Article by Tom McArdle courtesy of Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation
The North Trail – the stretch of U.S. 41 or Tamiami Trail north of downtown Sarasota, has been the primary gateway into the City for over a hundred years.
It is still the most scenic route from the airport and points north to the City’s downtown, with historical structures from the City’s 20th century evolution intermingled with new 21st Century development.
The Belle Haven* , an historic gem amid a sea of modernity, is a three-story Mediterranean Revival structure originally built as the Broadway Apartments in 1925 when that section of the Trail was known as Central Broadway and had been designated to accommodate upscale development. Shortly thereafter it was sold to Owens Burns and re-named the El Verona Apartment.
As Jeff LaHurd wrote in the Herald-Tribune on May 20, 2014 “…Furnished by Gimbel Brothers of New York, the building contained 20 apartments consisting of a living room and dining room combination, tile bath and bedroom with twin beds. Also offered in the package were maid and janitorial service, a roof garden, kitchenettes with electric ranges, linens, silverware, dumbwaiters in each apartment.”
The Belle Haven is a stand out amid the historic structures located along the Trail. It is located in the Quay Sarasota Waterfront District that runs north from the Ringling Causeway to the Civic Center and the West Trail. As when it was originally built, it is highly visible from Tamiami Trail and has been surrounded by vacant land for over 10 years. Soon though, it will be encapsulated by construction of the new Quay multi-use development, which according to the developer, Greene Point Communities, will feature “…a dense, mixed use, urban district allowing for a range of uses including department stores, entertainment facilities, restaurants, offices, lodging and residential uses”.
The Belle Haven stands out as the sole surviving structure in the Quay from the 1920s land boom in Sarasota. That the building still exists is attributable to its inclusion on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The Belle Haven was last used as office space in the 1980s. Long vacant, Greene Pointe will be overseeing the restoration of the designated elements of the building, including its exterior (including windows and doors), an interior light well in the center of the building and the internal stairwells.
During the 20s, another notable new building in the Quay District included the high rise 150 room El Verona Hotel, also completed in 1926 by Owen Burns. The El Verona was later bought by John Ringling, renamed the John Ringling Hotel, and later the Ringling Towers upon its conversion to apartments in the 1960s. Despite determined efforts to save the El Verona, a project that acted as a catalyst for the formation of SAHP, it was torn down in 1998 to make way for the Ritz Carlton Hotel.
Other smaller and less significant structures were demolished on the 10-acre site in the early 1980s to make way for the original Quay development. That project consisted of a mixed-use retail, restaurant & office complex which opened in 1985. This project never reached its potential, was sold in 2004 and subsequently torn down in 2006.
The new high-rise Ritz Carlton Condominium is currently under construction by Kolter Development and will soon be joined by other phases of the new Quay. To its credit, Greenpointe features the Belle Haven on its web site for the Quay and its restoration seems assured. Once the Quay is fully built out, the Belle Haven will still be there but just a bit harder to see from the Trail.
The SAHP is currently preparing to publish a history of the North Trail, written by Jeff LaHurd, a pre-eminent local historian. This work encompasses many of the Trail’s historic elements, including the Belle Haven Apartments.
“The Quay Sarasota”. Greenpointe Communities LLC. Web Site.
Admin, Clio and Ben M. “El Verona Hotel-John Ringling Hotel (1926-1998) and the Sarasota Ritz-Carlton (2001).” Guide to History. October 15, 2018. https://www.theclio.com/entry/67527
Herald Tribune, May 20, 2014. “Belle Haven building opened during Roaring ’20s” by Jeff LaHurd.
Sept. 4, 2016. “The Legacy of Owen Burns” by Jeff LaHurd.
July 15, 2006. “Quay demolition in Full Swing” by Kevin McQuaid.
Sarasota Magazine. June 11, 2018. “New Life for the Grand Old Belle Haven” by Ilene Denton.
The Tampa Tribune. July 22, 1988. “Troubled Complex May Finally Live Up To Billing”. By Michael Sznajderman.
National Trust For Historic Preservation. “Belle Haven Nomination Proposal, May 1983”. Division of Archives.
Simply Sarasota. “The Belle Haven Inn.”
* The Belle Haven Apartment history is often confused with the Belle Haven Hotel, which was originally the Desoto Hotel (not to be confused with Sara DeSota, our social media persona, who’s the contributor to our Facebook page for the Historical Society.) For more on that historic building, stay tuned to our Articles Collection here on HSoSC.com