Venice Florida History
Excerpted from "Steve Rabow's Guide Sarasota Bradenton Venice," used with permission.
Top -- 1947, Venice Police Chief John Shockey watches as Mayor Smyth Brohard accepts the keys to VPD's new (and only) squad car, a 1947 Kaiser;
Middle -- 1968(?), The Kentucky Military Academy students in full dress in downtown Venice;
Bottom -- 1954, The annual "Ladies Baseball Game," which featured the Rotary Club in drag;
Venice was first settled in the 1870s by Robert Rickford Roberts who established a 121 acre homestead on the south end of the bay which was named for him. In 1882, he sold some of his property to Frank Higel who established a citrus operation and whose descendants dominated the Venice area until the mid-1910s.
Originally called "Horse and Chaise" because of a carriage-like tree formation that marked the spot for fisherman, the city acquired its more elegant name in 1888. That was the year the city acquired its first post office "Venice" - a name suggested by Frank Higel and adopted by the city as its own, after the canal city in Italy.
Mrs. Bertha Palmer, with a portion of the magnificent fortune inherited from her late husband and owner of Chicago's famed Palmer House Hotel, purchased 140,000 acres of wild Florida frontier land. She built The Oaks, an elegant winter residence in nearby Osprey which attracted notice in northern newspapers of the time. Mrs. Palmer successfully lobbied to have the railroad line extended to Venice in 1911. The importance of this event can not be overstated as it placed Venice on the path of progress and new development.
Just five years later, noted New York physician, Dr. Fred Albee came to Venice with a dream. He wanted to build a "model city," and commissioned John Nolan to create what may have been Florida's first master planned community. Albee envisioned agriculture, industry, commerce, housing and recreation harmoniously coexisting. During the real estate boom of the 1920s and thanks to a cash infusion by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) of Cleveland, Ohio, the plans began to turn into reality. Homes and businesses featuring graceful Italian architecture were constructed, and the town became home for many of the retired members of the wealthy union. By June 1926, the three-story Venice Hotel (now Park Place) was completed by the BLE and the $1 million per month development of a model city had begun. The New York architectural firm of Walker and Gillette was hired to ensure that all construction would conform to the "northern Italian" theme designed to give the community its unique character. By 1927, the City of Venice was incorporated.
But hard times were just around the corner. The Great Depression left Venice and most other Florida cities in desolation. Venice was a virtual ghost town with more than 200 commercial and residential structures, 141 apartments, 10.5 miles of paved streets, 15 miles of sidewalks, seven miles of underground storm drains, 13 miles of water pipes and a water treatment plant. The real estate operations of the BLE went into receivership and most of the unsold land reverted to Albee and other creditors.
Venice began its economic recovery in 1932 when the Kentucky Military Institute (KMI) rented the Venice Hotel (now Park Place) and the San Marco Hotel (now Venice Centre Mall) as winter quarters for its cadets.
In 1933, Dr. Albee purchased the Park View Hotel (later demolished for a post office) and established the Florida Medical Center as a successful teaching hospital. In 1942, the U.S. government began construction of the Venice Army Air Base on property south of the city. The base trained fighter pilots throughout World War II and was a major influence on the development of the city.
In the 1960s The Corps of Engineers initiated work on the Intracoastal Waterway as a way of moving freight through the state. The happy result was the increase in pleasure boating in Venice and across Florida.
The 1960s also saw the arrival of the famous Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. In 1968 the circus founded the Clown College in Venice, renowned as one of the most prestigious training schools in the world for professional clowns. Clown College left the area in 1994. At press time negotiations were underway to bring the Florida Military Aviation Museum on the property that housed the circus.
Venice has evolved into a charming and lively town, an outstanding example of a planned Florida community with a wealth of "northern Italian" style structures populated by a warm and caring population.
This linear park occupies the landscaped median of Venice Avenue from west of the downtown business district to the Gulf of Mexico. The stately live oaks and Canary Island Date Palms that line the street are prominent features of this 52 acre open space. This promenade is one of the many attractive green spaces and parks throughout the Venice plan.
Veterans Memorial Court - Located at the western end of the park, this court is dominated by a massive granite monument which honors veterans of all wars.
Air Base Court - This scale replica of the main entrance gate to the Venice Army Air Base dramatizes the tremendous impact that the building of the base by the U.S. Army had on the community. During World War II, more than 20,000 pilots and service personnel were trained at the base - the servicemen outnumbered the residents. After the war, many servicemen stationed at Venice returned to become the civic leaders of the 1950s and 1960s.
Indian Court - Long before the Spanish arrived, the west coast of Florida was inhabited by the Calusa Indians, formidable warriors and fishermen who prospered because of the rich marine life along the coast. In the early 1700s, Creek related tribes from the Carolinas moved into Florida and displaced the Calusa. During the 1800s the U.S. Army sought to displace the Seminoles leading to the three Seminole Wars. The court highlights Seminole chief Billy Bowlegs and his tribe's resistance to the army.
Archaeological Court - During the last ice age Florida was home to many species of giant mammals including the woolly mammoth, giant camel and giant sloth. Numerous fossils have been found throughout the Venice area including those of a complete woolly mammoth estimated to be 14 feet high and 20 feet long found during the 1920s. Canal and lake excavations have unearthed many finds for amateur paleontologists.
Pioneer Court - During the second half of the last century settlers arrived in the Venice area and sustained themselves through fishing, cattle ranching and citrus growing. The relief on this monument pays tribute to their industry as well as their determination. By the turn of the century they welcomed winter visitors, and the area's thriving tourist and retirement industry had begun.
Heritage Court - This court acknowledges the efforts of Dr. Fred Albee, John Nolan, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers in creating the city of Venice. Dr. Albee owned the land, John Nolan created the city plan, and the BLE built the city according to the Nolan plan after purchasing the land from Albee. The court contains the only known plaque to a city planner.
Venezia Park Historic District - (Consists of structures on Harbor Drive South, Sorrento, Salerno, Nassau and Palermo Place near Venezia Park) Listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 18, 1989, this neighborhood of medium and large homes surrounds Venezia Park, a large trapezoidal-shaped park. The area is characterized by low density single-family dwellings that were built in the mandated " northern Italian" or Mediterranean Revival architectural style. Homes are detached one- and two-story structures, each with a separate auto park and, in many cases, servants quarters.
Edgewood Historic District - (Consists of structures on Groveland and Myrtle Avenues east of Bypass 41) Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, this neighborhood has smaller lots and more modest homes than other residential areas in Nolan's plan. Because the architectural guidelines were not strictly enforced, this district contains bungalows and structures of frame vernacular construction, as well as Mediterranean Revival or Mission style structures.
Apartment District - (Consists of structures on Armada Road, Menendez Court and Palmetto Court) Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, this district consists of multi-family Mediterranean Revival apartment blocks built according to the comprehensive plan of John Nolan. This medium density area was designed around Palmetto Park which provides open space and recreation for the apartment residents. This area provided the community with an alternative to single family residences. This diversity of housing types was an important element in Nolan's plan. Granada Apartments, with its romantic courtyard, is an excellent example of the multi-family units constructed during the 1920s.
Eagle Point - (Located at the north entrance to Venice, west of U.S. 41 on Roberts Bay) Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this property was originally owned by Bertha Honore Palmer. Built in 1911 as an elite hunting and fishing resort, it welcomed governors and corporate executives to its secluded surroundings.
When converted to a residential community in 1989, it was the oldest continuously operated business in Sarasota County. The clubhouse, guest cottage, water tower, and several small utility buildings have been restored for use by the residents of the development.
Downtown Historic Area - ( Located between business 41 on the east, Tampa Avenue on the north, Harbor Drive on the west, and Miami Avenue on the south).
This area was designated in the John Nolan Plan as the commercial center of the city. Numerous two-story business structures were constructed during the 1920s, many with rental apartments above the store fronts. In addition, two three-story hotels were built north of Tampa Avenue by
the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. Both structures have been restored and converted to new uses. One is a retirement residence known as Park Place and the other is a condominium with shops on the first floor and residences on the upper floors known as the Venice Centre Mall.
Venice Train Depot - (Located on East Venice Avenue, west of the Intracoastal Waterway). Using heavy timbers from their own sawmill, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers built this Mediterranean Revival-style railroad depot in 1927. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is the only remaining depot in Sarasota County. Federal funds have been programmed by the Florida Dept. Of Transportation for the purchase and restoration of this building.
Hotel Venice - 200 N. Nassau Street. It is now the Park Place Retirement Residence. This 100-room Italian Renaissance palace rose up in a sea of sand and scrub pine. Listed on the National Register of historic Places in 1984, it was the first Venice building to be so designated. Restored to its original grandeur, the building is now an adult congregate living facility.
Triangle Inn - 351 S. Nassau Street. This important structure gets its name from the triangular lot it was designed to fit when it was built in 1927. This outstanding example of Mediterranean Revival style architecture has a prominent tower and green concrete roof tile. In the process of restoration, it will be the home of the Venice archives and historical collection.