Beloved Sarasota High School
Articles: Sarasota History
The red brick and glazed terra cotta, Late Gothic Revival, three-story with a 4 ½ -story entrance tower building located at 1001 South Tamiami Trail, was designed by architect M. Leo Elliott as the Sarasota High School in 1926. The school was completed in 1927 and the first senior class graduated in 1928. Designed in the "Collegiate Gothic" style, the rectangular, irregular plan masonry wall structure was set on a high base of limestone and concrete laid in imitation of limestone. The flat roof surfaces were protected by flat parapets ornamented with label-enframed and cusped crenellations. At the east elevation appeared a two-story wing which was parallel to the three-story west elevation.
The massive tower entrance to the school on U.S. 41 is marked with brick pier buttresses, which terminated at the top of the tower projection in glazed terra cotta cluster columns. Ornate crocket projections formerly pierced the skyline, but were removed at an unknown date. The tower was ornamented with various combinations of colonettes, crockets, tracery, quatrefoils and bosses, all Gothic Revival motifs, executed in ornamental glazed terra cotta.
The construction of Sarasota High School was part of a county-wide program which included the erection of South Side Elementary School and Bay Haven Elementary School. The school expansion program coincided with the land "Boom" upward rise of real estate prices; as a result, the high school site was purchased for $317,000. In The Story of Sarasota, author Karl Grismer commented that the "tract upon which the school (Sarasota High School) was located, cost more than the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company, Ltd., paid for the entire site of Sarasota - and 50,000 acres beside - in 1885!" Bond issues in excess of $1,500,000 were used to float the land acquisition, construction and operating costs required by the school expansion program.
The construction of the three schools was indicative of the Cambridge, Massachusetts planner, John Nolen, in his Comprehensive Plan for the City which was published in 1925. He advised in his report that four elementary schools be built, two of which were constructed (Bay Haven and Southside). He also recommended that a new high school be built on Osprey Avenue between 12th and 16th Streets. An alternate site on South Tamiami Trail was selected by the County School Board.
The architect, M. Leo Elliott was also responsible for the designs of Bay Haven and Southside in 1926. Mr. Elliott was a remarkably eclectic designer and was equally as adept working in the Gothic Revival in his Sarasota High School design. The school is a prominent landmark in the City of Sarasota. In addition to the school design, Mr. Elliott was also responsible for the design of the second skyscraper in the City; the former First National Bank building on the southwest corner Main Street and Palm Avenue, subsequently called the Orange Blossom Hotel. The first ‘skyscraper' was the Hotel Sarasota on the northeast corner of Main Street and Palm Avenue.
Today the Sarasota High School historic building is going to be given a new life as a modern art museum. Sarasotans are grateful this memorable educational institution will be preserved and be a place to be enjoyed for many years to come.