The Sarasota Yacht and Automobile Club

By | May 27, 2013

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sarasota-yatch-autoIn 1912, the newly organized Sarasota Yacht and Automobile Club purchased a 100-foot lot with two-story boathouse on Cedar Point, which today is next to where the Watergate Condominium grounds front the southeast corner of Gulf Stream Avenue, near U.S. 41.

At that time, Gulf Stream Avenue did not extend that far west and the low area was used mostly by fishermen and boat builders. By the middle of the following year, a seawall had been built far enough into Sarasota Bay to create – once fill was added – space for attractive landscaping and a driveway.

Soon after purchasing the Cedar Point property, the club announced, through the Sarasota Times, that members had approved Alex Browning’s plans for their new clubhouse. (Browning had arrived in Sarasota as a teen. His family was among the colonists who came from Scotland in 1885.) It was to have two stories that would be built 10 feet off the ground to provide a concrete floor space for car storage.

Porches were designed for both the sides and the front of each story. The first floor would include a 400-seat auditorium with stage and the second floor would contain banquet and private dining rooms, a billiard and pool room, pantry, bath rooms, and five bedrooms for rent.

When the building was completed in the fall, the Times reported some changes in design. On the ground floor was an enclosed basement with gymnasium, bathroom and showers and kitchen with dumbwaiter to serve the second floor dining area. The first floor contained a main room with fireplaces at either end, plus billiard and card rooms.

The second floor included dining rooms, library, a lounging room and “one for ladies’use.” On top was a 20-foot cupola, which was furnished with chairs and hammocks for enjoying the 360 degree viewing of the city and its marvelous sunsets. The exterior was painted white with green trim and the interior was plaster with dark green stained woodwork.

A dinner dance opened the clubhouse on January 16, 1913. Invitations suggested that the attendees park their autos and carriages in an open lot between Park and Banana Avenue, as the street was in poor condition. They were to then walk to the clubhouse on the new sidewalk, which was lined that night with Japanese lanterns. The newly formed Sarasota Brass Band, along with other instrumentalists, provided music for dancing and prizes were awarded to winners of the game of Progressive 500.

The club soon experienced lean times. By May 1916, the Times reported that it was reorganizing. Failure to pay the mortgage interest resulted in the club having to vacate the building by the end of August. It then became home to the Sarasota Naval Militia until the United States entered the First World War the following spring and the militia left for the Charleston Naval Yards.

Shortly before the militia vacated the Sarasota Yacht and Automobile Club, John Ringling purchased it. It was the first property acquisition not associated with his home, and marked the beginning of his investment in Sarasota real estate. By the early 1920s, the porches and ground floor open area were closed in and the clubhouse was converted into the Sunset Apartments. Its nine units provided bay views until the building was demolished in 1964.

Courtesy of Sarasota History Alive!


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