A Mid-Century Modernist: Celebrated, Controversial, Polarizing

20 Aug 2020 10:43 AM | Anonymous

By Peyton Jones, Ph.D.

When he died, in 1995, at the age of 84, William Harvard was one of the most respected architects in Florida. In a career that spanned more than three decades, Harvard, a native Floridian (born in Waldo in 1911) with a penchant for polarizing, Mid-Century Modernist designs, amassed a portfolio that spans more than three decades and includes some of St. Petersburg’s most iconic—and controversial—structures.

Harvard moved to St. Petersburg, in 1936, just as the city was beginning to economically recover from the Great Depression. After a stint in the Pacific during WWII, which temporarily sidelined a budding homebuilding career, Harvard reopened his firm in the Alhambra Arcade (demolished in 1962) before relocating to an office at 2723 Central Ave. In the early 1950s, he began a decades-long partnership with architect Blanchard Jolly.

There are many Harvard Jolly Buildings in St. Petersburg, including The Federal Building, Derby Lane, and the Times Building.

The bandshell at Williams Park, built during the booming 1950s, earned Harvard a reputation for bringing to life innovative-if-controversial projects. Critics derided the blue and green glass canopy and said it looked like the prow of a ship emerging from underground. Later, in the early 1980s, prominent urban designer, Wolf Von Eckerdt, dismissed the inverted pyramid at the pier as nothing more than “architectural acrobatics.” Harvard appreciated that his work elicited strong emotional reactions in people, claiming that he’d prefer someone be repulsed rather than dispassionate. The quality of his work, however, did not go unrecognized by his peers. Only two years after the new bandshell opened, its design received the Award of Merit from the American Institute of Architects, and in 1988 it won the “Test of Time” award given by the institute’s Florida chapter.

When Harvard passed away in late-1995, he was survived by his wife of 53 years, Leila, and their children, two sons, William B. Jr. and Lee, and daughter, Susan McCloskey, all three of whom became professional architects. Harvard’s granddaughter, Maria Rawls, shown in front of the award winning band shell, works as a general contractor for the Harvard Jolly architectural firm, and has been instrumental in helping renovate and restore some of the homes designed by her grandfather.

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