Mid-Century Home Nominated To Preserve Architectural History

The Cassisi home in Gainesville, Florida was built in 1964 by Harry Merritt. The home was nominated for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Photograph courtesy of Gainesville Modern
The Cassisi home in Gainesville, Florida, was built in 1964 by Harry Merritt. The home was nominated for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Photograph courtesy of Gainesville Modern

Surrounded by grandfather oak trees, a mid-century home built with only cement and redwood was recently nominated to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Gainesville. The home was nominated in early March, but the proposal is in the process of being reviewed by the staff of Florida’s Bureau of Historic Preservation in Tallahassee.

The homeowners, Nick and Elayne Cassisi, received a call from the home’s architect, Harry Merritt, reminding them that the house was 50 years old, making it the qualifying age for a spot on the register.

The home, at 3105 SW Fifth Court, was designed in 1964 by Harry Merritt, a former architecture professor at the University of Florida. It is the only modern house to be nominated, said David Forest, executive director for Gainesville Modern.

Gainesville and its surrounding areas are becoming a hotspot for mid‐century modern architecture, Forest said. Gainesville Modern is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Gainesville’s architectural past that works to brand North Florida as a modernist mecca, Forest said.

“Our mission is to preserve very unique architecture gems in town,” he said.

Merritt came to Florida from Harvard University to work under architect Jean Levy. He soon began teaching at UF, said Murray Laurie, a historic preservation consultant. While Merritt was at UF, he designed 30 homes and 40 commercial buildings around North Florida.

When the 50-year mark passed, the Cassisi’s came to Laurie with a nudge from Merritt with the idea of getting the house on the National Register.

When Merritt designed the house, he worked with the original client to create  a concept meant specifically for the space, budget and surrounding natural elements, Laurie said.

“The house is made of redwood and concrete Ocala block,” Laurie said. “Glass windows line the house, so you can see from one side to the other. Merritt was particularly interested in the setting — hills and large oak trees are part of its mystique.”

Gainesville Modern hopes one of Gainesville’s mid‐century modern buildings also receives a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s an honorary designation, especially for a house that is unique and in pristine condition,” Laurie said.

Forest said the house is historic not only because of its architect, but because it is a great representation of mid-century homes. Most homes in this style of architecture have been demolished or updated too much.

After moving into the house in 1973, the Cassisi’s have not done much to the original structure to the house, except for replacing the original terrazzo flooring, which was beginning to crack, and moving the washer and dryer from the upstairs closet to downstairs after the dryer caught on fire, Elayne Cassisi said.

Marty Hylton, president of Gainesville Modern’s Board of Directors, said he will be happy about the recognition but would like to see more buildings designated as historic on the National Register to keep them from being demolished.

Laurie sent the nomination to the Florida National Register, which will then review the application when the committee meets again in a couple of months. Laurie frequently speaks to Merritt, who is retired in Maine, and he said he is hopeful for the approval and will be pleased with the recognition.

About Amanda Guillen

Amanda is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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