Sarasota County Heritage Awards

The History & Preservation Coalition of Sarasota County announces nominations are open for the 2017 Sarasota County Heritage Awards.

The Coalition wishes to recognize individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the preservation and understanding of Sarasota County’s prehistorical and historical resources. Besides honoring those who have devoted themselves to maintaining the integrity of our remaining architectural, archeological, and historical assets and educating the public to their importance, the Heritage Awards aim to raise the level of public support for governmental and citizen-based efforts to preserve our common past so future generations may learn from it.

All nomination materials must be submitted by email or regular mail by January 15, 2018.  Awardees will be announced publicly in March, and the Awards Ceremony Luncheon will be held April 7, 2018 at the Venice Golf and Country Club.


A Place We Call Home – Historic Venice Avenue Home

By Linda Carson ABC7 My Suncoast News September 25, 2017

SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) The house at 613 Venice Avenue in downtown Venice takes your breath away.

Current owners, Curt and Tommye Whittaker invited us in for a tour.

This is only the second time the public has been allowed in. The only other group to tour the home was the Venice Garden Club.

We start out in the large, beautiful dining room. The Whittakers have furnished it as closely as possible to the way it was furnished originally. Then we continue down the large, long front hall way. Owner Tommye Whittaker says, “There are 16 doors on the front level of the home, all to create cross ventilation for the hot months. You come in the front door, then go straight out the back door of the hall way and you step down into a lovely court yard, filled with flowers and a fountain.”

And as we continue down the front hall, Tommye says “There are two more rooms off this hall. There is the living room and a library. There is also an elevator that was installed when the house was first built and still works today.

The house was built in 1927 by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers

Tommye says, “This house was supposed to be for a Union Vice President. But the stock market crash happened, and this house stood empty for 3 years.”

Fitzhugh William Haensel and his wife Florence were the first owners. They bought it in 1930. Although the Haensel’s also had a home in New York City, they spent the winter months in Venice. They used the house to do a of of entertaining. The Haensel’s also traveled abroad extensively. Tommye says, “As a young man Haensel was a renowned soprano. He sang overseas a lot, mostly in Italy. And later, as he grew up and his voice changed, he became a very successful booking agent in New York City. His clients were people like Isadora Duncan and Caruso.

Tommye’s husband, Curt Whittaker, says “In his late 40’s Haensel and his partners founded Columbia Concerts Corporation to use for Broadway Productions. He and that group got into radio and began to do productions and at the end of the day it turned into The Columbia Broadcasting System, CBS.”

Although the family only used the house as a winter residence, they had a staff of four. .

Tommye says, “They had two year round live-in maids, the ladies wore French uniforms, they also had a chauffer / butler and they had a house boy.”

Tommye found amazing old pictures of the house in the attic. The house is large, over 5500 feet. 1200 of that is hallways, making it perfect for entertaining. It has may interesting features. For instance everyone always admires the fire places. Tommye says, “The fire places are actually poured concert. There is no granite, or marble, like you would find in finer homes of that day. It is actually concrete and cement.” She says, the wrought iron work, used for doors and hand rails is also very beautiful. And strangely, the floors are tile, done by Venice Tile Works, which was very active in Venice from 1925 to 1946. Venice Tile Works used the house as sort of a model home to show off their work. Every floor is different tile work. So a prospective customer looking for tile could go in, look at the various floors and pick the one he wanted. And a secret about the beautiful curving mahogany stair cases. Only their hand rail is Mahogany. The rest of the stair case is painted to look like mahogany. There were 4 bedrooms and a sleeping porches upstairs. Now there are 3 bedrooms and the sleeping porch has been turned into a bathroom and laundry room.

The Whittakers are only the 4th owners of the house. Curt says, “After the Haensels died, they left the home to Florence’s nephew. He immediately sold it to a Dr. Sorenson. After that Rich and Jennifer Lorick bought the house, and they worked diligently to bring it back to it’s original beauty. For example, when they tore up the kitchen floor because it was damaged. They searched out matching tile at a defunct Burger King, and bought all the floor tiles the store had to repair the kitchen floor.”

But despite its historical significance, and the fact that it’s on the Registry of Historic Places, legally the house could still be torn down. Tommye says there is no law against it in Venice. However,  the Whittakers are passionate about preserving and protecting it. They consider themselves stewards of the house, and they say they will never sell it to anyone in the future who won’t preserve it.

Tommye says, “If we don’t protect our history, just like a Polaroid picture, it will fade away.”

[photos courtesy of Florida Memory Project and ABC7]

Nokomis Historic Trolley Tour

While many residents and visitors are familiar with the history of the development of Venice as a city 90 years ago, the cradle of development for the greater Venice area actually began in Nokomis. Since Nokomis was the site of the earliest area settlement, it was the location of many firsts: the first post office, first church, first school, first cemetery, as well as the first real estate office, first theatre, and the first hotel.

Venice Heritage will be conducting two historic trolley tours of Nokomis on Saturday, Oct. 28, at 11 a.m and 1 p.m. The tours will depart from, and end at, the historic Lord-Higel House, located on Granada Avenue behind City Hall.


Check back soon for additional tours…

VHI Receives Roaring 20s Ball Proceeds

The funds are proceeds from the Roaring ‘20s Costume Ball fundraiser held June 10 at the Summit. The donation will go toward the ongoing restoration of the historic Lord-Higel House behind City Hall, which Venice Heritage oversees.

From left, Lorraine Anderson, City of Venice Public Information Officer, and Chetta Cometa, former Director of Sales and Operations Specialist at Summit at Venice, present a check for $2,400 to members of Venice Heritage Inc. — John Barrick, Lord-Higel House architect and construction chairman; Mickey Higel, a member of the VHI construction committee; Jean Trammell, president of the board; Gary Youngberg, VHI construction committee; and Dorothy Korwek, volunteer office manager and liaison board member.

Burgundy Square; a trip back in time…

The following article appeared in the June 24, 2017 edition of the Venice Gondolier

By Larry R. Humes

Although its appearance and function during the past nine decades has gradually evolved, the cluster of buildings along Venice’s Miami Avenue, known today as Burgundy Square, contribute to the ambiance of the city’s unique heritage while continuing to serve the needs of its citizens.

“The stretch of Venice Avenue that extends through the city’s historic business district is perhaps better known to our visitors, but the buildings comprising Burgundy Square have their own intimate charm,” said Tommye Whittaker, a board member of Venice Heritage, Inc. “You can almost imagine what it must have been like to walk along the block when the city was first built.”

Four separate buildings were constructed on the block in 1926 as the City of Venice emerged. The buildings were originally named for the individuals responsible for their construction.

Thomas Green of St. Petersburg constructed the triangular-shaped building at the intersection of Miami and Ponce de Leon Avenues at an original cost of $85,000. Designed by Harrison Gill, the first architect to locate in Venice, the two-story building was modeled after the iconic “Flat Iron” building in New York City and was described as of Spanish design due to its clay tile and stucco over brick construction. The Green Building contained 10 apartments, five stores, four offices and an arcade-like automotive garage at the eastern end of the building. Before the building was even completed, retail space was leased to a hardware store and a sporting goods store. Tom Green’s Electrical and Spray Paint Shops were also located in this building.

The apartments located on the second floor later became known as the Gonderman Apartments, Triangle Building, Hollywood Apartments, and eventually Burgundy Square.

The July 10, 1926 edition of This Week In Venice, stated that Mr. Green was “very pleased at the prospect of business in Venice. He has purchased a five-acre farm, just outside the city limits, which he expects to live on and cultivate himself. This farm is the first of the Venice farms that have been sold.” The article went on to say that while Mr. Green was not giving up his business interests in St. Petersburg, he expected to devote most of his time to his enterprises in Venice.

The second historic building to the west was the Wimmers Building, named for its first owner and tenant, H.N. “Bud” Wimmers, who originally served as paymaster for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) work crews that were building Venice. Wimmers, considered to be one of the town’s founding fathers, later served as a Venice city councilman. After the BLE pulled out of the project following the Great Depression, Wimmers was appointed receiver for the BLE Realty Corporation, and closed the company’s local business affairs. He later became a prominent real estate broker in Venice, while also serving as representative for the area’s power, telephone, telegraph, and water services. Wimmers also was instrumental in bringing the Kentucky Military Institute to Venice in 1931 as well as the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in the early 1960s. The Wimmers Building has changed owners numerous times and presently houses several retail businesses.

Located next to the Wimmers Building is the Teal Building, which was constructed by L.M. Teal in 1926. Its first tenants were the Teal Barber Shop and the Venice Billiard Hall. It was used as an elementary school in the 1930s, and was occupied by the Stancil and Potts Garage in 1946. The Teal Building was purchased by the Roberts-Shannon Funeral Home of Sarasota in 1950 and later served as the site of the Rawles Funeral Home. It was remodeled for retail use in the late 80’s and has been occupied by numerous businesses ever since.

The last building on the block constructed in 1926 was the Lawton Building, named for Mrs. Louis L. Lawton of St. Petersburg. This one-story retail building was designed by Harrison Gill and constructed at a cost of $15,000 by Carey & Walter, Inc. of Plant City. The building enjoys its original architectural style, with front doors set back from the storefront windows so that display areas appear as bay windows. The covered doorways also protected shoppers from the elements. Seven shops occupied the 100-foot-long building.

Although constructed in 1926 as four separate buildings, they were cobbled together by previous owners about a decade ago at a cost of slightly more than $4 million. The space between the Teal and Lawton Buildings was converted into a covered breezeway that offers outdoor dining as well as access to other shops and parking along Ponce de Leon Avenue.

The Burgundy Square complex was purchased in February 2015 by Harold Caballeros. Although proposed plans for renovating the property are not yet complete, Caballeros has indicated he would like to see the buildings restored to their original 1926 grandeur.

“We don’t know exactly what we are going to build yet because there are permits we will need to obtain and the economics of the marketplace that will drive our decisions,” he added. “But we have a vision of what the façade will look like and that will be the Mediterranean Revival style. We are excited by the possibilities.”

Larry Humes writes about local history and can be reached at:

Venice Needs Larger Home For Its History

The following op-editorial appeared in the June 17, 2017 edition of the Venice Gondolier

By Larry R. Humes

In the movie, Field of Dreams, a voice tells Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella that if he builds it, they will come. Regarding the sharing of Venice’s unique heritage, it would seem the opposite has occurred. The increasing demand of residents and visitors to learn more about our city’s history has outstripped the community’s ability to keep pace.

Collecting and documenting Venice’s heritage began about three decades ago with a small group of citizens who clipped newspaper articles and stored them, along with donated photographs and other documents, in a closet at the Venice Library. As the collection of archival objects grew, space was made available in a room at City Hall to display some of the memorabilia. In 1991, the City of Venice purchased the Triangle Inn and moved the 1927 structure to its present location on the Cultural Campus. The building’s second floor was modified to house the Venice Museum & Archives, while the first floor provided exhibit space for objects in the museum’s collection. During the past quarter century, museum staff have rotated exhibits in that space to help tell the city’s history. Because the exhibit space is so small, however, about the size of a modern living room, only a small portion of the city’s 90-year history can be displayed at any one time.

As Venice has grown in both the number of residents and tourists, so has the interest in the city’s history. Consider, for example, that the number of visitors to the Triangle Inn has quadrupled during the past decade. An average 13,000 online searches of the archives’ database are conducted each year. And last year, museum staff and volunteers conducted nearly 60 research requests.

The archival collection has also increased to more than 40,000 objects. An engineering study conducted last year determined that those objects, which were stored on the second floor of the Triangle Inn, were causing the floor to sag under the weight. As a result, those objects had to be re-located to several less-than-suitable locations throughout the area.

Venice received a wonderful gift this past April when philanthropist Julia Cousins-Laning provided the funds to purchase and convert a building on Milan Avenue, across the street from the past and future Venice Library, into a state-of-the-art archives where the museum’s entire collection will eventually be stored. The city now has another wonderful opportunity within its grasp: to re-purpose the Hamilton Building into an expanded Venice History Museum once the Sarasota County Library vacates the structure and moves into its new facility next year.

The city purchased the 9,000-square-foot condominium office complex in August 2015 and the county spent more than $200,000 renovating the structure and converting it into space that could be used as a temporary library. More than three-fourths of the building’s available space is ideal for exhibits. And more than $300,000 of private funds have been identified to convert the building into a history museum should the city choose to exercise that option.

In addition to available exhibit space, the roughly 1,500 square feet of office and conference space would be sufficient to house historical resources staff and volunteers as well as a gift shop for selling merchandise related to Venice history.

Much like the existing Cultural Campus, the parking area connecting both the Hamilton Building and the Venice Theatre would lend itself to myriad cultural events. And with the city’s recent articulation agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation, even more parking spaces will soon be added under the KMI Bridge.

The City of Venice allocates less than one percent of its annual operating budget to historic resources. This in a state where historic preservation is a $6.3 billion industry! Promoting our unique heritage offers a perfect opportunity to entertain, educate and engage both our residents and visitors alike. Re-purposing the Hamilton Building into a suitable home for our history is an idea whose time has come.

Larry R. Humes writes about local history and can be reached at