Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Greatest Show on Sarasota!

Those of us who live in Sarasota, Florida are so fortunate to reside in a town where art, music and theater thrive. What’s better than lounging on the Number One Beach all day and then enjoying a great production at the Sarasota Opera, an exhibit at the Ringling Museum or a concert at The Van Wezel? There are also monthly art walks, professional classes and world class entertainment which are offered every evening in Sarasota.
If you grew up on Sarasota or have lived here a long time, you might be familiar with the history of the Sarasota Opera building which used to be the Florida Theatre. First of all, ‘Downtown’ was the ONLY place to go – there were no malls. When I was a kid in my early moving-going days, this was where I went with my buddies on Saturday. For 25 cents, we had the bus ride at 5 cents each way (I lived near the Ringling Museum) the movie entry for a dime and 5 cents for box of candy and a soda!  We would have a full morning of cartoons and a feature movie…usually Commander Cody and his Jet Pack!

It was called the ‘Florida Theatre’ back in my day but this building is now the Sarasota Opera House and was first the Edwards Theatre, built in 1926 by A.B. Edwards, Sarasota's first mayor. "It was more than just a movie theatre, it was for vaudeville, live entertainment played here, there were some retail establishments downstairs, some apartments upstairs and some offices upstairs," says my Cardinal Mooney classmate and Sarasota County historian Jeff LaHurd. The Florida Theatre bought it in 1936. "When they were renovating this place, Jane Mansfield signed her name with 42, 26, 36 next to it." The Academy Award winning film The Greatest Show on Earth, filmed in Sarasota, had its Florida premier there in 1952 – my wife’s mother watched as they filmed it! And…did you know that Elvis Presley played there in 1956?  The evening show was a dollar for adults, 50 cents for kids.

After almost five decades, the Florida Theater closed its doors in 1973. In 1979, the Sarasota Opera Association bought the building and spent $7 million restoring it. Then in 2008, a $20 million renovation turned it into a world class facility. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, it is gorgeous and one of the most popular venues in Sarasota. Sarasota Opera's mission includes the mandate "to entertain, enrich, and educate our communities, as well as patrons from across the state and around the world."

Then there was The Ritz Theater, which asked for 5 cents and an RC Bottle cap for entry. (There was a Dixie Lee’s Bar next door where my Dad would toss back a few!) The Ritz was originally The ‘Virginian’, and was opened by B.D. Robinson in 1916. Initially a vaudeville house, it began showing motion pictures a few months after opening. The Virginian became ‘The Sarasota’ sometime in the 20's, and then changed its name to The Ritz in 1934. The Ritz was the first of the two major downtown theaters to close. It was operated by Florida State Theaters in its later years and the building was demolished in 1968. But both The Ritz and The Florida theaters got many quarters from me and many hours of entertainment! 

Be sure to ready my HomeTown Blog about my memories of Sarasota's Drive-In movies:

And...if you are looking to buy or sell a home in the Sarasota, Bradenton, Englewood area, (or discuss Commander Cody!) I'm your Home Town Guy! Call Ron Beahm at Re/Max Alliance Group - 941-315-1185.

Sources and Credits: Sarasota History Alive,,,

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

My wife Liz and I have been enjoying going to the Tampa Bay Ray’s games at Tropicana Field for many years…sadly, they aren’t having such a great season this year. But we don’t care! Once a fan, always a fan and we support our ‘home team’ - it matters not whether they win. 

Even though Sarasota doesn’t really have our own home team now (other than the Orioles Spring Training games), baseball has been part of Sarasota’s history and lifestyle since the 1920's when the City of Sarasota wanted to bring a major league team to Sarasota and began developing Payne Park.

Once built, the new Payne Park baseball diamond met one of the stipulations of John McGraw, owner of the New York Giants, for bringing his team to Sarasota for spring training. Thus began Sarasota's continuing relationship with major league baseball. After trying to bring the Philadelphia Athletics and the New York Yankees, Sarasota got the New York Giants to hold spring training at Payne Park beginning in 1924.

After the New York Giants left in the spring of 1927, Sarasota wanted another major league team but nothing could be arranged. In 1929, the Sports Committee arranged for the Indianapolis Indians, to train at Payne Park. Having the Indians spring train at Payne Park provided much needed tourism to the Sarasota area. With the end of the land boom and the beginning of the Great Depression era, money was in short supply in both the city and county. As the Great Depression was affecting businesses all over the country, including baseball, the Indians decided to train closer to home.

The Sports Committee again took on the task of looking for another team to replace the Indians. They made arrangements with the Boston Red Sox to come train in Sarasota in the spring of 1933. The Red Sox agreed to play one season and if they approved of the playing park and conditions, they would return the following year. The Red Sox agreed to return in 1934 and continued to spring train in Sarasota until 1958. From the time Ted Williams drove up to the Sarasota Terrace Hotel in "an old jalopy" as a Boston Red Sox rookie, until the Sox concluded their spring training games in Sarasota, Williams was a popular subject in the local press and community.

The last tenant of Payne Park for spring training was the Chicago White Sox, who first arrived in 1960. After 29 years they moved to the new Ed Smith Stadium on 12th Street. Ed Smith Stadium was formerly the spring home of the Chicago White Sox (1989–1997) and the Baltimore Orioles (1991). In 1998, it replaced Plant City Stadium as the spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds remained at the facility through 2008. After Cincinnati's club moved its spring activities to Arizona, Ed Smith Stadium spent a year without major league Spring Training. From 1989 to 2009, the stadium hosted a series of Minor League Baseball teams, the Single-A Sarasota White Sox, Sarasota Red Sox, and Sarasota Reds. From 2004 until 2009, it housed the Gulf Coast League's Gulf Coast Reds. The Orioles became Ed Smith’s tenant and operator in 2010 and Liz and I have enjoyed many Spring Training games there.

Baseball is, in the truest sense, a pastime...something that amuses and serves to make time pass agreeably. In a world that demands so much of us and our limited time, there’s something to be said for passing it agreeably. It's timeless and nostalgic. No matter what, it makes you think of older times some way or another. Columnist George F. Will has said, “Baseball is a habit. The slowly rising crescendo of each game, the rhythm of the long season—these are the essentials and they are remarkably unchanged over nearly a century and a half. Of how many American institutions can that be said?” He’s right.

If you are looking to buy or sell a home in Sarasota, Florida or the surrounding areas, call me and I will make it happen…and maybe we can take a break go to a baseball game together! PLAY BALL!

Sources and Credits: Sarasota History Center, Wikipedia, Sarasota History Alive, Sarasota Herald Tribune,