See Rock City

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sarasota, FL

Sarasota is a city located in Sarasota County on the southwestern coast of the state of Florida in the United States. Its current official limits include Sarasota Bay and several barrier islands between the bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Nickname(s): Paradise

These islands separating Sarasota Bay from the gulf near the city, known as keys, include Lido Key and Siesta Key, which are famous worldwide for the quality of their sandy beaches.


Today the keys that are included in the boundary of Sarasota are Lido Key, St. Armands Key, Otter Key, Coon Key, Bird Key, and portions of Longboat Key and Siesta Key. Previously, Siesta Key was named Sarasota Key. At one time, it and all of Longboat Key were considered part of Sarasota and confusing contemporaneous references may be found discussing them.

View of front facade of El Vernona Hotel, facing west (includes 2.5 m stadia) - El Vernona-John Ringling Hotel, 111 North Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41), Sarasota, Sarasota County, FL

View of front facade of El Vernona Hotel, facing west (includes 2.5 m stadia) - El Vernona-John Ringling Hotel, 111 North Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41), Sarasota, Sarasota County, FL

Longboat Key is the largest key separating the bay from the gulf, but it now is evenly divided by the new county line of 1921. Most of the portion of the key that parallels the Sarasota city boundary (at that county line) along the bay front of the mainland was removed from the city boundaries at the request of John Ringling in the mid-1920s, to avoid taxation of his new developments at the southern tip of the key.

View of front facade and south side of El Vernona Hotel facing northwest, taken from sixth floor of parking garage at One Sarasota Tower, 2 North Tamiami Trail - El Vernona-John Ringling Hotel, 111 North Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41), Sarasota, Sarasota County, FL

View of front facade and south side of El Vernona Hotel facing northwest, taken from sixth floor of parking garage at One Sarasota Tower, 2 North Tamiami Trail - El Vernona-John Ringling Hotel, 111 North Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41), Sarasota, Sarasota County, FL

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Sarasota had a population of 52,488 in 2007. In 1986 it became designated as a certified local government. Sarasota is a principal city of the Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area, and is the seat of Sarasota County.

View of the Sarasota Trailer Park : Sarasota, Florida, 1948

It is among the communities included in a two-county federally-mandated Metropolitan Planning Organization that includes all of Sarasota and Manatee counties and the chairs of the three elements of that organization belong to the eight-county regional planning organization for western central Florida.

View of Trailer Estates : Sarasota, Florida, 1948


Prehistorical data

Gulf of Mexico in 3-D - note the shallow shelf extending one hundred miles to the west of Sarasota (red dot) that was above water fifteen thousand years ago when humans began occupation of Florida; the ancient shoreline that existed fifteen thousand years ago is depicted in light blue.

International teachers in front of the Ringling Museums : Sarasota, Florida, 1958

Fifteen thousand years ago, when humans first settled in Florida, the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico was one hundred miles farther to the west. In this era, hunting and gathering was the primary means of subsistence. This was only possible in areas where water sources existed for hunter and prey alike. Deep springs and catchment basins, such as Warm Mineral Springs, were close enough to the Sarasota area to provide camp sites, but too far away for permanent settlements.


A youthful Owen Burns - Sarasota County History Center

As the Pleistocene glaciers slowly melted, a more temperate climate began to advance southward. Sea levels began rising; they ultimately rose another 350 feet (110 m), resulting in the Florida shoreline of today, which provided attractive locations for human settlements.


Lillian G. Burns, daughter of Vernona and Owen Burns, who would become the most respected historian of Sarasota and a generous donor of historical materials for public access

Archaeological research in Sarasota documents more than ten thousand years of seasonal occupation by native peoples.

For five thousand years while the current sea level existed, fishing in Sarasota Bay was the primary source of protein and large mounds of discarded shells and fish bones attest to the prehistoric human settlements that existed in Sarasota and were sustained by the bounty of its bay.

Owen Burns, a significant developer of Sarasota, Florida - Lillian Burns Collection, Sarasota History Center archive

Early historical records

Europeans first explored the area in the early 1500s. The first recorded contact was in 1513, when a Spanish expedition landed at Charlotte Harbor, just to the south. When the natives encountered the Spaniards, they insulted them in Spanish before a preemptive attack. Apparently, some natives had made previous contact with the Spaniards — enough to learn a few words and much suspicion.


Cà d'Zan, Mable and John Ringling's 1925 Sarasota residence, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places - architect Dwight James Baum, built by Owen Burns

Having been identified on maps by the mid-1700s as Zara Zote, perhaps from an indigenous name, the sheltered bay and its harbor attracted fish and marine traders. Soon there were fishing camps, called ranchos, along the bay that were established by both Americans and Cubans who traded fish and turtles with merchants in Havana. Florida changed hands among the Spanish, the English, and the Spanish again.


Map of McClellan Park - a bay and bayou front subdivision designed by Katherine McClellan and Daisietta McClellan in 1913 - Sarasota County History Center collection

After the 1819 acquisition of Florida as a territory by the United States and five years before it became a state in 1845, the army established Fort Armistead in Sarasota along the bay.

Main Street view : Sarasota, Florida, 1954

The fort is thought to have been located in the Indian Beach area, as research continues in the area. The army established the fort at a rancho operated by Louis Pacheco, an African slave working for its Cuban-American owner. Drawings of the fort give a clue to the location as well, showing a significant landmark point that still exists at Indian Beach. Shortly before the fort was abandoned because of severe epidemics, the chiefs of the "Seminole" Indians gathered to discuss their impending forced march to the Oklahoma Territory. These were Native Americans who had moved into Florida during the Spanish occupation. Most of the indigenous natives of Florida, such as the Tocobaga and the Caloosa, had perished from epidemics carried by the Spanish. They mostly had maintained permanent settlements that were used from late Fall through Spring, moving to settlements farther north during the Summer.

Antique cars : Sarasota, Florida

Soon the remaining Seminole Indians were forced south into the Big Cypress Swamp and in 1842 the lands in Sarasota, which then were held by the federal government, were among those opened to private ownership by those of European descent via the Armed Occupation Act passed by the Congress of the United States. Even Louis Pacheco had been deported with the Indians to Oklahoma.

A catch of kingfish at the city docks of Sarasota, 1956

Pioneer families

The Browning and Whitaker pioneer families, gathered for a photograph in Sarasota, Florida during 1886 - Sarasota County History Center

European settlers arrived in significant numbers in the late 1840s. The area already had a Spanish name—'Zara Zote'—on maps dating back to the early 1700s and it was retained as, Sara Sota. The initial settlers were attracted by the climate and bounty of Sarasota Bay.

Child looking at poster portraits of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey: Sarasota, Florida, 1954

William Whitaker, born in Savannah, Georgia in 1821, was the first documented pioneer of European descent to settle permanently in what became the city of Sarasota. Before his arrival, both Cuban and American fishermen had built fish camps or ranchos along Sarasota Bay, but these were not used throughout the year. After time spent along the Manatee River at the village of Manatee, Whitaker built upon Yellow Bluffs, just north of present day Eleventh Street. He sold dried fish and roe to Cuban traders working the coast. In 1847, he began a cattle business.

Girl looking at steam calliope: Sarasota, Florida,1954

In 1851, Whitaker married Mary Jane Wyatt, a member of a pioneer family who had settled the village of Manatee, that was about thirteen miles (19 km) to the northeast along the river of the same name. They raised eleven children on Yellow Bluffs despite the hardships faced by solitary pioneers.

Historiical marker dedicated to Mary Jane Wyatt Whitaker near her pioneer residence and tomb.

This included a raid that destroyed their home. The raid was made by a formerly-friendly Seminole chief, Holata Micco, dubbed Billy Bowlegs, after whom Bowlees Creek may have been named. They were not injured, but the house was burnt to the ground.

Model of circus on display: Sarasota, Florida, 1954

The Whitakers rebuilt and prospered. Unfortunately, their homestead site has not been preserved, having been developed in the 1980's. Their family cemetery remains, however.

In 1867, the Webb family from Utica, New York, came to Florida looking for a place to settle. After arriving in Key West, the pioneer family met a Spanish trader. He told them about a high bluff of land on Sarasota Bay that would make a good location for a homestead. When the Webbs arrived in the Sarasota looking for the bluff, they described it to Bill Whitaker. He led them right to it because of the description. The site was several miles south of the settlement of the Whitakers. After settling, the Webbs named their homestead Spanish Point, in honor of the trader.

The Webbs had to travel quite a distance for their mail for nearly twenty years. In 1884, John Webb finally petitioned for a separate postal address for Spanish Point. They chose Osprey as their postal address, since federal regulations required the use of only one word for the new address. A separate town eventually grew around that postal address. Although there is no similar documentation regarding the name of Sarasota, that federal one-word rule for postal designations may be the reason that Zara Zota or Sara Sota became Sarasota.

An old circus poster on display at the Ringling Museum of the Circus: Sarasota, Florida, 1954

Sarasota has been governed by several different American counties, depending upon the era. Not becoming a state until 1845 Florida was acquired by the United States as a territory in 1819. Hillsborough County was created from Alachua and Monroe counties in 1834 and many early land titles cite it as the county governing Sarasota. Hillsborough was divided in 1855, placing Sarasota under the governance of Manatee County until 1921, when three new counties were carved out of portions of Manatee. One of those new counties was called, Sarasota, and the city was made its seat. The boundary of the community once extended to Bowlees Creek, but that was redrawn to an arbitrary line in order to divide the airport so its oversight could include both counties. Street addresses north of that new county line and south of the creek, however, remain as "Sarasota" due to established postal designations, although they remain governed by Manatee County.

A bandwagon on display at the Ringling Museum of the Circus: Sarasota, Florida, 1954

To recover from the debt the state incurred through defeat in the Civil War, the central portions of Florida were drained and sold internationally to developers in the North and abroad during the 1880s.

In 1885 a Scots colony was established in Sarasota that related it as a tropical paradise that had been built into a thriving town. A town had been platted and surveyed before the parcels were sold by the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company. When the astonished investors in the "Ormiston Colony" arrived by ship in December they had to wade ashore, only to find that their primitive settlement lacked the homes, stores, and streets promised. They were even more disturbed by the snowfall that occurred a few weeks later.

Municipal Auditorium : Sarasota, Florida, 1954

Only a few Scots, such as the Browning family, remained in Sarasota along with a determined member of the developer's family, John Hamilton Gillespie. He was a manager for the original company and began to develop Sarasota following the plan for the failed colony. He eventually built a hotel and a course for his favorite pastime, golf. Eventually tourists arrived at a dock built on the bay.

Labor Day boat races, 1951

Rose Phillips Wilson and her husband C. V. S. Wilson founded The Sarasota Times newspaper in 1899. It was the first newspaper published in Sarasota and Rose Wilson continued publication of the paper alone until 1923 after her husband died in 1910. She participated in the leadership of the community through many organizations and provided editorial opinions on most early issues.

Sailboat racing in Sarasota, 1951

Well respected among her peers in journalism, the Tarpon Springs Leader ranked the Times under her ownership, as "the best weekly paper in the state" and after the state legislature passed a bill to create Sarasota County, it was to Rose Wilson that the telegram was sent to announce it. When a referendum endorsed the split from Manatee locally, Wilson changed the name of her newspaper to The Sarasota County Times.

William P. (Grandpa Bill) Summers, 89, with his Model A Ford. 1950

She lived through the World War I period, the 1920's boom period, the depression, World War II, and Sarasota’s second boom period in the 1950's. After her retirement from publishing in 1923 Wilson continued her community work with many local organizations, including the influential Woman’s Club in Sarasota, into the 1940's. She devoted much of her time as teacher and mentor for youth at First Presbyterian Church and lived to be 88 years old, when she died in 1964.

Twentieth century development

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The village of Sarasota was incorporated for local government as a town under state guidelines in 1902 with John Hamilton Gillespie as mayor. It was re-platted in 1912 and its government then was incorporated as a city in 1913.

Sarasota County courthouse, 1949

Owen Burns

Owen Burns had come to Sarasota for its famed fishing and remained for the rest of his life. He married Vernona, a woman he met in Sarasota and courted as she was returning home by rail. They raised their children in the community, building a large home near the harbor. Not only did he become the largest landowner in the city, but he founded a bank, promoted the development of other businesses, built its bridges, landmark buildings, and mansions. He dredged the harbor and created new bay front points with reclaimed soils. He created novel developments such as Burns Court to attract tourists and built commercial establishments to generate additional impetus to the growing community, such as Burns Square that was on First Street before new street numbering was introduced, and the Times Building on what is now First Street. He built Saint Martha's Church. Its complex including a school, was named for the patron saint of his mother.

In 1925 he built the El Vernona Hotel, naming it after his wife. This was during the time that he went into a business partnership with John Ringling, a fateful decision that bankrupted him when his partner failed to live up to commitments on development agreements for the barrier islands (keys). Shortly after the opening of the hotel, the land boom crash in Florida struck a fatal blow to his finances because of the unfulfilled partnership agreement. Ironically, it was the same former partner, John Ringling, who took advantage of the situation and purchased the hotel for a portion of its value, although several years later, Ringling would follow Burns into financial ruin.

Besides the landmarks, bridges, and developments Burns contributed to the attraction of many around the country to Sarasota he also raised the most important historian for the community, his daughter, Lillian G. Burns.

Bertha Palmer

Bertha Honoré Palmer - the largest landholder, rancher, farmer, and developer of the area at the turn of the twentieth century, who made Sarasota a winter destination for wealthy families and revolutionized the farm and cattle business in the state - Sarasota County History Center.

Bertha Palmer (Bertha Honoré Palmer) was the region's largest landholder, rancher, and developer after the turn of the twentieth century, where she purchased more than 90,000 acres (360 km2) of property. She was attracted to Sarasota by an advertisement placed in a Chicago newspaper by A. B. Edwards. They would maintain a business relationship for the rest of her life.

In 1914, she bought 16,000 acres (65 km²) of land as an exclusive hunting preserve in what is now Temple Terrace, Florida, near Tampa in Hillsborough County, which she called Riverhills Ranch.

Bertha Palmer also owned a large tract of land that is now Myakka State Park. During this period this land was operated as a ranch. She developed and promoted many innovative practices that enabled the raising of cattle to become a large-scale reality in Florida. Palmer's foreman on the ranch was Eugene B. Sweeting and several of his children were born in what now is the state park. Gerald E. "Buck" Sweeting, who was born in the Park, still lives in Sarasota.

At her "Meadowsweet Farms", Palmer also pioneered large-scale farming and dairy in the area and made significant contributions to practices that enabled the development of crops that could be shipped to markets in other parts of the country. Her experimentation was coordinated with the state department of agriculture.

As war in Europe threatened, Bertha Palmer touted the beauty of Sarasota and its advantages to replace the typical foreign destinations of her social peers. Palmer made her winter residence on the land which the Webb family had homesteaded. She built a resort that would appeal to these new visitors to the area. She quickly established Sarasota as a fashionable location for winter retreats of the wealthy and as a vacation destination for tourists, which endured beyond the war years and blossomed for the new wealth that developed more broadly in the United States during the 1920s and, after the Second World War as well.

In her early publicity, Palmer compared the beauty of Sarasota Bay to the Bay of Naples, and also touted its sports fishing. As the century advanced, the bounty of the bay continued to attract visitors, until overfishing depleted its marine life.

Palmer retained most of the original Webb Family structures and greatly expanded the settlement. The pioneer site has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Historic Spanish Point and is open to the public for a fee. Her tourist accommodations at The Oaks have not been preserved, however.

Owen Burns had preceded Bertha Palmer to Sarasota and had become the largest landholder within what now is the city, therefore many of the huge Sarasota properties she owned are in what now is Sarasota County. Many of its roads bear the names she put on the trails she established. She did participate, however, in speculation in the city along with others, purchasing undeveloped land in great quantities, and many parcels bear her name or that of her sons among those in abstracts.

Her sons continued her enterprises and remained as investors and donors in Sarasota after the death of Bertha Palmer in 1918. The enormous state park on her former property is her greatest legacy.

Other developments and early history

Other communities in the area were incorporated or began to grow into distinctive towns that were quite distinct from the bay front community whose plat ended at what is now Tenth Street. They have been absorbed as Sarasota grew, but some have retained their names and are recognized today as neighborhoods. Some communities, such as Overtown, Bay Haven, Indian Beach, Shell Beach, Bee Ridge, and Fruitville have all but faded from the memory of most living there now. Overtown expanded to include what is now designated as the historic Rosemary District and the boundaries of Newtown now merge with that. The Ringling School of Design includes for its administration building, a hotel developed for the community of Bay Haven when Old Bradenton Road was the main thoroughfare north to the Manatee River. That route avoided having to cross the broadest portion of Bowless Creek. Tamiami Trail was developed in the mid-1920s and a bridge across the creek eliminated it as a natural barrier limiting development. Shell Beach became the location where the grand estates would be built on the highest land along the bay as well as where the Sapphire Shores and The Uplands developments are today.

Municipal pier and beach casino : Sarasota, Florida, 1948

Two McClellan sisters were significant developers during this period. They created the McClellan Park subdivision, which is one of the most significant and successful residential neighborhood south of downtown. Women have played a significant role in the development of Sarasota, or at least, contrary to many communities, the history of Sarasota has documented their roles very publicly. Bertha Palmer was not so unusual here, Many other examples may be found by exploring the county records at the Sarasota History Center.

The region also attracted many of the Ringling brothers who had created their wealth as circus magnates at the turn of the century. The Ringling Brothers Circus had not yet consolidated as a single entity.

Pelican "Old Bill" in Sarasota, 1947

Mary Louise and Charles N. Thompson platted Shell Beach in 1895. The Thompson home was the first residence on the property. It extended from what is now Sun Circle almost to Bowlees Creek. From 1911 Mable and John Ringling spent their winter stays in that house and eventually, they would purchase a large parcel of it for their permanent winter quarters in Sarasota. Along with being a land developer, Thompson was a manager with another circus. He attracted several members of the Ringling family to Sarasota as a winter retreat as well as for investments in land.

A master bedroom on display at Ringling Art Museum : Sarasota, Florida, 1946

First, the Alf T. Ringling family settled in the Whitfield Estates area with extensive land holdings. The families of Charles and John Ringling followed, living farther to the south. Soon, children and members of the extended family increased the presence of the Ringling family in Sarasota. Ringling Brothers Circus established its winter home in Sarasota during 1919 following the death of Alf T., when Charles Ringling assumed many of his duties.

A mural on display at Ringling Art Museum : Sarasota, Florida, 1946

Charles Thompson had joined the staff of the Ringling Brothers Circus when it began to purchase smaller or failing circuses, and to operate them separately. In 1919, these holdings were consolidated into one huge circus, billed as "the greatest show on Earth". Only two of the original five founding brothers now survived, but other members of their families continued to participate in the business or serve on its board of directors. Performers and staff members began to settle in Sarasota, and established the Ringling Circus as part of the Sarasota community.

Aerial view of Ringling museum and residence : Sarasota, Florida, 1948

Following the end of World War I, an economic boom began in Sarasota. The city was flooded with new people seeking jobs, investment, and the chic social milieu that had been created by earlier developers.

Cà d'Zan, Mable and John Ringling 1925 Sarasota residence, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places

On adjacent parcels of Shell Beach where Ellen and Ralph Caples built their winter retreat, Mable and John Ringling built their compound. It would soon include the museum. Edith and Charles Ringling built a compound that included a home for their daughter, Hester Ringling Landcaster Sandford.

Sculpture fountain at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art : Sarasota, Florida

The next large Shell Beach parcel, immediately to the north, passed between Ellen Caples, Mable and John Ringling, and a few others several times without development until 1947. It was then developed as The Uplands. Some other historic names associated with that parcel are Bertha Potter Palmer, her sons Lockwood and Honore, and A. B. Edwards, whose names are featured as familiar street names in Sarasota.

Royal palms on Florida's gulf coast, 1938

The tract abutting that parcel was re-platted in 1925 as Seagate, where Gwendolyn and Powel Crosley built their winter retreat in 1929. All of these historic homes and the museum have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tin Can Tourists convention at Payne Park : Sarasota, 1938

The now-historic neighborhood of Indian Beach Sapphire Shores grew immediately to the south of the area where these grand homes were built on the bay. Sapphire Shores provided homes to the professionals and retirees who wished to be, or were, closely associated with these wealthiest residents of the community. Indian Beach, which had been a separate community at one time, contained pioneer homes that survived among the fashionable new homes built in the boom era of the 1920's.

Edson Keith's estate Immokalee - Sarasota, Florida

Edson Keith's estate Immokalee : Sarasota, Florida, 1935

Charles Ringling as developer

Charles Ringling invested in land, developed property and founded a bank. He participated in Sarasota's civic life and gave advice to other entrepreneurs starting new businesses in Sarasota. He founded a bank and loaned money to fledgling businesses. He donated land to the newly formed county—upon which he also built its government offices and courthouse as a gift to the community.

Railroad depot - Sarasota, Florida

Railroad depot : Sarasota, Florida, 1925

Ringling Boulevard was named for Charles Ringling. It is a winding road leading east from Tamiami Trail toward the winter circus headquarters. It crosses Washington Boulevard where Charles Ringling built the Sarasota Terrace Hotel, a high-rise in the Chicago style of architecture, opposite the site which Ringling would donate for the county seat.

Ringling mansion : Sarasota, Florida, 1925

Charles Ringling and his wife, Edith, began building their bay front residence in the early 1920's. Charles Ringling died in 1926, just after it was completed. For decades Edith Ringling remained there and continued her role in the administration of the circus and her cultural activities in the community. Her daughter, Hester, and her sons also were active in Sarasota's theatrical and musical venues. What came to be known internationally as the Edith Ringling Estate is now the center of the campus of New College of Florida.

Mr. and Mrs. Edson Keith posing on the dock : Sarasota, Florida, 1920

John Ringling in partnership with Owen Burns

John Ringling invested heavily in the barrier islands, known as keys, which separate the shallow bay from the Gulf of Mexico. Although he had several corporations and development projects in Sarasota, he worked in partnership with Owen Burns to develop the keys through a corporation named, Ringling Isles Estates. To facilitate development of these holdings a bridge was built to the islands by his partner, Owen Burns. Eventually Ringling donated it to the city for the government to maintain. They named that route, John Ringling Boulevard. The center of Saint Armand key contains Harding Circle and the streets surrounding it are named for other U. S. presidents. Dredge and fill by Owen Burns created even more dry land to develop, including Bird Key. Winter residents, called snowbirds, flocked to purchase these seasonal homes marketed to the well-to-do.

Homes along the Bay Shore Drive : Sarasota, Florida, 1913

Leading edge of the 1920's crash

The Roaring Twenties ended early for Sarasota. Florida was the first area in the United States to be affected by the financial problems that led to the Great Depression. In 1926 development speculation began to collapse with bank failures on the eastern coast of Florida, much earlier than most parts of the country. The financial difficulties spread throughout Florida. John Ringling initially profited from the economic crash. Ringling had put his partner, Owen Burns, into bankruptcy by using money from the treasury of their corporation for use on another Ringling project that was failing. He later purchased the landmark El Vernona Hotel from Burns at a fraction of its worth. John Ringling, too, however, lost most of his fortune. Shortly after the June 1929 death of his wife, Mable, his reversal began because his stock investments were affected.

View of wharf and Belle Haven Inn from the bay : Sarasota, Florida, 1910

Just before the market crashed, Ringling had purchased several other circuses with hopes of combining them with the existing circus and selling shares on the stock exchange. The crash ended that plan. While Ringling continued to invest in expensive artwork, he left grand projects unfinished, such as a Ritz hotel on one of the barrier islands. He abandoned plans for an art school as an adjunct to the museum. Ringling did lend his name to an art school established by others in Sarasota, however reluctantly.

Belle Haven Inn : Sarasota, Florida, 1902

The board of the circus, which included Edith Ringling and other members of the family, removed John Ringling and placed another director, Samuel Gumpertz, in charge of the corporation. By the time of his death in 1936, John Ringling was close to bankruptcy. His estate was saved only because he had willed it, together with his art collection, to the state. His nephew, John Ringling North, struggled for years to keep that legacy intact.

Ringling brothers circus poster, 1897

A new city plan

Sarasota - from her mainland showing much of downtown (from Burns Square to Main Street in the extreme foreground) and the bay front from Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, as well as Sarasota Bay, portions of her keys, and the Gulf of Mexico in the distance.

In 1927 John Nolan, a professional planner, was hired to develop a plan for the downtown of the city. He laid out the streets to follow the arch of the bay front with a grid beyond, that extended north to what is now Tenth Street and south to Mound. This followed more closely the way the city was developing at the time.

Belle Haven Inn : Sarasota, Florida, 1890

The names and numbers of the downtown streets were changed to the current ones. At that time the numbered streets began at Burns Square and the triangular building separating the intersection of Orange and Pineapple Avenues, was on First Street. He shifted the existing numbered streets to the north, beginning above what now is Main Street. The city hall, situated in the Hover Arcade at the foot of Main Street, was on the waterfront and the city dock extended from it. It was the hub of the new city. Vehicles and materials could pass through the arcade and railroad tracks led directly to the terminus. The new plan accentuated that city hall on the bay front, was the nexus of the city. Broadway, the road that connected the downtown bay front with the northern parts of the city along the bay had become part of the new Tamiami Trail.

City dock and lower Main Street looking north from the bay : Sarasota, Florida, 1888

This plan was abandoned in the 1960s when pressure to increase speeds on Tamiami Trail drove the demolition of the city hall and redirecting the route past the bay front, severing the community from the waterfront. By the last decade of the century automobile traffic had become so dominant that intersections beyond human-scale bared all but the most adventurous from attempting crossings on foot. At community design charrettes, designs began to circulate that called for the reunification of the downtown to the bay front and removal of the designation of the bay front road as a highway. New Urbanism concepts focused upon restoring Sarasota to a walkable community and taking the greatest advantage of its most beautiful asset. Roundabouts were discussed as traffic calming devices that could be integrated into gracious designs for safe and efficient movement of automobiles among increased use by bicyclists and pedestrians, along with reduction of pollution.

Twenty-first century

In January 2006, Sarasota made national news when the National Coalition for the Homeless named it the country's "meanest city". The city's 2005 ordinance banned persons' sleeping outside on public or private property without permission. In December 2006 members of a local Food Not Bombs chapter along with members of the city's homeless population staged a "sleep-in" protest marching from Sarasota's 5-points park to the steps of the county courthouse where they set up camp for the night.

In 2008, Sarasota county's Pine View School for the Gifted was named the sixth best high school in the United States of America. According to the U. S. News report, Pine View School students have a rating of 99.3 percent on the college readiness index.

Another speculation crash

The boom of the 1950's failed to end in a crash, but almost a hundred years after the first speculation crash that affected her so badly in the mid-1920's, Sarasota became identified as the epicenter of the 2008 real estate crash. It followed financial credit problems that began with poorly-financed mortgages failing because of massive real estate speculation that began in the late 1990's and escalated dramatically during the early 2000's. Once the values of the properties began to fall the mortgages purchased with consideration of "equity value" derived from the rapid increases in property values due to speculation, became problematic. The properties were no longer worth the value of the mortgages, some by great differences. The rate of foreclosures is increasing as the values remain low and governments are losing taxes to support services because of the decline in values. This has become almost a nation-wide problem and is occurring in other countries as well. Although not over yet, it is likely to be labeled as another boom period-crash, not in undeveloped land and not just in Florida, but this time in equity-based home mortgages.

Twenty-first century

On September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush was reading The Pet Goat in Emma E. Booker Elementary School when he was informed of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.
In 2010, an island in Sarasota was temporarily renamed "Google Island" in an attempt to get Google Fiber for the city.

Another speculation crash

The boom of the 1950's failed to end in a crash, but almost a hundred years after the first speculation crash that affected her so badly in the mid-1920's, Sarasota became identified as an epicenter of the 2008 real estate crash. It followed financial credit problems that began with poorly financed mortgages failing because of massive real estate speculation that began in the late 1990s and escalated dramatically during the early 2000's. Once the values of the properties began to fall the mortgages purchased with consideration of "equity value" derived from the rapid increases in property values due to speculation, became problematic. The properties were no longer worth the value of the mortgages, some by great differences. The rate of foreclosures is increasing as the values remain low and governments are losing taxes to support services because of the decline in values. This became almost a nation-wide problem and occurred in other countries as well. Although not over yet, it is likely to be labeled as another boom period-crash, not in undeveloped land and not just in Florida, but this time it began with equity-based home mortgages and has led to a major financial crisis.

Arts, architecture and culture

In 1925, A. B. Edwards built a theater that could be adapted for either vaudeville performances or movie screenings. It is situated at the intersection of Pineapple Avenue and Second Street, having been restored and used for operas. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sarasota is the home of the Sarasota Orchestra, which was founded by Ruth Cotton Butler in 1949 and known for years as the Florida West Coast Symphony. It holds a three-week Sarasota Music Festival that is recognized internationally and boasts that it attracts renowned teachers and the finest students of chamber music.

In the early 1950's, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art purchased a historic Italian theater, the Asolo (now called the Historic Asolo Theater). A. Everett "Chick" Austin, the museum's first director, arranged the purchase and reassembly of the theater for performances of plays and opera. The theater had been built in 1798 and was disassembled and put into storage during the 1930's. Adolph Loewi, a Venetian collector and dealer, had purchased the theater and stored its parts until the purchase and shipment to Sarasota for the museum. The theater was rebuilt in a building that extended to the west of the northern wing of the museum, where John Ringling had intended his unrealized art school would be built. The new building, containing the historic theater, was separated from the museum by a small garden that featured statues of dwarfs. In the 1980's, the theater was used by a foreign film club that showed its films on Monday nights. When the club expanded, it built its own theater at Burns Court near Burns Square in downtown Sarasota.

Later a local architect, Stuart Barger, designed and oversaw the construction of another Asolo Theater, housed in the Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts. It is a multi-theater complex, located farther east on the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art property, being placed between Bay Shore Road and Tamiami Trail, and facing south toward Ringling Plaza. It was built around a rococo, historic Scottish theater, which had been shipped to Florida. The new complex also provides venues and facilities for students of Florida State University's MFA Acting program, the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training. This was the administrative home of the Sarasota French Film Festival for several years. Venues around the city were used for films and events that focused upon French films and their stars.

In the 1960's the Van Wezels enabled the city to build a performing arts hall on the bay front. The auditorium, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright's successor firm, Taliesin Associated Architects team under the direction of William Wesley Peters. Wright's widow, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, who participated in the project, selected its purple color.

Other Sarasota cultural attractions include the Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Opera, Asolo Repertory Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre, the Sarasota Players, the Banyan Theater Company, and many other musical, dance, artistic, and theatrical venues. Florida Studio Theatre (FST) has been operating in downtown Sarasota since 1973. FST is a not-for-profit Theatre that produces contemporary plays, musicals, and musical revues. Currently, FST has four operational theatres; the Keating Mainstage, the Gompertz Mainstage, the Goldstein Cabaret, and the John C. Court Cabaret. Florida Studio Theatre also has three in-house restaurants, and is slated to open a new experimental space, The Bowne Lab, in early 2014. FST has the third highest subscription base of all TCG LORT Regional Theatres in the country.

Since 1998, the city has hosted the Sarasota Film Festival annually. The festival attracts independent films from around the world. It claims to be one of Florida's largest film festivals. In 2009 the annual Ringling International Arts Festival, held its premier and held its closing event in the historic Asolo theater, which had been moved and rebuilt again. The historic Venetian theater now is housed in the reception building for the museum where it is used for special events as well as performances, informative purposes, and another seasonal film series hosted by the museum.
Each year, hundreds of chalk paintings on the streets of historic Burns Square are made by children attending the festival; they use the free materials given to them and all of the adult and professional artists who participate in the Sarasota Chalk Festival
In 2010, the Sarasota Chalk Festival that is held yearly in the historic area of Burns Square became the first international street painting festival in the United States of America. Celebrating the sixteenth century performance art of Italian street painting, the festival hosted Maestro Madonnaro Edgar Mueller from Germany, who created the first street painting that changed images from day to night.

On the weekend, hundreds of children participate in the festival right alongside of the internationally famous street painters. The 2013 festival was extended north intermittently beyond Burns Square along Pineapple Avenue to the area of Five Points Park beyond Main Street, but traffic will continue to flow through the roundabouts at Ringling and Main. The festival has a different theme each year and has introduced new techniques in street art. Other applications of street art such as murals and "cellograff graffiti" have become companion events also produced by Avenida de Colores, Inc. The murals are the only street art forms performed that are not ephemeral, many of their sponsors are committed to preserving them. The murals are part of the "Going Vertical" project and although it sometimes coincides with the chalk festival, it is distinct from it and often continues throughout the year. Except for a few commissioned on public property in the Palm Avenue Parking Garage, the murals are located on private property and they are located in many sections of Sarasota and in Manatee County as well. Tours and maps are being developed.

Sarasota is home to Mote Marine Laboratory, a marine rescue, research facility, and aquarium; Marie Selby Botanical Gardens; G-Wiz Museum; and Sarasota Jungle Gardens, which carries on early tourist attraction traditions. It also has many historic sites and neighborhoods.

Colleges in Sarasota include New College of Florida, a public liberal arts college; Keiser College of Sarasota (a private college); FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training (Florida State University's MFA Acting Conservatory in conjunction with the Asolo Repertory Theatre); Ringling College of Art and Design, a school of visual arts and design; and satellite campuses of Eckerd College, based in St. Petersburg, Florida; and Florida State University College of Medicine, based in Tallahassee, Florida. Other colleges in the city include East West College of Natural Medicine, an accredited college of acupuncture and Chinese medicine.

Nearby educational institutions with regional draw include State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota and a commuter branch of the University of South Florida, based in Tampa.


Italian architecture and culture is quite strong in the area because of the Ringling Museum. An unusually large number of homes and buildings are designed in the Italian style, especially Venetian as influenced by Ringling's Cà d'Zan. Italian inspired statues are also common and Michelangelo's David is used as the symbol of Sarasota.

Sarasota School of Architecture

March 2007, Riverview High School
The Sarasota School of Architecture developed as a variant of mid-century modernist architecture. It incorporates elements of both the Bauhaus and Frank Lloyd Wright's "organic" architecture. The style developed as an adaptation to the area's sub-tropical climate and used newly emerging materials manufactured or implemented following World War II. Philip Hiss was the driving force of this movement.

Fellow architects creating new adaptive designs were Paul Rudolph and Ralph Twitchell. The second generation of the school includes Gene Leedy, Jack West, Victor Lundy, Mark Hampton, James Holiday, Ralph Zimmerman, as well as several who still practice in the community: William Zimmerman; Carl Abbott, Edward J. "Tim" Seibert, and Frank Folsom Smith.

Rudolph's Florida houses attracted attention in the architectural community around the world. He started receiving commissions for larger works, such as the Jewett Art Center at Wellesley College. In 1958 Rudolph was selected as director of the School of Architecture at Yale, shortly after designing the school's building. He led the school for six years before returning to private practice.

Recently a bank building designed and built by Jack West was renovated and reopened as the headquarters of Gateway Bank on Tamiami Trail at the intersection with Bahia Vista. This followed a preliminary proposal to demolish the building that met with a rapid objection from a leader of historic preservation in the community, Kafi Benz, before the new project could gain approval within the city planning department. The building is graced by a sculpture by Jack Cartlidge that was installed when the building was built.

Historic buildings and sites

File:Sarasota FL Binz House01.jpgThe Frank and Matilda Binz House is a historic home.

By the end of the twentieth century, many of Sarasota's more modest historical structures had been lost to the wrecking ball. Condominium development erased all evidence of the Whitaker settlement along the bay. To the east of Tamiami Trail, however, their family cemetery remains on property owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, adjacent to the city-owned Pioneer Park.

File:Sarasota FL County crths06.jpgThe Sarasota County Courthouse is a historic courthouse building located at 2000 Main Street in Sarasota, Florida.

Recently, two historic buildings, the Crocker Church and the Bidwell-Wood House (the oldest remaining structure in the city), first restored by Veronica Morgan and members of the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation that she founded, became city property. The Sarasota County Historical Society facilitated the move. These structures were relocated to this park, despite protests from residents who objected to the loss of park area. Restoration is needed again for deterioration that occurred during the last decade.

The American National Bank Building (also known as the Orange Blossom Hotel) at 1330 Main Street.

In the late 1970's, Sarasota County purchased the Terrace Hotel that was built by Charles Ringling and renovated it for use as a county government office building.  The adjacent courthouse that he donated to the new county in 1921 has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places (National Register of Historic Places listings in Sarasota County, Florida). The courthouse complex was designed by Dwight James Baum.

File:Sarasota FL Municipal Aud03.jpg Photograph of Historic Sarasota Municipal Auditorium, the eastern elevation featuring many glass blocks that cast natural lighting into the interior

In the next decade the landmark hotel built by Owen Burns, the El Vernona, which had been turned into apartments became endangered. By then it was called the John Ringling Towers and was purchased by a phosphate miner, Gardinier, who wanted to turn it into his corporate headquarters. All of the tenants were turned out and plans were made for the restoration of the building. The city commissioners supported the plan initially, but lobbying to undermine the project began and one of the commissioners changed her vote. The project was denied at the final hearing. The enraged miner abandoned the city and subsequent owners, seeking to demolish it, made garish changes to the building to make it unappealing before finally leaving it open for vagrants to invade and pilfer.

File:Sarasota FL US PO Fed Bldg01.jpg The U.S. Post Office–Federal Building (also known as the Social Security Building) is a historic site in Sarasota, Florida.

A community campaign began to preserve the building complex that included the realty office of Owen Burns that had been renovated for use as a home by Karl Bickel. A historic preservation organization, the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation, was founded by Veronica Morgan to save the buildings and to promote historic preservation throughout the community. Through their efforts, combined with the help of many architects in the community, a hotel development group with a history of restoring historic hotels bought the property and both structures on the property were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it soon was sued by another developer who had made a bid for the property also. The buildings were subjected to a legal battle that was lost by the historic hotel developers. Eventually both buildings fell under the wrecking ball.


Seagate for the Power Crosleys

Remarkable preservation success occurred during the 1990's when the community exhibition hall, the Municipal Auditorium, designed by Thomas Reed Martin and Clarence A. Martin, was listed on the National Register of Historic Paces and meticulously restored to its depression recovery era, 1937 WPA community project, completion status and its architectural glory—both inside and out. The city boasts that 100,000 people use it every year and it is a boon to the community for recreation, lawn sports, as well as being heavily attended for auctions, concerts, conventions, flea markets, galas, graduations, lectures, orchid and flower shows, and a full range of trade shows of interest to the community. Later the Federal Building, designed by George Albee Freeman (the designer of Seagate for the Crosleys) and Louis A. Simon, which initially had served as the post office was restored as well.
Most of the luxurious historic residences from the 1920's boom period along the northern shore of Sarasota Bay also have survived. This string of homes, built on large parcels of elevated land along the widest point of the bay, is anchored by the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art at its center. Among them is Cà d'Zan, the home of Mable and John Ringling, which was restored recently under the direction of Bill Puig.

File:Sarasota FL Bacheller-Brewer Estate01.jpgThe Bacheller-Brewer Model Home Estate is located at 1903 Lincoln Drive.

Many significant structures from the comparatively recent "Sarasota School of Architecture" period of the mid-twentieth century, however, have not survived. Since they do not qualify under the age criteria set for historic preservation nominations their historical aspect often escapes public recognition. Others frequently are threatened by demolition plans for new development without consideration of their cultural and historical importance to the community instead of motivating the implementation of plans to retain the buildings and integrate them into new plans.
A March 2007 photograph of Riverview High School prior to being demolished, a Paul Rudolph design built in 1958
In 2006, the Sarasota County School Board slated one of Paul Rudolph's largest Sarasota projects, Riverview High School, for demolition. The board arrived at the decision despite protests by many members of the community, including architects, historic preservationists, and urban planners. Others supported the demolition as they believed the structure is no longer functional. The issue was divisive. The World Monuments Fund included the school on its 2008 Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the category Main Street Modern.

File:Sarasota FL 47 Washington01.jpgThe William J. Burns House is a historic home in Sarasota, Florida. It is located at 47 South Washington Drive.

Although the community of Sarasota was divided on the worth of Rudolph's structure, the international arts community was not. New urbanist planner and architect, Andres Duany, strongly supported retention of the school. When asked about the project by Kafi Benz, a historic preservation leader at a public meeting in January 2007 in Sarasota, Duany stated that Sarasota would lose its international stature as an arts center if it allowed the demolition. The historic building was the main structure in the school complex and included a planetarium. Plans existed to nominate Riverview High School to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of the most endangered historic structures in the United States, America's Most Endangered Places.

File:Sarasota FL Burns Court HD 446-01.jpg The Burns Square Historic District is a U.S. historic district (designated as such on March 22, 1984) located in Sarasota, Florida. The district runs from 400 through 446 Burns Court and 418, 426, and 446 South Pineapple Avenue. It contains 24 historic buildings.

Following a March 2007 charrette led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a proposal was advanced to renovate and preserve Rudolph's buildings. The school board decided to allow a year to consider implementation of the innovative plan proposed to preserve the buildings, that would include building a parking garage with playing fields above it rather than demolishing the structures.

In early June 2008 the school board announced that the school would be demolished and that a parking lot would replace it. One year later, in June 2009, Riverview High School was demolished.

Other notable cultural features

A native of Sarasota, tightrope walker Nik Wallenda is known internationally for walking across Niagara Falls and a gorge of the Grand Canyon. He is a member of famous Wallenda family of aerialist and daredevil performers who have lived and trained in Sarasota for generations.

Many circus performers lived in Sarasota during the wintertime presence of the Ringling circus and some of the families have remained even though the circus left the city for winter quarters in Venice, Florida. A strong circus tradition remains in portions of the culture of the community.

Sarasota also is known for architects, fine artists, performing arts, and writers who have lived and worked in the community. Among the writers, John D. MacDonald even set many of his novels in Sarasota, integrating landmark buildings into his stories and making institutions such as local restaurants famous. The Mel-o-Dee on Tamiami Trail languishes, but remains, waiting for restoration.

Several movies have been shot using Sarasota locations. One focusing on the Going Vertical program of street art that is held by the Sarasota Chalk Festival premiered internationally when muralist MTO released his documentary film, FL: unpremeditated movie, about some of his work in Sarasota. It is only one of many international films produced about the festival and its artists.

Breaking Amish: Brave New World is a television series set in Sarasota in the neighborhood of Pinecraft. It is a spin-off of Breaking Amish.

A YouTuber named Charles Trippy lives in Sarasota with his wife and two dogs and go by the name of CTFxC. American alternative-rock band Boyce Avenue, who also began their career on Youtube, are natives of Sarasota.

The show Cougar Town on TBS takes place in Sarasota, but is filmed in California.

The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida, Inc. (WBTT) was founded in December 1999, by local actor, singer, director, and playwright Nate Jacobs. It is the only professional black theater company on Florida’s west coast and one of two in the state. Through the years WBTT has produced many productions locally, throughout Florida, nationally, and as far away as Switzerland and Germany. In the summer of 2013, WBTT was honored to present four performances of an original show, The Soul Crooners, to sold-out crowds at the prestigious National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina. The company has gained a reputation for high quality, original, thought-provoking, and entertaining performances. Recent awards and recognitions include: Sarasota Magazine’s 2012 Best Lounge Act (SAMMY Tonight!); the people’s choice Curtain Call award for 2011’s best musical Marvin Gaye: The Man and his Music, as well as 2012’s best play, A Raisin in the Sun; and the 2011 Handy Award by Herald-Tribune’s drama critic Jay Handleman (Five Guys Named Moe).


Companies based in Sarasota include the Boar's Head Provision Company. Major employers include the Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, APAC Customer Services, The Zenith and Capgemini.


Panoramic view of the Sarasota skyline from the John Ringling Causeway
Panoramic view of Five Points Roundabout in downtown Sarasota with an example of ubiquitous public art

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