VENICE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation listed the Venice home once owned by “The Black Stallion” author Walter Farley on “Florida’s 11 to Save” this summer at a virtual conference hosted in conjunction with Florida Main Street.
The Florida Trust releases its list annually as a springboard for education efforts on the value of specific structures as part of Florida’s history.
Other area structures on the list include the Patten House, which was built in 1895 in Ellenton by Dudley Patten, the son of Maj. George Patten, who bought the Gamble Plantation and moved his family to the area from Savannah after the Civil War.
Other structures are located in Escambia, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Miami-Dade and Duval counties.
The Duval County listing is actually for a 158-acre downtown Jacksonville historic district that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.
The Farley home at 1100 Sunset Drive was built in the 1950s and designed by noted Sarasota School of Architecture founders Ralph Twitchell and Jack West.
It is still owned by Farley’s heirs, Alice Patricia Farley and Walter Steven Farley
The sale of a 2.68-acre, adjacent, landlocked portion of the property for $1.77 million in 2016 satisfied the desire of a third heir, Timothy Farley.
The two surviving heirs have the home dually listed as a home in need of repair and as vacant land.
The listing agent, Martie Lieberman of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, is founder of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation who through modernsarasota.com specializes in selling Sarasota School of Architecture style homes.
“We’re looking for the hero that would like to restore this house,” said Lieberman, who called the 3,299-square-foot structure one of the largest Sarasota School of Architecture homes she’s seen.
In addition to the state list, which was unveiled at the Preservation on Main Street annual conference, the Farley home is included on the History & Preservation Coalition of Sarasota County’s 2020 Six to Save List.
Farley and his wife, Rosemary, were among the founders of the original Venice Public Library.
The Walter Farley Literary Landmark was established in the children’s wing at the old library.
The new William H. Jervey Jr. Venice Public Library is still home to the Walter Farley Literary Landmark, a museum-quality historical display.
The son of an assistant hotel manager, Farley grew up in Syracuse, New York, and New York City.
He used to visit the stables of his uncle, a professional horse trainer, for inspiration. “The Black Stallion” was published in 1941.
Farley owned a horse while living in Venice, and his children used to ride it on the beach.
After serving in World War II, Farley pursued a successful career as a children’s book author, both with sequels in the Stallion series and other books.
Shortly after the war, he and Rosemary split time between their farm in Pennsylvania and Venice. He died at 73 after suffering a heart attack in October 1989.
His wife died at age 94 in March 2013 at their Sunset Drive home in Venice.
While Venice is primarily known for the Mediterranean Revival architecture favored by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, when homes were first built in 1926-27, there were once as many as 42 homes identified in the city as midcentury modern structures.
Since then, the numbers have dwindled. With the 50-year mark for historical recognition still relatively recent, Klinkhamer said there’s “definitely an appreciation for the Sarasota School of Architecture; it’s kind of a unique substyle for this part of Florida.”
The Warm Mineral Springs Motel, designed by Victor Lundy and built in 1958, and the three main structures at Warm Mineral Springs – which are believed to be designed by Jack West – are both on the National Register of Historic Places.
Though the Farley home is not designated historic, it is eligible.
Venice Historical Resources Manager Harry Kllinkhamer noted that at least one nonprofit has thought about acquiring the home.
Klinkhamer called it a great example of “the Sarasota Modern look,” especially since the architects that worked on it were founders, leaders of the movement.”
The original home was designed by Twitchell and West, while an addition was designed by Twitchell’s office.
“It helps to show that Venice history goes beyond ’26-’27 and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers,” Klinkhamer said. “Then you’ve got a well-known author who lived there, and they were active in the community.”
“It’s a great piece of architecture, it’s a great story about an individual and his global significance and a family that has such a positive influence on the local community,” he added. “We have not paid any kind of homage or much acknowledgment to the midcentury modern architecture here in the city and what a great example this would be.”
The 1.86-acre parcel is fairly deep, though current building regulations mean that a replacement structure would have to be set back much farther from the Gulf of Mexico than the current home.
An owner who embraced a historic designation and sought to restore the home could do that in its current location. The historic designation is key there, because it allows for a waiver of the Federal Emergency Management Agency 50% rule.
Lieberman stressed that the two Farley heirs who still have a stake in the beachfront home want to find a buyer to save the structure.
“That’s why they’ve kept it,” she added. “They’re artists; they grew up in an artist’s home.”
Despite the COVID-19 slowdown, Lieberman said she gets two calls a day from people all over the world who love the idea of owning a Sarasota School of Architecture home.
A caretaker currently lives on site, and prospective buyers do have to qualify before seeing the property, which is not open for tours.
Lieberman noted she provides those who do qualify access to blueprints, as well as contact with Seibert Architects, and Ball Construction – area firms that specialize in such restorations.
Everyone who inquires asks a lot of questions.
“This is old Florida,” Lieberman said. “This is like a throwback in time.”