About the film

Produced by WEDU with a grant from the Florida Humanities Council, this half-hour special explores the history of Venice from a master planned community, funded in part by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers who wanted a sunny utopian for their brotherhood – to today’s “new urbanism” – which isn’t new at all for this charming city by the sea.

VENICE, FLORIDA: MOVING FORWARD BY LOOKING BACK was researched and produced by Emmy Award-winning film maker Spencer Briggs and narrated by renowned journalist and A GULF COAST JOURNAL host Jack Perkins.

History of Venice

Urban planner and landscape architect John Nolen saw a chance to design his model city in Venice, Florida. However, designs for a just and united society ran headlong into a segregated Southern reality, but ultimately resulted in a unique blend of charm, architectural interest, public green spaces and walkability now coined as “new urbanism.” His legacy is a timeless framework for creating better communities in the 21st century.

Dr. Fred Albee was a Harvard-educated surgeon from New York who traveled to Sarasota in February of 1917 and was hooked. An avid fisherman and investor, he purchased his first 112 acres from owner Bertha Potter Palmer. Mrs. Potter Palmer was a world-renowned Chicago socialite and businesswoman who singlehandedly helped transform much of Sarasota County. Her vast landholdings and political clout prompted the Seaboard Airline Railroad to extend their line from Sarasota to Venice, and the Federal Government to move the Post Office to the railway terminal.

During the real estate boom of the 1920s Dr. Albee had a vision to construct a model city on the Gulf, and bought 1468 more acres from Palmer in 1925. Albee envisioned agriculture, industry, commerce, housing and recreation harmoni- ously coexisting. He then hired John Nolen, Boston’s internationally known city planner to realize his dream.

John Nolen was raised as an orphan but had been educated at Harvard, the Wharton School of Finance and Economy at the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Munich. While studying in Europe he had been inspired by the great cities of the Italian Renaissance such as Rome and Florence. With a paying client, Nolen saw a chance to design his model city on a clean slate with Venice, however, ideas for a Utopian society based on European principles was hindered by clients who, at that period in time, simply wanted to segregate the races.

The 1929 stock market crash and the subsequent Great Depression led to a dark time in Venice. As the Florida real estate bubble burst and economy crashed, The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers went into receivership, and most of the union’s officers were ousted. It took perseverance and several years for Venice – and the remainder of the country – to recover.

Venice today

Residents walk down wide boulevards and greenways that lead to the white, sandy beach. Historic homes in Northern Italian or Mediterranean Revival architecture line Venice Boulevard leading downtown. Locals and tourists alike enjoy the specialty shops, and children stay cool in the fountain at Centennial Park. People are engaged with each other, living their lives together in this space all based on a dreamer and master planner. However, Venice, like other Florida cities, is feeling the effects of the recession. Growth has slowed, property values are down, and income is reduced. City leaders are facing tough decisions and redefining what kinds of growth the community wants moving forward, however, John Nolen’s pioneering Urban Planning ideas are having a rebirth.

This Production is supported by Florida Humanities Council with help from Village On The Isle, Crow’s Nest Restaurant, and viewers like you.