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Historic Suncoast Buildings: The Sarasota Opera House

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Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 5:13 pm

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Each Tuesday this month, we are taking you on a tour of a historic Suncoast building. And from world famous strippers, to world class music, the Sarasota Opera House has seen it all.

The building that is now the Sarasota Opera House was first the Edwards Theatre, built in 1926 by A.B. Edwards, Sarasota's first mayor.

"It was more than just a movie theatre, it was for vaudeville, live entertainment played here, there were some retail establishments downstairs, some apartments upstairs and some offices upstairs," says Sarasota County historian Jeff Lahurd.

There was a fruit stand to its left, then the Montgomery Roberts clothing store, then Morrison's Cafeteria. "Sally Rand was here with her bubble bath and fan dance; she was the burlesque queen in the 1930's. She was a stripper, she did it with glamour."

And it drew other big names. "Tommy Dorsey played here, Will Rodgers gave an act…it's said John Ringling came to watch him perform. Ringling came in late, and Will ragged on John Ringling as he was walking to his seat."

The Florida Theatre bought it in 1936. "When they were renovating this place, Jane Mansfield signed her name with 42, 26, 36 next to it."

Florida Theatre

The Acadamy Award winning film The Greatest Show on Earth, filmed in Sarasota, had its Florida premier there in 1952. Elvis Presley played there in 1956. The evening show was a dollar for adults, 50 cents for kids.

But in 1973 , the theatre closed down. Robert Turoff and his wife had opened the Golden Apple Theatre right down the block in 1970, and they almost bought the building. But Phil Hall, who was trying to bring opera to Sarasota, asked Turoff to allow the Opera Association to buy it instead. “Gave him my contract, and that’s how the opera got started," says Turoff.

In 1979, the Sarasota Opera Association bought the building and spent $7 million restoring it.

Then in 2008, a $20 million renovation turned it into a world class facility.

And it is what it is today: a beautiful building saved from the past for the future.

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