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Building is Cornerstone in City

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Lorrie Muldowney, former Manager and Preservationist, Sarasota County Historical Resources
Source: Sarasota County Historical Resources
Photo Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources
Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - Building is Cornerstone in City photo

Located on the main commercial boulevard in downtown Venice, the Johnson-Schoolcraft Building has been a Venice landmark since 1926. The building’s prominent location and distinctive style are not by chance, as was the case in so many boom-time downtowns. Rather, the Johnson-Schoolcraft Building, at 201-203 West Venice Avenue was a significant element in the grand plan for the city of Venice. The construction of the two-story, hollow clay tile, commercial building the Northern Italian style signaled to the citizens of Venice the realization of a significant element of John Nolen’s 1925 Comprehensive City Plan for Venice. Nolen, who was known as “the dean of city planning,” had gained international prominence by the time he was retained by Venice physician Dr. F.H. Albee in 1925.

Albee hired Nolen to design a city on the 2,196 acres of land he had recently purchased. Nolen’s planning philosophy place utmost emphasis on the need for a comprehensive city plan, with considerations for the location and design of housing, industry, public services, green spaces, commercial needs and traffic circulation.
The Johnson-Schoolcraft Building was erected in the planned commercial zone of the City of Venice at a cost of $45,000. Principals in Johnson-Schoolcraft, Inc. were C.P. Johnson and W.D. Schoolcraft. The building was designed for a mix of uses, apartments on the top floor and retail on the ground floor, uses which remain today. Because of the scarcity of housing in Venice the five apartments were rented in October 1926, a month before the building was completed.

The Venice Pharmacy occupied the first floor when the building was completed and opened for business on December 7, 1926. An article in the Venice News on Friday, December 10, 1926 opened with the headline, “Venice Pharmacy said to be one of the South’s Best.” According to the same article “Hundreds thronged the corner of Venice and Nokomis Avenues to attend its formal opening. The pharmacy had fixtures of solid mahogany, finished in black walnut, and a pink onyx soda fountain manufactured by the nationally known Lippincott Company.”

According to the National Register nomination prepared for the building, when the Venice Pharmacy opened, W.F. Newman, Jr. of Jacksonville was front manager in charge of stock and fixtures, and Dr. T.M. Southern was pharmacist and manager of the drug department. A luncheonette offering light lunches and curb service was managed by Richard Gibson. Many businesses occupied the building over the years, one particularly notable one was the Peninsular Telephone Company. In 1928, the company leased space in the building for its telephone switchboard providing local phone service for several years. During this time a red signal light on top of the building switched on by the central operator, was used to signal police. The light was visible for several blocks. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, the Johnson-Schoolcraft building continues to light up the Venice downtown.