Vol 5 No. 49 - August 24, 2005

Pat Fletcher � an Island architect reminisces

Above, Pat Fletcher studies an expansion planned for Eckerd Theater Company at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.

By Pat Copeland

sun staff writer

Architect H. Patterson (Pat) Fletcher, in business on the Island for more than 30 years, says the Island is losing its cozy, tropical ambiance.

"Homes are being overbuilt with respect to the size of the lots," Fletcher explained. "People want mega-structures. They want to fill up every bit of land that they can with some concrete thing in a style that’s not appropriate for the Island.

"Homes should blend in with the environment and nestle into the trees. We all came here for the beach, the palm trees and the lush vegetation, not for ostentatious homes. That’s the charm of the Island and we’re losing it."

Fletcher knows a bit about the Island’s past — his family came here in 1956 when life was much simpler and beach cottages reigned.

"My parents bought two beach cottages on Aqua Lane, and I came down here to help rebuild them," he recalled. "We used Holmes Construction.

"My family loved the Island, so we spent a lot of time here. We flew from Ft. Wayne, Ind., to the Pinellas Airport, which is now the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport. From there we took an air taxi to the landing strip on the Island (where Holmes Beach City Hall and adjacent field are now)."

Fletcher said he got sand in his shoes, so after graduating from high school, he attended the University of Miami with a dream of becoming an architect.

"I was born in Grand Rapids, Mich., and one day I saw a house that I really liked and found out that it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright," he said. "I started reading about him and from then on I knew where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do."

Fletcher was accepted as an apprentice at Taliesin to learn Wright’s style of architecture. Students traveled between Taliesin East in Wisconsin in the summer and Taliesin West in Arizona in the winter.

After a hitch in the U.S. Navy’s submarine service during the Vietnam War, Fletcher returned to Florida, working in Ft. Lauderdale designing hotels, homes and condominiums. In 1974, he sat for the Florida boards, got his license and returned to the Island to build his home and start his practice.

Fletcher’s home reflects his beliefs.

"My house is very organic," he explained. "It was designed using cement block in it’s natural from — not covering it up with stucco. It has a metal roof, a cypress interior and mitered corner windows."

The house was one of the last homes built before the Federal Emergency Management Agency required that homes be elevated. His parents home, which he built next door to his, also is not elevated, but for a different reason. His father was handicapped, so he received permission to build it on the ground, an option that is no longer allowed.

One of the first homes he designed on the Island was for a Lakeland banker and is located near the Manatee County Public Beach.

"It was one of the first homes built after the coastal construction control line was established," Fletcher said. "No one really knew what to do. We had to go to Tallahassee for discussions with DEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) officials.

"The connectors for the roof and foundation that we use today were not yet available then, so we had to improvise. We used threaded steel rods and ran them through the whole building."

Fletcher’s business began to boom. In addition to private residences, he has designed a number of public buildings such as the Island Branch Library, Holmes Beach City Hall, the Island Baptist Church and an addition to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.

"When we do churches, we treat them like theaters," he pointed out. "Island Baptist Church has the same type of acoustics as Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota."

In 1980, he was asked to serve as associate architect with Taliesin Architects for Wes Peter’s design of Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. The facility and the design team were honored with the Governor’s Design Award in 1986. Patterson also worked with Peters on renovations to Van Wezel.

Fletcher has spent the past five years designing and supervising construction of renovations and additions to Ruth Eckerd Hall. The $28 million project doubled the hall’s space.

With an eye on last year’s four hurricanes that devastated parts of the state, Fletcher recently attended a seminar on wind borne debris protection that focused on building and window design. The seminar was given by the state’s Hurricane Research Advisory Committee, and the group’s findings will be incorporated into new state building codes that are being developed.

"The committee studied what caused buildings to collapse during Hurricane Andrew and last summer’s four storms," he said. "They found that tile roofs were the worst and the tiles just flew off in the wind, while metal roofs seemed best.

"If buildings got much above 35 to 37 feet, there was terrible wind damage. This shows that the Island cities are right to hold buildings to those heights. However, in Anna Maria, they should allow homeowners to come down into the flood elevation instead of making everybody build to 13 feet, which reduces the interior ceiling height."

Another thing he learned, which underscores his belief that homes should nestle into the trees, is that trees lower wind speed against a house frame. So, surrounding your house with trees can protect against storm damage.

Currently, Fletcher is working on designing an expansion to the Eckerd Theater Company at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

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