TOP TEN SBDAC SIGHTS
- Coral Rock Marine Limestone- In 1933, a 23,000 square foot United States Post Office was built on the site where the original fort, Fort Harvie, was situated in the 1820’s during the Seminole Indian Wars. The Post Office, designed by prominent Florida architect Nat Gaillard Walker, is Neoclassical Revival architectural style. The building’s massive columns and facade are made of coral rock, which is a sedimentary rock composed almost entirely of fossil debris made from shells and shell fragments, a variety of limestone. This stone was mined from the Florida Keys and was originally intended to cover the whole building, but later budget cuts must have amended that decision, and the coquina ends about half- way back on the sides. Make sure you get a close up look at the unique details.
- Light sculptures- Installed as one of the city’s Public Art projects foreshadowing the SBDAC’s eventual use as an art center, artist Jim Sanborn’s two lighted cylinders (Lux, 2001) tell stories with their engraved lettering. The eastern drum contains the text of a story told by Maskoki Indian leader Tchikilli to James Oglethorpe about the migration of Native Americans into Florida. The Seminoles, Miccosukee and Creek trace their ancestry to Tchikilli and his people. The western drum contains the Latin names of 500 botanicals that Thomas Edison tested in an effort to develop a local source of latex from which to make rubber in order to help out his friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. Sanborn deliberately designed the letters facing the street to be conventionally cut, but reversed the letters facing the building so that they could be read correctly on the building when projected onto the facade at night.
- Plaster ceilings- When Florida Arts Inc. first moved into the building in 2003, 1960’s Courthouse-era dropped ceilings still obscured the two gorgeous, hand-crafted plaster east and west lobby ceilings originally designed for the 1933 post office. Craftsmen of the dying art were finally located in Atlanta, and hired to restore the long-forgotten gems to their current glory. The opposite of the ‘Sanibel Stoop,’ look upwards to appreciate all of the Florida fish, birds, dolphins, and palm trees hidden in the details.
- Lobby light fixtures- Amazingly, founder and CEO Jim Griffith found the building’s original W.P.A. 1933 blueprints in the basement (yes, there is a basement!), which even included drawings for the grand, new Post Office lobby furniture and fixtures. Using these plans, Jim sought out a local glass and metal artist, the late James DiGiorgio, to beautifully recreate the same fixtures with a modern, artistic element. James’ stunning interpretation includes waves and mangroves, which compliment the restored plaster ceilings, appropriately historic without competing with or overwhelming the design.
- Stairwell sculpture- From the 1960’s until 2007, when Mrs. Berne Davis’ generosity renamed the building, this grand structure was known as the Federal Building. To reuse, recycle and reinvent the future while honoring the past, visionary local artist (and Chico’s clothing founder) Marvin Gralnick was engaged to jenga the old letters, federal stars, and outdated elevator remnants to create the 3-story Federal Fantasy Flight. See if you can find all of the letters spelling out f-e-d-e-r-a-l-b-u-i-l-d-i-n-g as you get your steps in!
- Our last dime- Designing the 2021 Sidney’s Rooftop Sculpture Garden for its eventual 2021 opening was more costly- both in time and money- than any of the other four restoration phases! In order to meet all modern safety requirements, the ENTIRE FLOOR of the rooftop is not resting on the actual rooftop, but is a whole new floor independently supported by massive beams (mostly) integrated within the walls of the old structure, except for one support in the west hallway, outside the ticket office doorway. Anyone who has undertaken any sort of construction or renovation project will nod knowingly and perhaps smile (no? too soon?) when they notice the coin and sentiment embedded in this column!
- Elevator gears conference table- If the oak-paneled postmaster’s office door is propped open (with someone hard at work at the conference table), make sure to admire the gorgeous gears from the replaced elevator which now form the massive base for the SBDAC’s main hub conference table. Local artist Lawrence Voytek ingeniously converted the gears into an admirable new vehicle to transport the many ups and downs of creative thought and meetings of the mind at the art center.
- Jail cell toilet- When the 1933 Post Office was converted into a Federal Courthouse in the 1960’s, judges, lawyers, defendants, and plaintiffs passed through the rooms and hallways, and even a holding cell, on a regular basis. History is life, and life is art, so the jail cell toilet was kept and reinstalled in one of the two artists’ green room bathrooms on the mezzanine floor. While not open to the public, the 100% stainless steel toilet and matching waiting bench to ponder one’s fate are a nod to the building’s former function, and a good reminder for all who use it!
- Handprint hilarity- When we removed the dropped ceiling tiles and painted the industrial ceiling black in the second floor Capital Gallery, three unpainted white squares framing unusual handprints were left exposed. We assume that some bored depression-era construction workers looking for a laugh left their legacy in a place that would be obscured for decades. We get the last laugh about their handiwork however, as their prank has been revealed and immortalized in our recording studios’ name- Six Fingers Studios.
- Rooftop- After almost twenty years of planning and dreaming, Sidney’s Rooftop Sculpture Garden opened in Summer, 2021! During open hours, take the elevator to ‘R’ as there is much to see. There are beautiful views of the river and both bridges, the charming downtown Fort Myers ‘skyline,’ usually a pleasant breeze, recently-arrived lounge furniture (thanks, supply chain!), and an open-air bar with numerous opportunities to enjoy live music and dancing. But make sure you also pause to admire Rainer Lagemann’s ‘Hanging On’ climbers, Miami artists Juan Miguel Vazquez’s and Mario Almaguer’s visiting sculptures, and Artsemble Underground’s magnificent mural, ‘Paradise City.’ And the most observant art lovers may be able to spot Jud Nelson’s Animal Cracker Gorilla in its natural habitat! Even the railing is art: ‘Cosmic Debris’ by Lawrence Voytek crowns the entire retreat with the longest metal sculpture in Fort Myers. Art surrounds you literally at the SBDAC!
Written By: Kara Griffith