Gallery: Sanibel Community House - November/December 2017 Update [5 Images] Click any image to expand.
Photo by Jonathan Tongyai.
The Community House on Sanibel
boasts a fabulous makeover, the first since it was built nearly a century ago. The
facility’s overall footprint has only moderately expanded, “but the interior
has undergone a huge transformation,” says Teresa Riska-Hall, executive director
of the Sanibel Community Association (SCA), which oversees House operations.
longtime SCA supporter and vice president of its board, calls The Community House
an “island treasure” for both visitors and residents. “For almost 100 years,
the people of Sanibel and Captiva have gathered at The Community House,” he
says. “I encourage everyone to join with my family in becoming a supporting
member of the Sanibel Community Association and keep The Community House
tradition alive for years to come.”
“Let’s start with the new
entrance!” Riska-Hall says, pointing enthusiastically to the concrete tile
pavers forming the walkway and lobby floor. Embedded with bits of shell and sea
glass, the pavers sparkle in the sun. “This flooring was made locally and it
turned out beautifully. It’s a big hit with patrons.”
Retaining its “old Florida” look, the
main entrance sports a spacious veranda and covered area for pick-ups/drop-offs.
Lining the exterior walls are comfortable wicker chairs, tailor-made for
leisurely conversation before or after events. Wide doors grace the east and
west sides of the structure. “We have easy entrance from all four directions,” the
executive director notes.
The House’s three principal spaces,
the Founder’s Room, Community Room and Great Hall, offer maximum flexibility
for almost any activity. “We can accommodate three events simultaneously, or
one large event, seating 800 people,” she says, “and we can configure settings
almost limitlessly—for theater, dancing, classes, banquets, lectures, films or wedding
“My husband and I held our wedding
reception here in 1988,” Riska-Hall recalls nostalgically. “The Community House
was here for us then. It is still here—for [Sanibel and Captiva] islanders and island
visitors. The reason for my return to Sanibel was to help The House thrive.”
Photo by Jonathan Tongyai.
The walls of the lobby and three
main rooms are lined with railings and S-hooks to secure art exhibits. Custom
insulated ceilings and movable acoustic panels, which separate the three rooms,
make each space soundproof. “One of our planners tested the soundproofing—by
yelling in the Founder’s Room at the top of her lungs,” Riska-Hall reports. Incredibly,
in the adjacent Community Room, she says, “we heard nothing at all—just dead
Sophisticated technology makes the
447-seat Great Hall the most versatile of the three big spaces. “The complexity
of our system posed quite a challenge at first,” explains Lance Lambert, one of
two tech wizards on staff.
“While learning its intricacies, we
were also discovering its potential,” he says. “The Audubon Society was the
first to utilize our equipment, so we figured out the possibilities
Room inventory includes 12
tracks of downlights, 10 theater lights and 11 spotlights. “We can place the
spots anywhere in the hall and turn them in any direction. We can also control
the intensity of the lights individually and ‘paint’ them any color on the
The audio system encompasses the
Great Hall and the Community Room, with a total of 13 speakers and two
subwoofers. Other tech enhancements include an HDMI output, which can connect
virtually any computer to The House system, disc or Blu-ray video/film
capabilities, and a USB port. “Users can bring a video on a thumb drive and
just plug it in,” Lambert says.
The Founder’s Room, which houses
211 people, is on the Historic Registry. As The House’s earliest iteration, erected
in 1927, it has been lovingly restored for posterity. Warm and inviting, the
space boasts wide, sunny windows along the north wall, comfortable parlor
seating, and a Steinway upright piano, nestled in a corner, just waiting to be
Anchoring the space at each end are
the room’s two fireplaces. Above them hang “sailor’s valentines,” octagon-shaped
shell artwork that hold in their centers photographs of The Community House, then
and now. They are titled “Our House, 1927” and “Your House, 2017.”
Some of The House’s original
pinewood flooring was repurposed for the Founder’s Room as side tables,
cabinetry and mantelpieces. Long wooden banners, bearing names of donors contributing
$1,000 or more to the renovation, will be suspended from the ceiling’s exposed beams.
When finished, the banners will encircle the room. “We owe these donors so
much,” Riska-Hall says.
The rustic beamed ceiling of the Founder’s
Room is replicated in the Community Room. It seats 171 and connects, via a wide
pass-through and counter, to the kitchen. The pass-through makes the entire
length of the kitchen visible to the room’s occupants. “This space is the hub
of our new Culinary Education program,” says Bill Sartoris, SCA board president.
“We doubled the kitchen’s size and designed it for teaching.”
Cameras in the kitchen, installed
at strategic angles for easy viewing, are connected to monitors in the
Community Room. The enhanced video technology makes cooking demonstrations possible
for dozens of attendees. “Everybody in the Community Room can see the action in
the kitchen,” he explains. Classes held in the kitchen’s interior can
accommodate 20 students, “with room to spare,” Sartoris says. “No student is
1,000-square-foot kitchen can be divided into three discrete cooking stations.
“It can handle food service for the Founder’s Room, the Community Room and the
Great Hall simultaneously,” says Jarred Harris, who heads the Culinary Education initiative. “Even with a 30-member wait staff,
traffic flow is easy.”
Harris brings to his position a
strong background in culinary enterprise. He owned pubs in England for many
years and, on Sanibel, he was chef for the Thistle Lodge restaurant and The
Sanctuary Golf Club. “Jarred loves teaching as much as he loves food,” Sartoris
reports, “and he loves sharing his culinary creativity. He shows people that
cooking can be easy and fun.”
Harris has strong opinions about
food. “Any prepared food is bad,” he says. “Eat only organic foods,
farm-to-table, and preferably from your own backyard. I can show you how to
grow salad for the entire summer with just two pots.”
True to his philosophy, Harris has
planted an opulent organic garden on The House’s property. Growing
unobtrusively among the palms, tabebuia, coontie and buttonwood are such
mouthwatering delicacies as eggplant, soursop, mango, sugar apple, pineapple,
macadamia nuts, thornless blackberries, heirloom tomatoes, kaffir lime and
“We even have a beehive,” Harris says.
“Bees pollinate everything. They hit 2.5 million plants to make just one pound
of honey. Our small hive houses thousands of bees.” The House sells honey from
its flourishing hive, along with mango chutney. More delectable food items will
be offered for sale as the garden continues to grow.
The Community House has big plans
for entertaining islanders and visitors this season:
, an introductory class
led by wine connoisseur Tom Uhler, is back by popular demand. The class is
limited to 30 students. “It sold out last year,” Riska-Hall says, “but we want
to keep it small—to give attendees a more enriching experience.” The class
meets 7 to 9 p.m., Nov. 3, 10 and 17.
Photo by Jonathan Tongyai.
On Thanksgiving weekend,
approximately 70 artists display their wares at the “Sanibel Master’s” Art
Festival, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday, Nov. 24, and Saturday, Nov. 25. The event
also features live entertainment,
including a performance by the BIG ARTS Community Chorus.
Creative Theater Workshop launches
its production of Elf Jr., with seven
performances between Nov. 30 and Dec 5. The musical features local children
ages 7 to 18. “Last year they did The
Jungle Book. It was a big hit,” Riska-Hall says. “We expect this production
to be equally successful.”
For family fun during the Christmas
holidays, try the 22nd annual Mini Golf Tournament
, played on a nine-hole
indoor miniature golf course, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 26, through
Friday, Dec. 29. “I love this event because it is intergenerational,” notes Riska-Hall.
“Grandparents bring toddlers. Large family groups show up together and compete.
Everybody loves it.”
Among Sartoris’ favorite House activities
are the potluck
dinners at 6 p.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month. The evening
features food preparation demonstrations or speakers discussing timely island-related
topics. Attendees are asked to bring a dish that feeds six.
“We are excited about the
popularity of these gatherings,” Sartoris says. “Our first potluck attracted 20
people. At our most recent event, 80 came to our door, potluck dishes in hand.”
Gulfshore Opera offers a "Classic Cabaret
” at 7:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 22. The event combines a popular song
concert with casual socializing. Stephanie Pearce, the ensemble’s director,
calls The House “a fantastic venue. It offers the flexibility we need to
present a superlative performance with a jazz club feel.”
House flings wide its doors (and grounds) for the 81st annual Shell Festival
Thursday, March 1 through Saturday, March 3. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday
and Friday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. It’s a cooperative endeavor between The
House’s Shell Crafters Club, The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum and the Sanibel-Captiva
Shell Club. Featured are juried scientific/artistic exhibits, and artwork,
jewelry and floral arrangements are for sale. “It is total immersion in the
world of shells,” Sartoris says.
Reflecting on SCA’s renewal efforts
of the past year, Sartoris muses: “We are the nicest place on Sanibel now. The
Community House has served islanders for the past 90 years. With our renovation
complete, we are confident that it will continue to serve for the next 90 years—and
The Community House, voted “2017’s
Best of the Islands: Event Facility”—an award conferred by the Islander newspaper—is operated as a
private, nonprofit (501c3) organization. The Sanibel Community Association
supports The House’s activities solely via donations, event and rental fees,
and membership dues. Any islander or island business or civic organization can
contribute to its mission by becoming a member.
Members are entitled to reduced
rates for SCA-sponsored events. Annual membership fees are $50 for an
individual, $100 for a family, $150 for a business or civic organization, and
$1,000 for a patron.
2173 Periwinkle Way
Sanibel, Florida 33957sanibelcommunityhouse.net/
Written by Jan
Holly, a Sanibel-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to TOTI