Faced with a tide of growth all too familiar to towns across America, the Gulf Coast community of Venice, Fla., has managed to preserve not only its small town character, but a priceless architectural heritage reminiscent of its Italian, canal city namesake.
Floridas Venice is one of three cities in the state designed in the 1920s by a world-renowned planner, John Nolen, with Italian Renaissance and Mediterranean-style architecture evident in many of its early buildings. All was quiet for 30 years: in 1950, Venices population remained at 863. But its coastal location, peaceful ambiance, and the Southern relocation surge of recent decades has resulted in todays population of 21,000.
Venice responded with a preservation effort designed to protect both its architectural legacy and hometown ambiance, while steadily improving on the latter.
Were unique in that our surrounding areas are similar to, or complement, our downtown area rather than being a totally different environment as in the case of most cities, says Don Caillouette, Venices senior planner. Our brick pavers (crosswalks) give the look and feel of pedestrian traffic, which leads to a better relationship between motorists and pedestrians, and adds to the overall feel of a small town environment.
Careful planning has spawned a community of beautiful parks, landscaping, open areas, and active facilities and citizens have played an active role in all of it, explains Bob Vedder, publisher of the weekly Venice Gondolier. But the Italian architecture exemplifies the soul of Venice and serves as the source of immense civic pride.
All buildings within the district (downtown) have to meet the strict requirements of the Architectural Review Board, says Medard Kopzynski, Venices growth management director. Commercial buildings in the bordering theme district must adhere to some of these requirements, but not as strictly. Our standards arent meant to fossilize development into the 1920s (but) to emulate that style using todays technology and comforts.
The result is growth that complements the past rather than buries it. Most new construction has occurred inland, and the town had the foresight 30 years ago to limit new building construction to three stories.
A prime example of Venices original Northern Italian Renaissance architecture is evident at Park Place, once the regal Hotel Venice and now a retirement home. The building has curved archways, courtyard fountains, a clay barrel tile roof, wrought iron window details, and Tuscan columns. Its courtyard gives one a sense of being back in old Italy.
The Triangle Inn on South Nassau Street perhaps best signifies Mediterranean Revival style architecture. Originally a bed and breakfast, the building houses the Venice Archives & Historical Collection and sports arcaded loggia, ornamental detailing, and a prominent tower reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance period.
It still has the original wood floors, says Dorothy Korwek, Venices director of historical resources. Buildings in the 1920s were more unique. They were identifiable by design rather than street numbers.
All of the rooms for rent were on the south side, she says. That allowed enough heat through careful window placement to warm guests during the winter months. (In summer, the midday sun is high overhead and doesnt fill south windows with solar heat.) Most of the buildings had some type of solar heating for hot water, Korwek adds. Water typically was pumped up to a black storage tank on the roof where it was heated by the sun and piped down again for use.
West along Venice Avenue is an area of stately homes with splendid examples of Mediterranean Revival style architecture. These homes please the eye and hint at life in a bygone era, with red or green tile roofs, arched windows, fireplaces, ornate door and window trim, awnings, archways, columns, and courtyards.
Tom and Evelyn Cuscovitch moved to Venice from Connecticut four years ago. Venice was the town I really liked, Mrs. Cuscovitch says, because of its quaint, small town ambiance. The old buildings, the beach, that hometown feel, all convinced me to stay.
Its such a clean town, adds Mr. Cuscovitch. The buildings give it a special flavor all its own.