Belle Haven was once centerpiece of huge Sarasota waterfront development

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Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 4:28 pm

SARASOTA, Fla. – It’s been said that you must remember your past if you want to direct your future. Of course Sarasota was just a small fishing village until the 1920’s, but most of those original buildings are already gone. For the month of May we're going to take you on a tour of some of the area's remaining historic buildings.

Let's start with Belle Haven, which now stands alone between the Sarasota Hyatt and the empty space where the Sarasota Quay used to stand. Originally called El Verona or Broadway Apartment Building, it stands empty and forlorn now. But in its heyday it was a sight to behold.

"It was built in 1925 and it opened in 1926 as the El Verona Apartments. It was purchased by Owen Burns for $250,000; there are 20 apartments in it, and it has a roof-top garden," says Sarasota County history specialist Jeff Lahurd.

The apartments were seasonal rentals with 2 or 3 bedrooms. An ad claimed they were lavishly furnished by Gimbles of New York.

They attracted upper middle class visitors. "They were snowbirds that came down for 3 or 4 months at a time. Some of the hotels were only open in the wintertime. People that came here, they had money.”

The apartments are built in the Mediterranean Revival style so popular those days. "This was designed by Dwight James Baum, who also designed the Sarasota County Courthouse and Ca’ d’Zan."

Owen Burns & Dwight James Braun
Owen Burns & Dwight James Braun

It was much nearer the water back then, and had a long dock with every room having a bay view. It was supposed to be the focal point of a huge “Central Broadway” development, but the 1927 land bust killed that project.

Central Broadway advertisement

"It was like someone threw a switch and everything stopped and that was followed by the Great Depression in the ‘30s, and that was followed by World War 2. So everything that happened in 1925-26 stayed as it was until after World War 2," says Lahurd.

Then another boom ensued when many of the returning service men who'd been stationed on the Suncoast returned to make this their home. In 1983, the Belle Haven was put on the Register of Historic Places. In 1984 it changed from apartments to offices.

And what's next? "Sarasota never ends, in terms of the boom, the bust, the boom, the bust…that's a thread that runs through our history.”

So there'll be another big development there, you can bet on it. We're in a boom period now; buildings go up, and buildings come down. Sarasota County historians are hoping that the Belle Haven survives to preserve Sarasota's history in a visual and concrete way.

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