Lido Casino

Lido Casino

This post is part of a series called A Tour Of Sarasota.  For other Sarasota posts not part of this series, click here

People have been attracted to the beaches in Sarasota since before European settlers arrived on the scene in the nineteenth century. The Native peoples relied on the water for food, and certain spots along the shores were often used for ceremonial purposes. By the time Florida’s land boom of the 1920s brought large numbers of residents and tourists to the area, the beaches had become a source of recreation. While the 1930s saw an economic slump in Sarasota (as well as other areas of the country), the beaches still provided an easy and cheap way to beat the heat and forget about one’s troubles for a while.

In the late 1930s, Sarasota civic leaders began discussing the idea of a beach casino.* The estate of John Ringling, who had died in 1936, owned much of the land on Lido Beach. He had intensions of developing it, with visions of making it into a winter retreat for the wealthy and famous. But his estate was in debt at the time of his death, and the land was secured by the city in 1938 as part of a tax settlement.
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The Works Progress Administration (WPA) worked on a number of public projects in the area, and the Lido Casino was selected as one for Federal and local government collaboration. The City had to chip in $40,000, plus the land, and the WPA would build the structure, which was designed by noted local architect Ralph Twitchell. The structure was quintessential art deco, and contained elements such as glass block, cast conreete sea sculptures, and murals depicting tropical themes. Such murals and decorative elements were also typical of WPA projects.
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When the Casino opened in 1940, it was a hit. But mismanagement by a concessionaire led to financial ruin. The Casino was taken over by the City and turned a profit. It thrived for many decades, but in the 1960s had fallen into dispreair. The citizens of Sarasota voted in 1964 to issue a $250,000 bond to renovate the structure. But city officials, among them Ken Thompson, who is often derided for his public “improvement” projects of the 1960s, relied on recommendations from engineers and architects about the dire condition of the building, and moved forward with demolition. Many residents of Sarasota still harbor resentment about that decision, and fondly remember the good times had at the Lido Casino.

 

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For a video about the Casino’s history, check out Sarasota History Alive!
This 2004 Sarasota Herald-Tribune article by local historian Jeff LaHurd outlines the actions which led to the demolition of the Casino.
 Research for this post came from the following sources:

Grismer, Karl H. The Story of Sarasota. Sarasota, Florida: Paschal & Paschal, 1977. [Originally published by M.E. Russell, 1946.] 

LaHurd, Jeff. Saraosta…A Sentimental Journey. Sarasota, Florida: Jeff LaHurd, 1991.

*A casino as used here is not a gambling establishment, but a Italian term which means “pavilion.”