FLORIDA'S CITY OF THE FINE ARTS
SARASOTA, County Seat of Sarasota County, is most noted as the
artistic and literary center of the Florida West Coast due to its large number
of theaters, the famous Ringling
Art Museum, and a large
artist and literary community. A stroll
around downtown reveals a large number of theatres, bookstores, and art
Yet the area was an agricultural wilderness
in the 1840's when homesteaders like William H. Whitaker from Savannah settled on Whitaker Bayou. After the
Civil War developers and land speculators posed such a danger to early settlers
who farmed under the 1862 Homestead Act that local farmers and ranchers formed
a Vigilance Committee against those who'd circumvent them using earlier Federal
laws. The conflict climaxed in the assassination of Postmaster Charles Abbe in
1884 (plot started in Alfred Bidwell
House (1884), 849 Florida Avenue.
In 1888 a new Era started when Sir John Gillespie
of Edinburgh, Scotland,
arrived to start the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company to promote land
sales in the North and Europe. Gillespie built
first golf course where downtown is located.
WHERE TO START: Most people visit
the state-operated RINGLING ART MUSEUM
and John Ringling’s waterfront mansion
threw miles north of downtown off US41, so we will assume you are traveling
south on US41 toward downtown. As you
near 8th Street,
you will see Sarasota’s
arty Northern waterfront.
At Fifth Street is the
old CIVIC CENTER EXHIBITION HALL
(1935), a $131,000 W.P.A. Art-Deco Moderne structure by Chicago architect Thomas Reed Martin. It has
recently been restored to its better days when it hosted everything from art
shows to the Miss Florida pageants.
Behind the domed auditorium, on land obtained
in 1935 by Mayor E. A. Smith for back taxes is the modern symbol of Sarasota's
cultural community, the: VAN WEZEL PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 777
North US41, the purple waterfront landmark that hosts events usually reserved
for larger cities.
The John Ringling Mansion
of the Civic Center
in the small complex is the INFORMATION
CENTER , the SARASOTA ART ASSOCIATION, and the: (3)
OLD SARASOTA LIBRARY (1941), now the SARASOTA COUNTY HISTORICAL COMMISSION, a one story Doric
temple. Mrs. Doris Davis, Sarasota historian,
promoted this important protector of Sarasota's
heritage. Ironically the area south is
filled with historic controversy as the historic RINGLING HOTEL was torn
down. This area contains the luxury RITZ
CARLTON and HYATT hotels and new development. Driving into this area you won’t
miss at 1133 4th Street
EL VERONA (Belle Haven) (1926), a
three-story Mediterranean masterpiece of Dwight James Baum. The building will hopefully survive in some
left (east) onto First Street
or another street and look for parking.
There is some parking on the waterfront at Marina Plaza
by the popular MARINA JACKS, but you will have to cross busy US41 to walk
USE THIS DOWNTOWN MAP AS A GENERAL GUIDELINE
STREAM AVENUE, the
first street off US41 is lined with
condominium row , but PALM AVENUE
has wonderful shops and restaurants. . On the west side is the EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF THE REDEEMER
financed originally on Pineapple by Dr. Jack Halton and Colonel Gillespie. This
edifice dates from the 1940's. On the left at 67 South Palm is the MIRA
MAR APARTMENTS/DEMARCAY HOTEL COMPLEX (1923), started by Scottish-born
Andrew McAnsh who designed the Spanish Mission style hotel and 1200 seat
auditorium. At 201 South Palm is the BACON
& TOULIN BUILDING
Going back to Main Street and heading eastward into
downtown is the next best route. But you might want to walk around the next
block of Palm Avenue to see at 1241 North Palm the beautiful FLORIDA STUDIO
THEATER (1926) At 1330 Main Street is
the towering ORANGE BLOSSOM HOTEL
(1926), once a bank and later a apartment building. If you continue east on Main Street, you’ll
get to Sarasota’s
Before Main Street, I’d walk down North
Pineapple past the beautiful SELBY
PUBLIC LIBRARY with its neat statues. Across the street is the 1926 SARASOTA OPERA COMPANY (Edwards
Theatre), at 57
North Pineapple. The four-plus story
building was designed by Roy A. Benjamin in the Mediterranean Revival style of
the Land Boom. Its interior is as
classic as the masonry frontage. Everyone from Elvis to Sally Rand has graced
the 1,500 seat auditorium.
the way is a converted gas station, now the arty BIJOU CAFÉ, 1287 First Street,
complete with a clever statue. No Florida city has
more public art work on display than Sarasota. The tall structure you see down ar 1216 First
is the SARASOTA TIMES BUILDING (1926), another Dwight
James Baum Mediterranean Revival classic.
If you decide to backtrack down Palm Avenue,
you will notice: the L. D. REAGIN HOUSE, 1213 North Palm, owner of Sarasota
Times; the F.A. DeCANIZARES HOUSE
(1924) at 1215 North Palm.
Street in Sarasota
Mira Mar Apartments
Go back to Main Street for a heavy dose of stores,
casual restaurants, bookstores, and art galleriesAt 1367
Main Street, is the three story JOHN IWERSEN
BLOCK (1915), a granite structure that just survived the downtown fire
of 1915. It was the home of the Sarasota Times for years. At the “FIVE CORNERS” intersection of Main and Pineapple is
CROSS PINEAPPLE and "the Five
Corners." On your right at 1442
Main Street is the delightful S.H. KRESS COMPLEX
(1932), 1442 Main Street,
an Art Deco three-story buff brick
structure by G. A. Miller. At 1490
Main Street is the WORTH BLOCK
(1925(, a commercial complex with offices and homes on the second floor.
Past LEMON STREET on Main Street was the Sarasota Railroad
Depot (1911). On the right in the 1500 block is the FIRST TRUST COMPANY/KICKLITER BROTHERS BUILDING
(1927), a fine Neoclassical Revival brick edifice with a three bay entrance.
Passing the tall Ellis Building (1978) at 1605 Main Street, you'll see on your left
the FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH (1924), 1661 Main Street, a
Neo-Classical Revival stone church.
* * *
You will need to
walk back to your automobile to easily reach places around downtown. If you
went north off Main to: 425 North Osprey
and the ART ROWE HOUSE
(1934), a boat-shaped house with a 100- foot octagonal lighthouse off the bow,
a logical residence for the former captain of John Ringling's boat.
TO MAIN STREET. At 1819
Main Street is the twelve story SARASOTA CITY CENTER. TURN RIGHT
ON SOUTH LINKS AVENUE to the funeral home at 22 SOUTH LINKS AVENUE,
a section of which contains the 1885 home of Colonel John Gillespie, founder
and first mayor of Sarasota.
TO MAIN STREET and continue
to 2000 Main Street,
the SARASOTA COURTHOUSE (1927), Dwight James Baum's unusual
two-building complex connected by a tower and carillon. The $500,000
"touch of Venice"
nearly bankrupted the city in the Depression.
The Episcopal Church Burns
AROUND AND HEAD TOWARD CITY
CENTER (west) ON MAIN STREET, but TURN
LEFT ON ORANGE AVENUE.
At 111 South Orange is the U.S. POST
OFFICE (1932), a Neo- Classical building whose stone facade of bay
entrance ways is matched by Corinthian columns.
A block south at 235 South Orange is the DR.
C. B. WILSON HOUSE (1890), with a 1913 second-story addition, home of the
native-born World War I medic who became President of the First Bank and Trust.
TURN LEFT at apex with Oak and Pineapple and continue NORTH ON PINEAPPLE.
On your left at 418-446 South Pineapple is
the unique BURNS COURT (1926), a complex of small buildings now
converted to shops and homes and even a movie-house built by Owen Burns, the Chicago realtor and
. OTHER BUIDINGS TO LOOK UP : SARASOTA CITY HALL (1913), Orange Avenue and First Street, by John
Nolen; the JOHN H. GILLESPIE HOUSE, 1672 Morrill Street; the JEAN
D. HAZEN HOUSE (1909), 1646 Morrill Street; the WOMENS CLUB,
1241 North Palm (Florida Studio Theater); SARASOTA HIGH SCHOOL
(1913) 1001 South US41, M. Leo Elliott's local masterpiece.