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J.G. Whitfield Estate

Buildings: Sarasota History

Location: 2704 Bay Shore Drive, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - J.G. Whitfield Estate photo

The J.G. Whitfield Estate, located at 2704 Bayshore Drive, is significant due to its association with John G. Whitfield, a local developer and political figure, and as a notable example of Mediterranean Revival architecture. Whitfield was the owner and developer of the Bay Haven Hotel, a boom-time Sarasota hotel. He also served on the Sarasota City Commission and was active in other civic organizations. His 1925 Sarasota residence is a textbook example of the Mediterranean Revival style, the favored architectural style of the Florida Boom. The home has undergone a minimum of alterations and possesses excellent physical integrity.

John G. Whitfield was born in Whitfield, Georgia and settled in Adelphia, Alabama where he was engaged in the wholesale grocery business. Later, in Birmingham, Whitfield owned and operated a chemical fertilizer and vegetable oil factory from which her retired in 1920. Whitfield and his wife Pearl subsequently acquired their Sarasota residence from T.B. Ogburn et ux (and wife) and W.V. Coleman et ux in 1925.  A 1927 rotogravure of the home states: “Fine residence of Mr. and Mrs. J.G. Whitfield, prominent Atlanta people, located on the Bayfront, Indian Beach Boulevard, Sarasota.” The deed transfer stipulated that Whitfield would pay $5.00 per year for the upkeep and maintenance of the Bay Haven subdivision. The mortgage of $15,000 was settled a year later.

Although Whitfield may have come to Sarasota to retire, he soon became very active in local real estate, development and civic affairs. Specifically, he initiated the development of the Bay Haven Hotel in 1926 and also became quite involved in the local real estate market. The Bay Haven Hotel in 1926 and also became quite involved in the local real estate market. The Bay Haven Hotel, presently the main campus of the Ringling College of Art and Design, was heralded in an April 1926 article of the Sarasota Daily Times as a “beautiful structure” owned by J.G. Whitfield and constructed by the Echols Construction Company. As completed, the three-story Mediterranean Revival style building included seventy rooms, each with private bath and a steam heat and water sprinkler system. The building was determined eligible for listing in the National Register in 1984.

Sarasota County deed records of the late 1920s indicate that Whitfield was party to a number of local land transactions. He was also quite involved in civic duties, serving on the Sarasota City Commission from 1920-1931. Early in his term as a City Commissioner, Whitfield advanced a proposal to establish a zoning commission. Following acceptance of the proposal, Whitfield initiated another proposal for the clean-up and beautification of the central corridor of the city. He recommended the trimming and fertilization of trees already in place and volunteered to personally supervise the work until completed. Whitfield left office in December of 1931 following an unsuccessful bid at re-election. He died at his Sarasota estate in 1943. His obituary read “through his investments (he) mad a special contribution to the city's development.”

Whitfield's Sarasota estate was built in 1925 by local builder, Russell Curin. With its clay barrel tile roof and rough stucco walls, the building typifies the Mediterranean Revival style, the favored architectural style of the 1920s in Sarasota. Significant architectural elements include the original clay barrel tile roof and most fenestration, extensive bas relief sculpture, wrought iron work and classically derived columns and mantelpiece. Although the architect of the building has not been documented, it has been conjectured that the house was the work of Dwight James Baum. The speculation is made through the similarity of certain design features of the structure with those present in other building designed by Baum, notably Ca'd'Zan and the El Vernona Hotel (later known as John Ringling Towers). It is also known that Baum's local supervisor, Ralph Twitchell, designed eight Mediterranean Revival houses in Whitfield Estates, which was developed by J.G. Whitfield's brother.