Not every 50-year-old building is honored with a gala birthday party.
Then again, The Terrace condominium isn’t just any building.
Built in 1961 and located at 5400 Ocean Blvd. in Siesta Key’s Village, the 16-story, 71-unit waterfront complex was the tallest building on the island. Designed by a celebrated young architect named Frank Folsom Smith, the building reflected the new modern style of architecture.
Soon after The Terrace was built, Sarasota County reduced the height regulations for residential structures.
Although Smith’s work can be found around the country, it is here in Sarasota that his impact is most strongly felt.
When Smith began his architectural career the modern designs that he and a small group of architects embraced formed what became the Sarasota School of Architecture. In 2019, during its annual conference called “Sarasota in the Sixties,” the Sarasota Architectural Foundation honored Smith along with fellow architects Carl Abbott, Joe Farrell, Tim Seibert and Jack West. The event gained international attention.
On April 24, residents of The Terrace gathered in the building’s lobby to celebrate their home and to toast Smith, the 90-year-old guest of honor. He spoke about his long career and the importance of the building’s design.
The event was, according to the invitation, “a celebration of mid-century modern architecture and its timeless lines, expansive windows and integration with nature.”
Smith, who made his home here in the early 1960s, recalled how that era was “a busy time in the architectural world. It was an exciting decade for our generation.”
In designing The Terrace, Smith said “I wanted my building to be strong and long-lasting with its impressive views and outdoor living space.”
Made of poured concrete, he recalled that the “trucks were working 24 hours a day for close to four weeks.”
The design,” he said, “presented a terrific challenge” due to its location.
“It reminded me of a moonshot,” Smith joked, harkening back to those days.
Sarasota architect Michael Halflants, a partner in the firm Halflants & Pichette who was on hand for the celebration, called The Terrace “an architecturally significant building. It meets the sky and folds into the ground. It is a well-thought-out building structurally and it has aged very well.
“The proportions of the building feel right when you’re close to it or if you see it from a distance, and it still looks contemporary.”
Recently, Halflants and his partner John Pichette put their own mark on The Terrace by redesigning several units on the higher floors of the building.
“I have always been inspired by Frank’s work,” Halflants said.
During the celebration, residents were invited to view their work that involved exposing concrete and expanding the window openings to take better advantage of the expansive views.
When asked what challenges he faced while working in an occupied residential building, Halflants recalled with a smile that “We had to crane in a 15-foot cement counter top and most of the work was done in the summer, when fewer residents were here.”
A renowned modern architect in his own right, Halflants is a native of Brussels. He earned a master’s degree at the University of Florida and received the Florida Medal of Honor for Design. The award is the highest honor that the American Institute of Architects can bestow upon an architect in Florida.
Smith had nothing but praise for Halflants & Pichette’s work.
“I appreciate what Michael has done to keep the building alive,” he told The Terrace residents as he sat in the building’s lobby, surrounded by large black-and-white photos of the building’s earlier years.
Architectural renderings of The Terrace, along with modern-day photos of Halflants & Pichette’s work, were on also on display. So were photos of Smith’s Plymouth Harbor building on the edge of St. Armand’s Circle, and his Sandy Cove building on Siesta Key.
The photo exhibit was presented in collaboration with Nathan Skiles of The Ringling College of Art and Design.
“The building stood the test of time,” said Angie Bastian, vice-president of the Beach Terrace Association Board of Directors, as the evening concluded. “Michael and John proved the sustainability of the building by bringing it into the 21st century.”
Smith graciously quipped that “It was either wisdom or luck that we did a design that could be so beautifully adapted.”