Sources and Credits: Sarasota History Alive, Wikipedia, The Story of Sarasota
My dad built homes in Sarasota in the 1950’s-60’s and the first home he built that I remember was on Bayshore Road near Jungle Gardens. I recall loving that neighborhood, mostly because of Jungle Gardens. Our little house (pictured at the left) was practically across the street from it and my boyhood friends and I often snuck in the back gate and had many adventures amongst the gardens and wildlife. We didn't know enough to be afraid of the alligators nor did we have much appreciation of all the exotic tropical plants and trees. We were just being Tarzan! And little did I know back then that the area has been used by people since prehistoric times!
According to research conducted by the Sarasota County Historical Commission for the Indian Beach Historical Marker, the area has been used by people for at least 5,000 years! And this Florida attraction has current roots that run deep. To step into Sarasota Jungle Gardens is to take a step back into time…more than 80 years back in time.
The concept for Sarasota Jungle Gardens first came in the early 1930s when a local newspaperman named David Lindsay purchased 10 acres of land just west of U.S. 41 with grand plans to develop the virgin subtropical jungle into a botanical garden. Along with partners Pearson Conrad and H.R. Taylor, Jungle Gardens opened on New Year's Eve 1939. According to Karl Grismer in "The Story of Sarasota," the developers added thousands of plants to those already found growing in their natural state. At first called "The Sarasota Jungle," the attraction opened early due to public demand. The December 31, 1939 Sarasota Herald Tribune reported that "The garden, containing more than 3,000 varieties of plants from all parts of the world is being thrown open today only because of many requests from people who would like for their holiday guests to see Sarasota's newest and most beautiful attraction." On the following day, the Herald reported in a follow-up story that "hundreds of visitors thronged at the Sarasota Jungle, luxuriant garden spot on the Indian Beach Road at Myrtle Avenue yesterday to view Sarasota's newest attraction."
My wife also has a connection to Jungle Gardens… a humorous one. Her dad, artist John Hardy, was studying at Ringling College of Art at the time and as a ‘starving artist, also worked for David Lindsay at the Sarasota Herald Tribune as Art Director. (Her mom was Mr. Lindsay’s Executive Secretary). As a third job, John was hired by Mr. Lindsay to work at Jungle Gardens for grounds maintenance, which really meant walking around with a machete cutting weeds. One day, one of the peacocks decided to attack him and he smacked it with the side of his machete and down it went. (Peacocks can be up to 5 feet tall!). He was pretty sure he had killed it and when he found out from they guy working with him that it was Mr. Lindsay’s favorite bird, he was sure he would lose two much needed jobs. But thankfully, the bird was fine…he eventually got up and probably had a little headache, but her Dad kept his job at the Gardens and at the Herald Tribune. Mr. Lindsay never knew about ‘the attack’!
Over the years, the South Florida attraction changed hands several times. In 1971, Sarasota Jungle Gardens was purchased by Arthur C. Allyn. His daughter, Dorothy Tinney, and her family operate the Gardens today. Sarasota Jungle Gardens boasts more than 100 birds and animals, and features bird and reptile shows four times daily as well as a Tiki Garden, Shell Museum, Gift Shop and Café. Promotional literature boasts that it is the only Florida attraction which allows its Flamingo's to roam freely. Sarasota's Indian Beach neighborhood, with its featured attraction, Sarasota Jungle Gardens, has been a pleasant place to visit since prehistoric times, and remains so today. So when I visit that part of Sarasota showing property, I give a fond nod to our little house on Bayshore Road and to Sarasota Jungle Gardens…thanks for the boyhood memories!