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Island architecture: A driving tour of the eclectic and functional

By Staff | Jul 10, 2009

If a traveler takes a drive along the winding roads of Sanibel and Captiva they will likely note the teal hue of sea splashing against the sand beaches and the squadrons of pink, white and blue-grey birds swooping over the water.

But aside from the natural beauty that makes Sanibel and Captiva hot

vacation spots, the area’s architecture is a draw as well.

Sanibel features an array of homes portraying its early years as well as more contemporary and elaborate abodes.

“Often we focus our natural resources,” said Judie Zimomora, the Sanibel city manager. “But another Sanibel treasure is our old-Florida architecture. And that’s something to keep protected.”

Sanibel City Mayor Mick Denham said he is proud of the unique flavor of the island’s architecture.

“Hopefully we can keep this uniqueness,” he said.

The early style homes – many of which can be found at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village – contain wide, airy porches, high ceilings for ventilation and were built of southern pine for its durability in harsh tropical storms.

More modern homes, such as the RLR Investment business family’s mansions being built along the Gulf in Captiva, show some of today’s modern look.

“I think it’s eclectic,” said Sanibel Historical Museum and Village President

Alex Werner. “You have people who are just beginning to understand the nature or the environment.”

Most of the homes represent the sensibility and creativity of homeowners past and present.

Looking to see old-Florida style? Check out the 1888 Grey Gables home on West Gulf Drive. It belong to Leticia Nutt, a once postmaster on Sanibel.

Looking for the contemporary and chic? Birdie View Point at the

Beachview Country Club area has it.

“You will find every conceivable modern architecture,” Werner said.

But Hurricane Charley became one of the island’s most known architects carving out changes in the way people build their homes.

Many homes built after 1960 were not equipped to handle the high-wind hurricanes as folks found out when Hurricane Charley hit in 2004.

Today, more roofs are constructed of sheet metal to preclude the flying missiles that tile roofs became in Charley and buildings require more setback from the water.

“Hurricane Charley dramatically changed the codes,” Werner said.

City Planning Department Director Jimmy Jordan said the city works hard to preserve historic architecture such as the former African American school – now Lily & Co. Jewelers.

The city also embraces unique architecture as much as it strives to protect the historic structures.

“I think we have a pretty liberal architectural tolerance,” Jordan said.

Size and harmony with the other buildings in the neighborhood is the

main criteria for being permitted to build a home on Sanibel.

Though there are some mini mansions on Sanibel and RLR Investments owner’s White House-like homes being built on Captiva, the ongoing trend in homes is smaller.

“Less is the new more,” Jordan said.

He recalls the one recently permitted home which is 2,000 square feet and open with only one bedroom. Jordan is also spotting a trend towards more modular homes being built on Sanibel. He cites the economy as a major factor in the shrinking home sizes.

But a driving tour of the homes, new and old, will give folks an idea of how

people lived and live on the islands. For more information about the historical homes, call Alex Werner president of the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village at 472-4648. The Historical Museum is located at 950 Dunlop Road.

Homes to check out:

The Historic pieces:

n The Cooper House, located at 630 Tarpon Bay Road in the Olde Sanibel Shoppes, is representative of typical old-Florida architecture. The building used to be a packing house located near the Tarpon Bay Explorers at the “Ding” Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel before being moved to its present location. The building has a tin roof.

n The Island Inn located off of West Gulf Drive used to be the Matthews Hotel, an old-Florida style hotel.

n The 1888 Grey Gables home is located on West Gulf Drive. This is a traditional homestead house. The home was owned by Leticia Nutt. Leticia and her husband are buried in a nearby cemetery.

n The Burnap Cottage was built in 1898 and is an example of the homes of early residents. It’s located at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village and has a high peaked metal roof and large windows.

n The Rutland Home was built in 1913 and now resides on the grounds of the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village. The old-Florida style home has high ceilings, a southern pine interior peaked metal roof, large windows and a spacious porch.

A bit unusual:

n The Walker cottage owned by Elaine Walker off of West Gulf Drive serves as a guest home for family and friends. The 1954 beach house, however, is a uniquely designed home and is listed on the National Registry of Architecture. The 900-square-foot home has a kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom.

The hurricane panels are held up with cannon balls which was designed by architect Peter Rudolph to give lift to the panels. The building may be moved to Sarasota where other pieces of Rudolph’s work remain.

n The Morning Glories home is a 1925 Sears & Roebuck kit home. It came to the island delivered in many pieces. The kit home can be explored at the Historical Museum.

Modern day homes:

n Checkout the mini mansions at Birdie View Point in the Beach View Country Club and the two White House look-alikes heading to Captiva.