Vintage Sarasota: Mira Mar Auditorium Transformed Downtown

The historic Mira Mar auditorium in downtown Sarasota was crucial to the city's growth in the early 20th century.

By Larry Kelleher July 29, 2014

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In the early 1920s, Sarasota was poised for the beginning of the great Florida land boom. The city was looking for someone to build a first-class hotel so it could compete with other cities in Florida. In early 1922, Andrew McAnsh appeared on the scene and went about changing the look of downtown Sarasota.

McAnsh, based out of Chicago, was induced to come to Sarasota by W.C. Towles, who had wintered in Sarasota for several years. Towles realized that the city needed a new hotel to replace the Belle Haven Inn, which was built in 1897 (as the DeSoto Hotel).

In the spring of 1922, McAnsh arrived in Sarasota and met with Mayor E.J. Bacon, City Attorney John F. Burket, Sarasota City Council members and the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. The City of Sarasota agreed that if McAnsh would build a hotel, an apartment house and a natatorium (indoor swimming pool), they would not levy any taxes on the properties for 10 years and would provide them with free electricity and water.

This was too good to refuse. McAnsh returned to Chicago to form the Mira Mar (meaning “Sea View”) Corporation. With investors in hand, McAnsh returned to Sarasota and purchased several large lots on Palm Avenue. Work started on the Mira Mar Apartments on October 6, 1922, and was completed in sixty days.

After the completion of the apartments, McAnsh began construction on the Mira Mar Hotel and the auditorium. The Mira Mar Auditorium, which opened in January 1924, was built instead of the natatorium because the city and McAnsh felt that the city could use a 1,200-seat meeting building.

Built at an estimated cost of $75,000, the auditorium was built by the construction firm of W.R. Carmen and Company, of Sarasota and Tampa. Carmen and Company had also built the Mira Mar Hotel. The auditorium was located just south of the hotel on McAnsh Square. It was originally built for the residents of the Mira Mar Hotel and apartments to use as a dancing hall.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the auditorium was used for a variety of functions. According to the January 3, 1955 issue of the newspaper The News, the Mira Mar Auditorium was the scene of the first flower show in Sarasota in 1930. The famous Washington Birthday Balls were held in it and part of the movie Wives of Indiscretion, starring Wallace Beery, was filmed inside the auditorium.

From 1925 to 1928, the top floor housed a plush gambling casino run by Conrad and Locke of Chicago, who operated the Golden Horseshoe in Chicago. The establishment had four roulette wheels, card tables and featured faro, a favorite gambling game of the era. According to A.B. Edwards, in his interview with The News in 1955, “Millionaires came to Sarasota during the boom years and were paid off in silver dollars. No local people, except a few big shots, were allowed in the guarded door.”

Functions held at the Mira Mar Auditorium declined in the late 1930s and 1940s. The Edwards Theater and the Municipal Auditorium were the places that functions were held. By 1945, a plumbing company was housed in the Mira Mar Auditorium. In 1954, the company moved and the auditorium was used for storage. In 1955, the auditorium was torn down and the site turned into a parking garage.

Special thanks to Ann A. Shank, former Sarasota County Historian, for her research and time devoted to writing this article.

Brought to you by Sarasota History Alive! "Where History Happens Everyday."

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