Historical Tour


At a recent North Trail Redevelopment committee meeting someone asked the group “What do you want to see GONE from the North Trail?”

I was struck by the question.  Besides the obvious answer of wanting visible vice and crime to go away, I could not think of anything I wanted to see gone.  In fact, adaptive reuse of existing structures may be the most logical way to go given redevelopment challenges related to parcel size, water retention requirements, parking ratios, new construction set backs from property boundaries, etc…

But maybe that’s just my rationalization.  I happen to like most of the buildings on the North Trail.  As the meeting wore on and others talked about grand redevelopment ideas I became distracted with creating a Historical Tour of North Tamiami Trail.
1. The tour begins along the waterfront in Whitaker Gateway Park.  There’s a perfectly positioned swing providing a view south of Yellow Bluffs.  This is now the Sarasota Bay Club but you can still see an oldalt stairway cascading down the steep bank to the remains of an old dock.  Various pillars and an old entryway arch are visibly scattered among the Live Oaks.  These are remnants of The Acacias, a home built by L. V. Honore, the wife of Bertha Potter Palmers uncle Benjamin in 1912.  And we all know this to be the site of the Whitaker landing in the 1840’s.
You can still see the yellow, chalky limestone behind a newer retaining wall and it’s obvious this high ground provided protection to some of our early settlers.  A historical marker in the park has a brief overview of the Whitaker family’s involvement in Sarasota.
alt2. From Whitaker Gateway Park, go south on Tamiami Trail and turn east on 11th St.  To your left is Pioneer Park and the Hog Creek environmental restoration area.  Hog Creek is where the Whitaker family let the hogs run.  For me, this is the beginning of our North Trail as most properties to the north are now zoned NT.

3. Head north on Cocoanut and turn west on 12th Street.  To your left and within the boundaries of Pioneer Park are the relocated Bidwell-Wood House and Crocker Memorial Church.  These structures, now home to the Historical Society of Sarasota County have been moved more than once.  I believe their original locations are now home to a McDonalds at Mound and 41 (Bidwell-Wood House) and a tire repair shop on Bee Ridge (Crocker Memorial Church).
alt4. Adjacent to the Historical Society is long time park occupant, the Sara Desoto Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  They are caretakers of Pioneer Whitaker Cemetery established in 1879.  A historical marker in this location honors Mary Wyatt Whitaker and has been in place since 1936.

alt5. Next stop north is 1770 Tamiami Trail. This is the historically designated Twin Motel built in 1950 and referred to as a “modern ranch style motel”.  It was only the second historically designated motel in the State of Florida.  It is now an example of adaptive reuse and houses a Chinese Restaurant, Real Estate Company, hair salon and a pet salon.  North and across 18th Street you can see Panama Drive following the curvature of Whitaker Bayou as it winds through the Edgewater subdivision, now part of the Central Cocoanut National Historic District. 

6. Cross over Whitaker Bayou and bear right on Old Bradenton Road.  This is an early generation of US 41.  To your immediate left are several repurposed buildings being used by Ringling College of Art and Design.  I recall one being a gas station and the other a motel.  Old Bradenton Road follows the banks of the bayou until you reach the lighted intersection with Martin Luther King Drive. 

7.  On the NW corner of MLK and OBR is the old Bay Haven Hotel.  It’s a classic example of Mediterranean Revival architecture built by Walter V. Coleman, developer of the Bay Haven subdivision.  The Bay Haven, rumored to be haunted was purchased by the Ringling’s School of Fine and Applied Arts in 1931 and has been used by RCAD as dormitory ever since. 
This side trip reminds us old highways have meandered like rivers and to experience the full history you need to leave the main stream and explore backwaters and ox bow lakes.

8. Back on north Tamiami Trail; pull in to the parking lot of Carr’s Corner Café.  This is the center of the Bay Haven subdivision which is bounded by Indian Beach Drive on the South, Highland Drive on the North, the bay front to the west and Old Bradenton Road to the East.  Distinctive features include Coleman’s own home on the corner of Virginia Drive and Bay Shore Road, Bay Haven Elementary School and the previously mentioned Bay Haven Hotel. 
The 1920’s are referred to by some as a zenith in American urban planning and Bay Haven is a great example.  It contains single family homes and multifamily, hospitality and commercially zoned properties.  Sitting in Carr’s parking lot puts you in a circle of commercial and multifamily properties within N. Tamiami Circle West and N. Tamiami Circle East.  This early project provided for mixed use and transitional zoning more complimentary than we find today.

9. Further north and at the intersection of Tamiami Trail and Myrtle you begin to see development from the 1950’s designed exclusively for the automobile.  Commercial buildings are set back and surrounded by huge parking lots.  Little remains of architectural interest and some think we are still reeling from this design concept which obliterates streetscape and pedestrian environments.

10. North of Myrtle there are many remaining “modern ranch style motels”.  These are not without some character like the Allamanda Motel at 4014 North Tamiami Trail built in 1949 and the Cadillac Motel across the Street.  But my favorite is the Golden Host at 4675 North Tamiami Trail. 
I have been told this property which includes the Bahai Hut and Melody Diner were designed by the Zimmerman’s, lesser known players from the Sarasota School of Architecture.  Someone put a Mediterranean facade on this motel but it cannot conceal Polynesian influences and inspired ranch elements like deep overhangs, exposed beams and vertically stacked cement block.
11. On the Northeast corner of Tamiami Trail and 47th Street is Gateway Church or what used to be called North United Methodist Church.  Structures on this property date back to 1952 and 1958.  I can imagine a full parking lot on Sunday morning when Sapphire Heights, one of the subdivisions to the west was coming out of the ground in the 1950’s.  While not quite as inspired as the work of Victor Lundy (St. Paul Lutheran Church) this sanctuary is still worth a look inside. 
12. Head East on 47th for a couple blocks to see another neighborhood platted in the 1920’s.  Broadway Heights of Indian Beach is two blocks long with a small traffic circle in the middle.  Another distinctive feature is the sidewalks lined with 90 year old Washingtonian palms like Bay Shore Road in Sapphire Shores which was landscaped at the same time.  Only one house was built during the boom era of the 1920’s with most of the others dating to the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.  See if you can figure out which one was probably the “model”.

13. The intersection of Mecca Drive and Tamiami Trail is worth a stop.  Barnacle Bills on the SE corner used to be the popular Golden Buddha which sat adjacent to a development plat called Gardens of Allah, thus the street name Mecca Drive.  You can still find old postcards of this Chinese restaurant with a kitschy onion dome removed along with the Buddha during the last renovation.  This building dating to 1957 was originally a mid-eastern restaurant called The Mecca which explains the onion dome as an architectural element.

14. On the NW corner of Mecca is a collection of structures of various vintage.  I’ve been told some were used as sales & marketing offices for The Meadows built out east off 17th Street in the 1970’s.  If true, this is a more recent reminder everyone driving to or through Sarasota came down this road until the 1980’s.

15. The NE corner was home to Old Hickory, at one time one of the oldest continually operating family restaurants in Sarasota.  The building, built in 1949 is still there but the steaks and salad bar have been gone since 2005.
16. Farther north and adjacent to University Parkway is The Classic Car Museum built in 1945.  This renowned collection provided a less highbrow tourist attraction than the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art across the street on Ringling Plaza and it remains a popular destination today.

17. Finally, travel a bit farther north and turn west on College Drive.  The small triangular lot to the north was the location of the long gone “Sarasota Welcome Center” where arriving travelers could get a free glass of orange juice and a map of Sarasota.  It was replaced with the fondly recalled Zinn’s Restaurant and the property now belongs to New College of Florida.
I am sure many readers and long time residents could add to this tour and maybe even correct a few things.  Your stories, photographs and memorabilia could be a great value to our community.  If you have something you would like to share, please call or email.

David Jennings
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

1.Municipal Auditorium - 801 North Tamiami Trail - Designed by well-known local architect Thomas Reed Martin and opened in 1938, the auditorium was the first structure in the Civic Center, a WPA-funded public recreation and cultural area between Boulevard of the Arts and 10th Street west of North Tamiami Trail. The auditorium is one of only a few surviving examples of Art Deco architecture in Sarasota. Shuffleboards, tennis courts, and lawn-bowling greens were constructed to the north. Parking lots have replaced all but the lawn-bowling greens. The auditorium is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

2. Art Center Sarasota - 707 North Tamiami Trail - Opened in 1949 by the Sarasota Art Association, this building has been home to many area artists of regional and national fame. Its exhibits focus on the works of visual artists of Florida. The outdoor sculpture garden was created in 1996.

3. Sarasota County Visitors Center and History Center Museum - 701 North Tamiami Trail - This was built as the City of Sarasota's first and only public library building in 1941. When the library's collection outgrew its space, the city joined with the county to create a countywide library system. In 1976, the collection moved to Selby Library at 1001 Boulevard of the Arts, which became the main library in the county system. Sarasota County Historical Resources moved into the building that same year. In 2007 Historical Resources (now called the Sarasota County History Center) moved to 6062 Porter Way, opening up the Chidsey building for its new use as a visitor information center and history center museum.

4. The Pagoda Building - 655 North Tamiami Trail - Built by the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce in 1956, the center was designed by Victor Lundy, a contributor to the Sarasota School of Architecture. Architects of the "School" combined influences of the European modernist movement with local materials and the desire to minimize the distinction between interior and exterior spaces. With the advent of air conditioning, their large moveable glass "walls' and jalousie windows and doors made these buildings impractical. Lundy broke with some of his peers' practices and imported the roof tiles from Japan instead of using local materials. He reportedly selected his building style because he was influenced by a Japanese garden sculpture near the pond to the south of the building.

5. Sarasota Garden Club - 1131 Boulevard of the Arts - Garden Club members has supervised and maintained the landscaping of the Civic Center long before they opened their own building in 1960. In the "Sarasota School" style, architect John Crowell sought to make the Garden Club's home compatible with the nearby Chamber of Commerce "pagoda." A tool shed built the following year was patterned after the Japanese garden houses.

6. Florida West Coast Symphony - 709 North Tamiami Trail - Little remains visible of the symphony's original home. Formed by musicians in Manatee and Sarasota counties in 1949, the symphony built its first rehearsal hall six years later. The symphony now provides a full season of symphony and chamber music concerts and sponsors six youth orchestras.

7. Van Wezel Performing Arts Center - 777 North Tamiami Trail - Dubbed "the purple cow" and "the purple people seater" when it first opened in 1970, the Van Wezel has become an integral part of Sarasota's arts programming. Architect William Wesley Peters of Frank Lloyd Wright's firm, Taliesin Associated Architects, designed the building with an eye to its proximity to the water. The same firm designed the renovation and enlargement that was completed in 2000.

8. G.WIZ (Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone) - 1001 Boulevard of the Arts - This building opened in 1976 as Selby Public Library. The Skidmore, Owings and Merrill architectural firm of Chicago and New York designed the building to be compatible with the neighboring Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and Hyatt Hotel. The trapezoidal shapes of the building suggest the look of sails, blending with the boats in Sarasota Bay. The library moved to a larger building on First Street in 1998. G.WIZ remodeled the building and opened at this site in 2000.

9. Belle Haven Office Complex - 1133 Fourth Street - This National Register-listed building was designed by New York architect Dwight James Baum and built by local developer Owen Burns in 1926 as the El Vernona Apartments. The furnished apartments included linens and silverware. Residents had direct access to the bay, with a dock out into the water that was immediately to the west of the building. The Quay, Hyatt, 888, G.WIZ and Van Wezel were built on fill added in the 1960s.

10. Sarasota Times Building - 1214 First Street - The Times was Sarasota's first newspaper, opening in 1899 when there were only several hundred people living in the area. L.D. Reagin purchased the paper in the 1920s and moved the business from its Main Street office to this Dwight James Baum-designed building in 1926. The newspaper went out of business in 1929 and the building was later occupied by a variety of businesses, including Tree-Ripe Citrus Products, and several architects. The National Register-listed building has been unoccupied periodically since the mid-1980s. Currently, it is being renovated for commercial use as a restaurant and bar.

11. The Gompertz - 1247 First Street - The Park-Seventh Movie House opened in this building in the 1920s. It closed with the Depression and the building did not regain a steady tenant until the Palm Tree Playhouse moved in, early in the 1950s. The Playhouse closed in the 1960s. After another vacant period, Asolo Theater's Stage Two used the building. Currently, it is the home of Florida Studio Theater's Gompertz Hall.

12. Warren Building - 1269 First Street - This Mediterranean Revival style building was constructed in 1926 just a half block from "Realtors Row." Clark Warren housed his real estate office here and his family lived in the house directly behind. Warren's ad reflected the dominant mood of the 1920s land boom: "He knows where money grows." In the early 1990s, Jack and Jill Dowd saved the building from demolition and rehabilitated it for its current use as a gallery.

13. Bijou Cafe - 1287 First Street - This building began as a filling station in the 1920s. In the 1970s it was converted into an artist's studio and most recently extensively renovated as a popular cafe.

14. Restaurant building (formerly DJ's) - 1296 First Street - Local businessman I.R. Burns constructed this building in 1925, at the height of the Florida Land Boom, in an area called "Realtors Row." Over the years, it housed a variety of businesses, professional offices and city departments. In the 1980s it became a restaurant.

15. Sarasota Opera House - 57 North Pineapple Avenue - Former Sarasota Mayor A. B. Edwards built this theater in 1926. The ground level storefronts housed a variety of businesses, while the theater hosted vaudeville, opera and silent movies. Apartments were rented out on the third floor. Will Rogers and Ziegfeld Follies performed here. The local press described the building as a "Temple of Silent Art and Make Believe." In the 1930s the Edwards Theater became the Florida Theater, used primarily for movies - although Elvis Presley performed here in 1956. A major rehabilitation in the 1980s created a home for the Sarasota Opera Association in the National Register-listed building.

16. Florida Studio Theater - 1241 North Palm Avenue - The Woman's Club of Sarasota erected this National Register-listed building as its clubhouse in 1915. It is one of the few Tudor structures built in Sarasota. Here the women sponsored cultural, educational and social programs for their club and the public. They also operated a library, which became the basis for the City of Sarasota's first public library. In 1979 the Woman's Club moved out of the building and the Florida Studio Theater moved in soon thereafter.

17. Frances-Carlton Apartments - 1221-1227 North Palm Avenue - Alex Browning, colonist to Sarasota from Scotland in 1885, and Tampa architect Francis James designed these 1920s National Register-listed apartments. The apartments were named for the owner's wife and son, Frances and Carlton Teate. Residents in the furnished apartments had an unobstructed view of the bay across Palm and Gulfstream Avenues. Today the complex is managed as a condominium.

18. F. A. DeCanizares Residence - 1215 North Palm Avenue - This National Register-listed building began as a wood-sided structure located on South Palm Avenue. In 1925 the building was moved to its current location. A redesign by Thomas Reed Martin included a Mediterranean Revival stucco exterior. Around 1980 the building was rehabilitated for use as an office.

19. Zak's Restaurant - 1213 North Palm Avenue - Sarasota architect Thomas Reed Martin designed this house for the family of L.D. Reagin, owner and publisher of the Sarasota Times (the building located immediately to the north and facing First Street). The style and construction elements of this building are reminiscent of Martin's designs at Burns Court historic district located on South Pineapple.

Photos property of Florida History Alive! - All rights reserved.