Home  |  Message Board  |  Creature Feature  |  Paranormal  |  Multimedia  |  Email Us  |  PCR Archives  |  Spotlight  |  Classics From The Vault
La Floridiana by Will Moriaty    Now in our eleventh calendar year
    PCR #548  (Vol. 11, No. 39)  This edition is for the week of September 20--26, 2010.

"Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole"  by Mike Smith
The Fabulous Architecture of the Tampa Bay Region, Part 12  by William Moriaty
Dark Night of the Scarecrow  by ED Tucker
September Album reviews: Weezer,Interpol, The Walkmen, and Boston Spaceships!  by Terence Nuzum
Pop Culture Potpourri: Anniversaries R Us ... R.I.P. Luna Vachon  by Lisa Scherer
Battle Royale  by Jason Fetters
You Say It's My Birthday .... Hate To Say I Told You So (no I Don't) .... The Big 5-o .... Where Was Matt? .... .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf by Mike Smith

The Fabulous Architecture of the Tampa Bay Region, Part 12

The Works of John Randal McDonald, Part One
When many people think of the great architects of the Tampa Bay region, they often think of those who designed the great Mediterranean Revival buildings of the 1920's Florida land boom. Architects such as M. Leo Elliott, Addison Mizner and Dwight James Baum. Then there were a smattering of streamline tropical art deco works in the Bay area by noted architect L. Murray Dixon who designed many of the art deco hotels in Miami Beach. The late 1940's through early 1970's brought to the Bay area mid-century modern designs made possible by members of the Sarasota School of Architecture and the likes of Glenn Q. Johnson who developed the unique "Bird Cage" houses that dot Pinellas Point Drive South and 69th Street South in St. Petersburg. But amidst all this impressive architectural history, one man stands alone who designed breathtaking and beautiful structures throughout the Tampa Bay region and is worthy of mention along with all the other greats.

That man is John Randal McDonald.

McDonald's Grace Lutheran Church at the corner of 16th Street North and Haines Road in St. Petersburg.
McDonald was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1922. He served in the Navy during the Second World War and received his architectural training at Yale University. McDonald's designs were similar to those of Frank Lloyd Wright's utilizing a fusing of nature and sense of place through the use of locally-mined and timbered materials utilized in spatial treatments that played on shifting day light and/or forced perspectives.

To set the record straight, hopefully once and for all, John Randal McDonald was never a protege of Frank Lloyd Wright's as I had erroneously stated in PCR #459 and has also been stated in countless articles about the gentleman over the years. This was confirmed in a phone conversation by me with Mr. Tom Bloczynski of Marshfield, Wisconsin on Sunday September 19, 2010. Mr. Bloczynski was McDonald's last assistant before McDonald died in 2003.

McDonald's nature-driven modernist designs became a sensation in post World War Two Wisconsin. The majority of his designs were initially for residential purposes, and he constructed his own first house in 1949 in Racine, Wisconsin. He lived there several years with his family and then relocated to another house he had designed and built in another part of Racine.

Built in 1957, this a view of the lobby of the Seaside Artisan Motel in Dunedin.
As McDonald's reputation for innovative yet affordable housing grew, he expanded his operations into the Sunshine State by the late 1950's. In addition he was adding churches, hotels, banks, car dealerships, schools, marinas and other structures to his portfolio. In the late 1950's he was commissioned to do the design for the Clearwater Church of Christ building that was to be built across the street from Clearwater High School at 601 S. Hercules Avenue. The building itself, in which the first congregational meeting was held on February 7, 1960, was truly a marvel of architecture and construction science. For years after the structure was built, people from around the country crowded the church to overflow capacity to see the works of McDonald as well as to hear the preaching of the gospel. I was baptized unto the Lord Jesus Christ at this church and attended it from 1987 through 1995. Little did I know its architectural significance for years to come.

In addition to the Clearwater Church of Christ, McDonald also designed the Grace Lutheran Church building located at the northeast intersection of 16th Street North and Haines Road in St. Petersburg. This incredibly beautiful and modern structure (which I labeled as being "Expressionist") was featured in my first Fabulous Architecture of the Tampa Bay Region article in PCR #350. I did not know that McDonald designed this breathtaking structure until 2009!

A side view of the lobby of the Seaside Artisan Motel. The owner's living quarters, attached to the lobby, were designed by McDonald incorporating a nautical theme with port hole windows and a hallway designed like a galley.
Also covered in PCR's Fabulous Architecture of the Tampa Bay Region series was an article about a motel designed by McDonald and built in 1957 in Dunedin called the Seaside Artisan. My 2007 stay there was the first time that I had heard of McDonald. For years while driving by the motel I had admired the prairie and nautical architectural hybrid design of this Florida roadside motel and finally decided to spend a few nights there. While going to the office I had noticed the JRMcD trademark on the wall.

When I questioned owner Susie Clark about the bas-relief insignia she stated that it was the "signature" of its designer John Randal McDonald who she was told was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright (which ended up being restated erroneously in PCR #390!). Ms. Clark told me that McDonald had also designed a dentist's office across the street (on Broadway Boulevard/Alt. U.S. Highway 19).

The west elevation view of the Hercules Avenue Church of Christ in Clearwater, Florida. The congregation there celebrated the building's 50th anniversary which occurred in March 2010.
McDonald also designed a marina in Clearwater, and a Carlisle Lincoln-Mercury car dealership there. In addition, McDonald designed the beautiful buildings that comprise Christ the King Lutheran Church on Oakhurst Road and Christ Presbyterian Church on Dryer Avenue, both in Largo. Lastly, it is reported that McDonald designed several houses in the Tampa Bay area with two of them presumed to be located in Temple Terrace, although their authentication could not be established by research kindly provided by Mr. Bloczynski.

John Randal McDonald's unmistakable bas-relief signature or logo as seen on the lobby wall of the Seaside Artisan Motel in Dunedin.

By the time McDonald was designing churches and other structures throughout he Tampa Bay region in the late 1950's he was beginning to gain a national and international reputation as being one of the country's finest architects. In 1963 he moved to the Ft. Lauderdale area and provided designs for hotels, resorts and residences in South Florida and the Caribbean. In addition he designed homes for celebrities including Bjorn Borg, Mickey Mantle, Perry Como, Jimmy Connors, James Garner and Maureen O'Hara.

In the next series on John Randal McDonald I will cover the treasure that I found in a room of the Clearwater Hercules Avenue Church of Christ in 2008. I wish to thank both Tom Bloczynski and Temple Terrace architect Grant Rimbey for their assistance and research associated with this series.

To comment on this or any other PCR article, please visit The Message Board. "La Floridiana" is ©2010 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.