Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Old Florida Architecture Shines with New Pinnacles on Marco


Photos by Tom Williams


When award-winning architect Herb Savage began designing modern Marco Island, his instructions were simple. “Make everything look Hawaiian,” the Mackle Brothers and the Deltona Corporation insisted, “We’re not competing with Florida, we’re competing with Hawaii, Polynesia, and the South Seas. We want everything to have that tropical feel!”  

The Mackle Brothers were the modern-day developers of Marco Island, and they knew with Key West and the southernmost point in the continental US less than a hundred miles away, the mission for the principal architect for a newly emerging Marco Island was to compete with Polynesia. 

Because Marco would not have much of a winter, this was a well-founded logic simply because the southern half of Southwest Florida is the only subtropical climate in the US other than Hawaii. Anyone shopping for a winter paradise retreat would indeed want the warmest climate possible, and this marketing strategy, combined with the coconut palms framing the sunsets would prove to be irresistible.  

Before he began designing his version of paradise, Herb Savage traveled to Hawaii to get the real feel for Polynesian architecture. Herb’s legacy lives on today in his award-winning creation of the Marco Beach Hotel—now the original sections of the JW Marriott—many of the homes and condominiums on Marco, and a host of other properties that are no longer standing in the present day. 

The pinnacle of housing, metaphorically or not, is always the cherry on top of every creation, and Herb Savage’s outstanding renditions of the Polynesian theme is always evident in the rooflines of every structure he created. The roofline of the JW Marriott’s Quinn’s on the Beach can be recognized in many of the condominiums in Old Marco as well as many of the older homes built during the beginning of Modern Marco.  

During the late 1960s and the early 1970s, cedar shake shingles were a popular choice for the Polynesian rooflines on Marco, along with the ever-popular tile rooflines that often took shape in several different forms of old Hawaii. Flat roofing tiles often replaced cedar shake for storm worthiness and durability, and with every new roof replaced on Marco, the view from the top began to evolve. 


Photos by Tom Williams


Architectural styles are always changing, and during the 1980s and into the 1990s, the larger barrel tiles climbed to the top of popularity and crowned the rooflines of Marco Island with a look not unlike Spain and Italy. This was a sexy style of roof tile that was created centuries ago by the women of Europe and the ladies of the southern Mediterranean who formed the clay tiles by molding the half barrels on their upper thighs. 

Smaller barrel tiles became popular afterward on smaller homes, flat tiles are making a resurgence, but now there seems to be a new trend on the rise, and this traditional trend is nothing new for the Old Florida style of architecture. 

Key West might be only 84 miles from Caxambas, but as modern homeowners of homes in the subtropic region are realizing, the classic tin roof of the Victorian-era houses of Key West is now rising to be the new crown of choice for Marco, Goodland, and the Isles of Capri. 

The original Old Florida style homes were called a “Conch House because the carpenters that built them immigrated to Key West from the Bahamas. The Bahamians were experts in living in the tropics and building wooden boats so the “Conch Houses” they began to build in Key West were instantly popular. The Conch Houses were cool in the summer, cozy in winter, and the original tin roof was the perfect choice for reflecting the sub-tropical heat.  

Of course, the old tin roof of yesteryear has been replaced with modern aluminum, and the old “Tin Man” of the last century is now out of a job. During the days gone by, the “Tin Man” dipped sheets of rolled out steel into vats of melted tin, and afterward, a crew of polishers would brush off the excess tin and scrub a shining finish onto the metal with sawdust. 

After 20 years into a new century, the view from the top is indeed changing on Marco and Capri. Many islanders are choosing the benefits of a metal roof over other traditional roofing materials. Cooling costs can be 20 to 40% less with the modern metal roofthe shiny new crowns are fireresistant, longlasting, easy to maintain, and stormresistant. The mill finish metal is also attractivein that old Florida Key West Conch House theme—and when the summer rains come, what a sound with the raindrops fall and remind us of a simpler time, with simple pleasures, and of an old inn on Marco that has always had a “Conch House” metal roof.  

One response to “Old Florida Architecture Shines with New Pinnacles on Marco”

  1. Richard Dattilo says:

    Excellent History of Marco Island and the Mackle Brothers. I found the article to be very interesting, and illustrating how the Tin Roofs are a return to construction. Thank You.

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