The historic Belle Haven building sits on the Sarasota bayfront like a flapper in an embroidered cloche hat with a jade cigarette holder who’s been forced into a Zoom meeting. Perched between the 10-floor Hyatt Regency and the gleaming new 18-story Ritz-Carlton condo tower on 15 bayfront acres being developed under the umbrella of the Quay Sarasota, the Mediterranean Revival apartment building opened in 1926 and just hit the market for $12.5 million.
The three-story Belle Haven has kept its good looks. Designed by architect Dwight James Baum, Belle Haven was originally known as Broadway Apartments and was one of the buildings in the Broadway Development that also included the Baum-designed John Ringling Towers and the headquarters of the Sarasota Times newspaper–now the upscale restaurant and bar Sage. After Belle Haven was completed, developer Owen Burns bought the building for $250,000 and named it El Vernona Apartments. When real estate crashed in the late ’20s, Sarasota resident Elmer Whittle took it over and renamed it Belle Haven.
“It is the last of the historic buildings that were once on that site,” says Tony Souza of the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation. “By 1935, no further development had occurred in the area and all the other historic buildings on the Quay site were demolished.”
When it opened, Belle Haven had 20 furnished apartments. Residents had maid and janitorial services, a roof garden, kitchenettes with electric ranges, linens, silverware and dumbwaiters in each apartment. Boasting “modern day living,” its restrictions forbid cattle, horses and poultry. “Furnished by Gimbels in New York, it was considered a very swanky building for people coming in the wintertime, and it attracted a lot of women because it was a safe place to be,” Souza says.
By the 1970s, it was an affordable apartment building. Tim Solomon and Janet “Jan” Hamel Solomon made it their first home as newlyweds in 1977. The Solomons, who own Key Sailing Charters, are thrilled it still stands and make sure to point out its charming silhouette to guests on their charter tours. “We went straight from our wedding night on Longboat Key to our first home, apartment 3-G,” Jan says. “It was the most beautiful building I had seen in my life."
At the time, there was no elevator and their one-bedroom apartment cost $134 a month to rent—except for a one-time $9 increase during the five years they lived there. When a child was on the way, the Solomons moved to a larger home, but they say they would love to see their first home become a hub that combines history and tourism.
Fortunately, the building has some protection. In 1984, Belle Haven was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was converted into 1,700- to 2,000-square-foot offices.
A previous owner, Irish American Management Services, headed by Patrick Kelly, in 2004 announced plans for a $1 billion commercial and residential development on the site that included Belle Haven and Sarasota Quay, a massive pink multiuse development of upscale restaurants, retail, offices and a popular nightclub that was built in the 1980s. Kelly demolished Sarasota Quay in 2006 and said he would move and preserve Belle Haven. The real estate collapse during the Great Recession halted the project and led to foreclosure in 2013. Current owner GreenPointe Communities bought the entire Quay property the next year for $27 million.
During the transition, Belle Haven stood forlorn, vacant and boarded up, an odd sight for what may be one of the most coveted pieces of real estate in the county. It even made its way onto a national list of haunted places, where one site contributor described capturing “many pictures of orbs” and a “body apparition.”
No matter how it will eventually be used, Belle Haven is still beautiful. GreenPointe Communities rehabilitated it, and its stucco and cast stone exterior, barrel tile roof and iconic cupola stand strong. The 20,605-square-foot interior has been stripped down to what's known in the industry as a “gray shell,” allowing a new owner the flexibility to build it out as they choose. The doors, interior light well in the center of the building, pecky cypress ceiling beams on the first floor and the internal stairwells have been preserved.
And it’s still located along a coveted stretch of waterfront in downtown Sarasota, with 475 feet of frontage along the lagoon next to Sarasota Bay, and close proximity to theaters, shopping, parks and St. Armands Circle. Zoned “downtown bayfront,” Belle Haven could be permitted for anything from a restaurant to retail to a private residence.
“The other buildings will be very modern, so it'll be the rose among the thorns,” Souza says.
So far, Lee Delieto Jr. of Michael Saunders & Company, who is marketing the property for GreenPointe, has shown it to a restaurateur, investors, and a previous owner, and anticipates seeing a round of offers roll in in the next couple of weeks.
Interested? Belle Haven is located at 601 Quay Commons, Sarasota. According to the Sarasota County property appraiser, it sold for the same price 32 years ago when it was being developed as Sarasota Quay. Contact Lee Delieto Jr., (941) 323-0060, of Michael Saunders & Company.