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The Hover Arcade on the Bay

Articles: Sarasota History

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

Sarasota History - The Hover Arcade on the Bay photo

The Hover brothers, Dr. William E., J.O. and Frank B. from Lima, Ohio, wintered with their family and other related families in homes along Roberts Bay. They were known as the Hover Colony. Dr. William E. Hover was the first of his family to visit Florida, having come in 1902 to clear a throat infection. Two years later, he sailed south from Tampa and found land along Roberts Bay; 80 acres of which he purchased for $550.

Together, the extended family owned about 100 acres between what is now the Landings and the Field Club in Sarasota. Pine and citrus groves were on the back of the property. The cleared front of the acreage contained the family's five houses along the bayfront and a dock. The homes faced the bay because at the time they were built, most travel to and from them was by boat.

Typically, members of the Hover Colony arrived in Sarasota by train after the Christmas holiday and stayed through April. Mary Dille, whose mother was the Hover sister, later remembered that on her first trip to Sarasota in 1906, her family got off the train at Main Street and walked through the sand to the dock and the family boat.

In February 1911, the three brothers purchased Harry Higel's dock at the foot of Main Street. They transformed the dock, with additions of oil tanks, a machine shop, a fishing supply shop, and a fish market. The following year concrete replaced the wood planking as the pier was widened and lengthened. By the end of 1912, the Sarasota Times noted plans for a two-story building, which would straddle the dock and extend 60 feet out from the sea wall along Gulfstream Avenue. Because the building would occupy space taken by Dave Broadway's oyster café, he had to close shop during the construction. In a press interview in 1964, Broadway recalled that he "loafed and fished" until he could move into his new quarters.

Finished in the summer of 1913, the Hover Brothers' Arcade was built of light tan-yellow brick, with red tile roofing at a cost of $20,000. Two 40-foot towers flanked the archway through the middle of the building for a driveway leading directly from the foot of Main Street to the dock. Inside the arcade, Broadway's restaurant and ice cream parlor occupied most of the northern section of the first floor, while the Lyric Theater featured Universal films in the southern section, and a number of office and commercial rooms filled the second floor.

In 1916, the city council voted to build a municipal pier, but after the citizens voted for a bond issue to fund the construction, it became apparent that there was no available waterfront land in a good location. As an alternative to new construction, the Hover brothers offered their dock and arcade building to the city. The following year, after support from the press, a petition to the council signed by 60 city property owners, and a 59-1 vote for the bond issue to purchase the Hover property, the city acquired a dock and arcade building for $40,000.

Once the arcade became city property, the city council no longer had to rent space for city offices. In 1921, two new tenants moved into the arcade - the city fire department and the new Sarasota County government. As population mushroomed, however, both city and county government staffs grew. To relieve the crowded arcade, county officials moved out, first into temporary quarters on Oak Street and then to the new courthouse in early 1927.

Through the following two decades of depressed economic conditions and World War II, the arcade became city hall entirely. On the pier to the west was the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, a confectionary, and an occasional other tenant.

With post-war development, however, came changes that led to the arcade's demolition. Part of a major road and bridge building effort in the 1950s was the creation of land to the bay side of Gulfstream Avenue. This provided space for a new section of U.S. 41 along the bayfront, to remove through traffic from the business core on Main Street, and introduce the traveler to the beauties of Sarasota Bay. This meant, however, that the arcade building no longer linked Main Street with the bay. Instead, it became an island surrounded by roads and a visual barrier between Main Street and the water. As the community sought a more modern look for its public buildings, a new city hall on First Street replaced the "antiquated" Hover Arcade.

In the late 1920s, William Oscar and Frank Hover made their Sarasota homes their permanent residences. By the time the Hover Arcade was demolished in 1967, these founders of the Hover Colony had died.