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Hall/Gillette House

Buildings: Sarasota History

Source: City of Sarasota public records
Credit: Sarasota History Alive!
Location: 1620 Wewa Drive, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - Hall/Gillette House photo

The Hall/Gillete House represents the second phase of development in the McClellan Park subdivision, one of the earliest and best planned Sarasota residential developments. As a beautifully executed example of a local interpretation of the Mediterranean Revival Style from the 1920s, the house and garden/privacy wall and wall fountain are significant. Photographs of this house, almost exclusively, were used to encourage and promote lot sales and the construction of other upscale residential structures within the subdivision during the 1920s and to set the tone for its future development. The house continues to relay its original plan, detail, and character to a high degree. A definitive effort has been made to maintain its historic architectural integrity, though the former detached garage has been altered in appearance and is used for a guest house.

Historical Context

Before the advent of the twentieth century, Sarasota's development was mostly limited to settlement by homesteaders and fishermen. In the 1880s, an effort to create a Scottish immigrant community had failed and the next twenty years saw little growth mainly due to a lack of railroad access to the population and commercial centers to the north. Upon the arrival in 1903 of the Florida West Shore Railroad, Sarasota began to grow, real estate prices began to rise and Sarasota began to develop an identity as a winter tourist haven.

Up until, 1910, the majority of the land holdings in Sarasota were held by the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company, a group of British capitalists who had earlier invested heavily in land in Sarasota. Selvin Tait originally organized a failed 1880s Scottish immigrant colony in Sarasota. Those land holdings were sold by J. Hamilton Gillespie, the representative of the company, to Sarasota businessman, developer and investor, Owen Burns in 1910.

By 1913, the year McClellan Park was platted south of the central business district of the city, Sarasota boasted telephone service, electricity, water and sewer service to most homes. Streets were paved with brick and asphalt and sidewalks and seawalls were built of concrete. A brass band provided entertainment for the growing community. Automobiles, not yet a major for of transportation, were sharing the roads with animal powered carriages and wagons. Between 1910 and 1920, a series of influential citizens arrived in Sarasota, setting the stage for development. Among them were Bertha Palmer and the Ringlings of circus fame, who in turn brought other influential and prominent residents to Sarasota.

In 1914, Sarasota was incorporated as a City. By 1915, McClellan Park was already being planned, one mile south of Sarasota, on bayfront land that was once owned by Charles Abbe. During the summer of 1915 and the following winter, McClellan Park was developed by sisters Misses Katherine and Daisy McClellan, of Sarasota and Northampton, Massachusetts. Katherine McClellan designed the fifty-six acre subdivision. She was an independent woman, a commercial portrait photographer, vice president of the Northampton Equal Suffrage League, and the official photographer for Smith College, from which she graduated in 1882. She and her sister named the development in memory of their father.

McClellan Park incorporated artful Florida themes around environmentally sensitive natural features, including shell streets named with words that appear to reference Seminole Indian tribe words such as Wewa, Hashay, and Okobee. The subdivision was planned as a "high class" residential section, where the lots were to be restricted as to the cost of the houses built upon them. Initially lots were priced at $800 to $2,500 according to size which included concrete sidewalks, a septic tank and piped-in water. A continuation of Orange Avenue, which the sisters originally named Washington Avenue, but was platted as McClellan Parkway, was made 100 feet wide and opened up through a former grapefruit grove. A six inch well was dug and connected to every lot. Vine covered pergolas framed the entrance to the development. Streets were lined with tropical plants. Former groves with grapefruit, orange and lime trees and also banana plants were scattered throughout, many of which would become the property of those that purchased lots. Large shade trees including oak and pine and palm trees also flourished.

A "Country Clubhouse" was constructed as a civic center. The building was placed in use as a tea house with reading and writing accommodations and card and dancing rooms. The clubhouse was built on an Indian mound with a surrounding park that included space for lawn tennis, croquet and "clock" golf. Eleven hundred feet of shoreline was to serve as a bathing, swimming and boat area. The Siscataw Yacht Basin was dredged for the harboring of boats. At the time, it was the only yacht basin in the city. Another yacht basin, Hilochee Basin, was planned but never built. The orientation of the Hall/Gillete indicates that there were still plans to dredge this second basin when the house was completed. Had it been completed, the house would have afforded a spectacular view from its high elevation. Plans for McClellan Park also called for the erection of a long pier between the two basins with a large "yacht and automobile" clubhouse upon it. Again, the never came to fruition.

Mr. E. Morris Butler was appointed general manager and sales agent for McClellan Park in September of 1915. A yacht basin was dredged, boulevards and driveways opened, and a small clubhouse constructed by Mr. Van Arsdall. The contract for sidewalks and cement work was given to Hayslip and Scott. The development was formally opened on March 7, 1916 and the occasion was featured by a tennis tournament. Soon, after the first few homes in McClellan Park were constructed, but intense development would not occur for nearly ten more years.

In 1921, many citizens within the City of Sarasota assisted in creating the new County of Sarasota, with the City becoming the County seat. Previously, the area was part of a much expanded city limits. Cheap land prices and the promise of quick profits swept the city into a spiral of development. This decade brought unparalleled growth to Florida. Sarasota Downtown development was coupled with expanding suburban residential areas. Sarasota was fast replacing the fishing village image that it had with that of a developing resort community. Construction following World War I, produced what would become a modern city.

Portions of McClellan Park were re-subdivided in 1922. A stock company was incorporated in 1923 by Fred Woolley and Irving Bacheller, Sarasota residents, and Edward H. Brewer, a winter resident of Winter Park, with $150,000 paid in capital. The company known as the Bacheller-Brewer Corporation purchased McClellan Park in its entirety with the exception of the lots previously sold by the Misses Katherine and Daisy McClellan. Thus, the sale encompassed 30 to 40 acres.

Early 1925, promotional advertisements indicated that E.L. Just and local Realtor, Clark Warren, were the owners and developers of McClellan Park and additional street paving, curbing and sidewalks were underway with more street asphalt street paving work contracted to the Bryson Paving Company in April, 1925. Full page advertisements in This Week in Sarasota, a Sarasota newspaper that only remained in publication during the 1920s, featured a photograph of the Hall/Gillete residence and garage at or near completion in a number of editions.

By December of 1925, on behalf of the owners, marketing and lot sales in the subdivision were under the management of A.S. Skinner, a prominent local Realtor. New sales promotions of the subdivision heralded it as a "beautiful, refined, and restricted," well-elevated subdivision where all improvements had been completed for some time. Advertisements for the subdivision referred to prominent Sarasotans who occupied homes there. These residents included: Postmaster Welch, James P. Martin, a prominent Chicago builder; and George Lindsay, the founder and publisher of the largest local newspaper, the Sarasota Herald. Nevertheless, following the failure of the Florida Land Boom, McClellan Park, as many other boom time subdivisions, would not be fully developed until after World War II.

Historical Information

On February 20, 1923, A. Edson Hall purchased lots 10 and 11, Block H of McClellan Park Subdivision from Katherine McClellan. Hall was a retired New York assistant superintendent of education from Granville, New York who had recently come to Sarasota. Hall was appointed Assistant Superintendent of Education for the New York State Department of Education in 1895. Three years later, he was named Buildings and Grounds Inspector for that same agency. He served in that position until his permanent retirement to Sarasota in 1923 although he and his second wife, Mabel Flora Raecher Hall, first spent winters in Sarasota in 1921. Mrs. Hall was a native of Dayton, New York where her father owned and operated a feed mill.

After purchasing the aforementioned property for the construction of a personal residence, public records indicate that A. Edson Hall purchased another lot in McClellan Park, Lot 25 in Block H, from E.A. Smith. This lot was immediately west of the two lots he previously purchased. According to a March 6, 1924 article in the Sarasota Herald, referencing the application for several building permits for various construction projects in Sarasota, Hall applied for a permit to construct a residence at the southwest corner of Hashay Drive (today's Wewa Drive) and McClellan Parkway. This would be on Lot 10, Block H. The residence that Hall planned to construct was described as a frame two-story dwelling on a 103 x 125 foot lot. The article reported that Hall's house was to be 32 x 35 feet in size and was to be constructed by local builder T.H. Crisp and designed by Schenectady, New York architect, G. Atkinson, and that once completed it would be owned and occupied by Mr. Hall. Sometime in the next six months the house and an adjacent outbuilding were completed for use by Hall and his wife.

Apparently, the house on McClellan Parkway was the first of two Sarasota homes for the Halls. In early 1925, the frame dwelling appeared in promotional advertisements in This Week in Sarasota. Previously, an article dated November 6, 1924 in the Sarasota Times, indicates that Mr. Hall had sold his first Sarasota home and was building another house, the subject property.

Mr. and Mrs. Hall resided in the house until Mr. Hall's death at age 91 in 1951. Following Edson Hall's death, his widow, Mabel, continued to maintain ownership and live in the house. For a number of years, possibly in their native state of New York, Mr. and Mrs. Hall had been acquainted with Mr. Solon Henry Gillette and his wife, Katherine. Mr. Gillette was a native of Depauville, New York. He later lived in Pamelia Center, New York before coming to Sarasota permanently in the late 1920s or early 1930s. Their friendship is evidenced in the fact that the Gillettes served as witnesses to the Halls Last Will and Testaments. In 1956, Katherine Gillette died and within a few years, Mabel Hall and Mr. Gillette married. Upon his marriage to the former Mrs. Hall, Gillette came to reside in the former Hall house until his death in 1963. Subsequently, Mrs. Gillette, formerly Mrs. Hall lived in the house until 1971. She died in a nursing home in 1973. The Halls union or Gillettes had no children.