1303/1309 Cordova Avenue: A tale of two of houses

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Ft Myers comes by its rich heritage of the Sarasota School of Architecture honestly, but not easily, as evidenced by two homes found on Cordova Avenue near downtown. The homes would never have been built had Charlotte Bever not coaxed her friend, Laura Roediger, also recently widowed, to come to Fort Myers and purchase one of her adjoining lots. Not satisfied with their initial choice of sites they even swapped lots before they began construction.

Young Bill Frizzell, recently employed by architect Bolton McBryde in the mid-fifties and who went on to become a preeminent architect in Florida, was just coming out of his early apprenticeship with Mark Hampton from Tampa (only the second employee of the renowned architectural practice of Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph, godfathers of the Sarasota School of Architecture) when he was commissioned to design the two Cordova Houses.

The homes designed by Frizzell for the two widows in 1957 were apparently too radical for the neighbors who tried to block their construction. Charlotte, so the story goes, made it clear to the local Coca Cola distributor, and other vocal neighbors, that their products might not find space on the shelves of her store. Charlotte's "store", founded by Charles D. Bever and Charlotte in 1923, under the name B&B Cash Grocery in Avon Park, was the predecessor to the U-Save Supermarkets.

The objections stopped and eventually the two homes were built – the award winning 1309 Cordova Avenue still owned by Charlotte's grandson Chic Bever and his wife Lollie.

Sitting side by side, the two modern houses whose radical designs upset the neighborhood, remain fairly unknown. These houses, an evolution of the early designs of the Sarasota School rival some the best designed homes of the era, including the local Walker Guesthouse on nearby Sanibel Island or those more often found in or near Sarasota.

Very much like the Sanibel guesthouse designed by Paul Rudolph in 1952, the houses are raised off the ground for a multitude of reasons; to allow cool air to pass below, to reduce chances of flooding and to create distance between the earth, where all sorts of insects and snakes lived, and the interior. A blurred relationship between the interior and exterior was a most foremost objective and huge expanses of doors and windows slide out of the way and on to tall-screened porches, creating addition outdoor living spaces.

Screened porches and windows allow river breezes to ventilate the houses year round making them pleasantly habitable without air conditioning.

Unlike the very functional Guest house built using off-the-shelf materials found at the local hardware store, both Cordova houses are very stylized buildings, incorporating varied roof lines integral to the overall design, decorative terracotta brick screens, large sliding doors & windows, interior wood paneling and very refined modern bathrooms.

It is rumored that Chic & Lollie have intentionally and lovingly retained the mid-century interiors of the house right down to replacing the full length curtains originally from JC Penney's with exact replacements found 50 years later from the same retailer to keeping the cups, saucers and cutlery carefully positioned in the drawers and cupboards of the original kitchen.

The two close women friends, who had a direct telephone line installed between the bedrooms of the their respective houses, could not have appreciated how the valuable contribution their small homes would make towards understanding mid-century architecture in south Florida.

AIA Florida Southwest Southwest Florida Museum of History Herman Miller