Some change is good.
Some change is bad or, at the very least, sad.
We who have lived in Venice for 25 years or more realize it is as wonderful as it is because of its history and the fact that so much of that history has been preserved over the years. That it was a planned city by famed city planner John Nolen has been the true key to its success. He was responsible for the interesting street layout, the lovely boulevard known as Venice Avenue, the many parks, sites reserved for the public schools and churches and shopping. There was even a country club. Sadly that is gone although many others have sprung up in the surrounding area.
There were three hotels. One is gone. It was on West Venice Avenue where the present post office is located. While it is nice to have a downtown post office, it would be so much nicer to have that wonderful hotel which was a twin of the hotel which today is known as The Summit on North Nassau Street. Fortunately that and the Historic KMI Building which was once the San Marco Hotel, remain.
It matters not that the names have been changed for neither hotel was in business for more than a couple of years and those two hotels were not as important as the one on Venice Avenue.
Venice had barely opened for business circa 1927 when the Great Depression was about to dampen the spirits of so many people in the U.S. and the Florida land boom was about to end. Hotels closed all over the state.
Those two buildings were saved because a man named Bud Wimmers heard that the Kentucky Military Institute of Lynden, Kentucky, was looking for a new site for its winter quarters. A fire had destroyed KMI’s east coast location. Wimmers got in touch with KMI’s commandant at the time, Col. Richmond. Wimmers told him about the city’s three vacant hotels and a beautiful green “parade ground” between Nokomis and Nassau and Tampa and Venice avenues. (Today that is Centennial Park, home of the gazebo and a parking lot.)
With a population that had shrunk from 4,000 to 400, landing such a prestigious organization even if only for the post-Christmas to early April time frame was a major coup.
Had that not occurred the Venice we know and enjoy today might not have happened. All three hotels might have been lost. The Nolen plan might have been discarded by people with no regard to this town’s history.
This city’s history sets it apart from most other towns in Florida.
Much the same thing happened to Shaker Heights, Ohio, another planned community. Its infrastructure was in place by 1927, so when the Great Depression hit, although home prices plummeted, the city remained as a place that was desirable to people who appreciated its history, its private and public schools, its Shaker Country Club which remains to this day and its parks and lakes and carefully planned areas. The largest homes are in the area of Shaker Boulevard and the smallest homes at the other side of town. Duplexes and mid-sized homes were in the middle and remain so to this day. Two rapid transit lines brought residents into downtown Cleveland in 20 minutes or so from anywhere in Shaker. That and the fine schools and lovely setting remain today, so do the hitching posts used by the original settlers. Its history is important to its enduring reputation.
The same is true of Venice. KMI’s arrival in Venice brought parents of its students each winter. Many bought homes here and many of those students would also settle here in later years.
The next boost was the arrival of the army air base in 1943 which left Venice with an airport. That too has brought more people into the city who realized what a special place this is.
Finally, in 1960 when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus built its rehearsal arena in Venice and leased 15 acres of airport property, Venice was suddenly on the national map. As the circus train criss-crossed the U.S. and Canada, every one of its train cars announced to viewers that Venice, Florida was the Winter Home of the Greatest Show on Earth
That was about when a politician wanted to build a major road through the center of Shaker Heights, something that would have destroyed its history as much as its beauty. Fortunately that man has not been heard of since that time. Shaker’s longtime residents realized what they had and voted that man out of office.
Sadly, Venice has not been so lucky. When the circus left in 1992, the city gained a 4,500-seat arena it could have promoted as a performing arts center. For years it was used for concerts by the US Marine Corps Band and Up With People and even for high school graduations because the high school auditorium was too small. Repairing or replacing the roof would have preserved the building.
Despite its gorgeous new high school performing arts center, the new auditorium is still too small for graduation. Because the city fathers the past 20 years did not appreciate what they had, no one bothered to fix the roof. The arena slowly deteriorated.
What is that saying about those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it?
I have heard rumblings that some residents of the Historic KMI building want to get rid of the “junk” (they used a different word) on the first floor that honors the history of the KMI’s years in Venice and, instead, honor the building’s history as a hotel (for all of about 3 years at most). It could just as easily have been an apartment building. Today it has retail stores on the first floor and condos on the second and third floors.
Its most recent developers recognized its KMI history, changing the name of the building to the Historic KMI Building. The San Marco name lasted only until 1932. KMI’s association with the building has lasted for some 85 years.
I sincerely hope that no one is so short-sighted as to want to undo all that history.