On January 12, Ruth Winter sent the Herald-Tribune a photo of the Gulf Beach Resort Motel sign being carried away on a trailer.
Located on Lido Beach since 1950, the motel is representative of the type of family-run motels that flooded Sarasota during the post-World War II boom.
They lined up the north and south trail one after the other, Lido Beach and Siesta Key. Clean and affordable, they provided the perfect accommodation for the family’s annual two-week vacation in the sun.
Initially, Florida became the place to go for the uber rich of the Golden Age, thanks to the efforts of the two Henrys. Henry Flagler opened up Florida’s east coast to Miami, laying railroad tracks and lavish hotels along the way.
On the West Coast, Henry Plant echoed his rival. Plant’s grand hotel in Tampa Bay (now the University of Tampa) was one of the finest in Florida. According to the story, when the hotel was about to open, Plant telegraphed Flagler to attend the grand opening. Flagler’s response: Where is it? Plant’s line: Just follow the crowd.
For Sarasota, the proud edifice was the DeSoto Hotel, built by John Hamilton Gillespie, and opened in 1887 with as much fanfare as the small community could muster, partying the night away.
The hotel was the focal point of Sarasota’s first “boom” which, when completed and the departure of the workers who built it, was over in a short time.
The DeSoto, where the Orange Blossom Condominiums are located today, was expanded and renamed the Belle Haven Hotel.
On October 4, 1925, the first edition of the Sarasota Herald headlined a story, “Local Landmark Doomed.” Sarasota’s first hotel would shortly thereafter be reduced to a pile of wood rubble and swept away.
It was replaced by the American National Bank which went bankrupt at the start of the Great Depression. The building was transformed into the popular Orange Blossom Hotel, now the condominiums.
It was the Mira Mar Hotel on Palm Avenue that flagged Sarasota as a top destination for wealthy snowbirds. Despite all the tropical beauty, the temperate climate and the sandy beaches, the town council understood that without suitable accommodation there was no chance of becoming a popular resort.
Chicago’s Andrew McAnsh, having won major concessions from the local government – free water, free electricity and no taxes for 10 years – promised that he would provide Sarasota with a luxury hotel, apartments, an auditorium and on Siesta Beach, the Mira Mar Casino.
The building that originally housed the Ringling School of Art was opened as the Bay Haven Hotel in time for the 1926 winter season. pretentious and beautiful lobby in Florida,” the hotel was advertised as “at home in the atmosphere and especially pleasant for tourists.”
An article explained that builder CV Coleman had set room rates between $2 and $3 a day, year-round, because he was “more concerned with making friends for the hotel than making money” .
When the lavish El Vernona was inaugurated in 1926, it was admired for its unique architectural style. Designed by Dwight James Baum and built for Owen Burns, the Sarasota Herald described the lavish hotel as “almost startling in its magnificence, gleaming in its glory, and breathtaking in the sheer grandeur of its appointments.”
John Ringling bought it and renamed it the John Ringling Hotel, one of Sarasota’s most popular hotels. It was demolished in 1998 much to the chagrin of many conservatives.
For African American travelers, finding a room traveling through the separate south to Sarasota was problematic. However, Sarasota offered the Colson Hotel.
After its completion, the Sarasota Herald informed its readers that some men achieve greatness in “writing, inventions, or other fields of endeavor”, and noted that builder E.O. Burns found his version of it in 1926 , when he opened the Colson Hotel for “people of color”. population and tourists of color. Said to have cost him more than $35,000, the twenty-eight-room hostelry offered a dance floor, a “sanitary” hair salon, and a soft drink lounge. Four bathrooms and a club room were located on the second floor.
On Christmas morning 1913, the Sarasota Times announced that Sarasota, on Coronado Island in San Diego, would be home to a tent city on Siesta Key.
Initially, ten tents were going to be erected and managed by Mrs. Fannie Ten Eyck. The tents had to be waterproof and stretched over a wooden frame, “so built and reinforced that it would take a gale enough to destroy a frame house to do any damage to them.” The Times report continues, “Fortunately, this part of Uncle Sam’s estate is singularly sheltered from such storms and offers exceptional advantages for camp living near salt water.” Ms. Van Eyck had managed a hotel in Atlantic City, and the Siesta Key facility has been described as a “new and attractive way to Florida outdoor living.”
On Lido Beach, where the first bathhouse offered beachgoers a prime destination, showman Sam Gumpertz decided a hotel would be perfect.
His crew cut a building near Atlantic Station into 7 pieces, rolled them to Sarasota Bay (no mean feat) where they were put on a barge and shipped to Lido Beach and reassembled on a concrete foundation, furnished and modernized.
The Herald dubbed it “The City’s Last Bid of Glory” and cited it as proof of Gumpertz’s faith in Sarasota.
Opened on December 18, 1933, as a year-round spa and holiday resort, the manager assured guests would be “treated in a calm and dignified manner”. All rooms faced the Gulf of Mexico, and guests without car transportation would be chauffeured into town.
C. Roy Kindt, who made a name for himself during the property boom of the 1920s, ran the hotel and promised that “one of the hotel’s greatest features is the [cuisine] in the dining room, tables d’hôtes or à la carte.
It was the post-war wave of motels that gave rise to hotels like the Gulf View Inn. These mid-century motels housed most of the tourists no longer tied to home by wartime gasoline and tire rationing. Eager to get back on the road, they traveled to Florida and Sarasota in droves.
In 1946, it was reported that Sarasota County had 5,475 rooms available to tourists. By 1956, that number had risen to 13,471. Similarly, restaurants grew from 126 with a seating capacity of 5,251 to 300 ten years later with the capacity to serve 15,963 customers.
As the Sarasota Herald-Tribune put it, “Choosing a place to lay down for the winter months poses no particular problem for winter visitors because Sarasota has the accommodations to suit every type and size of wallet.”
Hoping to attract guests, amenities such as a shuffleboard, swimming pools, color televisions and, for those who liked the wild side, Pulse-o Pedic mattresses were advertised. Every room was sure to have a Gideon Bible.
Modern motels were a far cry from the days of automobile courts of the past. The motel rooms were spotless and clean – “sanitized” was an oft-repeated description.
The grounds were also welcoming and neatly manicured with an abundance of tropical foliage, pines, oaks and palms. This all combined to make the Tamiami Trail corridor very inviting.
What has the plethora of mom and pop motels done for Sarasota? The Sarasota Herald assured residents that tourism was a boon to the growth of the county in general. “After a quick trip north to get rid of their businesses and homes and sort out a few issues, they can be seen on Main Street wearing a smile as big as the gulf and boasting of being a Sarasotan.”