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Architect About Town

Architect offers perspective on growth

Architect About Town - Special to the Fort Myers News-Press

GEORGE BAIL

  • Age: 89
  • Wife: Meryon
  • Education: Graduated from Fort Myers High School in 1939. Learned drafting in his father's office and attended Princeton. Finished graduate school by 1948 after his education was interrupted by the war.
  • Career: Worked with his father, Frank, for 17 years. Partnered with William R. Frizzell in 1966 for the next 24 years. Was architect of record on churches, hospitals, nursing homes, college buildings, condominiums, private houses (including several off McGregor Boulevard), commercial and industrial buildings; car dealers, libraries, offices and banks.

Did you know?

Did you know there was once a NASA tracking station in Lee County, located just off Daniels Parkway? George Bail designed it during the early part of his career.

Referring to the home her husband had designed in the mid-1950s, Meryon, wife of Fort Myers architect George Bail, quietly pointed out with pride, "You could get to Europe from that house."

Though it was Frank Bail, George's father -- also an architect -- who bought land on the Caloosahatchee for himself and his family, it was George who designed the houses for his father and his father's sister, himself and his sister, his wife's parents and her aunt. He created a compound of homes that took advantage of the river location with a small lagoon, the natural breezes and spectacular views.

For Meryon and himself, he designed a unique three-winged house for living, cooking and sleeping. Strategically located around a courtyard, the orientation captured the view and the breeze. Each wing was only one room deep to maintain continuous airflow.

The living unit was a multipurpose living space located on the edge of the river. It served foremost as living room and a dance studio where Meryon could teach but over the years filled mumerous other funtions - a temporary sanctuary for Sunday services of a start-up church, a banquet hall, an intimate concert hall and a ballon volleyball court. It had even been used for roller-skating! The raised wood floors were ideal.

In February George and Meryon Bail joined architect Victor Latvish and me for a local architectural tour. George provided enormous insight into the growth of the area from the 1930s through the '80s.

I had met George a year before -- at his retirement home. It was then he had talked about his father arriving in Southwest Florida in the mid-'30s to "fish for a year" after his large, successful Cleveland architectural practice ran out of work during the Depression.

In 1938, Frank Bail decided to stay, opening a new practice above the First National Bank building at Hendry and First streets in downtown Fort Myers. George jumped a freighter to see the world after graduating from high school.

When he returned, he spent six months in his father's office learning to draft. It was then he knew his father's profession would become his own. He headed to Princeton where he studied architecture under Jean Labatut.  While there, he met a number of the most influential architects of the era: Wright, Gropius, Saarinen, Neutra, Mies Van der Rohe who visited lectured at the school during that time.

After finishing graduate school, he returned to Fort Myers. George joined his father for the next 17 years. Fort Myers wasn't really growing yet so he found himself working on projects all over the state, including the master plan and a high rise dormitory for Florida State University, large projects for the military, the Army Corps of Engineers and even NASA.

On our tour, George pointed out where a revolutionary church once stood on Colonial Boulevard. Distinctly of its time, in the age of the automobile, it was a “drive-in church.” Colonial Boulevard United Presbyterian Church wasone of two he designed (the larger one is in Bradenton).  The church seated 300 inside. Through through glass walls the elevated pulpit under a large skylight was visible to parked cars arranged in arcs on both sides of the sanctuary. Drive-in theater type speakers served each car space. 

That's right -- it was possible to remain in the car for the entire service.

In time the sanctuary was moved to the McGregor end of the street,  ultimately demolished to make way for the Mid- Point Bridge. 

After his father's death, in 1964, military work began to slow and in 1966, George joined a partnership with a dynamic architect in town, William R. Frizzell. The firm soon incorporated with Frizzell serving as president until his death in a private plane crash in 1978.  George retired as president in 1986.

W.R.Frizzell Architects Inc. grew, with offices in Fort Myers, West Palm,Beach, Orlando and Naples, completing more than 1000 projects.

Joyce Owens AIA RIBA