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Lido Beach Casino: Sarasota's long lost beach centerpiece

SARASOTA, Fla. -- It was the spot to see and be seen; the gathering spot in Sarasota for all ages, all walks of life...locals and visitors alike. The Lido Beach Casino was torn down 45 years ago, but folks who've lived here a long time still talk about it like they saw it only yesterday.

For many years the Lido Beach Casino was the focal point of Sarasota's social life.

"There was not only the swimming pool for swimming and the beach for swimming, it had a ballroom in it for dancing, it had a dining room that offered fine dining, a cocktail lounge, they had proms here, they had political rallies here,” says Sarasota County history specialist Jeff Lahurd.

Esther Williams visited the casino while she was here filming the movie On An Island With You.

"It stood from 1940, just before World War II, to 1969, when it was demolished. And probably the peak years were in the 40’s and 50's, because in the 40's Sarasota had an Army airbase training facility here. So the soldiers on leave would come to the casino."

And Lahurd says the casino was a sight to behold. "It was designed by Ralph Twitchel, who became the chief of the Sarasota School of Architecture, in that Art Deco style that was blindingly white. And it had these beautiful bold seahorses on the second floor staring out at the water, and 4 more were staring at the swimming pool."

The night the casino opened, Rudy Bundy's band played. "He was a well-known band leader at the time. People in Sarasota liked him a lot; they liked dancing to his music. Well, he got to be friends with John Ringling’s mother, and as a result of that friendship he got to be president of Ringling Brothers Circus.”

But as the years passed, the casino needed work. And although citizens voted a bond issue to make the needed repairs, the city commission decided to tear it down. "The city was going more toward the cultural aspect of the Van Wezel, and they didn't have the money or the wherewithal to deal with two issues at the same time in those days."

And tucked away in the current Lido Beach Pavilion, which sits on the site of the old casino, are faded pictures of the Lido Beach Casino in its glory days. A place people who lived here and visited there then will never forget.

Lahurd says that when people drop by the Sarasota County History Center, they often say the Lido Beach Casino is the place they most regret losing to the wrecking ball.