Entertainment: Hotels, Golf Courses, and More

With Sarasota still serving mostly as a resort town for Northerners, these tourists needed places to stay and things to do while enjoying the Florida weather. Thus, in Sarasota, the 1910s saw an increase in the construction of hotels, golf courses, and more. 

Between the Hotel Watrous, the Belle Haven Inn, and three other hotels, by 1917, Sarasota offered fine temporary housing to its visitors. It was during the Great War that these two hotels took their top form. On January 13, 1916, the Sarasota-Times published an update on “building activities” in Sarasota. The column reported a seven to eight thousand dollar renovation on the Hotel Watrous, built in 1912, adding porches, support columns, a fireplace, and an elevator.1 All together, these renovations provided Sarasota with “one of the very first class commercial as well as a fine tourist hotel.”2

In the same article, the paper reported on the $20,000 construction of a “fine opera house” on Main Street. The feature optimistically concluded that such additions would “indeed give Main street a new appearance and cause visitors to our city to admire our remarkable and wonderful improvements.”3

Fig. 1 Postcard depicting the Watrous Hotel.
Fig. 1 Postcard depicting the Watrous Hotel.

The May 18, 1916 issue included a description of Sarasota’s five hotels. The article’s opening stated that the hotels of Sarasota “are as modern; as conveniently arranged; as sanitary and as ideally situated as it is possible to find any place in this country.” The description of the Belle Haven celebrated its verandas from which the view “of the entire bay front can not be surpassed.”  Each room’s furniture was described with the utmost enthusiasm. The twenty private bathrooms and twelve suites with fireplaces were celebrated as just parts of what made the Belle Haven so well known.4 

Fig. 2 Sarasota-Times, May 18, 1916.
Fig. 2 Sarasota-Times, May 18, 1916.

The piece also wrote about the Florida House, a much smaller establishment than the Belle Haven. The Times specified that the hotel “caters to the better class of artisans and their families.” The hotel’s proprietors stated that, “Sarasota is the ‘coming’ town of Florida, and that it is only a matter of a little time until Sarasota will have one of the finest and largest hotels on the West Coast.”5

These hotels served as a hub for visiting and local fisherman. Pictured below is a fisherman displaying his catch in front of the Belle Haven Inn. 

Fig. 3 Fisherman with his catch in front of the Belle Haven Inn.
Fig. 3 Fisherman with his catch in front of the Belle Haven Inn.
Fig. 4 Sarasota-Times, June 29, 1916.
Fig. 4 Sarasota-Times, June 29, 1916.

Besides fishing, in the 1910s, the city began pushing golf as a main tourist attraction. But first, a proper course needed to be built. The Sarasota-Times began advocating the construction of a golf course in 1916. In that year, the paper published an interview with Joseph Downey, a visitor of Chicago, about the importance of a golf course to Sarasota tourism. In response to the potential role of a golf course as an advertisement for a city, Mr. Downey stated, “I think it the best advertisement possible for any town, and especially do I think this so for Sarasota.”6  This endorsement came a month after the Times interviewed locals about their opinion of the golf links and a municipal pier, resulting in an overwhelmingly positive response. Fig. 4 is just a selection of the quotes that the paper printed. 

Fig. 5 Sarasota-Times, January 11, 1917.
Fig. 5 Sarasota-Times, January 11, 1917.

Apparently such positive sentiment continued, because, at the hands of Owen Burns, the golf course was successfully built. According to the Sarasota-Times‘ description of the course’s opening, the affair was quite grand. This appropriately represented the high hopes of city officials and resident’s alike for the course to attract visitors, but specifically those with deep pockets. The paper connected the appeal of the course to further development by writing, 

There is an intimate connection between the auto and golf. By bringing in the class of people interested in this game so popular among the wealthy, there will be a strong stimulus applied to the demand for good roads and the opening up for use as estates, groves and farms of a great territory now idle.7

In other words, the construction of a golf course represented more than just a great tourist attraction, but rather a means for even further growth and prosperity for Sarasota. Today, Sarasota County has over 90 golf courses.8

Displayed below are two brochures from the 1910s detailing what the scenic community of Sarasota had to offer. Note that as both brochures were published by the Sarasota Board of Trade, they present an extremely positive look at the town. Mouseover the images and use the arrows to explore these brochures and gain insight into how Sarasota’s boosters promoted the city:

 

 


Image Citations:

Fig. 1. “Hotel Watrous Postcard,” courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources, Sarasota, Florida.

Fig. 2. “The Hotels Of Sarasota,” Sarasota-Times, May 18, 1916, courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources, Sarasota, Florida.

Fig. 3. “Fish at the Belle Haven Inn,” courtesy of Harriet Burns Stieff, Sarasota, Florida.

Fig. 4. “The Times Interviews As Many As Could Be Seen,” Sarasota-Times, June 29, 1916, courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources, Sarasota, Florida.

Fig. 5. “Formal Opening Of Golf Course,” Sarasota-Times, January 11, 1917, courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources, Sarasota, Florida.

Brochures: “Sarasota Florida and the Sarasota Bay District of Manatee County,” brochure, courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources, Sarasota, Florida, issued by Sarasota Board of Trade, Sarasota, Florida, 1914-1915.

“Souvenir of Sarasota, Fla.,” brochure, courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources, Sarasota, Florida, approved by Sarasota Board of Trade, Sarasota, Florida, 1918.   

Footnotes

  1. Mark D. Smith, “The Watrous Hotel Overlooked Sarasota Bay,” Sarasota History Alive, www.sarasotahistoryalive.com/stories/journals-of-yesteryear/the-watrous-hotel-overlooked-sarasota-bay/ (accessed March 26, 2015).
  2. “Building Activities,” Sarasota-Times, January 13, 1916.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “The Hotels Of Sarasota,” Sarasota-Times, May 18, 1916.
  5. Ibid.
  6. “Jos. Downey Favors Links,” Sarasota-Times, August 31, 1916.
  7. “Formal Opening Of Golf Course,” Sarasota-Times, January 11, 1917.
  8. “Sarasota, Florida Golf Courses,” Golf Link, www.golflink.com/golf-courses/city.aspx?dest=Sarasota+fl (accessed March 28, 2015).