In his last year of college, a young man wrote a letter to a renowned architect.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s secretary eventually wrote back. Sanford Goldman, a St. Petersburg native, had to come in person for an interview at Taliesin West, Wright’s winter home near Scottsdale, Arizona.
“I met Frank Lloyd Wright in his office, introducing myself, and proceeded to show him my best college drawings I’d schlepped along in the Thunderbird,” Goldman wrote in a family memoir. “… When he said my school work wasn’t very good, my heart sank. I thought that was the end. But in the next breath he said that once I was at Taliesin, I’d learn about architecture.”
Goldman did, and he survived almost getting kicked out of the apprenticeship program by Wright’s wife for not quite fitting in. That maybe wasn’t such a bad thing.
Goldman “took the best of Frank Lloyd Wright, not the eccentricities,” said former St. Petersburg Times art critic Charles Benbow in a 1993 Tampa Tribune article. “Then he adopted his work to the needs of this area. His houses are very energy efficient and blend in with nature. He built houses for a Floridian to live in Florida.”
Goldman, who spent his career in St. Petersburg and Brooksville, died Aug. 29 at 88 of natural causes.
The Goldman style
Goldman built his career around function.
“The distinctive Goldman style of architecture reflects his years of study with Frank Lloyd Wright, his preference for combining the warmth of wood with the substantial feel of concrete block and his concept of a house as a piece of walk-through sculpture,” read a 1970 St. Petersburg Times article on the Juanita Way “treehouse” Goldman designed, built and lived in with his wife, Anne, and their children, Shane, Edward and Summer.
Goldman’s existing work includes the Hernando County Government Center, the Ransom Art Center at Eckerd College and schools and homes across Sarasota, Pinellas and Hernando counties. He and his family also lived on a farm in Brooksville before returning to St. Petersburg.
Wife Anne Goldman, a journalist, died in 2003. Goldman married family psychologist Mary Davenport in 2010. The architect was funny, humble and easygoing, she said, but always aware of the world around him.
“He always looked at things in a critical way to figure out a better way to do something,” said Davenport. “If a mug didn’t feel good in his hand, he said it was no good and he wouldn’t use it. He looked at the entire world that way.”
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And it wasn’t just buildings.
In 1968, Goldman was one of the original members of the Community Alliance, a group formed to address racism in the city. His work included low-income housing, which Goldman believed should be seen, like all homes, as places of pride. In 1974, he was given the key to St. Petersburg for his environmental planning work. In 2018, the city honored him for lifetime achievement in architecture and service.
In a tribute from St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, Goldman is remembered as “a brave man who was the first to do many things in the areas of social justice, planning and development and the environment, leaving a legacy that will touch the hearts and lives of others for generations to come.”
The architect was also a pilot. And a sailor. And a world traveler. And a very good listener.
“People were always kind of surprised when they realized who he was because he came across as this very humble guy,” Davenport said.
Goldman moved away from building homes as the industry turned toward mass production.
But he came out of retirement five years ago for a special project — the home of daughter Summer Goldman and her family in Terra Ceia. Goldman also designed a treehouse for his grandson at the home of daughter Shane Davis.
In Terra Ceia, there’s abundant natural light, cross ventilation and windows where another architect might have put a wall. Like generations of people who’ve lived in homes designed by her father, Summer Goldman knows that her space has something special.
“You just feel like you’re on the water,” she said. “I plan to be there forever.”
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.