The courthouse was built on land owned by Charles Ringling and first opened its doors in 1927.
Courthouses are often places where precedents are set and history is crafted, but to begin exploring Sarasota County’s past, one only needs to take a look at the building.
The courthouse on Main Street was placed on the Sarasota County Register of Historic Places after an unanimous County Commission vote Nov. 17.
Completed in 1927, it was the first permanent civic building constructed by the county on land donated by Charles Ringling.
Below: Swipe left and right to see the buildings as they were in the 1920s and as they appear today.
The structure was designed by architect Dwight James Baum, who also designed the Ca d’Zan. Baum imported tiles from Spain and hired Samuel Yellin, an internationally renowned metal worker, to do the iron work.
“The courthouse stands as one of the architectural masterpieces of the Mediterranean Revival style in Sarasota County and a significant example of the style from the 1920s land boom development of the state of Florida,” a county memo states.
In 2016, the county began a process for designating significant county-owned historic resources to “foster and further the protection of significant historic resources in public hands for future generations.”
The listing comes after the Historical Resources division of the Sarasota County Libraries in 2018 identified seven significant structures that were not formally listed on the SCRHP.
Since then, six of the seven have been named: the Terrace Building, Osprey Schoolhouse, Blackburn Point Bridge, Phillippi Estate, Scott Building and Venice Train Depot.
The courthouse is the last to be listed.
Ringling sold the lot to the county for a nominal fee provided the construction of the courthouse did not cost more than $150,000. If the county failed to build on the lot, the property would return to him, according to a report written by historic preservation specialist Jorge Danta Spector.
The courthouse served all county government functions into the 1940s. In 1954, the county approved the construction of the a three-story jail addition onto the building.
In the 1980s, other county functions moved into the annex building, and in March 1984, the courthouse was listed to the National Register of Historic Places.
Most recently, the county underwent a decade’s-worth of renovations to return the building to its original state.
The $4 million project was done in several phases:
- Between 2007-2010, the judicial tower was renovated;
- Between 2010-2014, the roof was replaced; and
- Between 2014-2018, exterior restorations were done to strip away 100 years of paint and stucco that covered the building’s original features.
Karen Rushing, the clerk of the Circuit Court and comptroller, said she’s been a tenant of the courthouse since 1978, and throughout all the restorations, staff has made sure the historic nature of the building has been maintained.
“I’m really proud to say we sacrificed the use of some of the space in that building to allow the historic elements to remain as is,” she said.
“We didn’t encroach on any hallways that are really majestic and large and really serve no business purpose. There are a lot of nooks and crannies that are in that building that are interesting because all the county government was in there.”