Landmark Treasures

The discovery of a noted Tampa architect’s lost drawings will benefit students and the community.


Trent Green, associate professor of architecture and Alex Rios a graduate student in the USF School of Architecture + Community Design scan a long lost drawing of M. Leo Elliott.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (June 10, 2011) – In the midst of replacing an air conditioning unit in an engineering firm’s attic, workers found 200 cardboard tubes.


Luckily, news of the discovery made its way to the right person, and now a famed local architect is getting deserved recognition and the University of South Florida has another project that will benefit its students and the community.


The tubes contained old architectural drawings – linen sheets and various kinds of tracing paper bearing the carefully drawn lines and lettering that revealed craftsmanship of another era. They were long-lost and long-sought drawings by M. Leo Elliott. He was the common design denominator behind some of Tampa Bay’s most recognizable architectural icons – Tampa City Hall, the Cuban Club, Centro Asturiano and the Ritz Theater in Ybor City, the Davis Islands Palace of Florence and Hyde Park’s Leiman-Wilson house and many others.


The prominent early 20th century architect died at the age of 81 in 1967. His granddaughter, Lynn Elliott Rydene, remembered seeing the collection of drawings as a child and she had been looking for them for years. It was her friend, Grant Rimbey’s mother who put her in touch with Carastro and Associates, Inc., where the discovery was made. The company has since donated the drawings to the Tampa Bay History Center where they will reside – much to her relief.  


Meanwhile, USF is working in partnership with the center to make sure students and other interested parties will be able to take advantage of the find.


Under the guidance of USF Architecture Professor Trent Green, students in the USF School of Architecture + Community Design have been digitally scanning the drawings so they can be accessible via computer. And he wants to take it a step further.


“This will be an ongoing effort to create a digital or ‘virtual’ interactive archive and open-source website of original construction documents for some of the region’s remaining historic buildings,” Green said. “We want the archive to be available for generations to come.”


It’s fortunate that they were found before too much more time passed.


“Some of the tubes only have partial sets of the original construction documents. The oldest drawings in this collection date back to the early 1910s and 1920s and are drawn on various types of sheet stock. Because they have not been stored properly over the years and have probably been moved several times, many of these drawings are deteriorating rapidly,” Green said.   

Once news of the discovery got out, Green got involved when USF Special and Digital Collections Director Mark Greenberg suggested he take a look.


“I immediately saw an opportunity to use the collection as a learning tool and came up with the idea of electronic archiving,” said Green.


“The first building we are creating in 3D is the Cuban Club in Ybor City. This will be a ‘dynamic’ model that will be rendered to an almost photo-realistic condition and will be able to be manipulated to show a number of other views and vantage points. This will allow viewers to better understand the way these buildings were constructed as well as the information contained in these drawings. This is a test for what we’re intending to create for a dedicated, open source website hosted by USF.”

Green found the funding to get the scanning done and will continue until it runs out. He’s searching for additional financial support to complete the project. Ideally, there will be added historic photographs and personal testimony from all kinds of people.


“I think it would be great to have contemporaries of the early days of the Cuban Club, for example, sharing their remembrances,” Green said. “What I’d like to see is an image for each building that will allow people to virtually walk through the front door and travel throughout and view them from all angles.


“Elliott’s work spans several design eras, classical Beaux-Arts from the turn of the 20th century, up through the early ‘20s Mediterranean Revival styles, then came the Depression and Art Deco all the way through Midcentury Modernism. With the new digital technology we can show how these buildings were constructed and talk about how they evolved for research and instruction.”


In the meantime, the public will be able to see a dozen of the best drawings at Tampa Regional Artists Old Hyde Park Arts Center, 705 Swann Ave. The event opened Jun. 9 and will run through July 8. Gaspar Properties, owner of the Palace of Florence – one of Elliott’s most celebrated buildings, is the sponsor of the month-long exhibit. Call (813) 251-3780 for further information or visit


“It really is amazing how quickly the Tampa Bay History Center, Tampa Regional Artists, the American Institute of Architects Tampa Bay Chapter, the USF School of Architecture, and Tampa Preservation rallied to make the exhibition a reality,” Green said. “This is the first of a series of public exhibitions I’ll be helping to curate over the next year focusing on Elliott’s historic architectural archives. His buildings have an undeniable stateliness that brings a dignity to Tampa that should be acknowledged. I’m truly grateful to be able to help share his vision with young architects.”   


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.