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Venice shows that teardowns are not inevitable

Written by on Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Amid a hot construction market, the small city goes for preservation.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Apr. 12, 2024

Host: Downtown Sarasota is a hot, hot market for luxury condo developers. That, in turn, puts renewed pressure on the soon 140-year old city’s few surviving historical structures. Developers want to raze two of them – the Colson Hotel – a 1920s structure that served as a refuge for traveling African Americans – and the McAlpin house, built in 1912 by a local businessman for himself. But the wrecking ball is not inevitable, as the nearby, smaller city of Venice, demonstrates. Ramon Lopez reports.

The Lord-Higel House in 1948…

Ramon Lopez: Sarasota City Commissioners remain at an impasse on whether to save the historic McAlpin House from the wrecking ball. City of Venice leaders, on the other hand, relish their decision to protect and preserve their equally historic Lord-Higel House.

The eight-room, two-story house is the second oldest in Sarasota County. And with renovations of the 1896 Lord-Higel House on track for completion in August, the Venice City Council is seeking proposals from the public on how to best utilize the restored building.

Assistant City Manager James Clinch says the house should be more than just a museum. The public should visit it repeatedly, he believes, and renting it for public events can earn some cash to offset the cost to the city of the rebuilding project. Funding for the project also came from private donations and grants. He said potential uses for the Queen Anne Victorian-style house are unlimited. They include a coffee shop, a venue for small events such as weddings, and meeting space for civic groups and businesspeople.

We hear from James Clinch:

James Clinch: We met with local vendors in the community, and there is some interest in the facility. I think that this is a very viable opportunity, to some degree. Perhaps it’s a small bookshop, or a tea shop, coffee shop. Perhaps there’s some small events that can happen in the lawn and on the porch. Not a huge space, but certainly a great location.

RL: It’s the oldest surviving early settler home in the Venice area. It stands as a charming and historical example of the architectural style of the period. And the structure is listed in the City of Venice Local Register
of Historic Places.

In 2005, it was saved from demolition by the City of Venice’s Historic Preservation Board and moved from 811 Laguna Drive to a city-owned lot at 409 Granada Avenue, just behind City Hall.

… and today.

Volunteers have restored the exterior of the house to its original glory. They are now wrapping up work on the interior of the house. The first floor will serve as an early settler museum and welcome center.

Previously known as the Stone Grove House, it was renamed the Lord-Higel House in honor of Joseph Lord, who built it, and George Higel, its first occupant. Lord was at one time the largest landholder in Sarasota County and a real estate promoter. Higel managed Lord’s orange groves.

James Clinch says the Lord-Higel House should be a shared.

JC: If you add up all of the funding that the city has contributed and the private donations that have gone into this, well over $1 million worth of capital, countless, thousands of volunteer hours that have gone into this project, and over 20 years of input, so we want to honor this investment by providing a public return on that investment. So the main goal that we have is that it’s not closed off, right? At the end of the day, it’s something that is open and accessible to the public on a pretty regular basis, so that people can get that benefit and enjoyment from the facility.

RL: This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.