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McAnsh Transformed Downtown

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Mark D. Smith, County Archivist
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - McAnsh Transformed Downtown photo

In the early 1920s, Sarasota was poised for the beginning of the great Florida Land Boom. The City was looking for someone to build a first class hotel so they could compete with other cities in Florida. Andrew McAnsh appeared on the scene and went about changing the look of downtown Sarasota.

McAnsh was originally from Scotland but lived most of his life in the Chicago area. He had made his fortune in the furniture and construction business. At the urging of his Sarasota friends, W.C. Towles and Ralph Caples, McAnsh agreed to give Sarasota a new look. Having wintered in Sarasota for several years, Towles realized the need for a modern hotel that was better than the old Belle Haven Inn.

In the spring of 1922, McAnsh arrived in Sarasota and met with Mayor E.J. Bacon, City Attorney John F. Burket, city council members and the Chamber of Commerce. The city of Sarasota agreed that if McAnsh would build a hotel, an apartment house and a natatorium (indoor swimming pool), it would not levy any taxes on the property for ten years and would give the properties free light and water.

This was an offer too good to refuse. McAnsh went back to Chicago to form the Mira Mar (meaning "sea view") Corporation. With investors in hand, McAnsh returned to Sarasota and purchased several large lots on Palm Avenue. Work started on the Mira Mar Apartments on October 6, 1922. Working on a 24-hour-a-day basis and using electric floodlights at night, the Mira Mar Apartments, known as the "60-day wonder", were finished and ready for occupancy on January 1, 1923.

After the completion of the Mira Mar Apartments, McAnsh began construction on the Mira Mar Hotel. Opening during the winter season of 1923-1924, the Mira Mar became Sarasota's premier hotel. At the same time, the Mira Mar Auditorium was constructed. An auditorium was built instead of a natatorium because the city and McAnsh felt it could use a 1,200 seat meeting building.

Subdivisions were being platted over all Sarasota County during the height of the land boom and McAnsh, always the promoter, began one of his own. In the fall of 1925, he started the development of the Mira Mar Beach subdivision on the north end of Siesta Key. To help promote sales in his planned subdivision, McAnsh built the Mira Mar Casino (bathhouse) on Siesta Key. He also purchased the Albee Road (Treasure Island) Toll Bridge to Casey Key with possible plans of development there.

With the land boom coming to an end, McAnsh's Siesta Key subdivision did not pan out. He later abandoned plans for Casey Key when Sarasota County wanted to purchase the bridge. He sold the toll bridge to Sarasota County for $4,000 cash. He later sold the Mira Mar properties to his son-in-law, William D. Foreman. McAnsh continued to spend his winters in Sarasota until his death on October 23, 1946 in Chicago.

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In the 1880s and early 1890s, Sarasota was primarily a small fishing village. Any outside travel was done on horseback or by schooner to Tampa Bay. Tourism was hardly flourishing in Sarasota before the turn of the century. The main hotel, the De Soto, was empty and boarded up most of the time. Sarasota's fortune began to change in 1895 when the steamer Mistletoe began service to Sarasota from Tampa. This provided a reliable means of transportation to the outside world. By the end of 1899, Sarasota was beginning to emerge from its rundown image and investors began coming into the area.

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