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LaHurd: In Sarasota, a historic look at Lido Beach's casino - News - Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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LaHurd: In Sarasota, a historic look at Lido Beach's casino - News - Sarasota Herald-Tribune

A look back at the history and cultural significance of the iconic Lido Beach pavilions and casino

Lido beach has been fraught with bad news lately: the ever-eroding shore, this year’s particularly horrible red-tide, and the controversy about whether or not the pavilion should be updated with a new restaurant and tiki hut beach bar. Add the existential threat of rising sea level and you have a sad picture.

A far cry from its glory days when Lido Beach was one of the major jewel’s in Sarasota’s crown of go-to destinations. That distinction ended with the destruction of the iconic Lido Casino. And if you lived here or visited Lido through the 1960s, you know what a significant loss the citizens suffered.

It stood on the beach as an architectural gem, as blindingly white as the surrounding sand. Designed by Ralph Twitchell, considered the dean of what became known as the Sarasota School of Architecture, it provided a unique Art Deco playground, a multifaceted recreational haven that became the hub for all manner of events in Sarasota: political rallies, dining, drinking and dancing, proms, club meetings, sporting events, beauty pageants — everything.

If you visited there as a child, you remember splashing in the shallow round wading pool; as a teenager the AAU size swimming pool with its high and low diving boards, and snack bar; as an adult the Low Tide Bar & Grill, or dancing in the Casa Marina Lounge to the music of popular bandleader, Rudy Bundy and his “sizzling clarinet.”

The second floor balcony with its stoic sea horses starring in the distance provided the perfect spot to sit and watch the goings on below. Countless photographs were taken in front of them.

The Casino was situated on two acres of property with 1,300 feet of beach frontage. Its presence all the more the striking because it stood nearly alone on the entire beach; the only other nearby building, the two-story Lido Beach Hotel that was barged there in sections by Sam Gumpertz in 1932.

At the time of the Casino’s opening, Sarasota had weathered the 1920's land bust, suffered through the Great Depression and was facing World War II, then raging in Europe. The only bright spots to cheer about were the Works Progress Administration projects provided by the Federal Government. In this, we were fortunate as they boosted morale and added much needed employment.

The WPA provided Sarasota three major buildings: the Post Office on Orange Avenue, still in use as offices; the Municipal Auditorium on the Tamiami Trail, continues to host numerous events; and the Lido Casino, razed in 1969.

A chamber suggestion

The idea for the Casino was put forward by Sarasota’s chamber of commerce in 1936.

Always looking for ways to increase tourism, particularly during the usually slow summer months, real estate man and civic leader Roger Flory suggested that the city provide a municipal bathing beach. That idea was expanded to include a bathing facility. The chamber met with the city council, which formed its own committee and these two groups pursued the goal.

The site determined the most desirable was a stretch of Lido Beach owned by the estate of John Ringling, then under the control of Ringling’s nephew and co-executor of his estate, John Ringling North.

Meetings between North and Mayor Verman Kimbrough resulted in an agreement wherein the property would be deeded to the city for $35,000, which would immediately be paid back to the city for delinquent taxes.

The chairman of the chamber’s construction committee, architect Albert Moore Saxe drew up a tentative plan for “an Hawaiian-style casino.” It was called Sarasands and a line drawing appeared in the Sunday edition of the Sarasota Herald on February 6, 1938.

The Casino was leased by F.E. Price who added thousands of dollars decorating and outfitting the complex. He hired chefs who specialized in French, Italian, and Chinese cuisine.

The commission, however, was awarded to Ralph Twitchell whose sketch, which bore a strong resemblance to Saxe’s, appeared in the paper on July 20, 1938.

An immediate hit

Touted as the most beautiful building of its type in Florida, the Casino was an immediate hit with locals and visitors when it opened on May 23, 1940. For the grand opening celebration on December 28th of that year, 1,600 invitations were sent to dignitaries throughout the state, and letters and telegrams of congratulations poured in.

The Sunset Room, the main dining area, was said to be stunning and startling in its brilliance and color harmony. On the gulf side of the room, sliding windows disappeared into the wall leaving an “Unobstructed view of the matchless gulf sunsets and pounding waters of the gulf.”

It was during the war years that the Casino was a big money maker. The Sarasota Army Airbase housed 3,500 trainees, slightly more at the Venice Airbase, plus McDill in Tampa and Carlstrom Field in Arcadia. The Casino was a perfect spot for soldiers on leave. Buses left from Five points every half hour from 7:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. For a five cent bus ride, an entire day could be spent enjoying resort living at its best.

Nationally known bandleader, Rudy Bundy played music to dance to in the Casino ballroom, drinks could be downed in the Castaways Bar, decorated by Price to look like a sailing ship wrecked on a tropical island. Pieces of the ship, its cargo, and native materials were displayed to give the appearance of a surviving nobleman’s quarters.

By the late 1950s, the Casino was obviously aging before its time, and there were cries to bring it back to its glory days. Its ticket to salvation was a bond referendum in 1964 called Programs for Progress. The referendum earmarked $250,000  “for the purpose of remodeling, modernizing and improving Lido Beach Casino including providing facilities suitable for conventions …” The vote was 3362 for the bond and 1620 against.

The demolition of the Casino is somewhat of a local mystery. The question “WHY?” always comes up in conversation regarding its demise.

If there is a smoking gun about the commission's decision to raze the building in spite of the 1964 vote to save it, it may never be revealed. During the long ago day before Government in the Sunshine became the law of the land, city commissioners and city manager, Ken Thompson often drove to commission meetings in his four-door Pontiac, large enough to transport the six as they discussed city business on the way to their meetings, ironically, often at the Casino.

Of the five city commissioners, only Jack Betz who had been a lifeguard at the Casino in his youth, voted to refurbish the building as per the referendum. As he told me in a 1991 interview, “The people voted to remodel it. We didn’t do that and I think it was wrong — I still think it was.”

Thompson’s view was that the citizens voted by not using the facility as they had in the past. To underscore his point, cabana usage in Fiscal 1957-58 generated $12,850 while in 1966-67 that number fell to $2,576. He went on to tell me, “In examining the circumstances leading to the demise of the Lido Casino, it had been determined that the facility was no longer capable of serving its original public purpose, manifest by the decline in use by the public …”

Questions of soundness

And there was talk that the Casino was not structurally sound. Twitchell’s son, architect Tollyn Twitchell who had a rehab plan, indicated, “It appears relatively obvious that someone wanted a clear reason to have it down. If it were in first class shape, it would have been in competition with the hotels and motels and draw away from their food business.”

In 1965, the city hired engineers David Kaisrlik and William A. Snell to inspect the casino to see if it was sound enough to proceed with the renovation. They reported that, indeed, it was.

As to its structural integrity, Edwin Beasley, formerly of Sommer’s Wrecking Company which was tasked with razing the Casino, stated, “It was hard as a rock. If they would have left it alone, it would have stood for five hundred years.”

Except for the vote of 1964, public input was minimal. There was no Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation, no STOP and no Save the Pavilion movement.

Reports in the area newspapers painted a picture that the Casino was slated to come back better than ever. On Jan. 1, 1969 a month before its destruction, a front page article in the Herald showcased the Casino with the caption, “Here visitors and residents flock to Lido Beach at the Casino in Sarasota.” There was no warning that the Casino was in harm’s way.

A photo on March 29, 1969 captured the real story. It pictured a gentleman standing near a palm tree surrounded by mangled steel and concrete with the caption: “Where Lido Once Stood. A quiet desolation settles around the rubble of the once-gay Lido Beach Casino.”

The curtain had dropped on yesterday’s Sarasota. Today’s version began with gala premiere of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Jan. 5, 1970.

Read more http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNEGhs6QaGoUXNFeEHnWszLVOcWyhg&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&ei=xCe8W7-oJMnchAHY2IKQDQ&url=https://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20181008/lahurd-in-sarasota-historic-look-at-lido-beachs-casino

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