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I.R. Burns & H.H. Bell Building

Buildings: Sarasota History

Source: City of Sarasota public records
Credit: City of Sarasota
Location: 1296 1st Street, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - I.R. Burns & H.H. Bell Building photo

The I.R. Burns & H.H. Bell Building is significant locally as an example of the type of commercial structure built to accommodate the growing building industry in Sarasota's commercial district during the Florida Boom (1923 - 1926). It is also noted for its association with two individuals, I. R. Burns an important local developer in Sarasota from 1910 to 1931, and Leadley Ogden a local builder of note. The building is an excellent example of a Spanish Colonial Revival Style commercial building, a common style employed for boom time construction in Sarasota.


The Burns' Building was built in 1925 during the Florida Land Boom by Leadley Ogden and is located in the Original Plat of Sarasota. This area of the downtown was the center of tremendous growth and speculation in Sarasota during the Florida Land Boom. The Burns' Building is located in the area of downtown which was known commonly during the Boom as "Realty Row".

Realty Row extended along Pineapple Avenue between State Street and First Street. Developers of the Burns' Building capitalized on its location and the added prestige and desirability brought to it by its proximity to the Edwards Theatre. This desirability of location contributed to the success of many of the enterprises located there.

During the Florida Real Estate Boom dozens of commercial buildings were constructed or redesigned in the downtown core. Many of these were in the Mediterranean Revival Style.

After the land crash hit in 1926 Sarasota developers and builders were hard hit by lagging sales, and construction came to a standstill in the area until after World War II.

The Burns' Building reflects the type of construction occurring during this period in Sarasota's history, and the prosperity and optimism of Sarasota's residents in the community's future.


Following the Civil War, the Sarasota Bay area grew dramatically with the influx of settlers. At that time, cash crops and cattle-raising were very successful, and publicity in northern newspapers began to lure more and more newcomers to the area. At first most of the settlement occurred in the area south of Hudson Bayou and was called "Sara Sota", this area was populated largely by farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. This area boasted a Post Office, general stores, and docks which serviced fishing, commerce and the beginnings of the tourist industry. At this time boats were the most practical form of transportation linking the area with the outside world.

During the 1880's the Town of Sarasota was formed north of Hudson Bayou around present day Main Street. Backed by a Scottish concern, the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company this area experienced major growth and investment during the mid 1880's. After this initial surge, growth came to Sarasota at a very slow pace. By the turn of the century, Sarasota was still only a small town on what could be termed Florida's "frontier".

During the first three decades of the 20th century, Sarasota again experienced rapid growth. In 1900, Manatee County, which then included Sarasota, had approximately 4,700 people living within its boundaries, by 1920 the population had grown to 19,000.

Besides the favorable publicity the area received in the North, a major force contributing to its growth and development was the railroad. In 1902, the same year that Sarasota incorporated as a town, the United States and West Indies Railroad and Steamship Company built the first bridge across the Manatee River and the line extended its track to Sarasota. The rail road brought new settlers to the area and expanded the business opportunities of those already here. By 1905 the Town, with a population between seven and eight hundred people boasted "...two hotels among the best-kept in the State, three churches, and a dozen stores to supply the wants of the citizens All the business men appeared to be prospering".

This influx of settlers brought an increased demand for housing. While this demand was partially filled by the existing hotels and boarding houses, the construction of single family houses also began to increase. The Florida Mortgage and Investment Company built a number of Victorian Style homes on what is now Morrill Street and sold lots to other developers for the construction of homes on speculation.

The first hard surface road between the two towns was completed in 1912. With this transportation system in place, the entire southwest coast of Florida began to expand and develop. Not only could agricultural products now be shipped to northern markets, but activities promoting the south west coast of Florida in the north brought trainloads of people to the area, some traveling from as far away as Minnesota. Many of these visitors remained to purchase land and invest in Florida's future.

It was during this time that Sarasota acquired some of its most influential residents, including Mrs. Potter (Bertha) Palmer, a wealthy widow from Chicago, who has been described as single handedly having the greatest impact on promoting Sarasota's growth.

The Palmer's were soon followed by others from Chicago from the same prosperous social class, including Sara and Stanley Field of Chicago's Marshall Field family, Homer Galpin, Chairman of the Cook County Republican Party, and Edson Keith of Keith Hat's. Members of the "Chicago Colony" were instrumental in the development of many of Sarasota's public, civic, and cultural establishments.

Another important immigrant from the Mid-West was Owen Burns who arrived in Sarasota in 1910. Burns decided that a town good enough for Mrs. Palmer was good enough for him. Burns immediately purchased the holdings of the Florida Mortgage and Investment Co, and the holdings of John Hamilton Gillespie, the Company Manager. These purchases gave Owen Burns title to 75% of the Town of Sarasota. Burns was a dominant force in Sarasota's social, business and political scene for the next quarter of a century.

The 1920's brought unprecedented growth and development to the State of Florida and City of Sarsota. Sarasota County was created in 1921 from the southern portion of Manatee County giving the local populace increased power over public improvements for the area. New roads and bridges were built and inducements were offered to developers to build in the region. Most notably this incentive was offered to Andrew McAnsh for building the Mira Mar Hotel (now demolished) and Apartments (restored) who received ten years of tax abatements, and free water and electricity for the same period. Florida received tremendous national press coverage during this time which promoted its beauty and charm.

Development incentives combined with improvements to transportation systems generated a tremendous interest and rush to purchase Florida real estate. The downtown area of Sarasota underwent tremendous growth with commercial buildings, hotels, and apartments. A demonstration of this optimism in the future was made by A.B. Edwards who constructed a large theater and office complex which was completed in 1926 at the cost of $250,000 on the property adjacent to the Burns' Building.


The subject structure was built in 1925 for Mr. I. R. Burns & Mr. H. H. Bell who had the building constructed in 1925. Little is known about Mr. Bell but a tremendous amount is known of Mr. I. R. Burns. I.R. Burns was a member of an important family in the development history of Sarasota. He was also important in his own right playing an active role in the business, political and social affairs of the community.

Born Ignatious Raliegh Burns and called I. R., he and his wife moved to Sarasota shortly after his brother Owen Burns purchased the holdings of the Florida Mortgage and Investment Co. in 1910. I. R. Burns played an active role in social, civic and business circles during his twenty-odd years in Sarasota.

Burns had worked with his bother Owen for about a year in California. His wife Bessie Ahlong was a member of a prominent Hawaiian sugar and pineapple planting family. Before moving to Sarasota the couple traveled extensively and circumnavigated the globe twice.

In 1912, I. R. Burns and his wife announced their intention of relocating from Sarasota. Following this announcement I. R. was credited in the Sarasota Times with playing an active role in running the Sarasota Board of Trade, and being almost solely responsible for the creation of the Sarasota Yacht Club.

One month later, in November of 1912 it was announced that I. R. Burns had a change of heart and would remain in Sarasota after all and that he would be opening up a real estate office. Burns was responsible over the next several years for the construction of several large homes described as "Modern Bungalows". These homes were seen as innovative for Florida, designed to include the water closet, shower and bath in one room adequate in size for dressing as well. The Sarasota Times reported:

"Here it will be possible for one to bathe and dress without leaving the room. This is an innovation in modern houses in the South as all are compelled to leave the bathroom to dress. Here this will not be so, as when the master leaves this room he will be ready to go right into the street." The article went on to say:

"A sleeping porch, or room, will be on the third floor. This will be 20 x 20 feet, and will be so arranged that it will not be possible for rain to blow in, as the screen arrangement will be ideal. This is another innovation in Florida homes, but is rather common in the more tropical cities like Havana, Honolulu, and other places."

I. R. Burns was also active in Sarasota's social circles and had the reputation of "a genial host". One of his many parties was reported in detail in the Sarasota Times of 1916, "Five Hundred at Home of I. R. Burns". Five Hundred was a popular card game of the day, predating Bridge. This party was thrown to celebrate the completion of the renovation program on his home and the guest list included Sarasota's most prominent citizens.

In 1916, I. R. Burns served as Hernando De Soto in the first "reenactment" of the Legend of Sara De Sota a popular festival celebrating the unrequited love between Chi Chi Okobee and De Sota's daughter Sara. As the legend is told, after the death of the lovely Sara, De Soto granted Chi Chi's wish to lay her to rest in the most beautiful spot in the world. Chi Chi and 100 of his strongest warriors put her body in a battle canoe, brought it into the mouth of Big Pass, and sunk it with their tommy-hawks. The spirits of Chi Chi and his hundred braves are still there today protecting Sara's body and when the tide comes in on the right day if you look closely you can see her spirit in the mist of the sea spray.

Little is known of I. R. Burns activities in Sarasota during the Boom years and the subject structure is the only documented structure associated with him during that time.

Burns resided in Sarasota until 1931 when he and his wife returned to Hawaii and later moved to California. I. R. Burns died in 1941 in San Diego, California.


The subject structure was built by Leadley Ogden for Mr. I. R. Burns and Mr. H. H. Bell in 1926 and it was to be used in part as Ogden's office as well. Ogden was an important contractor in the boom era of the 1920's in Sarasota and in October of 1925, at the peak of the building boom, and was recognized as Sarasota's largest builder. Ogden worked with many local architects and developers on private residences, commercial buildings, and apartments. Ogden was also active in promoting the importance of a strengthened planning board and the need for modern zoning in Sarasota.

While Leadley Ogden is not listed in the 1924 City Directory the May 1925 Sanborn Map shows his workman's barracks along Orange Avenue. At the height of the boom, Ogden employed up to 653 workmen many living at the barracks and he claimed that he could use double that number in order to keep pace with the tremendous influx of people to the area. This large work force gave Ogden the capability of having a large number of buildings under construction at one time and to start two or three structures each day.

Due to the tremendous increase in business during the boom, Ogden needed to have more office space and on October 11, 1925 it was announced in the Sarasota Herald that he would be moving into the "New Burns Building" just west of the Edwards' Theatre. Besides being the tenant, Mr. Ogden was the builder of the structure for I.R. Burns and H.H. Bell the owners. The same article reported that Ogden would have an office staff of 24 persons operating out of his new office and that a new department to manufacture tiles of all kinds would be added to his organization.

Leadley Ogden worked on numerous projects during his short time in Sarasota. One noteworthy building that Leadley Ogden constructed was the four unit Cornish Apartments. Designed by Clare C. Hosmer, in an Italian Motif, for Andrew Cornish a local realtor, this building has been locally designated as having historic significance. Ogden was also credited with building a number of beautiful homes in the Italian Revival style which were designed by noted architect George Albee Freeman in the Indian Beach area.

Another project in which he was involved was the Broadway Apartments (also known as The El Vernona Apartments) designed by Dwight James Baum in the Central Park Subdivision. Today this building is known as the Belle Haven and is both locally designated and nationally listed as historic. These ventures along with the rapid turn-over of buildings allowed Ogden to boast, "Built right in minimum time. You can say: "Yes, it's Ogden built".

But like so many cases in the boom time, there were also the projects that were never completed; one such project was Conrad Brothers proposed apartment building "The Patio". Also designed by Freeman, plans for this large scale apartment building were reported on twice in late 1925 by the Sarasota Herald. The Patio's proposed location was at the corner of Laurel Street and Ohio; unfortunately, it was never constructed.

In the first weeks of 1926 the real estate market boom which fueled the dramatic building boom collapsed, leaving funds for the completion of many projects unavailable and many projects which were built "on speculation" went unsold. Apparently Leadley Ogden was unable to continue his business under these conditions and by the publication of the 1930 City Directory Ogden had closed his business and left the city.

Leadley Ogden operated one of the largest and successful construction firms in Sarasota during the Florida Land Boom. During that time he built many structures both large and small which contribute today significantly to Sarasota's architectural heritage. Ogden's association with architects Dwight James Baum, George Albee Freeman, Clarence Hosmer and Fred J. Orr and his fine execution of numerous Mediterranean Revival Structures in Sarasota demonstrates his importance and influence as a generally recognized and important builder during Sarasota's Land Boom.

The I.R. Burns & H.H. Bell Building was locally designated by the City of Sarasota in 1993.

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