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American National Bank (Orange Blossom Hotel)

Buildings: Sarasota History

Source: City of Sarasota public records
Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Location: 1330 Main Street, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - American National Bank (Orange Blossom Hotel) photo

The historic American National Bank Building, later known as the Orange Blossom Hotel, is located at 1330 Main Street in downtown Sarasota, Florida. The building is a significant historical and architectural landmark in the city. Neo-Classical in style, it is one of the three earliest skyscrapers in Sarasota.

It is the only existing one to retain its historic detail and appearance. Associated with the economic and tourism history of Sarasota, the bank and office building was completed in 1926. The financial decline of the Florida economic boom resulted in the failure of the American National Bank in 1928. Although briefly occupied by another banking organization, the building was converted to a tourist hotel in 1934.

The hotel was host to thousands of visitors to Sarasota until 1965 after which it was converted to a retirement residence. As one of Sarasota's few examples of the Classical or Neoclassical Revival Style and most monumental example, the building reflects the national and statewide trends in commercial and public architecture.

The building, as the work of prominent architect Francis P. Smith of Atlanta, a partner in the firm of Pringle and Smith, at the time the building was commissioned, is a wonderful example of the work of a master architect. Smith is also credited with designing some of Atlanta's earliest skyscrapers. During a career of over 60 years, Smith designed commercial, industrial, residential and religious structures in Atlanta, Florida, and throughout several southern states.

HISTORIC 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 20 years saw little growth mainly due to a lack of railroad access to the population and commercial centers to the north. In 1903, upon the arrival 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.

By 1913, Sarasota boasted telephone service, electricity, and 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 began to make an appearance often 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 the Ringling's of the Ringling Circus fame, which in turn brought other influential and prominent residents to Sarasota. In 1921, the new county of Sarasota was formed with the City becoming the County Seat. Previously the area was a part of the much larger Manatee County.

Throughout the 1920s, spurred by what was known as the Florida Land Boom, residential subdivisions were platted throughout an expanded Sarasota city limits. Cheap land prices and the guarantee of quick profits swept the city into a spiral of development. Sarasota's downtown construction was expected to furnish employment for approximately 800 workers.

In May 1925, Sarasota's 1886 Belle Haven Hotel, originally established as the DeSoto Hotel, was put up for sale and sold for $533,000. Almost immediately, the hotel was listed for sale at $700,000. From its construction in 1886, the DeSoto and Belle Haven Hotel building was a landmark on the Sarasota waterfront housing Sarasota's affluent and distinguished visitors. The property was sold in 1925 to Forrest Adair of the Adair Realty and Trust Company of Atlanta, Georgia. Adair Realty and Trust was established in 1865 by George Adair and was recognized throughout the south as the oldest real estate firm in continuous service in the country. The company's subsidiary, Adair and Sentor, was recognized as one of the south's best firms in the structural lines. The Adair and Sentor firm, under the guidance of George, Jr., Perry, and Forest Adair, operated as a brokerage firm, placing loans for several insurance companies. Through their business adeptness and activities, the firm was responsible for the initial financing of several building projects throughout the south, Florida, and Sarasota during the 1920s. The company was also an established property management firm. Some other Adair financed projects included the construction of the Venetian Hotel (non-extant) in Miami and the Polk Hotel in Haines City, listed in the National Register. The Adair Real Estate and Trust Company both financed and developed Whitfield Estates, an multi-million dollar boom-time development in southern Manatee County.

After purchasing the Belle Haven Hotel property in Sarasota, Adair made plans to demolish the old hotel and erect a modern 17-story hotel on a portion of the original hotel site, although earlier that year it had been rumored that Adair and his business concerns were actually interested in or planning to construct an office building in Sarasota. By March 1926, Adair and Sentor Company, a joint partner of Adair Realty and Trust, had lad the foundation of the new hotel and by the beginning of April the building was four stories up and progressing rapidly with all the building materials having arrived and ready for use. Noted as one of the new hotel's assets was the future views of Sarasota Bay its many windows would offer.

On April 29, 1926, an article appeared in The Week in Sarasota entitled, "New Belle Haven Hotel on Bay Front Marks New Epoch in History of Sarasota and Its Commanding Position as Resort City". The article unveiled what it claimed to be the first reproduction in any newspaper of the project and read that work was already underway with many pilings having been driven for the foundation and fill. Figures for the amount of the construction were estimated to be $3,000,000 to $3,500,000. The project site was identified as just west of the site of the former Belle Haven Hotel, which had been dismantled only a few days earlier.

Sometime in late April, 1926, the Adair Realty interests entered negotiations with the American National Bank in Sarasota to take over the hotel construction project. The American National Bank had been formed in 1925 with capital stock of $100,000. A $32,000 surplus was created when the bank was over-subscribed with shares selling at $120. The bank had officially opened in the Thacker Block on Main Street on June 6, 1925, although the bank began accepting deposits a week earlier." Officers of the bank during the first year were George L. Thacker, President; Dr, J.A. Oliver, the bank's organizer and Vice-President; I.G. Archibald and Attorney Herbert Sawyer, Vice-Presidents; A.O. Skaggs, Cashier; and Iron Ross, assistant cashier. For many years previous, Ross was associated with the Bank of Sarasota.

Within one year of opening, the officers of American National, faced with inadequate office space, formed a holding company for the purpose of erecting a building for their operations but were able to solve their space needs without the necessity of building when they were given the opportunity to purchase the yet incomplete Adair hotel project and were able to direct the finished construction project for banking and office use.

Construction, continuing under the auspices of the American National Bank, was completed in December, 1926 at a cost of $650,000, although one newspaper article entitled "Buildings Projected or Under Way for This Year, Finished or Begun" estimated the cost at $500,000, while another estimated the cost as "over $450,000. Construction costs of the building were provided by bond financing underwritten by Adair Realty and Trust consistent with the earlier business plan for the hotel on the site.

Once the building was completed, it was heralded as one of "the (most) outstanding buildings constructed in the entire state during the last year". The American National Bank immediately moved into the building and was housed in its "sumptuous bank quarters" on the first floor." The Land Title Guaranty and Mortgage Company also occupied first floor space. There were 124 office rental spaces above and many large Sarasota firms took over suites that included superb views of the city and Sarasota Bay. Early occupants of the building's office suites included six real estate offices, two accountants, an insurance company, a stenographer, dentist, physician, contractor, and an investment company. Steam heat was provided to all parts of the building which also had a circulating ice water system and water storage and filtration tank on the roof, and fire fighting standpipes and hoses were located on each floor. Three vaults were provided, each planned with the most expert of burglar devices, the Diebold Safe and Lock Company of Toledo, Ohio.

Faced with the collapse of the Florida Land Boom (which began in 1926 following a severe hurricane in Miami), many banks and business firms in Sarasota and throughout the state went bankrupt. Many houses and apartments were sold at sacrificed prices to satisfy mortgages. Sarasota banks were hit hard and were forced to close. The American National Bank closed its doors at noon on May 15, 1928. Vice-President, R.O. Holton publicly stated:

"Due to our inability to realize on past due paper, coupled with a number of heavy withdrawals recently, we are unable to continue without probable serious losses, but he added reassuringly; With a little time and patience every depositor may expect to be paid 100 cents on the dollar."

Holton's prediction did not hold true. Depositors who had $462,489 in the bank, ultimately received only 18 1/4 cents on the dollar. The Bank occupied the first floor of the building until the stock market crash of 1929, although several office tenants continued to occupy office spaces on the upper floors. Following American National's failure, N.H. McDonough was named receiver.

With a need for their own bank space, the newly organized Palmer National Bank and Trust Company of Sarasota made the first floor of the building its temporary banking headquarters when original plans called for the new bank to be located in the former banking house of its successor, the First Bank and Trust Company, on Main Street at nearby Five Points were not completed when the stock market crashed causing First Bank to close.

The new Palmer Bank institution had a capital and surplus account of $200,000 and was a member of the new Federal Reserve System. Two of the largest stockholders of the bank were Honore and Potter Palmer of Chicago, sons and heirs of Mrs. Bertha Palmer. Mrs. Palmer was one of the largest landowners in Sarasota and one of the city's most prominent former citizens. She died in 1918. Potter Palmer was also a member of the board of directors.

Many business associates and managers of Palmer family business interests were also named directors. The other initial officers were C.P. Hoglund, Sarasota, F.H. Gunther, George P. Howell, Tampa, and R.K. Thompson of Sarasota. Thompson was the division manager of the Palmer Estate and assisted in organizing the bank with former Russian Prince Michael Cantacuzene. Cantacuzene, a Palmer family member by marriage, was credited with organizing the bank and served as Vice-President. John B. Cleveland served as the bank's first president. Previously, Cleveland was employed as the manager of the Palmer Corporation in its Tampa office. His previous banking experience was in Kewanee, Illinois. Former American National Bank cashier, Iron Ross, was retained as assistant cashier of the new institution.

When the bank formally opened on July 20, 1929, (a Saturday?), officials of the bank stated that the volume of business to the new establishment, upon opening, far exceeded their expectations with deposits of $338,000. Coming on the heels of a new financial flurry in southwest Florida and throughout the country, the opening of the bank brought new confidence to the community. The Palmer Bank occupied the building only briefly. Within a year, negotiations to purchase the former First Bank and Trust Company Building were completed and the organization moved to that building. The offices on the upper floors of the American National Bank Building remained occupied by various business concerns until 1935, including American National Bank's former Vice-President Mr. R.O. Holton's personal business office.

Beginning in the mid 1930s, Sarasota began to see an increase in visitors to the area. However, Sarasota did not experience the numbers that had visited the city during the 1920s, prior to the collapse of the real estate boom and failure of the stock market.

Several major hotels built in the 1920s, although placed for a brief time in receivership, managed to survive and continue to offer accommodations to visitors and provide dining and social activities to the community. The larger of these hotels were the Sarasota Terrace Hotel (now the Sarasota County Administration Building), the El Vernona Hotel, later called the John Ringling Towers Hotel (demolished), and the Mira Mar Hotel (demolished).

In 1936, encouraged by the increased numbers of tourists and seasonal visitors, Joseph Spadaro of Boca Grande, Florida, the new owner of the subject building, contemplated converting the building into an apartment hotel. In August of that year, Spadaro obtained a building permit for $70,000 to remodel and convert the building into a tourist hotel with 125 rooms and the building was renamed the Orange Blossom Hotel. R.L. Polk City Directories of Sarasota from the 1930s and 1940s describe the building as "fireproof, constructed of steel and concrete, with steam heat, two elevators, and 125 rooms". The hotel's Aztec Room, a small cocktail lounge in the lobby, became popular with guests and locals.

Spadero, acting as President of his firm, The Boca Grande Inn, Inc., sold the "100 room" hotel for $225,000 to Louis Swed, of Tampa and Associates in 1946. Swed's associates were Miami hotel operators. Plans were made to remodel the hotel, completely redecorate the rooms, add a restaurant and coffee shop, and add year round service. This restaurant or dining room was constructed and operated as a concession.

Sometime prior to 1946, the Orange Blossom Hotel Corp. was formed. Members of the corporation included, Louis Swed, Jack Shapiro and M.B. Sullivan. The corporation transferred ownership of the "90" room hotel to Elizabeth Fitzie, formerly of Union, New Jersey and St. Petersburg, and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Kewley, formerly of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1950 for in excess of $300,000. The Kewley's formerly owned the Hotel Atheran in Oshkosh. The new owners took an active part in the hotel's operation and assumed management of the dining room.

In 1951, the hotel accommodated several of the stars of the movie "The Greatest Show on Earth" being filmed in Sarasota. Jimmy Roosevelt and Peter Lawford are also said to have been guests at one time. Screen stars, Billy Rose and Esther Williams, visited Sarasota in the 1940s to film "On a Island with You" at the Lido Beach Casino (demolished) and are reputed to have been guests and patrons of the hotel and it's cocktail lounge, the Aztec Room." During the 1950's radio and television transmission devices were located on the roof of the building. On one occasion, Dave Garaway broadcast the show Wide, Wide World from the hotel. The hotel continued in operation until 1965 when it closed as a result of competition from Sarasota's newer beach resorts, most having been constructed in the 1950s and 60s.

The hotel remained unoccupied for approximately two years when, in June, 1967, the Trustees of the Sarasota Non-Profit foundation announced that construction funds had been secured to modernize the building. The building was renovated into 60 apartments and renamed the Orange Blossom Club/Apartments, a non-profit facility for residents 55 years of age or older that provided for lifetime tenancy. Horner, Nelson, Schneider & Associates, Inc., Consultants and Development Specialists in retirement projects, were retained to plan and supervise the entire conversion and modernization project. An outdoor terrace covered with canvas was designed on a portion of the roof of the c. 1946 addition. The renovation project was completed in 1968.

That renovation, although not sensitive to the building's original architectural integrity, won national acclaim from Building Magazine in September, 1968 for its modernization. It was listed as one of only a few projects in the nation to receive the magazine's "Modernization Citation". By the late 1980s, when most of the lifetime retiree tenants no longer occupied the building and the building became identified as the Orange Blossom Apartments.

In 1994, the building was purchased by Foley Holding Corporation whose principal officer was Jay Foley. Extensive rehabilitation work was completed under Mr. Foley's direct supervision with assistance from his brother, Donald Foley. John J. Jetton, AIA, was the project architect and Ritz Construction was employed as the initial project contractor.

ARCHITECTURAL CONTEXT

The Classical Revival or Neoclassical Revival Styles were not as popular as the Mediterranean Revival Style or variations of the Spanish Colonial Style in Florida during the 1920 boom times years, although several fine examples do exist. The majority of the Classical Neoclassical Revival Style buildings in Florida constructed during the period were large commercial or public buildings, including hotels, departments stores, and financial institutions.

In the 1920s, commercial buildings were the young country's most famous display, especially tall office buildings which came to be known as skyscrapers. These tall buildings began to be constructed in numbers in the center of every city. Many of these buildings were constructed to provide office space to accommodate the growing population and number of urban employees. But, not all of these Academic commercial buildings were tall offices. Some were department stores, sometimes mini-cities in themselves. Smaller cities also had commercial buildings along the same style, on a smaller scale. Most conspicuous, were the large and nicely scaled Classical Revival banks that appeared on Main Streets everywhere.

PRINGLE & SMITH & Francis Palmer Smith

Francis Palmer Smith, was born in Cincinnati Ohio in 1886. His ancestors first immigrated to Burlington, New Jersey in 1691. He attended the Technical School of Cincinnati and then entered the Department of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania, graduating with a B.S. in Architecture in 1907. At the university, Smith studied under Paul Cret, a Frenchmen, who Smith would always consider one of the greatest architects of his time. Smith was awarded the Walter Cope Memorial Prize and the Brooke Silver Medal in Design, both awarded to him during the time he attended the University. Upon graduation, Smith was first employed as a draftsman with Garber and Woodward, in Cincinnati and Frank L. Packard of Columbus, Ohio.

In early 1909, Smith visited Europe to study the period setting works of past historical master architects. In September, 1909, Smith moved to Atlanta, Georgia to establish and become the first director of the Georgia School of Architecture, renamed The School of Technology in 1948, a position he held for thirteen years. During his time at Georgia Tech, Smith designed several buildings at the school including, the Hospital, Mechanic Engineering Building, Physics Building, Power Plant, and two sections of the Stadium. During vacations from the Georgia school, Smith prepared renderings and other drawings for W.T. Downing in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Atlanta. There he met Robert Pringle who persuaded him to leave Tech and join him to establish their own architectural firm. Upon Smith's departure from the School of Technology in 1922, he often returned to serve as an invited member of juries for grading student's works, and to attend lectures.

Smith and Pringle set up their office in Atlanta. Smith's new partner, Robert Smith Pringle, no relation, was a self-taught architect, who developed an expertise in the engineering aspect of construction design. Pringle was born c.1886 in Summerville, North Carolina. He later moved to Charleston where he worked as an apprentice draftsman. In the late 1910s or early 1920s, Pringle went to Atlanta to work for W.T. Downing as a draftsman where he met his future partner and persuaded him to leave his position at Tech and join him in establishing their own architectural firm.

Together, Smith and Pringle designed some of Atlanta's early skyscrapers and finest residences. Smith, as his work reflects, was a talented designer and good with rendering and sketches. He was licensed as an architect in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida. Smith ran the firm's office and was responsible for designing, production, and working drawings. Pringle worked as the contact member of the firm, excelling in acquiring clients and keeping the financial end of the practice going. Pringle and Smith employed as many as twelve draftsmen and engineers at one time. Some of their buildings, most of which are still standing and all constructed in Atlanta, include the original First National Bank at Five Points, the Rhodes Haverty Building, the William Oliver Building, the Collier Building, the Norris (Whitehead) Building, (demolished) the Cox Canton Apartments/Hotel, the W. W. Orr Doctors Building, and the annex to the Trust Co. of Georgia's Building.

Commissions they undertook outside of Atlanta included the Lynch Building in Jacksonville, Florida, the Venetian Hotel in Miami (demolished), and the Sarasota Terrace Hilton Hotel, presently the Sarasota County Administration Building (1994). The first newspaper photograph depicting the new Belle Haven Hotel which became the American National Bank, was, in fact, extremely similar to Pringle & Smith's architectural plans and drawings for the Sarasota Terrace Hotel which was constructed approximately one-quarter mile northeast of the old Belle Haven Hotel (American National Bank) site. That hotel was built under the direction of Charles Ringling, of the illustrious Ringling Brothers, founders of the Ringling Brothers Circus and was estimated to cost $750,000. Both the American National Bank and the Sarasota Terrace Hotel designed by the architectural firm, Pringle and Smith and financed by Adair & Sentor.

Several of Smith's firm's commissions were awarded to them by the Adair Realty and Trust Company of Atlanta. Pringle was an acquaintance of the Adair's, often playing golf with them and their mutual friend, illustrious golfer Bobby Jones. The firm designed the Sara Bay Country Club and several homes in the Adair's Whitfield Estates project, just north of Sarasota in Manatee County. They were versatile in their design work making them also very successful in designing many impressive residential structures in Atlanta.

The Pringle and Smith firm designed several industrial buildings, including the Cone Street Garage in Atlanta. Francis Smith bears the unique distinction of being the first architect to be commissioned to "standardize" the design of the Coca-Cola Bottling Plants. It was during Smith's partnership with Pringle that their firm was commissioned by three members of the "Standardization Committee" of the Coca-Cola Company to design three standard Bottling Plants in Anniston and Gadsden, Alabama, Swainsboro, Georgia, and Beaumont, Texas to be constructed according to anticipated different production capacities. Pringle and Smith designed four plants ranging in cost from $10,000 to $35,000 and varying in production capacity from 200 cases of Coke daily to 1,350 cases of Coke daily at 1927 prices and production rates.

The first plant was constructed in Elberton, Georgia in 1928. The firm also submitted different designs for southern and northern plants. The design of several schools in Georgia including the Baylor School, its chapel, and dining hall in Chattanooga, Tennessee are also credited to the firm. Smith and Pringle's association lasted until 1934, when Pringle was forced to retire due to ill health. He died in 1937. In retrospect, the firm was a highly successful and congenial partnership, both from an architectural standpoint and from a financial one.

Beginning in 1934, Smith operated as an individual architect. Based on his "meritorious achievement", his name was selected for listing in the 1942-1943 edition of Who's Who in America. During World War II, Smith served in the Corps of Engineers and attained the rank of major. When he returned to his practice in Atlanta, he worked as one of the Associate Architects of the Clark Howell Homes (Housing Development) Project in Atlanta. Smith's other design work during this period included, the Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, the Northside Methodist Church, the Mikell Memorial Chapel, and the Candler Building, all in Atlanta. He was also called upon to design a new dormitory: building for the Baylor School in Chattanooga, where he had designed several buildings a few years earlier, while associated with Pringle. Other Smith designs included the Commercial Bank and Trust in Ocala, Florida and the Church of the Holy Cross in Tyron, North Carolina. He continued to design Coca-Cola bottling plants, one in Opelika, Alabama and another in DeFuniak Springs, Florida and also designed residences in Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In 1960, Smith's youngest son, Henry Howard Smith, III, also an architect, joined him in his practice. During the time he worked side by side with his son, the firm designed the First National North Avenue Building and its 400-car parking deck, other banks, residences and public works in Atlanta.

Smith was a devotee of stained glass and was an Associate Member of the Stained Glass Association of America. He published several works on the subject, including his 1944 limited edition of Medieval Stained Glass, a translation of the articles Vitrail in the Dictionnaire Raisonner de L'Architecture Francaise by Violett-le-duc, which he personally had printed.

While Smith designed many of Atlanta's early skyscrapers and finest residences, his greatest love was creating church buildings in the Gothic tradition. As a lover of stained glass, there were few of his churches that did not have the rich jeweled chancel window that he most admired. His most outstanding church building was St. Phillip's Cathedral in Atlanta which remains standing, located high on a hill dominating Peachtree Street. The church bears a clerestory rose in his honor.

In January of 1966, Smith presented a paper to the Symposium of Atlanta. The paper was entitled "Some Early Architects of Atlanta" and lists a capsule history of Atlanta's architects from the reconstruction period immediately following the Civil War, up until 1966. Over the years, Smith maintained an active participation in several professional associations including his term as President of the Georgia Chapter, A.I.A"

Smith left many landmarks on the Atlanta skyline, most of which are still standing, others having been demolished. During his lifetime, he spent many hours in discussion with Dr. Thomas English, Professor at Emory University, Atlanta, in discussions of historical architecture, stained glass, and historical influences in design. During the course of those conversations, Smith revealed to English his personal convictions that all excellent architectural design could be found to derive from the Roman and Classic periods that order and harmony in architecture were to be found, established, and proved, in modern times.

Even though personally convicted that it was improper to tamper with established orders of things, he had no difficulty relating to the other time periods, as is evidenced with some of his later modern designs. Although grounded in the established orders, nonetheless, he accepted other periods in filling their time. He was well versed in all the periods and grounded in the Roman-Classic periods. Much of his later work reflects the ease of his ability to move into later periods of design, while still maintaining strong ties with his first love, the Gothic period. Smith retired in 1970. He died at his home in Atlanta, Georgia on March 5, 1971.

The American National Bank Building (Orange Blossom Hotel) was locally designated by the City of Sarasota in 1998.


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