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: 1926venice@gmail.com.

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 1926venice@gmail.com.

Annual Heritage Dinner – Photo Gallery

History lovers gathered at the 2017 ANNUAL HERITAGE DINNER on May 25 to hear special guest speaker, Linda Carson, talk about her history here and elsewhere. It was a lively evening with lots of opportunity to mingle and catch up with old friends.
Be sure to join us next year!

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Grant News

A major grant to VHI to complete restoration of the Lord-Higel House

The Ehrhart Family Foundation has donated $30,000 toward restoration of the Lord-Higel House, increasing the total amount raised thus far to more than half the $200K needed to complete the project.

”The foundation has been a staunch supporter of this undertaking from the very beginning, and this generous gift certainly helps with the building’s restoration at a critical time,” said Judith Keeler, president of Venice Heritage, the 501 (c)(3) organization responsible for the restoration. “We’re very close to completing this project, and a gift of this magnitude gives us the momentum needed to finish in time for the City of Venice’s 90th anniversary celebration on May 9th of next year.”

Constructed in 1896 by entrepreneur and businessman Joseph Lord, it is the second oldest building in Sarasota County. The house also served as the residence of George Higel, who managed Lord’s orange grove and also wrote a weekly column for the Sarasota newspaper. The house was acquired in 2005 by the City of Venice and moved to its present location behind City Hall. Once completed, the first floor of the Lord-Higel House will serve as an early settler museum and welcome center for visitors to the historic city.

Established in 2008, the Ehrhart Family Foundation is a locally-based entity that provides financial support for numerous community initiatives.

“We believe this building will serve not only as an educational tool for teaching our area’s history, but also a place for welcoming residents and visitors alike to our community,” said Jean Trammel, who serves on the foundation’s board and also is a member of VHI’s board of directors. “We are pleased to be able to support this project that we believe highlights Venice’s unique heritage.”

A Conversation with ABC7’s Linda Carson

Venice Heritage’s ANNUAL HERITAGE DINNER is just a few weeks away, and this year’s event is one that you won’t want to miss! ABC7’s reporter and local personality Linda Carson will be leading a conversation on some of our local historical landmarks. Spanning a journalistic career of more than a half century, Carson has been a member of the ABC7 news team since 1995. Among her many other duties as a reporter and talk show host, she reports stories each Monday on local history, a segment she calls “A Place we call Home.”


The Venice Heritage Dinner will be held May 25th at the Venice Yacht Club, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $60 and may be purchased ON THIS PAGE. Proceeds from the evening will be used to complete restoration of the Lord-Higel House.


Venice Heritage recently enjoyed a conversation with Ms. Carson about her career, some of her favorite local historical landmarks, and what’s left on her bucket list to accomplish.

VHI: If you had not become a reporter, what do you think you would be doing today?
LC: I decided I wanted to be a reporter while reading the old “Brenda Starr” comic strips in the newspaper when I was a kid. Brenda Starr was a reporter for a newspaper and that’s what I thought I would do. Also, I think I would have loved to be a police detective. I love watching TV stories about them. I’d love solving crimes, but I’d never make it because I’m too much of a coward. I’d be scared to go out searching for the criminals alone in the dark.

VHI: What do you consider some of the more memorable stories you’ve covered during your career?
LC: I started in Atlanta in 1964, and I reported on Dr. Martin Luther King and his wife constantly. Being on the scene during the fight for integration, watching Dr. King and the changes he brought about, was truly amazing. I remember my camera man, Clarence Gordon, and me sitting on the floor of Dr. King’s home, arguing with him that non-violent resistance would never work. And Dr. King took the time to explain to us why he thought it would work. Another personal life changing moment for me occurred when I was sent to interview the head coach at Georgia Tech, Bud Carson. I ended up having dinner with him that night, and we were married for 35 years. Since coming to ABC7, most memorable stories, I was in the room with President Bush on 9/11, and I interviewed serial killer, Danny Rolling, about how to avoid becoming the victim of a killer. I also witnessed in person, along with the families of his victims, his execution.

VHI: You do a segment on local history every week. Are you afraid of running out of stories to cover?
LC: Yes, I am. I am always afraid I won’t find anything for the coming week, and so far, something has always appeared. So if you have any suggestions, please let me know.
My favorites? Oh, I would have loved being in Venice when the Kentucky Military Institute was here. I graduated from high school in 1956, so I can just imagine the fun those girls my age had, with both local boys and boys from Kentucky Military Institute competing for their attention. I also find it amazing that Venice is a planned community. That the founding fathers actually sat down and drew up a picture, a map of exactly what they thought an ideal town should look like, where each thing should be, and then built it just like it was planned. Most cities just spring up haphazardly, with no rhyme or reason.

VHI: Why is history important? Why do you think it is important to maintain one’s heritage?
LC: History shows us how the world works. Or, at least, how it has worked up to this point. It shows how achievements were accomplished and how mistakes were made. And by looking back, you can often see how terrible mistakes could have been avoided. One thing we can learn on the Suncoast, financially, it’s always been a boon time followed by bust, then boon again. This can make you both cautious and courageous. If you look to history, when times are bad, hang in there, it’s going to get better. And when times are great, better save your money, it’s not going to last forever.
When I look back at my own personal heritage, I can see I have it really lucky, and I feel an obligation not to let my ancestors down. They worked so hard, endured so many things, like World Wars, the Great Depression, and personal losses with bravery and faith. It makes me want to be the best person I can possibly be.

VHI: If you could cover any story or conduct an interview with any person, what would it be? What is left on Linda Carson’s bucket list?
LC: If I could interview anybody, I guess it would be Jesus. I’d ask him why bad things happen to good people. I’d sure like to have that explained.
As for what’s left on my bucket list, in a word: traveling. In the last 12 months, I’ve been to Israel with my son, South Africa with my best friend, and I’m going to Ireland with my daughter-in-law and granddaughter in July. Also on my bucket list: spending time with my children, grandchildren, family and friends. And I hope to continue working as long as possible. I love meeting new people, hearing new ideas, learning new things, and seeing new sights. Life is good!