Download a map of the designated historic properties here.
Tony Souza compares trying to preserve downtown Sarasota’s historic assets with someone forever clinging to his favorite childhood teddy bear.
“We’re trying to save them all,” said Souza, former Downtown Partnership executive director. “Not every one can be saved, but the best ones.”
Downtown leaders met Saturday, June 12, at the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre for SemCon 2010. The conference, organized by Souza and Downtown Improvement District Vice Chairman Ernie Ritz, focused on taking economic advantage of the Downtown Sarasota Historic District. Representatives from other historic downtown associations were invited to participate, with the hope that their input will assist downtown Sarasota in its endeavor to establish goals for downtown reconstruction.
When, in 1885, Sarasota filed for the plat of land that is now Five Points Park, all of the streets were named after fruits — even Tamiami Trail, which was originally called Banana Avenue. Residents were trying to entice members of a Scottish colony to come to Sarasota to be farmers. The members of the colony sold everything they had before making their journey, but found nothing but wilderness when they arrived.
“It’d be like if I promised you Tampa and packed you up on buses and dropped you at Myakka,” said noted Sarasota author and historian Jeff LaHurd.
LaHurd’s presentation journeyed through the construction of Sarasota’s first fireproof hotel — The Palms Hotel — in the 1920s, which burned down three months after it was built and just two months before the town got its first fire engine.
“The big developers were Bertha Potter Palmer, Owen Burns and John Ringling,” LaHurd said. “Any time there was a grand opening in Sarasota, the Czechoslovakian National Band would be there, even if you were building a new garage.”
When city of Sarasota senior planner Clifford Smith came up with the theme for his SemCon 2007 presentation, it was “If and When,” regarding a future historic district for downtown Sarasota. In honor of the Downtown Sarasota Historic District’s addition to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on April 9, 2009, he updated his 2010 presentation title to “Here and Now.”
The Downtown Sarasota Historic District is roughly bound by First Street, Orange Avenue, State Street, Gulfstream Avenue and North Pineapple Avenue. Within the area, there are six properties that are designated as historic: the American National Bank, DeMarcay Hotel, Kress Building, Roth Cigar Factory, Edward’s Theatre and Worth’s Block (see below).
The Florida Department of Transportation has approved brown wayfinding signs for exit 210, Fruitville Road, that will direct traffic to the Downtown Sarasota Historic District.
“This will be a tremendous boost to the city for several reasons — it brings national prestige to the city, gives national recognition of the city’s historic resources and is something the city can market,” Smith said.
The wayfinding signs will direct people from the interstate to downtown and will also lead them into the wayfinding system of the city. Once people enter the core of the city, they will be able to follow pedestrian signage. Drivers will be able to follow vehicular directional signs to the historic district.
“When you’re on the ground, you don’t see boundaries like you do on a map,” Smith said. “People with business in the area will get more traffic from the signs drawing people into the district, and they will also be drawn to other stores outside the district, which will impact those businesses as well.”
Lindsey Hayes, a senior planner from Winter Park, a city scaled similarly to Sarasota, discussed the city’s historical revitalization success story and offered insight as to what Sarasota could do to revive the district. She said the goal when restoring Winter Park was not to compete with Orlando, but to make it an attractive destination.
“We decided to keep it simple,” Hayes said. “Simple streets, authentic and bring it back to the best of its roots.”
It was important for the city to maintain business during the year, so crews only worked during the summers at night. A signage-and-wayfinding program was installed around the town to let residents and visitors know businesses were open throughout the entire process.
For Sarasota, possible restorations could include swapping the pavement on Main Street and around Five Points Park with brick street, Smith said. Ritz said a planning session for what Sarasota’s downtown historic district could look like is planned for this week.
“These are the crown jewels of downtown,” Smith said. “We want to bring people into the center and give them a chance to see all of downtown. The Kress Building is gorgeous and screams 1930s Art Deco. Worth’s Block — I love these buildings because they look like different eras in time.”
The following six properties, located within the Downtown Sarasota Historic District, have been added to the U.S National Register of Historic Places.
Edwards Theatre (Sarasota Opera House)
Address: 61 N. Pineapple Ave.
About: Built by the city of Sarasota’s first mayor, Arthur B. Edwards, the building opened as Sarasota’s first theater with the one-reel silent film, “Skinners’ Dress Suit,” starring Reginald Denny and Laura LaPlante.
The theater, built in Mediterranean Revival style, was designed to accommodate many varieties of entertainment — silent movies, vaudeville and opera. Frequent visitors included the Palmer and Ringling families, Prince Cantacuizine, of Russia, his wife, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Interesting fact: Lovers would always go to the back row of the balcony, where ushers and projectionists would pour glasses of ice water on them when things got too heated.
Worth’s Block (The Gator Club)
Address: 1490 Main St.
About: William Worth originally designed the building at the intersection of Main Street and Lemon Avenue for use as a shop house with commercial use on the first floor, the Spot Cash Grocery, and residential use above for his family. It was one of the city’s first commercial brick buildings.
In 1912, Worth’s son, William David Worth, purchased his father’s business and built a new brick building on the site of the original store, which was referred to as “Worth’s Block.” The store sold fresh meat, groceries and delivered anywhere in the city.
Interesting fact: On Feb. 7, 1912, the city passed an ordinance requiring downtown property owners to add sidewalks in front of their buildings.
Address: 1442 Main St.
About: The wrap-around storefront display windows, ornamental terra-cotta columns and pilasters are primary features of the art-deco style exhibited at the store. The Kress insignia appears on the terrazzo threshold of the ground-floor entrance, and the Kress masthead appears in gold-glazed tile letters. A projecting aluminum marquee protected the merchandise and the window shoppers.
The Sarasota branch was the 232nd store opened in the Kress system.
Interesting fact: When the store opened for inspection on Nov. 30, 1932, it was estimated that 8,000 people walked through the building that day.
Roth Cigar Factory
Address: 30 Mira Mar Court
About: Built in Mission Revival style as the factory for the Roth Cigar Company, the two-story brick-and-hollow-tile structure is one of the few surviving buildings designed for factory use in the South Palm area. The building’s style is attributed to architect Thomas Reed Martin.
Brothers Edward P. and Michael B. Roth moved in 1913 to Sarasota and sold cigars at their Main Street newsstand. In 1922, they began construction for a separate cigar factory, which produced cigars that were sold for $.08 each. The store was a newspaper, magazine, cigar, tobacco and confectionary outlet.
Interesting fact: It was reported that 10,000 cigars were produced during the factory’s first month of operations.
American National Bank (Orange Blossom Hotel)
Address: 1330 Main St.
About: The neo-classical style building is one of the three earliest skyscrapers in Sarasota and is the work of architect Francis P. Smith. The bank and office building, completed in 1926, were associated with the economic and tourism history of Sarasota, but the financial decline of the Florida economic boom resulted in the bank’s failure in 1928. It went out of business and was vacant until 1937, when it was remodeled into the Orange Blossom Hotel. A tourist hotel for thousands of vacationers and seasonal visitors, the hotel operated until 1965 and, in 1968, became retirement apartments for senior citizens.
Interesting fact: Hotel elevators were operated by hand.
Address: 27 S. Palm Ave.
About: The moderately-priced hotel, built in Spanish Mission Revival style by general contractor W.R. Carman, opened next door to the Mira Mar Apartment complex and hotel during the real-estate boom in the 1920s. The five-bay entrance faces south Palm Avenue and is characterized by five segmental-arched openings — the first and fifth bays are recessed doorways and the second, third and fourth bays are shop windows. The ground floor was originally connected to the Mira Mar complex by a marquee.
Interesting fact: Ralph C. Caples, representing Andrew McAnsh, promoter/developer of the Mira Mar Apartment, petitioned the City Council to widen the sidewalks in front of the complex by 5 feet.
*Information courtesy of Sarasota County History Center and Sarasota History Alive