By Rachel Brown Hackney
Standing at 172 Sandy Hook Road North on Siesta Key, the one-story octagonal, wood-frame structure built in 1952 is famous not only because of its design but because of its designer: Mary Rockwell Hook.
The second woman to graduate from the prestigious Ecole Des Beaux-Arts in Paris, in 1906, Hook had a successful career in Kansas City before she retired to Sarasota, county historical documents explain. In her plans for the single-family home on Sandy Hook Road, she created what is recognized as “an excellent example of a Florida Regionalist Modernist residence,” Robert Bendus, the county’s manager of historical resources, wrote in an Aug. 30 memo to the County Commission.
Because of the structure’s shape, it came to be known as the “Round House.”
On Dec. 21, 2016, the current owners of the home — Tomas and Sofia Fiedler — applied to the County Commission for historical designation of the main structure, as well as a garage, utility building, fountain, seawall and landscape features of the property.
A memo Bendus provided to the board in advance of that meeting explained that the Sarasota County Historic Preservation Board had voted unanimously on Jan. 24 to recommend the historic designation, in accordance with the criteria for such actions found in Chapter 66 of the County Code.
Lorrie Muldowney, past manager of historical resources for the county — and now a professional consultant on such matters — worked as the agent for the Fiedlers on the application. In it, she explains that Hook first came to Sarasota in 1935. “While visiting Lido Beach,” the application says, “Hook decided to purchase land in the Sarasota area,” ultimately acquiring 55 acres on Siesta Key “in the general location of today’s Sandy Hook, Sandy Cove and Whispering Sands developments.”
The architect’s first project in Sarasota was The Whispering Sands Inn, which was completed in 1937, “immediately to the south of Sandy Hook,” the application notes. The inn was “planned as a haven for painters, writers, and other creative people,” according to Hook’s 1970 autobiography, This and That.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that the inn burned down in 1969, the application says.
In 1945, Hook sold part of her Siesta land holdings — including the property where the inn stood — “and turned her attention to the development of Sandy Hook,” the application explains.
“Named for its location and natural beauty,” the land was “nothing but sand and hook,” as the architect described it, the application notes. “She developed Sandy Hook as a place where she and others would realize exciting modern, architectural design. It was platted as Sandy Hook Subdivision on November 25, 1957,” the application says.
Hook designed the first two homes in the subdivision in the early 1950s. The third was the project of a young architect at the time named Paul Rudolph. He would go on to achieve international acclaim for his “Sarasota School of Architecture” designs and chair the Department of Architecture at Yale University for six years.
“The Post-World War II homes at Sandy Hook were designed to fit in with their surroundings, yet have a distinctly modern feel,” the application explains.
Hook and her husband, Inghram D. Hook, occupied the Round House for “several years,” Mary Hook wrote in her autobiography, as the application notes. “[T]he wide deck built out over the bayou” was a feature the couple shared with herons, ducks and other birds, Hook added in her book.
“According to property records compiled by the Sandy Hook Homeowners’ Association, which describe the history and ownership of each Sandy Hook property,” the application continues, “Hook swam daily from ‘a wide deck built over the lagoon …’”
By 1970, the Round House had been bought by Elizabeth “Betty” Strawbridge, the application says. Mary Hook built another house at 15 Sandy Hook Road North in 1956 and then a second structure in 1957 at that location. The first of those two buildings became a guesthouse, the application adds. Hook lived in the main house until 1970, when she moved into the home at 37 Sandy Hook; she lived there until 1978.
In 1977, the application points out, residents of Kansas City celebrated Hook’s 100th birthday by focusing on her career, offering “a tour of the famous and magnificent homes she designed there.”
The structure itself
“Hook was interested in the use of poured concrete construction, incorporating native materials in her designs and inviting the outdoors in, two of the central ideas of the Sarasota School of Architecture movement,” the application explains.
“The poured concrete slab foundation at the Round House is noteworthy as it was completed just a few years after some of the earliest examples of poured concrete on Siesta Key,”
the application adds. “Hook was the first architect in Kansas City to use cast-in-place concrete walls, experimenting with the material early in her career,” the application notes, referencing the International Archive of Women in Architecture Newsletter, Volume 3, No. 1.
Hook described the Round House’s original appearance in her autobiography: “‘an octagon with each pie-shaped section forming a room. The center circular section served as a coat closet for the entrance hall, a fireplace area for the living room, the little kitchen for the dining room and the two baths for the bedrooms. The outer wall was almost entirely of glass, giving a feeling of being out of doors which was a bit advanced at the time.’”
The 1,769-square-foot house is constructed of wooden board and batten exterior siding, accentuated with large expanses of fixed glass, multiple operable windows — paired and individual — and several doors, the application says.
“Today, the plan of this single-story house is largely unchanged because of the sensitivity of the alterations and additions,” including a kitchen, dining room, pool and deck extension, the application points out. “Many original windows and doors remain.”