Click here to access a PDF of the history of Avondale and the Avondale Residents’ Association.
The Avondale Residents Association was founded on March 6, 1988 for the purpose of becoming a recognized city neighborhood. We used the historic city plat to define the boundaries of our neighborhood: US-41 to the east, Osprey Avenue to the west, Hudson Bayou to the north and Bahia Vista Street to the south.
Resident Attorney Jim Toale volunteered to attend to the writing of our by-laws and our first official meeting was held on June 1, 1988. Founding board members included Mollie Cardamone, Brian Fit-Harris, Bob Kinnison, Peg Megaw, Michael Melnick, Guy Lombardi and Jim Toale. First officers were Mollie Cardamone President; Mike Melnick, Vice President; Peg Megaw, Secretary; Brian Fitz-Harris, Treasurer. Annual dues of $20 were declared and a bank account was opened at Crossroads Bank then on the corner of US 41 and Bahia Vista St. Fifty percent of our neighbors joined the association and we applied for and received our official papers of incorporation.
Those early years saw a great deal of activity. One of the first orders of business was to ask the city to change the official designation of Bahia Vista St on the city’s transportation plan to “Neighborhood Street” thereby hoping to prevent any widening of Bahia Vista west of US-41.
We established a Crime Watch program and erected a number of signs so designated throughout the neighborhood. Several of our board members also jointed the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Neighborhood Association in an effort to enhance communication and collaboration as the hospital sought to expand its footprint and campus to the west and north.
When Avondale was first developed, lion-themed ceramic urns were originally installed at the entrances to the neighborhood. Over the decades most of the iconic urns were lost. Luckily one remaining urn was discovered and a local artist was employed to recreate a number of them for reinstallation. Urns were also made available for individual purchase. While some have been lost or damaged the ARA continues to replace this iconic symbol of our neighborhood.
About this same time a group of local investors began to buy up residential lots and homes to our south and adjacent to US 41. This area was known as the Houck Property and was over 8 acres in size. While the property originally contained a number of single-family homes, it also contained the Houck residents, acres of exotic tropical fruit and nut trees and many flocks of parakeets Mr. Houck raised for release into the wild. Of course the investors wished to maximize their profit by developing those eight acres commercially; that would have caused a significant intrusion into our neighborhood, increased traffic and the possibility of 24 hour retail adjacent to Avondale.
At one point during this time before development occurred a Hospice Board member attended an ARA board meeting to seek our support for the construction of a Hospice House and Hospice office building. We did not support the request, firmly stating that only residential uses on property not directly on US 41 would be acceptable to us.
Eventually ARA’s efforts saw the majority of the land developed as Mandarin Park, a gated residential community that now serves as an appropriate buffer between the commercial development on US 41 and our single family homes to the north.
In 1990 our association requested the city remove the “No Parking” signs on Bahia Vista but our request was denied by the city engineers since the street is less than twenty feet wide. We joined the newly formed Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations as a founding member. We petitioned the city to create a small pocket park on the vacant, undeveloped northern end of Brewer Place. directly adjacent to the Achievement Center terminating on Hudson Bayou with the intention of providing bayou access to those Avondale residents not owning waterfront property. This request was denied with the city citing its rules regarding street vacation.
Around the same time neighborhood residents grew increasingly concerned about the loss of mature oak trees in Avondale and our board decided on a plan for ‘reforestation’. The association voted to purchase fifty oak saplings and Brian Fitz-Harris took the responsibility of planting them along our streets. Those trees are now mature and provide not only shade but also serve to buffer street noise and generally beautify our neighborhood with a lovely canopy of oak trees. In the middle 1990s neighbors along the bayou expressed concern about the silting of the bayou affecting boat traffic. Jim Toale and Ray Thacker spearheaded an effort to accomplish the dredging of the bayou. Neighbors on 5 both sides of the bayou cooperated in creating a special taxing district to accomplish the successful dredging and clean-up of Hudson Bayou.
In 1992 we petitioned the city to provide traffic calming measures within Avondale. The city installed the three and four way stop signs and the ‘No Entry” medians on Irving Street. Those efforts have done a lot to mitigate traffic with Avondale, but nearby cut through and commercial traffic as well as the cross town commuter traffic on Bahia Vista St remains a concern.
In the years 1992 through 1996 the ARA formally opposed the placement of a 24 hour Walgreens store at US 41 and Bahia Vista St. We spent more than $8,000 dollars in our effort and Avondale resident Brenda Patten, a land use attorney, provided pro bono representation. We earned the support of the Coalition of City Neighborhoods citing increased traffic and commercial intrusion in close proximity to a residential area as reason for support. The city commission voted against the Walgreen’s petition.
The property owner took its case to Circuit Court and lost but their appeal to the Second District Court of Appeals overturned the Circuit Court decision. ARA did win some concessions including limited hours of operation.
Around this time our neighborhood board petitioned the city for a formal recognition of our neighborhood and an ’Avondale’ sign was placed at Osprey Ave and Lincoln Drive.
In 2005 a serious malfunction of the City sewer lift station located at Pomelo and Alta Vista caused a major sewerage spill of millions of gallons onto Lincoln Drive and into Hudson Bayou. The problem of relocating and building a replacement lift station is ongoing at this writing. The Avondale board voted unanimously to move the lift station facility to the Sarasota High parking lot but the School Board refused to accept that idea.
In recent years our association has seen a lessening of activity but remains vital in its role of protecting and preserving Avondale while responding to neighborhood and city issues. An effort by CVS to buy and demolish the Sarasota School of Architecture bank building by Jack West was literally saved from destruction through ARA efforts. Gateway Bank is the proud tenant in the historic and beautiful building and is a valued asset to our neighbors and neighborhood.
With ARA support and efforts by Carolyn Van Helden through a grant from the City and the Sarasota County Historical Society, two historical markers were purchased and one installed in 2010. The site for the placement of the second marker is still in discussion.
In 2012 and 2013 the ARA board discussed the idea of seeking the designation of Avondale as a Historic Neighborhood. While there has been no forward movement on the project it is still a possibility but requires an effort that is not forthcoming at the time of this writing.
The Avondale Board is currently very active and dealing with many of the same concerns that led to the formation of ARA: traffic, street lighting, beautification and other issues.