Bradenton Bank & Trust Building: Survivor of booms and busts

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Historic Bradenton was originally spelled ‘Braidentown.’ City fathers took the ‘I’ out, and then someone suggested that Bradentown would never be anything but a small town unless they took the ‘W’ out, so it became Bradenton.

Today we go back to 1926, when there was a lot of excitement over a big new building that was opening on Manatee Avenue.

The economy was booming when the Bradenton Bank and Trust opened in 1926. This was a jumping place. The Manatee River Hotel had just opened, bringing movie stars and sports figures like Clark Gable, Gretta Garbo, and Babe Ruth to town.

But disaster loomed on the horizon. "It was used for only 9 months before Florida went into the Great Depression," says Cathy Slusser, director of Historical Resources for Manatee County Clerk of Courts.

It was a terrible time. "This bank actually failed during the run on the banks, even though it was 90% occupied when it opened. Nine months later, the bank had closed, and most of the tenants were gone as well."

The depression hit Florida a year before it struck the rest of the country, due to a series of disasters. "There was a hurricane that came across the east coast of Florida, one of the railroads went bankrupt, and the real estate boom collapsed. Florida's economy was built on real estate, and when people heard about the hurricane they decided maybe Florida is not such a great place to live."

The 7-story building, which stood as the tallest in Manatee County until 1986, remained mostly empty and forlorn as Florida's economy floundered. "Florida didn't come back until after World War II. After World War II, many of the soldiers and sailors who were stationed here, either for recovery or training, after the war they went back home and said lets go to Florida."

Florida's population tripled in the ten years following the war. And doctors and lawyers and other businesses moved into the empty bank building and it came to be known as the Professional Building.

“After World War II they had added a drug store to the building called Sharp’s Drug Store, and they had actually changed the entrance to the building."

Then in the 1990’s the building went through a restoration. "They removed all of that from the building and put it back to the way it looked in 1926," says Slusser.

The historic building has survived economic boom and economic bust. It survived hurricane, war time, also the flight from downtown and the return to downtown. And through it all it's been a symbol of economic prosperity and a faith in the future.

The building is located at 1023 Manatee Avenue West, next to the Manatee County Courthouse.