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Newsletter April 20, 2016

Published Wednesday, April 20, 2016 8:00 am
by Larry Kelleher

Drive By Gem

Okay, folks – I know I don’t normally include historically designated homes in my 'Drive By Gem' category, but it’s Spring and who knows what might happen? Anyhow, I could not resist this lovely pathway to the side yard of this spectacular home on St. Armand’s Key. It looks so inviting and creates suspense, which is an important element in any landscaping plan. I’d love to see their backyard which is on the water.


Ain't Life Grand?

This sailor, with a satisfied grin on his face, might be reflecting upon the fact that he (and many others) from the USS Sarasota, “invaded” Lido Beach earlier in the day. Frivolity ruled at the Lido Beach Casino, and I suppose a few beers were also in order during their shore leave. Good times!.

(photo credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources)


Just Jane

Although one of the coolest vintage homes on Osprey Avenue was ruthlessly gobbled up by the nasty house eaters, historic preservation in Sarasota did earn a few gold stars last week.

Vicky Oldham and her energetic crew, consisting of Dr. Rosalyn Howard, Chris Wenzel and Dave Baber, presented their Newtown Conservation Historic District Phase I Report to the City of Sarasota Historic Preservation Board. To resounding applause, the board directed them and their dedicated volunteers, to continue this timely and most valuable assessment of our local African American History. Phase II will result in the creation of a district showcasing historic homes, a walking tour and historical markers dedicated to the history of Overtown and Newtown. This endeavor will increase all-important heritage tourism in Sarasota and be a source of pride for our community. Did you know that’s a $4 billion dollar a year industry in our state?

More good news… The State of Florida has granted $500,000 towards the renovation of the 1938 WPA-funded Sarasota Municipal Auditorium on the North Trail, just two doors down from the historic Chidsey Library building (now called, Historical Exhibits and Education Center). By the way, the Friends of the Sarasota County History Center are looking for a few good volunteers to greet visitors and help out in the Chidsey’s gift shop. If you are interested in getting involved, you can reach them at 941-361-2453, or visit them at www.foschc.org for more information.

And, best of all, I was invited over to Oak Street last week to visit one of the homes formerly listed in our Vintage Real Estate section. My new friend, Sheril Merrill pulled back the dust curtain separating the living room from the former kitchen and WOW! She’s in the process of remodeling the entire home, while enhancing its best assets. Now, her next door neighbor is following her brave lead on his home too! Thank you, preservationists! 


Postcard of the Week

Ahh…The Ritz Plaza in Miami Beach. This hotel was the tallest one in the city for 30 years. It is located in the Miami Beach Architectural District and has an interesting history. (This is courtesy of Wikipedia and may possibly need editing):

The Grossinger family expanded from their Catskill resort into Miami Beach in 1939. The Art Deco tower was designed by architect L. Murray Dixon and opened as the Grossinger Beach Hotel. It was the first air-conditioned hotel on Miami Beach.

The hotel was used by the U.S. Army during World War II to accommodate high-ranking officers. The property re-opened in 1946 as the Ritz Plaza.

In 1989, the hotel was purchased by Ignacio Contreras and Manuel Llerandi and restored to its Art Deco roots, reopening in February 1990. The hotel became a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Historic Hotels of America in 1991. It was sold to developer Sam Nazarian in 2004 and immediately closed for a planned reconstruction as a luxury boutique hotel, but numerous plans stalled and the building remained closed through 2010. In May 2012, it opened as the SLS Hotel South Beach.

(image credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources)



This 1978 souvenir circus program, is colorful for sure. For some reason I imagine the man being shot out of a canon) likened himself to a super hero. The helmet is out of character, but the tights and lightning bolt speak volumes. 

(image credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources)


Our County Treasures

This dinner plate, ca. 1860, is from the Palmer estate and was made in Palestine. Perhaps Bertha Palmer purchased it there, or elsewhere, in one of her many travels abroad. She was stately woman of vision, and business instincts, coupled with fair-mindedness. It is incredible when you realize what she accomplished in the eight short years she was here as a winter resident. If she had not died from breast cancer, I can only imagine what else she would have done. 

(photo credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources)


Pretty as a Picture

Remember parallel parking in downtown Sarasota? Better yet – what about doing that on a weekend night on lower Main Street? This photo illustrates all the things needed to create a great time when all the clubs and restaurants were open and the town sparkled. 

(photo credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources)

Contributions of Charles Ringling

Sarasota County has been fortunate over the years by having visionary people who saw the potential of this primitive area. Between 1910 and 1920, people like Mrs. Potter Palmer, Owen Burns and John and Charles Ringling were beginning to transform Sarasota from a small fishing village to the ideal winter retreat. Once settled here, many got involved in community affairs and local businesses. Charles Ringling contributed greatly to the early development of the City of Sarasota and the county.

Charles Ringling was one of the seven brothers who formed the Ringling Brothers Circus in the late 1880s. However, by 1920, there were only two brothers left, John and Charles. John Ringling, a natural showman, was the front man for the circus, while Charles ensured day to day operations and was in charge of advanced billings and actual production. Both John and Charles began to invest heavily in Sarasota real estate soon after their arrival in 1911. Charles Ringling bought land in the Shell Beach area and began building a home in 1912. From 1912 to 1924, Charles and his wife, Edith, alternated their residence between existing wooden houses on their estate and their home in Evanston, Illinois.

In contrast to his brother’s interest in developing Sarasota’s coastal areas, Charles Ringling invested in the downtown area. Ringling bought the old Gillespie golf course from the Sarasota Golf Holding Company. Gillespie’s golf course today would cover the area from the Sarasota County Terrace Building to the Ringling Shopping Center, north to Fruitville Road then west to the site of the present Sarasota County Court House on Main Street. Ringling developed a business district and a number of business buildings were built, including the Charles Ringling Building. Read more...

(photo credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources)


Yesterday's Sarasota Calendar

On Friday, in 1881 (circa), Sarasota got its first meat market. Hamlin Whitaker (pictured at a young age), in a small house on the N.E. corner of Palm Avenue and Main Street, would butcher a steer once a week. He would send half the carcass to Manatee and sell the rest to local customers. Because no ice was available, the meat had to be sold within a day.

(photo credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources)


Where am I?

The winner of our last contest was Tommy Young. Congratulations! Please email me your mailing address, so I can send you your prize. My email address is editor@floridahistoryalive.com.

You probably read about me in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune last Saturday. So, let’s see if you paid attention. I was established to help folks who were in need of long term care and could not afford it without my help. Several community leaders came together with a mission to have me built. Everyone knows my name today, but your challenge is to say my original name. In other words, “Who am I?” 

Click here to submit your answer for this week's quiz, click here to view the last challenge and correct answer.

(photo credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources)


Your award this week is the book, John Hamilton Gillespie - The Scot Who Saved Sarasota by Jeff LaHurd. The Friend's of the Sarasota County History Center generously provided this prize. Please consider becoming a member of the Friends; they have some exciting programs coming up soon. Visit them here.

If you would like to be a sponsor of our "Where Am I?" quiz, please call us at (941) 951-7727. It only cost $25 per week for us to set up your ad, and then you only have to provide a prize for the winner. What could be easier?


Twin Motel Historical Marker Dedication

On Saturday March 12, 2016, the Sarasota County Historical Commission unveiled an historical marker recognizing the significance of tourism and motels to Sarasota and its North Trail (Tamiami Trail). The marker also recognizes the architectural significance of the Twin Motel, the first historically designated motel in Sarasota. Speakers at the dedication included Mayor Willie Shaw, City Commissioner Liz Alpert, and current property owner Arnie Berns. The property, which Berns has adapted to modern use while preserving its history and charm, now houses his photography and museum galleries. Former motel rooms display a particular theme including Sarasota history; photography of Machu Picchu, Egypt, and New York City; and a toy car collection. According to Historical Commissioner Dr. Frank Cassell, Berns’s photography and collections are charming and deserving of a visit. Robert Bendus, Manager of Department of Historical Resources, assisted with the unveiling.  The Friends of the Sarasota County History Center provided delightful refreshments, which were enjoyed in the Twin Motel’s courtyard.


Florida and the Civil War

What was the largest battle in Florida during the Civil War? What was especially significant about this battle? What was the biggest contribution made by Florida during the Civil War? Where there pro-Union people living in Florida during the Civil War?

These & other questions will be answered at a program funded by the Florida Humanities Council on Friday, April 22nd at 7:00 p.m. at the auditorium of the Sarasota Garden Club, 1131 Blvd of the Arts. This event is Free and open to the public. No reservations taken. Presenter is Dr. James Denham, Professor of History, Florida Southern College

The first 20 attendees will receive a free booklet on "Florida & the Civil War" which details each region of Florida during the war.