Historic Structures

El Vernona-John Ringling Hotel, Sarasota Florida

Date added: September 29, 2016 Categories: Florida Hotel

The El Vernona Hotel located at 111 North Tamiami Trail was designed by New York and Sarasota architect Dwight James Baum and was constructed by the Burns Construction Company. The Mediterranean Revival style structure was designed with a brownish gold stucco facade which was ornamented with cast stone door and window enframements with additional design created by the application of wood and wrought iron balconies. The Logan Company of Louisville, Kentucky manufactured the wrought iron work for the structure. Much of the cabinet work was provided by the Evansville Planning Mill Company of Evansville, Indiana, with woodwork by the Burns Construction Company. J. J. Davis and Son were responsible for the mechanical system, ventilating, plumbing system, steam and electrical wiring, Construction cost estimates varied: it was originally estimated that the structure would exceed $500,000; however, by June of 1926 the final construction cost was set at $800,000. The El Vernona Hotel was opened to the public with an informal event on Labor Day of 1926. The Hotel was formally opened with a ball which was celebrated New Year's Eve, December 31, 1926. The hotel was named in honor of Mrs. Owen Burns, the former Vernona Hill Freeman. Contemporary press accolades included, "one of the finest in Dixieland . . . " and the epithet, "Aristocrat of Beauty."

The manager of the Hotel was Mr. Harry C. Griswold, who had formerly managed the Grand Pacific Hotel in Chicago, the Marseille and Legnori Hotels in New York City, the Tourraine Hotel in Buffalo and the Narragansett in Providence. It was noted in the contemporary press that Mr. Griswold, "is an old friend of John and Charles Ringling."

Designed in the Mediterranean Revival Style, the El Vernona displayed a melding of Spanish Colonial Revival, Spanish Renaissance Revival and Hispano-Moresque vocabulary. To dissect source prototypes is rather futile: according to contemporary architectural critic, Matlock Price, it was only necessary to enjoy the vacation architecture: "To say that the new Florida Architecture lacks seriousness is unwittingly to compliment its architects on the attainment of their real aim. They do not mean it to be serious. While they do not intend it to be frivolous, they definitely intend its picturesque informality to express the spirit of a land dedicated to long, carefree vacations."

Architect Dwight James Baum designed a remarkably romantic and picturesque structure with a chamfered observation tower, pergolaed roof gardens and ornamental wood and wrought iron balconies which provided views of the Sarasota Bay site, in addition to providing design texture. Dramatic interior/exterior spaces were created, including an open arcuated loggia located at the hyphen which connects the north and southern entrance pavillions located at the masonry superstructure of the dining hall—dinner guests could be seen one-story through the clerestory provided at the second floor terraced patio. In addition to excellence in design, excellence in craftsmanship is evident in the ornate wrought iron and wood balconies, the terra-cotta barrel roof tiles, the cast stone ornamentation, the hand-adzed appearance of the pecky cypress beams, the subtle stenciling applied to the beamed surfaces, and texture of the rough-cast stucco facade. Imported materials were also well chosen and integrated including the Tunisian and Spanish geometric patterned tiles applied to the banquettes located at the patio/roof garden terrace as well as the tiled wainscoting present in the lobby and dining room.

The builder, owner and promoter of the Hotel project, Mr. Owen Burns, spearheaded the successful development of the Broadway area. Mr. Burns'.projects included the El Vernona Hotel, the Burns Realty Office complex, located to the south of the El Vernona and the El Vernona Apartments -located to the north of the Hotel site. Mr. Burns' achievements spanned many fields including real estate—it was estimated at his death in 1937 that he had owned 75 percent of the corporate limits of the City of Sarasota (having secured the holdings of J. Hamilton Gillespie.) Mr. Burns executed one of the largest land-fill operations in the state – a land-fill which extended from this residence on North Gulf stream Avenue to Sunset Park and Golden Gate Point. The development along Broadway shifted a concentration of resort buildings to the Sarasota Bay front north of North Palm Avenue. Previously development activity was concentrated on the commercial buildings erected on Main Street. In addition to the Broadway development, Mr. Burns worked in tandem with entrepreneur John Ringling and the development of the St. Armand's holdings located on Longboat and St. Armand's Keys.

The architect of record, Dwight James Baum, maintained an office in the Riverdale section of the Bronx and an office in the Burns Realty complex located on a site to the south of the El Vernona. Mr. Baum's first major Sarasota commission was the design and execution of the Ca'd'Zan, the residence of John and Mable Ringling, which was a nationally published commission. In addition to the Ca'd'Zan, an architectural rendering of the east elevation of the El Vernona Hotel was published in the national architectural publication, The American Architect, in August, 1926. The American Architect article lauded the successful creation of a regional style of architecture particularly suited to the Florida climate and selected the Florida work of Mr. Baum as an example of "a boom development resulting in good architecture." In addition to his architectural practice, Mr. Baum published articles based on his study of California architecture — early lessons which clearly influenced his Florida designs. Baum was a remarkably facile and eclectic designer who was as adept in the execution of Georgian Revival, Italianate, Colonial Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival and English architecture. Several design aspects present in the El Vernona Hotel are derived from "The Mission Inn" at Riverside, California; in particular, the arcuated loggia located at the northwest elevation which resembles the buttressed sidewalks present at the Mission Inn. Mr. Baum was particularly fascinated with the use of wrought iron rejas used at the Mission Inn and the use of split spindles used as window grilles: "all [rooms] have shuttered doors and screens formed by splitting some balusters in two and tacking on each side of netting making both a practical and artistic door, "a practice which Mr. Baum used on the El Vernona Hotel. The El Vernona is, however, a synthesis of design sources, not a pastiche, but a well-integrated example of eclectic taste.

The El Vernona Hotel survived the Depression, re-use as rental units and abandonment. On March 10, 1983 the Buildings' Department of the City of Sarasota issued a demolition permit to the owners of the Hotel and the adjacent site.