High-wire daredevil and Sarasota native Nik Wallenda will help the county’s Historical Commission honor the rich history of the Sarasota Bayfront with a new historical marker, at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 4

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Wallenda to help commemorate new marker honoring Sarasota Bayfront’s history 

SARASOTA COUNTY – High-wire daredevil and Sarasota native Nik Wallenda will help the county’s Historical Commission honor the rich history of the Sarasota Bayfront with a new historical marker.

 

The Sarasota County Historical Commission routinely commemorates historically significant people, places and events using permanent on-site markers. A new marker at Island Drive and Marina Plaza will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, across from the “Unconditional Surrender” statue.

 

Wallenda, who made a daring high-wire walk across Bayfront Drive (U.S. 41) in 2013, will be the guest speaker at the ceremony, which will also include remarks from county and city officials and Jeff LaHurd, county historian.

 

The new marker recognizes the downtown bayfront, long considered the brightest jewels in Sarasota’s crown, according to county historians. In 1910, Bertha Palmer, who helped put Sarasota on the international map, proclaimed the bayfront more beautiful than the Bay of Naples.

The Hover Arcade, circa 1926. Photo courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources.

 

From the time of its earliest inhabitants, the bayfront has played an important role in the area’s history and culture. In 1886, the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company built a pier that extended off lower Main Street; Harry Higel, a major force in the early development of Sarasota, later purchased the pier and operated a steamship service between Sarasota and Tampa. In 1911, Higel sold the pier to the Hover Brothers of Lima, Ohio, who built the Hover Arcade, a mix of Mediterranean styles with distinctive towers on either side of the archway leading to the pier.

 

The Hover Arcade, purchased by Sarasota in 1917, became the city hall, and in 1921, it temporarily housed the newly formed county government as well. The popular city pier, a focal point for the community, provided residents and visitors with boat slips, a restaurant, and a place to fish.
In 1954, the city and county supported a proposal to construct a four-lane Bayfront Drive to alleviate downtown traffic, provide an adequate approach to the Ringling Causeway and allow motorists to enjoy the beauty of Sarasota Bay. Not everyone supported the plan, including some Gulf Stream Avenue residents who filed for an injunction in 1957 to stop construction. The residents ultimately lost the case, and the dredge-and-fill project proceeded to completion. Another dredge-and-fill project created Island Park in 1964.

 

Completed in 1965, Marina Mar, today’s Marina Jack, included a restaurant and a marina. The Hover Arcade, deemed obsolete, was demolished in 1967.

 

Today the bayfront continues to be a center of cultural and community life for both residents and visitors. Various artworks enhance the bayfront; benches and swings invite people to sit, relax, and enjoy Sarasota Bay; and a playground and splash park are available for children.

 

For more information about historical markers and the Oct. 4 commemoration, call the Sarasota County Contact Center at 941-861-5000.

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