The Leedy Lifetime Works Tour
about the tour

bonus track


Bonus Track

If you're wondering what it's like to live in a Gene Leedy home, enjoy your ride home while listening to some of the residents of Drexel Avenue.

Gene Leedy has often remarked that some of his best friends are former clients. But on top of this hill, some of his clients are also his neighbors. These 1957 homes are similar in their modular design behind the unpainted concrete courtyard walls. They stand as a timeless collection amidst more traditional homes. This unique residential grouping is as a primary example of Leedy's belief, that homes should be designed for the lifestyle of the occupant and not merely for 'curb appeal.'

Originally, they were designed of post and beam construction. Most had a modest 1,200 square feet of living space under roof. But the use of the entire lot as a boundary for the courtyard walls makes these homes feel much more spacious. Their structural system of 4-inch decking was avant-garde at the time. They were built in 4 x 4 modules for cost efficiency and unity of materials. For energy efficiency in pre-air conditioned Florida, Leedy created his famous glass walls and used sliding glass doors, to bring the outdoors in.

Leedy's home is the 1518 address, and it is there that he and wife Marjorie have raised four children, Saffie, Robert, Helen, and Ingram. Marjorie described her adaptation to mid-century modern:

"I lived in a conventional house in Tampa with conventional parents, and when I married Gene Leedy, it was a whole new world. You wait until you meet Ingram, and Saffie, and my daughter Helen, and Robert."

Listen as Ingram shares his impressions of his Drexel Avenue upbringing. He later lived in another of his father's buildings at the SAE House in Gainesville, so who better to speak for the neighborhood but the son of the architect?

"It seems like everyone who has lived in one of my dad's houses has a strong identity. They're always somebody who does something. They have a real successful business or they're somebody who's famous, and they always live in one of these houses. And it's always been a real interesting thing growing up because when I was little, there are so many people I've been exposed to from all over the world that have come to our house or lived in my dad's houses. Or we've traveled to go build these buildings and be with these people, and some of these clients still come to see him. One that comes to mind, he would just all of the sudden show up one Thanksgiving in his plane and want to take us somewhere. That's the kind of people he's around. Every time he has a client they become friends. He'll never move, he'll never move out of that house. That house to him, he calls it his roots, and he feels like those are his family and his roots, and you can't take that away. It's always home for all his kids. He calls it his little nest."

Note that Leedy's home is also literally nestled under a large oak that grows right through his inner courtyard.

Junior Whittinghill has enjoyed evening scotch and conversations with the Leedys for years. She gives insight to her inner sanctuary:

"I call it my happy house. I go to bed happy, I get up happy, and I do not have a drapery, well, I have one little tiny blind in my bedroom, so it's just light and sunny all the time. And I love my house. And I would highly recommend anyone to have one like it."

Dr. Tim Howell, Winter Haven physician, would agree:

"When you're inside the house you look out. That's part of my house, my yards are part of my house, and that's what I love so much about Gene Leedy's architecture. He doesn't limit spaces, and he allows the outside to come in. I sound like Gene, don't I? I've heard enough of his patter. He'll appreciate this."

Sheila and Tom Leavey paradoxically appreciate the courtyards -- Sheila for the security, and Tom for the freedom.

Sheila says: "I'm very happy. My house is very easy to maintain. It flows. It's a liveable piece of indoor/outdoor living..., a house that I love to walk into every day. I say it's my womb, w-o-m-b, without a view because I walk in and I am completely encased by the walls, and I'm in an environment that I can control."

Tom says: "It is wide- open because everything is sliding glass doors, and it's a good thing we have these 8-9 foot walls all around the house because it makes it a little more private. Sheila will probably get upset about this, but when we had the factory, we used to come home and take off our clothes and jumped in the pool in hot weather."

Andrew Weaving, author of Sarasota Modern and other related international publications, bought his Drexel home sight unseen. He and partner Ian Thomasson arrived from the United Kingdom months after the purchase. They have a shop in the United Kingdom that specializes in mid-century modern. Like the Kaiser house, they have maintained as much originality as possible. But they both agree, their new Florida neighbors are also originals:

"We're all there because of the houses. We're all completely different, we're all from different origins. But it's just interesting that the mix of people on that one street work so well. We've all got our own ideas. And we all love and hate each other really, when it boils down to it. Because we all get involved in things, and she's not talking to him, and he's not talking to her. But they all love each other. And it just goes on and on. It's just great that whenever we arrive there, they're always welcoming. When we first got there, Sheila Leavey and Tom came over and brought some beers over, checked to make sure our water was on, Junior left cake on our doorstep, and Gene had a party for us the first night we arrived. So from from the word go, we've been so welcomed into it. And it's the houses that made that thing which is pretty unique."

Ian Thomasson would love to see neighborhoods like this restored wherever they can be found intact. :

"If we could just compromise a little bit, say we'll keep that, but actually we still want a 10,000 square foot house. Actually, if we could just do that and keep the other house here, we could maintain and retain that house as well, you know. I think that is a compromise rather than just demolishing it."

As you drive, listen to Martie Lieberman. She is a Sarasota real estate agent and expert on mid-century properties. She discusses preservation and the idea of long-term investment as opposed to short-term gratification. She met Gene Leedy in 1999 and dubbed Drexel Avenue, "Leedyland."

"I think the bigger challenge is to find serious buyers, and there's a cloud of them. They are all over the world, and they have money, and they're interested in these homes. They just need to know they exist. And there's not a buyer for every single one of them, but there are buyers for most of them. And I wish I had a nickel for every time someone traveled to Sarasota and looked at seriously good Paul Rudolph and Gene Leedy buildings with me. I wish I had a nickel for every time they said, if I'd have only known, I'd have bought that, but they didn't know."

And now you know all about Gene Leedy and his architecture!