Articles: Sarasota History
Hotel Venice opened in June 1926, containing 100 rooms with private baths and walk-in closets. Called the "Parent of Venice" by the Venice News, the hotel was the first permanent building completed by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers in their creation of the city of Venice.
While there were a number of families in the Venice area prior to the 1920s, the city began as a product of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, which had its headquarters in Chicago. Having already established a series of banks around the country during the early 1920s, the BLE looked for investment opportunities in Florida real estate. They purchased more than 30,000 acres in the Venice area in 1925 and contracted with John Nolen, well-known city planner, to design a new city of Venice.
As the plan for this city was implemented, all construction was to be in Northern Italian design and approved by the supervising architectural firm from New York, Gillette and Walker. The Hotel Venice met these design review requirements. The smooth stucco exterior walls were painted a soft coral color with cream trim.
The excitement generated by the initial quick construction of roads, hotels and homes was short-lived. The collapse of the Florida land boom left the BLE with unsold real estate and a number of lawsuits for failure to live up to its promises. In 1929 the sales office and hotels closed, and the city of promise was nearly emptied.
Three years later, Kentucky Military Institute leased the empty Hotel Venice and other buildings to enable the school to operate a Southern winter session. For nearly 40 years, KMI provided jobs and entertainment (basketball, baseball, tennis, Sunday dress parade) for a community that looked for a while as though it would fade away.
After KMI left Venice, the Hotel Venice changed hands several times, caught in the dilemma of modernization or demolition. After extensive renovation, it has become a retirement center.
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As Sarasota County begins the New Year, a look back 53 years provides an interesting peek into the daily routines of the county and its residents. Some issues sound very familiar today; others show the march of progress. Still others sound a little strange, but made the news of the day in January, 1955.