Coleman's Bay Haven Hotel was one of Sarasota's Finest
Articles: Sarasota History
Sarasota attracted many people who were hoping to strike it rich in the 1920s Land Boom. One such real estate developer, who came to Sarasota in 1923, was Walter V. Coleman. Coleman was originally from Detroit, leaving there in 1912. He, his wife and five children headed to Miami with little more than the clothes on their backs. After succeeding in several ventures there, Coleman and his family arrived in Sarasota just as the land boom was getting underway.
Coleman opened a real estate office and, in a short time, was buying and selling properties in Sarasota and Charlotte counties. By 1926, he had 26 agents working for him and he personally sold more than $1,500,000 worth of property in one day.
Although his main interest was in real estate, Coleman also was interested in the development of hotels. In early 1926, he and his partner, T.E. Ogburn, laid out the Bay Haven subdivision just two miles north up the Tamiami Trail from Main Street. Coleman’s realty company handled all the sales for the subdivision.
In early 1926, J.G. Whitfield, owner and developer of Whitfield Estates subdivision north of the Bay Haven, came to Coleman with the intention of buying lots for the construction of a hotel. He wanted to build a three-story hotel called the Bay Haven Inn. It would contain 70 rooms and have space on the first floor for eleven stores. The Sarasota Herald reported on April 2, 1926, that “it would be of Spanish type of architecture and it is planned to be one of the prettiest and most typically Florida in the county.”
Whitfield purchased the land with the stipulation that Coleman would agree to take the land back, without penalty, if he was unable to finish the hotel. Coleman agreed to these terms, knowing that a hotel in his subdivision would greatly increase the value and the desirability of the subdivision.
In August 1926, Whitfield returned the land and the incomplete hotel to Coleman for the sum of one dollar. Coleman decided to complete the hotel and changed the name to the Bay Haven Hotel. Its opening was given a special section in the Sarasota Herald on October 10, 1926. The newspaper proclaimed that the “Hotel Bay Haven is one of the city’s finest. The new hotel cost $350,000 and was built by W.V. Coleman and is leased and will be managed by R. Martin Piffner. No hotel in this region presents a more attractive or homelike appearance and everything possible has been done to make both lobby and rooms comfortable and well-equipped. Rates a the hotel are to be maintained for the entire year at $2.50 single and $3.50 double with special weekly and monthly rates.”
By late 1926 and early 1927 the Land Boom was beginning to fade. Coleman and his wife, Lena Sara, were running the hotel and the lots in the Bay Haven subdivision were not selling. In 1928, while returning from a hunting trip near Arcadia, Coleman was killed in a car wreck. Coleman’s wife took over management of the hotel and lived there with her children until 1930.
By 1930, Sarasota was in financial trouble and the banks were closing. Coleman lost her savings in one of these banks and could not keep up her insurance payments on the hotel. The insurance company put a lien on the hotel for back payments, and the Coleman’s moved out in 1930.
The hotel became the John and Mable Ringling Junior College and School of Art in 1931 – and eventually part of the Ringling School of Art and Design. Today it is part of the Ringling College of Art and Design. Mrs. Coleman and her family moved back to Miami where she died at the age of 90 in 1979.