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The legacy of Powel Crosley.

From U.S. 41, there is not much to see. Just a hammock of trees west of the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport and the remains of an unfinished security gate for a condominium project that never happened.

Every day, thousands of motorists whiz by, unaware that behind the pocket of roadside jungle stands one of the Gulf Coast's most magnificent estate homes from Florida's boom period in the early part of the century.

Its name is Seagate, and if it's haunted, the ghosts must be very friendly. The Mediterranean Revival mansion that stands sentinel over Sarasota Bay retains its sense of whimsy, along with a heady feeling of romance: Stand beneath the exotic window grilles and you expect to see a Juliet peeking out to find her Romeo.

You can see and feel the whimsical charm in the magnificent Ship's Room, a circular tower with portholes of Venetian handblown glass that stand out against the mahogany paneling like jewels, spaced between delicately carved faces of smiling cherubs. From the cherubs' curls rise carved beams that extend up like the spokes of a wheel to the apex of the ceiling and converge on a colorful painted compass map.

Whimsy is in every corner of the house. In the cardinal bird motif of the wrought iron work that holds entryway lamps and planters. In the living room's magnificent floor-to-ceiling fireplace that's crowned with an ornate mantel that rests atop sensual stone columns. And in the imaginative patterns of the Nemadji tile floors and the hand-stenciled ceilings.

To stand by the bay and look back at the rose and salmon flagstone patio with its graceful curving staircases that flank the loggia entrance is to step back into the times when Florida was the exotic playground of men who built castles fit for kings.

Powel Crosley Jr., the builder of Seagate, was no exception.

An inventor and radio buff, Crosley gave the world the Crosley automobile, the Crosley refrigerator, the Crosley scalp exerciser and the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, whose home, Crosley Field, is named in his honor. His radio station, WLW in Cincinnati, was the first superpower station in the country. It broadcast at 500,000 watts, which enabled its signal to reach across America. Crosley's hit program was "Moon River," an anthology of dreamy music and poetry that spawned many a romance and marriage in the 1930s. One of its top stars was Doris Day, America's budding sweetheart.

Crosley, however, was as practical as he was romantic. A truly inventive mind, Crosley turned his imagination loose when he built Seagate and came up with one of the first forms of air-conditioning -- a pump that circulated seawater through the walls to keep the rooms cool.

Designed by George Albree Freeman, whose hand also shaped the Sarasota Post Office (now the Federal Building on Orange Avenue), Seagate is considered by many preservation experts to be a finer piece of work than the John Ringling home, Ca' d'Zan.

At one point threatened by development, Seagate now has a new lease on life. It was recently purchased by Manatee County and will become an important element in the new bicounty gateway area that will greet visitors to the Sarasota-Bradenton area. Renovation plans call for a museum/park complex that will complement the expanded USF/New College campus. Both counties owe a debt of gratitude to the Friends of Seagate, who sparked public interest in saving the property from development; to Mark Famiglio, who bought the property from a developer and helped to bring the county and state together to save the house; to USF/New College; and to officials such as Pat Glass and Sen. Bob Johnson, who made the public purchase possible.

Because of them, the ghosts of Crosley's imaginative, inventive spirit will continue to smile down on Sarasota Bay.
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Title Annotation:Landmarks; inventor, radio buff, and builder of the Seagate estate in Sarasota, Florida
Author:Wright, Donna Wisener
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:May 1, 1992
Previous Article:Judy Saltzman, a real estate professional like no other.
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