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Sarasota Wednesday, May 25, 2022 2 months ago

Historic Leonard Reid House on the move to Newtown

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After it arrives from the Rosemary District to its new site in Newtown, the home of the "right-hand man" to Sarasota's first mayor will become home to a new Sarasota African American cultural center.
by: Andrew Warfield Staff Writer

A piece of Sarasota history will be loaded onto a flatbed and moved more than 2 miles in the early morning hours on Friday when the historic Leonard Reid House will be relocated to city-owned property in North Sarasota. There it will become home to a new Sarasota African American cultural center.

The house will be moved from its location at 1435 Seventh St. in the Rosemary District to 2529 N. Orange Ave. in Newtown.

The Leonard Reid House is named for the early pioneer who helped establish Sarasota’s first Black community, Overtown, now the Rosemary District. The single-story, frame vernacular-style house built in 1926 carries local historic designation and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Leonard Reid was considered the “right-hand man” to Sarasota’s first mayor, J. Hamilton Gillespie, who served from 1902 to 1907. Reid lived much of his life in the house with his wife and their two daughters, Ethel Reid Hayes and Viola Reid, who also contributed greatly to the community.

Both women were educated in Sarasota and went on to obtain higher education, according to Cliff Smith, a senior planner with the city’s historic preservation program. They spent most of their adult lives teaching in Sarasota schools and investing in children.

“The Reid family residence is a special place where books were handed out to Overtown's children and the family's parrot perched in its cage on the screened porch talked to passersby,” said Vickie Oldham, the president and CEO of the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition.

A confluence of circumstances led to the relocation of the house. Its owner, Vinland Holdings Inc. of Cocoa Beach, initiated a dialogue in 2020 to donate the historic structure to the city. In August 2020, the City Commission purchased a vacant lot at Orange Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. Way at about the same time the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition was looking for space in the city limits to establish a new cultural arts and history center.

“Several key parts had to come together at just the right time for this to work, and somehow they did,” said Mayor Erik Arroyo. “This truly is an amazing partnership between the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Because of the partnership, a beautiful historic structure is being preserved, and we’re about to see the much-anticipated launch of a Sarasota African American cultural center.” 

In January 2021, the city entered into a cost-sharing agreement to move the Leonard Reid House to the recently acquired parcel in Newtown. Vinland Holdings is responsible for costs associated with the move, the city to prepare the new site to receive the house, including clearing the property, building a foundation, curbing, parking, utilities, landscaping and permitting fees.

The city takes ownership of the house upon delivery to the new site.

In January 2022, the City Commission unanimously approved a lease agreement with the the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition to use the Leonard Reid House as a cultural arts center to host lectures, programs and exhibits.

“The time has come for the Leonard Reid House to move to its new site where the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition will open a new cultural institution in a location where residents are anxious to access the arts and practice cultural traditions,” Oldham said. “Our gratitude and appreciation to the City Commission for jumpstarting the history project and supporting the effort at every step.”

Pre-move festivities at the current site of the will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, May 26. Speakers will include Arroyo, Sarasota Vice Mayor Kyle Battie and Newtown resident Mary Mack, a descendent of Leonard Reid.

At 5:30 p.m. a send-off celebration will be held with live traditional African music, community speakers and a symbolic ritual for prosperity and protection. The event is open to the public. Register here to attend.

“The city is partnering to preserve this important structure and take a giant step toward fulfilling the SAACC’s goal of opening Sarasota’s very first African American cultural center,” said Sarasota Governmental Relations Manager Stevie Freeman-Montes. “The house will be open for all to come together and learn about the events, culture and contributions of our historic Black community to the Sarasota we see today, all in the very house where one of Overtown’s most beloved pioneers lived.”

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