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The spirit of the Ringling era lives on in a historic Indian Beach home.
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Sep. 11, 2013 4 years ago

Home of the Month: Lovely Landmark

by: Robert Plunket Staff Writer

Keeping a legend alive and flourishing can be either a pain or a pleasure. For Pat Taylor, it has been pure joy. This is a lady who loves her house. She loves keeping it beautifully maintained and in top repair. She loves furnishing it in the perfect — and perfectly appropriate — manner. Most of all, she loves sharing it with others.

It’s one of the best-known houses in town, not for its size or pretentions, but for its beauty. It’s a perennial finalist in every “prettiest house in Sarasota” contest. Of all the Spanish Revival homes that set the tone for what was to come back in the boom of the 1920s, Taylor’s house is generally regarded as the most successful.

It certainly has the best location. As you travel west on Indian Beach Road, through a hammock of tall, ancient oaks, you see a glimmer ahead — the bay — and then, as the road takes a turn toward the north, there it is, with the sunlight playing on its elegant façade. Any house at this premium spot would be noteworthy, but the Taylor house, cheerfully yellow and subtly embellished with such refined details as Juliet balconies and crisp awnings and a copper-roofed sun porch, lives up to setting. People love to drive by it every once in a while, just because it makes them feel good.

Though the house has impeccable historical credentials — the Whitfield family built it, most likely in 1925 — no one is quite sure who the architect was. Most historians agree it was either Dwight Baum (who designed the Cà d’Zan) or Thomas Reid Martin, who built many of the town’s more impressive older homes.
The Whitfields, of course, need no introduction. They developed much of northern Sarasota, and their name lives on in several subdivisions and a major avenue that meanders past the Sarabay Country Club and out east to Palm Aire. The home’s second owners were a family named Black, who bought it in 1943. Taylor and her husband, John, purchased it from them in 1978, for $135,000. It wasn’t the highest offer, but old Mrs. Black sensed a kindred spirit in Taylor, someone who she knew would love the house as much as she had.

She was right. The home and its new owner were a perfect match. Taylor is an old-school Southern lady from the antebellum Alabama town of Decatur, famous for its old Victorian houses. It was a town where, as Taylor recalls, “People still left visiting cards and were at home from three to four, serving homemade banana bread.”

Under Taylor’s care, the home perfectly reflects the traditional aesthetic of the small-town South. The furnishings are family pieces supplemented over the years by estate-sale finds and a couple of spectacular wild cards, such as the 12-foot-long mahogany, onyx and Tiffany-glass sideboard that once served as a part of a drugstore soda fountain. Several of the chandeliers come from another old Sarasota mansion, The Acacias, which was demolished to make way for the Sarasota Bay Club.

But what makes the home special are all the original details that are still in place. The wood floors, the wall sconces, the doorknobs and other hardware, they’re all still there, along with the 1920s bathrooms, complete with arched bathtub niches, glowing pastel tiles and pedestal sinks. There’s even the old servants’ “bell register” in the kitchen, which, like the apparatus on Downton Abbey, tells the maid which bell is summoning her. Even the garage doors are original — and in perfect working order.

Taylor’s home has served as a decorator’s show house so many times that she has lost count. Several times she has been forced to say no to the individual designer’s ideas — one wanted to paint over the original stenciled cypress ceiling in the sun porch — but some of their decorative touches have been kept. The stair hall now features a mural of tropical birds along with matching curtains. Likewise, the living room fireplace was opened up on the other side to face the kitchen as well, thus providing a cozy space for coffee and perusing volumes from Taylor’s cookbook library.

“This is a house for entertaining,” Taylor says. “But I’ve never had a party catered.” She does all the cooking herself, including the biscuits.

“And yes,” she confides in a stage whisper, “I use lard.”

The servants’ rooms off the kitchen now serve as a butler’s pantry and additional workspace, and a laundry has been installed.

“When I bought the house I asked Mrs. Black where the laundry was, and she said, ‘The laundry? Oh, the maid takes it home with her,’” Taylor says.

As the home nears its centennial, Taylor has decided it’s time to move on. Her husband died several years ago, and though her real-estate career is sill going strong — she’s been one of Sarasota’s top Realtors for almost three decades and has sold more than 400 houses in the immediate neighborhood alone, some four or five times — it’s time for a smaller house.

The new owner of the Whitfield-Taylor House will be getting not just a Sarasota classic but a piece of American history — it’s been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Along with its carved fireplaces and original roof tiles (when the roof was replaced the barrel tiles were removed, cleaned and then reset) it has perhaps the greatest oddity of all for a Florida home — a real basement. And, no, it’s never flooded, even though the bay is just across the street.

Chances are Taylor will be one of the neighbors.

“I see myself in a little cottage, small, sweet, maybe with a white-picket fence and a vegetable garden, living happily ever after,” she says.

Those who know her can’t imagine her leaving the museum area, the sun-dappled part of Sarasota where she raised a family, built a career and, for 35 memorable years, lived in the prettiest house in town.

2704 Bay Shore Road is priced at $2.99 million. For more information, contact Pat Taylor of Coldwell Banker at 941-356-1013.

To see more photo, click here.

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