Worth's Block (The Gator Club)
Buildings: Sarasota History
Worth's Block, located at 1490 Main Street, is a two-story, masonry vernacular, brick commercial building. Constructed in 1912, Worth's Block was designed for use as a "shop-house," with commercial use on the first floor and residential use above.
William Worth, originally from Douglas, Georgia, arrived in Sarasota with his family in 1903. In the previous year he had served as postmaster of Englewood, Florida. Upon arriving in Sarasota, Worth purchased land at the intersection of Main Street and Lemon Avenue on which he constructed a building to house his new mercantile business. Worth became a respected member of the community, as attested to by the fact that he was chosen to serve as tax collector for the Town of Sarasota in 1909. In December, 1913, following Sarasota's incorporation as a city, Worth was one of two candidates for mayor, losing the election to A.B. Edwards by a vote of 108 to 63.
In July 1912, Worth's son, William "David" Worth, purchased his father's mercantile business and hired his uncle, Enoch E. Worth, to help him run the business. The twenty-two-year-old, with his father's financial backing, decided to erect a more substantial building to house his newly acquired business. His father hired builder H.B. Westbrook to construct a new brick building on the site of the original store. In an article in the Sarasota Times dated August 1, 1912, the proposed building was referred to as "Worth's Block" and was to be a "brick building on the corner of Main and Lemon, two stories, 100 feet in depth with the first story planned as a store room, and the second story, a dwelling." The foundation was laid in August of 1912 and by September was up to the second floor. By November, the structure neared completion. A sidewalk was included in the construction. On February 7, 1912, the city passed an ordinance requiring property owners in the downtown area to put down sidewalks in front of their buildings. Worth's Block was one of the first brick commercial buildings erected in Sarasota. The honor of being the first went to Highsmith & Prime Company's building on Main Street, which was constructed six months prior to Worth's Block. Although the building still exists, its brick construction and style features are covered with stucco.
Worth's Block was completed in early December 1912, and W.D.Worth and his parents moved into their new home on the second floor of the building. The first floor was occupied by their grocery store, the Spot Cash Grocery, with N.A. Braddock as the proprietor. The store sold fresh meat, and "fancy groceries," and made deliveries to any part of the city. Within a few years, the business had a gas pump in front of the store for cars and stoves. Worth also operated another enterprise from the store: Wm. Worth & Son. Their merchandise consisted of feed and grain, which they sold wholesale.
In 1914, W.D. Worth sold his interest in the store to Henry M. Taylor, but retained his ownership of the building. Taylor operated the store under its original name, Spot Cash Grocery. The business was a large operation, employing seven clerks. The store had one delivery wagon, a truck, and three bicycles for deliveries. Taylor's daughter, Elizabeth, worked as a cashier. Worth and his wife and daughters moved to Savannah, Georgia, where he operated stores for several years. Later he disposed of his holdings in Savannah and returned to Sarasota where he became part owner and general manager of the Lily White Laundry and Worth Linen Supply Company. He also invested heavily in the development of a large tract of land on the former "city garbage dump" on 9th Street (now Fruitville Road) and was a financial backer for a large commercial building erected on that street. W.D.'s father, mother, and sisters moved to Plant City in 1915 where the senior Worth operated another grocery store.
A major fire struck downtown Sarasota in 1915, destroying and damaging many commercial buildings on Main Street, but Worth's Block remained undamaged. Henry Taylor continued to operate the Spot Cash Grocery until 1921. W.D. Worth once again took over control of the grocery business between 1921 and 1922, since the city directories for those years list the building as the Enterprise Grocery Company, with Worth and his family once again living upstairs.
Ivey C. Taylor (no relation to Henry Taylor) purchased the store and building in June 1923, naming it the Taylor Grocery Company. Taylor's wife, Georgia, operated the second floor as a rooming house. At the time he purchased the Worth's Block building, Taylor held a Texaco Oil Company franchise and operated the Central Avenue Service Station. By agreement with the new owner of the building, W.D. Worth continued to sell feed and fertilizer wholesale from the same location. Later, Worth sold all his Sarasota interests and moved to San Diego, California, where he purchased a large tourist camp and subsequently retired to Parrish, Florida in 1945. Ivey Taylor was a former teacher and school principal who was active in community affairs in Sarasota. He helped organize the Sarasota and Manatee County Fresh Water Fish and Game Association. Taylor is also credited with being instrumental in having 28,000 acres of land designated as the Myakka River State Park.
Taylor's association with the building lasted only until the latter part of 1925. By the 1920s, Sarasota was replacing its image as a small agricultural community with that of a developing tourist resort. The decade brought unparalleled growth to both Florida and Sarasota. Sarasota's real estate prices soared. Many new buildings, executed in the Mediterranean Revival style that became the keynote of the "Florida Boom" era, were erected in Sarasota, and older buildings were renovated to reflect the newly popular trend. Many new real estate offices sprang up in response to the booming real estate market. The Worth's Block building was purchased in 1925 by realtors Clifford R. Parliman and Ernest Randall, who renamed it the Parliman-Randall Building and installed in it the offices for their real estate company, the Parliman-Randall Company. The firm was briefly successful and was called one of Sarasota's "most prominent realty firms." The company served s the marketing agent for the development of Sorrento Shores in Sarasota, with Parliman acting as vice president and managing director of the firm developing the subdivision. With the collapse of the real estate market after 1926, however, the firm faced financial difficulties and closed its doors in 1928.
Later that year, prominent local businessman J.D. Harmon purchased the building and opened a cigar store on the first floor. The concern was originally called Harmon and LeValley Cigars and Tobacco, but shortly thereafter was renamed the Corner Cigar Store. The business sold cigars and other tobacco products, newspapers, magazines, and soft drinks. Harmon subdivided the ground floor of the building to install another storefront near the rear of the building on Lemon Avenue. The new storefront housed a soda fountain popular with high school students. The cigar store and soda fountain continued under several names over the next few years. The second floor of the building was used for storage and the manager's office. Harmon installed a ticker tape and scoreboard in the cigar store to keep track of current sports' scores. Before baseball World Series games were broadcast on radio, crowds would gather outside the cigar store to hear reports of the action as it came over the "wire," often tying up traffic for hours. According to his brother, W.M. "Mac" Harmon, the store:
"...wasn't just the gathering place for them (high school students). Anyone who wanted to know anything about sports in Sarasota, they'd call the Corner Cigar Store. There was also a radio speaker out front where people could gather at night to listed to shows like Amos and Andy and at night when nothing was going on, the fellows who weren't dating would either sit around and play checkers or arm wrestle."
By the mid-1930s, the soda fountain business had waned, and Harmon gave it up in 1936. Prohibition had ended in 1933, and Harmon converted the former soda fountain into the Gator Bar & Grille. The Main Street store was renamed the Gator Cigar Store. The bar began to build a clientele of circus performers from the Ringling Brothers Circus, especially the animal handlers and blacksmiths, who frequented the bar for many years. In addition to food and alcoholic beverages, the installation of slot machines helped lure customers to the bar. In 1939, the entire ground floor became J.D. Harmon Liquors. The year 1940 brought about another change in name. The bar was renamed the Gator Bar.
In the late 1950s, an attempt was made to modernize the building by covering it with pressed metal sheathing. Wall paneling, linoleum flooring, and a dropped acoustic ceiling were added to the interior of the first floor. Over the next forty years, both the exterior and interior of the building were remodeled, so it was no longer recognizable as the structure that had been erected in 1912. In 1988, the building was leased by businessman Jay Foley, with the intention of totally renovating it and reopening the establishment under a new format and name: The Gator Club. Extensive exterior and interior rehabilitation was undertaken to return the building to its original appearance. The club is currently a successful enterprise helping to revitalize downtown by bringing people into the area both day and night. The present name, the Gator Club, reflects the building's continued use as a cocktail lounge for over 70 years, and has constantly been referred to as "The Gator."
Worth's Block (Gator Club) was designated by the City of Sarasota in 1997, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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