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The Florida ranch house.

To me Sarasota's biggest problem has always been not growth, not traffic, not red tide, but the lack of nice old houses. By nice old houses I mean little cottages and bungalows and suburban homes from the pre-World War II period. Every town seems to have them; even in places like Texas and Utah, which you would expect to be all trailer parks, there are plenty of charming tree-shaded neighborhoods, full of homes that have what realtors refer to as "character," which is realtor-talk for "not enough closet space."

And what does Sarasota have? The lowly ranch. Everywhere you look, the ranch dominates the housing stock. In the north part of town they are flimsy little things with pickup trucks parked on the lawn. In the south part of town they are gleaming white, polished daily by retired guys with nothing else to do. Some cost $60,000. Some go as high as half a million, if they have a good waterfront location. But they're still ranch houses.

The reason is, of course, that Sarasota was built at the wrong time. There really wasn't much here before 1940, so when the building boom came in the '50s and '60s, the then-state-of-the-art was the ranch. When I first moved to Sarasota I hated them. There is nothing more middle class or suburban than a ranch; they seemed rife with Sunday afternoon visits to your aunt's or stifling suburban adolescences. But now I'm starting to see their virtues. They are solid, practical, unpretentious, and some have been around so long that they're actually starting to show signs of charm.

The ideal ranch has three bedrooms and two baths, with a family room and a two-car garage. It has a well-tended lawn in front and fenced backyard. There is more likely to be what is called "room for a pool" than a pool itself, which is a shame as ranches are ideally suited to pool life, since they are traditionally built with the wide side facing the street and backyard.

My favorite Sarasota ranch houses are located in Southgate. Drive around the neighborhood and you'll see hundreds of examples, mostly dating from the "classical" period of the ranch, from 1956 to 1969. Many of these houses feature typical details: terrazzo floors, great tile work in the bathrooms, built-in shelves and planters, decorative wrought iron, wood paneling in the family room. and my own personal favorite, those odd, automotive-inspired designs on the garage doors. (But then I even like jalousie windows.) The "Florida ranch" has several details that distinguish it further. Ithas a barrel tile roof, is made from concrete block and stucco, and is painted either white with pastel trim or pastel with white trim.

The ranch began to decline in the '70s, when it acquired wood paneling set on the diagonal, lots of earth tones, and wall-to-wall carpeting. In the '80s the ranch died completely. It has been replaced today with a structure that does not yet have a name but which can be described as a "mini-palazzo": a series of flowing, Palladian-like spaces, fronted by an enormous garage.

When I first moved to Sarasota, I felt I could never live in a Southgate ranch. But lately they're starting to seem more and more appealing. The location is terrific, and the visual look of the place literally screams "Florida!" They are also very good buys. You can get a very nice one for well under $100,000.

But I'm amazed how seldom a really good one comes on the market. By "really good one" I mean it has all or most of the amenities I've mentioned, plus a quiet street and lots of trees. If you think you have one and would be interested in selling, call me here at the magazine. No brokers, please!
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Title Annotation:Sarasota, Florida
Author:Plunket, Robert
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 1995
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