Articles: Sarasota History
Sarasota in the early 1900's was emerging as a tourist destination.
In the 1910s, several hotels were being planned to attract northern tourists. Many business leaders believed that tourism would be especially good because of the war raging in Europe, tourists would come south to Florida, and hopefully to the west coast.
One of the business leaders who took advantage of this situation was Harry Lee Higel. Higel had been in the Sarasota/Venice area since 1884. He came to Sarasota in the 1890s and began to make his mark on the area. He was involved in politics, but his main interest was business.
One of his biggest investments was the town of Siesta Key. In 1907, Higel and his partners platted the northern end of Siesta Key (then known as Sarasota Key). He was the part-owner of the Siesta Land Company, which began to develop the area. Higel applied for and got a post office established at Siesta Key and once served as its postmaster.
Before 1917, ferry service was the only way to get to the key. During 1915-16, a movement to build a bridge to the key began. Higel was a driving force for its construction, because it would provide easy access to the hotel he planned to build on the key.
The Sarasota Times reported on September 17, 1914, "that plans have been drawn by a local architect and the hotel is assured. The hotel will have 20 bedrooms and a dining room large enough to accommodate 100 people."
The estimated cost would be between $10,000 and $15,000. Work on the hotel began immediately. The contract for the foundation was awarded within a week. Plans were also drawn up for several guest bungalows to be built close to the hotel. Higel's plan included streets along which the bungalows would be built and sidewalks to the hotel. His idea was to make Siesta Key a settlement where every comfort would be provided. Higel believed that this type of plan would be popular with tourists.
Hotel Higelhurst opened its doors on March 9, 1915, with more than 200 people attending the grand opening reception. Since the bridge to the key was not finished, ferry boats provided transportation to the hotel. The Sarasota Times reported that "there was plenty for people to do. Dancing was provided, card tables were set up and refreshments were served. The last boat did not leave the key until nearly midnight and a good time was reported by all."
In Higel's promotional brochure, Siesta on the Gulf, he claimed that his hotel was on of the most modern in Manatee County. The daily rates were $2.50 and up. The hotel had hot and cold running water in every room, large baths, gas and electric lights and telephones. Also, it was less than 50 yards to the Gulf Pass.
The Higelhurst proved to be very popular and was a success for Higel. In 1917, he was planning an expansion when the hotel caught fire on March 31st. Harry Higel's son, Gordon Higel, now a retired postmaster, recalled that tears ran down his father's face as they watched the hotel burn to the ground from the mainland. Although he announced plans to rebuild, there was very little insurance on the building. Higel never rebuilt the hotel.*
*A month later, the bridge to the key was completed, which may have allowed enough time for the fire department to save the building.
Mark D. Smith, former County Archivist