Center, today the same design keeps its fresh, original appearance after 50 years of welcoming visitors on Tamiami Trail.
This roof design idea was to become the basis for many of Lundy's Sarasota structures, particularly his churches. "I revere the structure and like to reveal it," says Lundy of his Sarasota work. While the chamber's blue roof floated, his churches here began to soar. Lundy often used laminated wood beams and wood roof decking, "the most economical at the time to span large spaces," he says. The result was an interlacing, almost Gothic feeling to his modernist church architecture.
Church congregations loved his work; and there is an impressive list of Lundy's churches worth seeing, a few of which still exist in nearly original form (although in an earlier SARASOTA Magazine article, Lundy admitted to being "heartbroken" at some alterations). In Sarasota, Lundy admirers should stop by Bee Ridge Presbyterian and St. Paul's Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall and Sanctuary; on Anna Maria, they can worship at Gloria Del Evangelical Lutheran Church; and farther afield, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Dunedin and St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Melbourne both bear the distinctive Lundy style.
One notable area house, the Herron residence of Venice, is well worth a visit. And a short drive south from Sarasota to Warm Mineral Springs takes one to a Lundy motel of concrete precast "mushroom" roof units, set at alternating heights to enclose the individual rooms. Even the sign is a precast concrete pedestal. (The motel owners swear the design is by Frank Lloyd Wright, an error they even include on their brochure and business cards.)
By 1960, Lundy's fame had grown to the point that he established a second office in New York City. His work became more varied, growing to include an IBM complex in Cranford, N.J.; the United States Tax Court building in Washington, D.C.; and a United States Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He returned to his ecclesiastical roots, with two churches in Connecticut that brought him much international notice: his First Unitarian Church, Westport, perches like a Concorde jet rising from the ground, with its roof wings ascending to its tip high above the altar; and his Unitarian Church in Hartford is a tent-like structure of hung cables and curved wooden decking strips centering inward.
After New York City came two decades in Dallas as design principal and vice president of a large architectural firm. Lundy now resides in Houston, where at the age of 81 he again paints, while still practicing architecture. He remembers the Sarasota in the 1950s as a special place; it was "a very easy place to be creative," he says. "Things were done spontaneously; there was a sense of fun in those days."
John Howey, author of The Sarasota School of Architecture, 1941-1966, has two new books, North American Beach Houses and Current and Selected Work-John Howey, coming out in 2006.