© St. Petersburg Times, published September 19, 1999
The primary motivator of people when they design is just to do what other people do, so those buildings are about imitation, for the most part. The people who designed them didn't really have a unique creative idea. In architecture we have form setters, like Frank Lloyd Wright with his prairie style, and Le Corbusier. They set the form, and other people kind of slavishly follow them. But imitation can be good. Snell Arcade, one of my favorite buildings in St. Petersburg, is similar in style to the Woolworth Building in New York City. It has a lot of the same ornate qualities.
The open-air post office in St. Petersburg comes to mind. It's a good example of ecological thinking -- of making a building compatible with its environment. It allows us to enjoy the natural environment instead of closing the building off in air conditioning and slamming it shut.
What else do you like about the post office?
The detail to it. Because of economics, we're not able to add as much detail as we used to. In the old days labor was cheaper; you could get crown moldings, chair rails, all the detail that makes a building interesting.
Could it be that our values have changed and we don't care about architectural beauty as much as we once did?
For a while, we got away from fine detail in the things we built. But now we're coming back to a period where we're appreciating those details. We're seeking a better form of life -- friendlier neighborhoods, bigger trees, two-story houses.
Is it somehow better for one's soul to buy stamps in an open-air post office instead of a typical square, brick building?
To me, yes, absolutely. A lot of us have cut off the connection between ourselves and the environment. A lot of people live in their houses with air conditioning on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It's not healthy. I'm not a medical expert or anything, but I think if you get those odors out and the vapors out and you keep it open-air, it's healthier for you. I'm not saying everybody has to turn off the air conditioning. I use it too, sometimes. And I feel guilty about that. But not guilty enough to turn it off.
Let's talk about the not-so-beautiful parts of this area. A thousand years from now, when archaeologists unearth the thousands of two-bedroom, concrete-block houses that were built in the middle of the century, what conclusion will they come to?
That someone wanted to build a lot of houses quickly. Most of those houses were built right after World War II, when we had a lot of retirees and military people moving to this area. So what the future archaeologists will see is expediency.
No, that doesn't really bother me too much, because those are perfectly good houses, and landscaping can go a long way toward fixing them up. What bothers me the most is driving on a road like U.S. 19, where all you see is see sign, sign, building, sign -- just garbage everywhere. The commercial strips are the worst thing I can imagine. There's no consistency, no composition, no rhythm to them. It's like sitting in your living room watching 10 televisions, all tuned to different stations. All these stimuli are unnerving at best and dangerous at worst.
When you become king, what will you do about it?
Well, developers build these things and sell them and then somebody else has to worry about the problems they created. If I were king, I would make builders come up with a 10- or 20-year plan for these things so we'd know what they would look like in two years, five years, 10 years. I might even pass a rule saying they would have to own the buildings for that period of time, to force them into longer-term thinking.
The developers probably aren't going to back your candidacy for king.
AGE: 50 PROFESSION: Partner, Rhode Clemmons Architects, Inc., St. Petersburg. ACHIEVEMENTS: Won awards for preservation of several historic houses in St. Petersburg, including the Sunset Bay Inn and the West-Mandrigues House (also known as the Pineapple House), both on Sixth Avenue NE. His firm renovated the Moon Under Water Restaurant on Beach Drive and is completing work on the Arts Center on Central Avenue. PERSONAL: Married to Barbara Rhode, a psychotherapist. Three children. CAME HERE FROM: Columbus, Ohio, in 1984. PREVIOUS LIFE: High school science teacher.
PROFESSION: Partner, Rhode Clemmons Architects, Inc., St. Petersburg.
ACHIEVEMENTS: Won awards for preservation of several historic houses in St. Petersburg, including the Sunset Bay Inn and the West-Mandrigues House (also known as the Pineapple House), both on Sixth Avenue NE. His firm renovated the Moon Under Water Restaurant on Beach Drive and is completing work on the Arts Center on Central Avenue.
PERSONAL: Married to Barbara Rhode, a psychotherapist. Three children.
CAME HERE FROM: Columbus, Ohio, in 1984.
PREVIOUS LIFE: High school science teacher.
Interstate 275 coming into St. Petersburg. When you come across the bridge from Tampa, it's like coming into a garden; it's wonderful. There are nice water views on either side. Then you have all these oleanders and palms planted. I think it makes a wonderful impression. I give Mayor (David) Fischer a lot of credit for that.
What are the other places in the Tampa Bay area that you like?
When I first came down here in '84, I got on my bike and pedaled around for miles and miles every day. And one of the first things I discovered was a neat little area called Driftwood in south St. Petersburg. I just thought, this is what Florida should be: great big oaks that drape over these small, little roads that wind through them. The builders respected the trees. They went right around the trees instead of cutting through them.
What about outside Pinellas County?
Hyde Park in Tampa is really nice. That feels to me like the Old Northeast in St. Petersburg.
Some of the greatest cities in the world -- London, Paris, Rome, Florence -- are memorable largely because of their buildings. In the century or so since people settled this area, have we created anything of lasting value?
The difference between, say, Florence and Tampa Bay is that Florence evolved over a long period of time. Here, we had a little town in the late 1800s, and after the boom in the early part of this century, suddenly we had a city. So there wasn't a lot of planning that went into it. But I have a real confident feeling that St. Petersburg is going to be one of the world-class cities. Just the setting is beautiful. The fact that we have water all around us means we can't create the sprawl, which is hurting a lot of cities. It's going to take time. But I think we're doing the right things.
-- Interview by Mike Wilson