A grand old house is destroyed.
And with it, yet another piece of Sarasota history.
WE DROVE OFF U.S. 41, THROUGH THE stone pillars and down the vine-choked lane that led to the bay, noting how the predatory Florida weeds had made it almost impassable. We were prepared for a scene of destruction, but we didn't expect such silence, such utter desolation. The Acacias, the stately old mansion that I'd spent much of my youth in and whose history stretched back more than a century, had always seemed so immense and indestructible in·de·struc·ti·ble
Impossible to destroy: indestructible furniture; indestructible faith.
[Late Latin ind . But it had disappeared without a trace. In its place was a huge, sandy crater. The giant, bearded oaks, their branches bowed in homage to days past, appeared to be the only mourners. Besides the ghosts.
The ghosts went back to the 1840s, when the William Whitakers, the first white settlers in the area, chose the bayfront property known as Yellow Bluffs (near today's 12th Street) for their log cabin log cabin or log house, style of home typical of the American pioneer on the Western frontier of the United States in the great westward expansion after 1765. It was constructed with few tools, usually an axe or an adz and an auger. . In 1910, the Benjamin Honores of Sarasota erected their winter home and showplace on the site. Built of gray stone, the two-and-a-half-story, antebellum-style mansion offered serene views of the bay and acres of magnificent grounds, including an orange grove, an ancient Indian mound and wood-frame servants' quarters Servants' quarters are that part of a building, traditionally in a private house, which contain the domestic offices and staff accommodation. From the late 17th century until the early 20th century they were a common feature in all large houses. . It was named the Acacias, after the gracious, shady acacia trees that flourished there.
For several years four generations of the Honore family lived there. Mrs. Frederick Dent Grant Frederick Dent Grant (May 30, 1850 – April 12, 1912) was a soldier and United States minister to Austria.
Grant was the first son of General of the Army and President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant and Julia Boggs Dent. , whose father-in-law was Ulysses S. Grant, joined them after her husband died; and the Acacias became a haven for her daughter and son-in-law, Prince and Princess Cantacuzene, who sought refuge after the Russian Revolution Russian Revolution, violent upheaval in Russia in 1917 that overthrew the czarist government. Causes
The revolution was the culmination of a long period of repression and unrest. in 1917.
In ensuing years, the Years, The
the seven decades of Eleanor Pargiter’s life. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 1109]
See : Time Cantacuzenes came only intermittently, although some local residents remember attending card parties and other events during the winter season. By 1939, the home had been vacant for years and had fallen into a state of sad disrepair. That's when my father, Burleigh Brooks, bought it. He restored it bit by loving bit, and from 1940 to 1953 it was our family home.
Standing before that sandy crater, I remembered when the house was filled with guests, when uniformed men sat beside us at the long dining room table, when toasts were made amid the sound of laughter and clinking clink 1
intr. & tr.v. clinked, clink·ing, clinks
To make or cause to make a light, sharp ringing sound: clinked their wineglasses together in a toast.
n. glasses. The light from the big crystal chandelier overhead illuminated the white damask tablecloth and the fine china and silver. Someone was always making beautiful music at the polished ebony grand piano nearby, and voices rose with excitement and raillery at the Saturday night Saturday Night may refer to: Music
When we retired to the cool, wrap-around screened-in porch with its comfortable reed furniture, we could hear the wind whispering in the trees and the waves lapping against the seawall seawall: see coast protection. .
Late at night, my two sisters, Jinx jinx
1. A person or thing that is believed to bring bad luck.
2. A condition or period of bad luck that appears to have been caused by a specific person or thing.
tr.v. and Dodie, and I would sit on our beds in our rooms upstairs, talking and laughing. I recalled Dodie's wedding in April, 1945, we bridesmaids descending the stairway stairway
Series or flight of steps that provides a means of moving from one level to another. The earliest stairways seem to have been built with walls on both sides, as in Egyptian pylons dating from the 2nd millennium BC. , the bride following, her long train sweeping the stairs. Flowers banked the fireplace, and the groom, Capt. Ken Gustafson, pilot and war hero, stood in full uniform, waiting for his bride. The rush of memories was so intense, the images so real, I felt I had to physically brush them away.
My father sold the house in 1953. He retained a small piece of the property and built a little home there. When I returned to Sarasota for good in 1965, I lived there, next door to the stately mansion that had cast such enchantment enchantment: see magic.
See also Fantasy, Magic.
fairy godfather to Italian Cinderella. [Ital. over my childhood.
New owners sold off more of the property, including the Indian mounds, which were razed raze also rase
tr.v. razed also rased, raz·ing also ras·ing, raz·es also ras·es
1. To level to the ground; demolish. See Synonyms at ruin.
2. To scrape or shave off.
3. and replaced with a condominium condominium
In modern property law, individual ownership of one dwelling unit within a multidwelling building. Unit owners have undivided ownership interest in the land and those portions of the building shared in common. . By 1976, the estate was a shadow of its former self, and the home and contents were sold at public auction. I watched the people tramping through the once-gracious rooms, tearing fixtures from the walls and ceilings, carrying out furniture and accessories. The man who bought the house soon sold it to an out-of-town developer. Then for a long time it stood empty, prey to transients and vandals who prowled the littered rooms, scrabbling through the debris. They took it all, the bannister, the doorknobs, even the toilets and the sinks.
Meanwhile, the developers laid out a grandiose plan to turn the site into a 13-story condominium complex. But first they wanted to tear down to demolish violently; to pull or pluck down.
See also: Tear the house, and they vigorously lobbied local officials for permission to proceed, insisting the house had neither historical significance nor architectural charm. In vain did Hal Darbee, then-president of the Sarasota Historical Society, protest, "It's Sarasota's single most important house historically, considering the Indian mounds there, the Whitaker site, the family history of the Honores and the Cantacuzenes." A few other history buffs also expressed outrage, but most of Sarasota had yet to recognize the importance of historical sites and the terrible irreversibility of their destruction.
On Aug. 19, 1981, the Sarasota City Planning city planning, process of planning for the improvement of urban centers in order to provide healthy and safe living conditions, efficient transport and communication, adequate public facilities, and aesthetic surroundings. Board recommended approval of rezoning the Acacias tract. On Sept. 21, 1981, the Sarasota County Commission concurred. Representatives of the developer visited me and warned that unless I sold to them now, before condos rose all around me, my little piece of property would be worthless. I gave in.
In spite of last-ditch efforts by a few historians and preservationists, the city building department issued a demolition permit. On April 28, 1983, we stood on the sidelines On the sidelines
An investor who decides not to invest due to market uncertainty.
on the sidelines
Of or relating to investors who, having assessed the market, have decided to avoid committing their funds. while bulldozers reduced the Acacias to a pile of rubble.
Nothing ever rose to replace it. Instead, the site has languished for more than a decade, although recently another generation of owners has announced plans for another ambitious new development there.
When the Acacias fell, the town lost an important link to generations of settlers, from the early pioneers to the prominent Honore family. Less important to Sarasota, but everything to me, it was also the home of my childhood, my haven and getaway as an adult. My mother's ashes were scattered in the bay there, as she had requested. When the estate was destroyed, part of me was destroyed, too.
As a small town, Sarasota has had only a few grand structures that endured for significant periods of our history. Unbelievably, we have destroyed nearly all of them. The Venetian-inspired Mira Mar Hotel complex and gardens, built in 1923 and a beacon for stylish visitors during the exuberant boom period, was stripped of its soul and gutted in December 1982. The Atlantic Coast Line passenger depot The Atlantic Coast Line Passenger Depot is a historic Atlantic Coast Line Railroad depot in Sarasota, Florida, United States. It is located at 1 South School Avenue. On March 22, 1984, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. , built in 1925, was the point of arrival and departure for generations of residents and visitors, as well as a structure of great architectural charm. It was torn down in 1986 for another real estate development that never materialized. Today a sea of weeds marks the site. And the decorative Lido Casino, built in 1940 and the beloved playground of thousands of Sarasotans, was torn down in 1969.
Even today, when we're all more aware of our need for tangible connections with our past and preservationists have more power and legal tools than ever before, saving Sarasota landmarks is an uphill struggle. Witness the many who have worked to keep the John Ringling John Ringling (May 31, 1866 - December 2, 1936) was the most well-known and the most successful of the seven Ringling brothers, five of whom merged the Barnum & Bailey Circus with their own Ringling Brothers Circus to create a virtual monopoly of traveling circuses and helped shape Towers from the wrecking ball, and how far they still are from success.
I hope their story has a happier ending. As for the Acacias, every time I drive by I feel the presence of those ghosts -- the spirits of my family and all those who came before, from the early white settlers to the Indians whose graves were disturbed. I know this: whatever is eventually erected will stand on haunted ground.
Brooksie Bergen is author of "Sarasota, Times Past" (available at most area bookstores) and a frequent contributor to SARASOTA.