As cranes arch over the Sarasota skyline and new developers expand their footprint into the profit-rich local real estate market, where rents, home and condo prices are soaring, there are those who aim to preserve a slice of history.

"Some of these buildings are sitting ducks," says Erin DiFazio, a restoration designer and realtor specializing in historic homes, who worries that ideal locations, amid high-density building opportunities, may lead to the demolition of cherished sites.

The Van Wezel was featured in a Sarasota-themed Saks Fifth Avenue snow globe.

The Van Wezel was featured in a Sarasota-themed Saks Fifth Avenue snow globe.

She’s also president of the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation, which collaborates with the History and Preservation Coalition of Sarasota County in an effort to educate and advocate for unprotected historic sites. This year marks its third annual "Six to Save" initiative, and if you've lived here for more than five minutes, you'll probably recognize at least one of this year's nominees. 

The nominees are the Cuneo estate, the Mel-O-Dee Restaurant, The Van Wezel Performing Arts HallSnook Haven, The Lindh Building, and Dr. Fred Albee's previous home, Point of Palms. (You can see the 2020 nominees here and last year's here.)

How did these buildings get nominated?

Unlike historic gems like the Belle Haven or the Umbrella House, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, these buildings have no such protections. In fact, many of this year's nominees are in dire need of repairs and restoration, and some are for sale, adding more barriers to preservation since owners can cash in, rather than enter a potential economic sinkhole. The solutions are community-driven.

Modeled after the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 to Save program, the aim of the citizen-powered Six to Save is to draw attention to the treasure trove of local historic properties and motivate citizens to help save them.

"If a building doesn't have an active, sustainable use, we can have a workshop to draw on people to brainstorm how to fund or make it work and deep dive into potential future uses," DiFazio says. "Sometimes the owners need grants for funding sources and they don't know where to begin. Other times they just need more community awareness, like the Philippi Crest Community Clubhouse, which we nominated last year. The exposure can connect the building to the preservation community and we can work from there."

An old photo of the Mel-O-Dee diner on Tamiami Trail

An old photo of the Mel-O-Dee Restaurant on North Tamiami Trail in Sarasota

Right now, the Lindh building has become a canvas for some local graffiti artists. The Mel-O-Dee Restaurant, on North Tamiami Trail, lost its iconic sign due to a nearby car accident last year, but it's practically an institution—every local still knows its name without it. Vintage, matchboxes and postcards of the old diner are on Ebay for roughly $8.

The Van Wezel is similarly etched in the memory of buildings that define Sarasota. Saks Fifth Avenue's signature Christmas snow globe of Sarasota placed the purple cow under a palm tree.

Residents are encouraged to join the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation and participate in City of Sarasota and Sarasota County meetings that weigh rezoning, planning and development, and demolitions.

Show Comments