Image: Regan Dunnick

Like most of us, I’m fascinated with Harold Bubil’s list of “Florida Buildings I Love” that appears in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. What a terrific selection. Some are iconic, some you never heard of. Some you wish you never heard of.  But one thing is certain. Nobody knows Florida architecture better than Harold. He has identified just about every noteworthy building in the state.

Or has he? I keep thinking he missed a few. So here’s my own list. Mr. Chatterbox’s “100 Florida Buildings I Love,” Sarasota edition, starting with these five.

Balcony apartments, corner of Rawls Avenue and Cherry Lane

We all know what a garage apartment is, right? It’s an apartment over a garage. You live there when you’re going to college or just lost your job and are trying to save money. Well, tucked away in downtown’s Laurel Park we have something I’ve never seen before: a whole apartment building of garage apartments. It’s called the Balcony Apartments.

It’s a two-story building, the bottom floor being all garages, the upper floor all apartments. The building dates back to the ’20s and most of the original details seem to still be there, including the picturesque stairway and railing, the garage doors, and even the little sign. This may well be the cutest, most eccentric building in town. 

House on Tice Street, Pinecraft

One of Sarasota’s most overlooked attractions by visitors interested in architectural tourism is Pinecraft, our Amish/Mennonite neighborhood that centers around Bahia Vista Street and Beneva Road. This typical Pinecraft house allows you to examine the aesthetic that lies behind genuine Amish architecture.

The Amish consider pride a sin, so their architecture is as plain as you can get. Any ornamentation is forbidden, and when you occasionally spot a scalloped edge on the fascia, it’s like a sacrilegious shock. Flowers are allowed as long as they don’t attract attention, but the classic Pinecraft cottage sits on a plot of grass with one well-tended shrub at the front door. The only form of embellishment are the birdhouses, and these tend to be more architecturally elaborate than the real houses.

Mansion on Bay Shore Road

Sarasota is full of showplace homes for multimillionaires, but the one I’d buy if I won the lottery is this Beaux Arts mansion on Bay Shore Road in the Indian Beach Sapphire Shores neighborhood. It’s the most “look at me!” house in town. (This house is also one of the most expensive in Sarasota.) If it looks vaguely familiar it’s because it’s based on the Paris Opera.

It’s been the subject of at least one lawsuit. Faulty construction was alleged. I don’t care. I’ll take it as it is. Others may see ostentation. I see success, sophistication, unlimited money and most of all, “home.” 

Trailer on California Avenue, Trailer Estates

Trailers have played an important role in the history of Sarasota housing, but when it comes to any sort of academic study they are completely ignored. One reason may be because they are technically vehicles rather than buildings. But still, many of us have lived in them at one time or another and they deserve our respect.

The best place to begin your trailer education is with a visit to Trailer Estates in Bayshore Gardens, a few miles north of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. This place embraces its trailer heritage; no euphemisms like “manufactured” or “mobile” homes here. It’s one of the oldest—and largest—resident-owned trailer parks in the state. There are 1,280 trailers, plus a marina and a waterfront park, and the place even has its own fire department.

Trailer Estates has many newer homes, elaborate double-wides that can cost well over $200,000. But it also has relics from the olden days, and those are the ones we are after. You’ll see wonderful examples from the 1950s and ’60s still going strong with their midcentury fins and curves intact. Any student of Florida history and lifestyle would do well to study this place.

The Cheetah, U.S. 301

As a building, this local landmark is the very soul of discretion. The exterior gives no clue as to what is going on inside. You just see a discreet contemporary Mediterranean-style facade, with an impressive tiled roof and canopied entrance. Four tall palms are lined up in front. All parking is valet, thus precluding any more murders in the parking lot.

As a piece of Sarasota history, this strip club is a little gold mine. Old-timers will remember it as the Club Mary (there really was a Mary, a salty old broad who always had a quote for reporters). It became the Cheetah in the early ’90s and has been sailing along ever since. It must do great business, but you want to know a strange thing? In all my years in Sarasota I’ve never met a single person who admits to having been there.

The website is a little scary. There are all these pictures of beautiful girls in sexy poses, to be sure, but there’s also a page about how the Cheetah is a “hypermasculinity safe zone” where political correctness is “never allowed and not welcome.” I was glad to learn, however, that “no low-class couch dances are allowed,” either. You have to get a private room. Online reviews range from “All the girls are great and talented!” to “A garbage dump brothel full of nothing but CHEATERS!!”

When it comes to historically important strip clubs, the Cheetah is right up there with Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club in Dallas. The Cheetah is where the 9/11 hijackers hung out after their flying lessons. Conspiracy theories about the infamous day always seem to circle back to this place, with its volatile mix of terrorists, strippers and hypermasculine locals in a dark, windowless building permeated with sex and overpriced liquor.

I can’t really say I love the Cheetah, but I respect its role in world history. It’s also the only building in town that I am too scared to enter by myself. I’m looking for somebody to go with me. Strictly for research, of course. Harold, you interested?

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