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The 1950's Were Boom Time in Sarasota

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann A. Shank, former Sarasota County Historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - The 1950's Were Boom Time in Sarasota photo

The boom time of the post-World War II decade of the 1950s was reminiscent of the 1920s. The population ballooned, shopping centers made their debut, and housing developments replaced citrus groves and cattle pasture.

The 1950 census counted nearly 29,000 people in the county. The number jumped more than 2.5 times in the following decade. While the population of the City of Sarasota almost doubled to 34,000, that of Venice nearly quintupled to almost 3,500. The new city of North Port Charlotte contributed 178 residents to the 1960 total.

Subdivisions spread out from the cities of Sarasota and Venice. To the northeast of Sarasota, model homes opened for public viewing in Kensington Park in April 1956. Buyers could select their choice of home to be placed on one of the 1,400 available lots.

A shopping center, community recreation facilties, and "city-type" water and sewage systems were part of the appeal for this "city within a city."

To the south, Roland King and Frank Smith transformed former Palmer corporation orange groves into Southgate, a 1240-acre subdivision off US 41, north of Bee Ridge Road. A new school in the subdivision, Brookside Junior High, opened about the time the first section of Southgate opened in 1955.

South of Venice, Arthur and Warren Smadbeck and the Venice Chamber of Commerce advertised more than 19,000 lots for sale in the new South Venice subdivision. At a price of $200 per lot (with a required purchase of at least two lots) they were sold out in a few years.

The first shopping center in Sarasota was the Ringling Shopping Center, which opened in 1955. Anchored by an early Publix supermarket, it occupied land that had been part of the town's first golf course, which Mayor John Hamilton Gillespie had built in 1905. Adjacent to Southgate Subdivision, Southgate Shopping Plaza opened in the late1950s. W.T. Grant, Kwik Chek, Liggett Rexall Drugs, Woolworth's, and Publix were some of the businesses located there.

In addition to homes and shopping facilities, the new families needed schools, and the Sarasota County Board of Public Instruction launched a massive school construction program in the 1950s. The designs for many of these were by architects later recognized as part of the Sarasota School of Architecture.

On North Orange Avenue, a new complex of schools was built for the county's still segregated black students. Booker High School, Booker Elementary (later Booker Middle) and Amaryllis Park Primary School replaced the older and deteriorated frame buildings. Riverview High School opened in 1959, along with a modern addition to Sarasota High School. Three new schools in Venice - its elementary, junior high, and high school - tried to keep up with that area's burgeoning school age population.