Editor’s note: The Walker Guest House replica was on display at the Ringling from November 2015 to April 2017. It was then displayed in Palm Springs, California before being auctioned off in 2020. The original Sanibel guest house has also sold at auction in 2019. This article is republished as originally published in 2016.
Perhaps Sarasota’s most popular model home doesn’t even have a bathroom.
It is the replica of the Walker Guest House. The original was built on Sanibel Island in 1952 and is considered a pioneering piece of subtropical architecture. Paul Rudolph (1918-1997) designed it as a seaside cottage on remote Lee County Island, with “shutters” that could be opened or closed depending on the weather, the time of day the day or the mood of the occupant.
The shutters are connected internally by ropes and counterbalanced by heavy iron spheres painted red. From these, the house derives its nickname, “The Cannonball House”.
The array of stabilizers that support the house and the shutters inspired reviewer Alastair Gordon to describe it as “a spider in the sand”.
The original 24-square-foot home still stands on Sanibel and is still owned by the Walker family of Minnesota. With the blessing of Elaine Walker, architect Joyce Owens of Fort Myers drew up the exact plans for the original house and architect/builder/developer/historian Joe King of Bradenton built the replica, with his team, on his family’s ranch east of Bradenton.
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The Sarasota Architectural Foundation commissioned and raised $250,000 for the project. Adding to the expense: the replica is designed to be taken apart, transported and rebuilt as a temporary educational exhibit on mid-century modern architecture.
The first such venue is yet to be determined, but since November 2015 it has been held on the grounds of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art as an outdoor architectural exhibit. The all-volunteer staff of 60 guides showed it to around nearly 50,000 visitors by the end of January.
“It’s definitely beyond our wildest dreams, and the busy season is yet to come,” said SAF President Janet Minker. “The attendance is a fraction of the total museum guests, but it’s quite remarkable.”
The house is open daily until the end of April, and admission is free to both the Walker replica and the museum grounds.
“We had a number of people become members of SAF after visiting the replica,” Minker said. “Every day new people discover the house who may have never even thought of architecture as an art form, and it is a pleasure to watch them discover the heritage of mid-century modern. People are very eager after seeing the replica to go explore and see other buildings and houses in Sarasota.
They can do this by purchasing a Tour Sarasota booklet at WGHR.
“Many visitors have seen the house again and again,” Minker said. “In terms of education, we had a number of events at home, including one with the Girl Scouts and one with the local AIA chapter. Ringling College students come to participate in Christopher Wilson’s course on the history of modern architecture. Architecture students from Florida International University were here on Wednesday. It was a revolving door.
Not exactly. The front door is a conventional swing door.
As for the missing bathroom, the house is not used as a residence, so the single bathroom was removed from Owens’ plans and replaced with a wheelchair lift to make the building accessible.
“Florida Buildings I Love” is Harold Bubil’s tribute to the Sunshine State’s built environment.