Historic Palm Avenue buildings set the tone for Sarasota

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Historians say Sarasota's original real estate boom started in the 1920's on Palm Avenue, and a trend was started set Sarasota on the path to become the upscale, cultural mecca for tourists that it is today.

Sarasota was still searching for its identity and struggling to become the vacation destination in Florida when Chicago industrialist Andrew McAnsh came along.

"He came down and saw the potential for Sarasota. What Sarasota needed at the time was a world class hotel, so he made an agreement with the city. If they would give him free water, free electricity, and no taxes for ten years, he would build them a world class hotel," says Sarasota County historian Jeff Lahurd.

Plus up some up-scale apartments. And that's what he did. "The apartments here were started at the end of 1922. They went up in 60 days, and they were known as the 60-day wonder; 24 hour a day, around the clock work."

The Mira-Mar Complex stretched down South Palm Avenue from Main Street to Ringling. At the north end was a second hotel, The Demarcay, and behind that a cigar factory. "It was opened by the Roth Brothers in 1925. They rolled cigars here and sold them throughout the state."

From the DeMarcay Hotel, the upscale Mira-Mar Apartments stretched south on either side of the Grand Mira-Mar Hotel. At south end of the Mira-Mar Complex was an auditorium. "Upstairs they had a full gambling house, and it was run by an outfit out of Chicago. And Mayor A.B. Edwards said they wouldn't let locals in, but they would let snowbirds in. And they paid off with silver dollars."

And bootlegging assured that whiskey flowed. “And across from the hotel they built a band shell so the guests from the hotel would have free entertainment, and people from the community could come down and watch free entertainment."

When Mira-Mar was first built, it sat right on the bay. The water came up to where Gulfstream Avenue is today. But then along came U.S. 41 and pushed the water way, way back.

The Mira-Mar drew the rich and the famous. Lowell Thomas stayed there in the 20’s, and Greta Garbo in the 40's. “It was the starting point for Sarasota to turn into a destination for wealthy snow birds."

But the Mira-Mar went into decline in the 50's when the beach hotels began luring the tourists away, and it was torn down in 1982. Only the apartments and the Hotel DeMarcay and the shell of the cigar factory remain.

If you get a chance, drive down Palm Avenue and take another look at the old hotel. Very soon now it's going to be torn down to make way for a condo building. We understand the facade will be saved.