Every year the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects (1912) celebrates the outstanding contributions in architecture and design in Florida and Puerto Rico. This year’s convention will be next month in Naples and a panel of non-Florida architects will select the winners in a variety of categories, including one which features structures that were not built. I assume that is to encourage future works and perhaps potential clients.
As a historian I am always interested in the awards given to the restoration of structures and thus preservation of historic buildings in Florida, but the big winners prestige-wise goes to the awards given to new buildings. Most people may assume that mainly fancy hotels and mansions are the big award winners at this event. For example Mar-A-Lago, President Trump’s Florida White House was a 1927 award winner.
But, in reality the winning buildings have reflected since the 1910’s the diversity of structures that are eligible. Winning such an award does not assure the future survival of the building, but it demonstrates the appreciation by the architectural community for its design and originality.
One of the 1929 Winners is perhaps the most unusual – a building never occupied by human beings. It is the Sugarloaf Key Bat Tower, one of four that once existed in Florida. They are fragile – the wonderful one in Temple Terrace (near Tampa) was lost in a fire. Built by Richter Clyde Perky, Sugarloaf has that Gothic creepy look, particularly at nightfall. It is a perfect mansion for bats.
The AIA Winner Where No Humans Lived
Over the years, to no one’s surprise, hotels and resorts have been award winners. You may, however, be shocked at the contrast for architecture is evaluated for its location and purpose. The Don Cesar Hotel on Saint Petersburg Beach (1928) was saved from the wrecking-ball after its usage as a World War II military hospital and the pink place is the favorite landmark locals search for when their airplane is landing at the Tampa Bay airports.
I Always Look For The Pink Palace From A Plane Landing at TIA
People are shocked when I tell them that the rustic Desert Inn and Restaurant on FL60 in Yeehaw Junction was a 1924 AIA winner. It once looked the part of a frontier outpost, but with the Florida Turnpike next door the historic spot has been fixed up as a cool burger bar and motel with 4.5 stars on Yelp and Google Reviews. I expect this place to be discovered by the makers of biker movies.
Sometimes Award Winners become historically significant long after they were built. The 1925 Miami New Building was a lovely commercial structure, but it did not become a major landmark until the 1960’s when it was the place where thousands of Cuban exiles filled out immigration papers. Now it is the Freedom Tower and everyone picks it out of the booming Miami skyline.
The Freedom Tower
The 1920 President’s House at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytone Beach was viewed as an attractive residence at its start, but when Mary McLeod Bethune became an educational leader fro F. D. Roosevelt in the New Deal, the house got added interest.
Visitors to the Coconut Grove in Miami often drive right past Miami City Hall (1930) , not realizinbg it has more history to it than a political building. It was constructed as the Pan-American Seaplane Building and, with shades of Indiana Jones, seaplanes took off on some of the first international commercial trips in aviation history.
There is a great contrast in the several church structures that have been honored by the Florida AIA. In 1916 the Mount Pilgrim African Baptist Church in Milton was selected. It is not the oldest African-American edifice in Florida, but its congregation was started in 1866 and the building is on the US National Register.
The most popular wedding church in the Miami area is 1929 winner the Coral Gables Congregational Church. It is so beautiful that it is often incorrectly called a Spanish mission.