Welcome to the Laurel Park Historic District website devoted to offering information about a special place in one of Florida’s most unique and exceptional cities.   Coastal Living calls it the “Dream Town.”   So enjoy digging through the pages and reading the blog below………….


Laurel Park is one of Sarasota’s oldest downtown, urban neighborhoods. Located between Orange Avenue and Washington Boulevard south of Morrill Street, it is approximately 50 acres stretching over nine city blocks in Sarasota, Florida.


Single-family homes, duplexes and small apartment buildings dating back to the 20s line the original brick paved streets. Architectural styles include Frame Vernacular, Masonry Vernacular, Bungalow, Mission Revival, Colonial Revival, and Mediterranean Revival. While primarily residential, the neighborhood includes some businesses and was once the home of Sarasota’s County Courthouse and Sarasota’s daily newspaper, The Sarasota Herald.


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Laurel Park’s New City Commissioner!

Congratulations to Ms. Liz Alpert who was sworn in today as the City of Sarasota’s District 2 City Commissioner.  She already deserves many thanks for deciding to run and for holding a clean, fair and respectful campaign.  It is a welcome change to have a working business person representing us.

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Additional congratulations go out to Shelli Freeland Eddie who challenged the appointed City Commissioner, Stan Zimmerman and unseated him to represent District 3.  She too ran a wonderful campaign earning the votes to represent Sarasota’s citizens.

Many thanks to both City Commissioners!!!

Sarasota’s big top………..

In honor of World Circus Day, April 18, 2015 a reminder of Sarasota’s spectacular circus days……….

201circuswinterquarterspictorial1946In 1927 John Ringling moved the winter quarters of the circus to Sarasota.  The move would forever change Sarasota.


It wasn’t unusual to be stopped at a railroad crossing in Sarasota by the circus train coming or leaving town.


The winter quarters was located on the east side of Beneva Road just north of Fruitville Road.  It was a formidable training center for the artists and champions of the circus.


In the 1950’s a huge metal sign was erected to attract visitors to the unique facility.  The sign and the quarters no longer exist.  The circus moved its home to Venice then on to Tampa. Today Ringling Bros.and Barnum & Bailey Circus winter headquarters is close by in Ellenton bringing an even greater circus presence to the area.


 Winter quarters performance


Circus families established homes in the Laurel Park area, in the colorful mobile home park in what is today’s Payne Park and throughout the city.  They brought with them a tapestry of cultural backgrounds.

F Elslander_JRNorth

John Ringling North with Father Elslander blessing the circus.


It was common to pass the performers on the street.


Circus acts premiered in the dining room of the John Ringling Hotel.  Captain Heyer on his steed, Starless Night would trot right in the front entrance to perform during dinner.

Starless Night

Today Sarasota is most fortunate to have the circus again taking a significant role in the community.  The Circus Arts Conservatory including the Sailor Circus Academy and Circus Sarasota are internationally recognized organizations promoting, teaching and performing the art in our very own back yard!


To truly get a feel for the enormous part the circus has played in the growth of Sarasota, The Circus Museum on the grounds of the John and Mable Ringling Museum campus is worth a trip and another.  It is a special place for children of all ages!

Nightly Rentals in Laurel Park …….

Walking home from work each day I’ve become aware of a noticeable change in the people walking through Laurel Park.   They are nearly all new faces, changing daily,  most of which do not even respond to a smile let alone to a polite greeting.  Where are these people coming from?  Why so many new faces?   Are they staying in these places offering nightly rentals in the district?


Columbia Court

In the Laurel Park National Register Historic District there are in excess of 400 rental units.  The numbers are based on the 2007 NRHD survey and application.  These rentals are located in apartment buildings, 4-plexes, duplexes, cottages and garage apartments.  Until very recently the rentals were nearly all yearly rentals with tenants often remaining for multiple years.


 525 Rawls Avenue

Today we have a growing number of these rentals being used without consideration for a city ordinance.  Nightly and weekly rentals are increasing rapidly in the district.


Oak Street


 “There are no residential zone districts which allow for nightly or weekly rentals. Bed and Breakfast or hotels are the only nightly rentals and they are allowed in a variety of commercial zone districts by conditional or provisional use permit. Residential dwelling units can be rented out for 8 days or longer.”              Planning and Development Director, City of Sarasota – June 25, 2013                 


Cherry Lane

For the visitors reading this post, shopping for one of these nightly or weekly rentals –  a note of caution.  Ask for plenty of photos!  Do your research.  Be sure you’ve asked what surrounds the rental and ask how it currently looks.


Lafayette Court



Oak Street


540 S

Osprey Avenue



Devonshire Lane



Hawkins Court



Laurel Street



Ohio Place



Ohio Place



Laurel Street



Ohio Place

What sort of impact will this have on the neighborhood, the historic district and to the city’s overwhelming need for moderately priced housing in our downtown core?

New Construction in the Historic District………

A rendering of the first home to be offered (pre-construction) in the Homes of Laurel Park development between Devonshire and Alderman Streets east of Rawls Avenue.

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At the corner of Osprey Avenue and Laurel Street a project begun before the economy tanked has new construction.   Here is the first of 4 more homes to be built on the site of a former motel.

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These new homes have not tried to replicate an existing style of architecture in the neighborhood.  They stand apart and are easily identified as something new in style to the district.

Modern design is absolutely encouraged by preservation professionals for infill in historic districts to enrich the architectural fabric of the district.  Respecting what was built in the past is important.  Adding to it, generationally, creating more layers to preserve in the future is equally important.



Apartments in the district………..

Laurel Park has a few commercial businesses and a particularly large number of multi-family buildings throughout the National Register Historic District.

Louise Apartments

One of the multi-family buildings was the Louise Apartments on Laurel Street.  It is located halfway between Orange and Osprey on the north side of the street.  The building has been repurposed as part of the condominium complex called The Villas on Laurel.

Laurel -louise

The Louise, The Sperry, The San Juan, and The Embassy were just some of the district’s large apartment buildings constructed during the 1920’s building boom.   Dozens of duplexes and four-plexes were added in the 1940’s providing much of the housing for residents working in the downtown and for seasonal visitors wishing to be in the heart of Sarasota.

Why Laurel Park’s design standards are not perfect…….

Updating post…………

One of the design requirements for new construction in Laurel Park’s zone district –    RSM-9 was not adhered to during the site development for the new homes on Devonshire, Alderman and Rawls streets.  Each lot was mounded up with fill to provide a “platform” to build a home on without the necessity to elevate construction.



The developer had crews on site removing the tons of fill that was trucked in only a month ago.







Already the land is looking more like the city blocks they started with.   New homes built here will have to comply with all of the design standards adopted by the city for the RSM-9 zone district.



It is sad that so much money and energy was wasted on this.


The RSM-9 zone district and design standards were adopted decades ago for Laurel Park, well before a portion of the district became a National Register of Historic Places District and without consideration for the area of Laurel Park located in a flood zone or the varying size of the rights-of-ways that exist throughout the neighborhood.  As a result, the standards for redevelopment in Laurel Park have not always produced the results they were intended to accomplish.


Redevelopment on properties within the flood zone are required to meet the FEMA regulations ( The Federal Emergency Management Agency of the Federal government) as well as the RSM-9 design standards.

For some properties this means building the first floor as high as 6 to 7 feet off the ground. This can and has become awkward for maintaining a comfortable scale and balance in a district that is made up primarily of bungalows and cottages that are rarely higher off the ground than 18 inches.


RSM-9’s front yard setbacks can also be challenging for new construction in the flood zone.   Steep front steps are difficult to avoid constructing especially on properties that have no right-of-way extending beyond the curb and are required to build within 20 feet of the property line.


For the development of the homes on Devonshire within the flood zone, tons of fill has been trucked in creating a subdivision in the middle of Laurel Park’s traditional downtown city blocks.  The finished grade of the land is well above the surrounding neighborhood – an apparent disregard of the RSM-9 design standard “f.”

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In recent years the design standard for front porches has had to be rewritten to correct a wide interpretation of this standard after some new homes were built with porches facing side yards rather than the desired front porch.


Over the past decade planners and urban designers have designed far more effective tools to help build better, more comfortable, sustainable neighborhoods.  Form-base codes is one of these successful tools that has been applied throughout our country in some of the most desired cities, towns and neighborhoods.  Form-based codes are more flexible and adapt to the specific characteristics of each individual district, neighborhood and block so that all land issues are taken into account as well as the architectural fabric and relationship to the street.

The RSM-9 zone district design standards do not adequately fit the nature of all of the district.  Laurel Park and all of Sarasota deserve codes that do the very best to sustain our city’s unique built environment.

Read more about the City of Sarasota’s existing zoning code for RSM-9 and the 6 design standards below ……………..

As with all residential zone districts the intent of the City’s zoning code is:

“To create, maintain and promote the development and redevelopment of these neighborhoods while preserving their existing residential character. The regulations promote desirable residential areas by addressing aesthetically pleasing environments, safety, privacy, and recreational opportunities. The site development standards allow flexibility of development while maintaining compatibility within the City’s various neighborhoods. In addition, the regulations provide clarity to property owners, developers, and neighbors about the limits of what is allowed.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 5.43.31 PM The area of downtown Sarasota known as Laurel Park* is zoned RSM-9 (Residential Single Multiple 9 units per acre.)   The zoning category is unique to Laurel Park and includes six design standards that must be adhered to when building in the zone district.

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