From Closet to Research Center
Special article in the Venice Gondolier by Harry Klinkhamer
IT ALL BEGAN IN A CLOSET
For over 40 years, concerned citizens, old-timers, dedicated volunteers, and eventually professional city staff worked hard to collect and preserve this area’s history.
In 1974, George Youngberg Jr., donated his collection of the old Venice News to the Friends of the Library in Venice. Dr. Benjamin Gerig organized a historical committee under the FOL and became its first chair. He died shortly after and the FOL tapped Betty Arnall to take over. Arnall moved to Venice with her family in 1926, so she had an interest in Venice’s past. She would begin the incredible project of amassing its history. She accepted just about everything offered to her. With a group of dedicated volunteers, they operated out of a closet in the old Venice Library.
Arnall and her crew did the best they could under the circumstances. Library expansion provided them with another closet. But it meant a workspace using a desk from the collection and working next to one of the air conditioning units for the building. Filing cabinets were crammed with papers, new items were kept in boxes stacked on top of those cabinets, and books from the collection were intermingled with books from the library. Eventually, the question came up of what entity should own the collection.
A county facility housed it, but the focus was on Venice, Laurel and Osprey. One idea was to create a new museum and archives in the old train depot building. It needed a lot of work and no one was interested in paying for it. Another idea was having the collection become part of the Sarasota County Historical Commission. Arnall and Jean Maguire formed a committee to look into the best situation for the collection.
VENICE HISTORICAL COLLECTION
After evaluating various options, Arnall and the Historical Committee of the FOL came before City Council in 1986 with several recommendations. They proposed the creation of a Venice Historical Commission whose purpose would be to establish and administer historic preservation in the city, creation of the position of city historian, and moving the artifacts in the collection into a small museum in the planned addition to City Hall. City Council voted to have staff work with the Historical Committee to draft up an ordinance.
The following year — in 1987 — the position of director of Historical Resources was created and Arnall filled it as a volunteer. She wasted little time and soon traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to visit the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers offices and gathered records pertaining to Venice. History was in the air for the city as that year saw the creation of the Venice Historical Commission, Architectural Review Board, and the planning for Heritage Park. An article in the Nov. 2, 1987 edition of the Sarasota Herald Tribune posed the question: Why so much interest?
“I think we’ve become aware that preservation pays,” Councilwoman Lucie Hall said. “The Historical Commission, with its drive, has really injected an enthusiasm in the council to do something with its past.”
Mayor Harry Case and Arnall pushed to move the entire collection into a City Hall expansion once built; the move took place on July 23, 1991. City Hall was definitely a space improvement for the collection, but it too had challenges. For one thing, the sunlight entering the room lead to deterioration of the collection and the space wasn’t necessarily designed with a museum in mind. A community crisis would lead to another solution.
In 1990, the First National Bank of Venice was interested in expanding their parking lot for employees and adding a small park. They had taken possession in the late 1980s of the Triangle Inn and were renting it out as apartments. The bank claimed they were not making money off it, it was old and beyond repair, and that the insurance costs were too high. Going before the ARB for approval to demolish the structure, the ARB followed the recommendation of the VHC and denied the request. The bank appealed to City Council, which reversed the decision. Meanwhile, the ARB and the VHC sought public input on whether or not to save it.
HOME FOR ARCHIVES
Councilwoman Dorothy Korwek suggested the city acquire it, move it, and make it a permanent home for the Venice Area Archives and Historical Collection. By the end of the year, Korwek was assigned as project director to acquire the structure and find a new location for it. The bank offered to donate the building to the city. A location behind the Venice Community Center and across from West Blalock Park provided a space with ample parking. On Nov. 15, 1991 the Triangle Inn moved from 251 Nassau Street South to 351 Nassau Street South. With the creation of the Triangle Inn Association and through grants and donations, the city began to renovate the building into a museum.
By 1994, Arnall took Korwek under her wing and began training her to work in Historical Resources. Korwek became the assistant director, continuing to oversee the restoration of the Triangle Inn. A Sept. 4, 1996 article in the Gondolier reported the collection moved out of City Hall and into its new home. A year later, Arnall died; a plaque memorializes her outside the museum.
Korwek then became the part-time director of Historical Resources. A major part of the collection arrived when the Roy and Helen Burgess fossil collection was donated to the museum. This makes up the Fossils: Venice’s Land Before Time exhibit. In the early 2000s, just as Arnall went to Cleveland for BLE records, Korwek went to Cornell University to acquire copies of the papers of John Nolen. As the collection continued to grow, there again seemed a need for expansion.
By 2005, Korwek proposed an expansion building next door to the Triangle Inn. City Council was cool to the $1.5 million proposal, so creative measures of stacking the collection in the historic building continued. Two years later, Historical Resources gained its first full-time director. James Hagler took over and continued the need for more space. Concerns over the strain on the second floor from the burgeoning collection sparked another call for expansion. Most of the collection had to be moved to storage facilities. Again, there was a proposal for a new building next door. A generous donation by museum volunteer Julia Cousins Laning laid the groundwork.
However, as cost estimates began to rise, City Council again became cool to the idea. It was not until 2017 that a different opportunity presented itself. The former Turner Studios building on Milan Avenue came on the market. Cousins Laning and the city agreed to repurpose her donation and Historical Resources gained a new facility. On Oct. 17th, 2019 the city opened the Julia Cousins Laning and Dale Laning Archives and Research Center.
Today that facility holds the collection maintained by the Division of Historical Resources. Modernized on the inside, the building includes collapsible shelving, object storage, and a reading room for researchers. Betty Arnall is also recognized in that reading room. It has one closet, but not for storing history.
Harry Klinkhamer is the manager of Historical Resources for the city of Venice.
Along with its preservation efforts relating to historic properties and landscapes within the City of Venice, the Department of Historical Resources also manages the Venice Museum & Archives (VMA). The mission of the Venice Museum & Archives (VMA) is to collect, preserve, and interpret historical and prehistorical material relating to the city of Venice and its neighboring communities.
VMA has a collection of 30,000+ photographs, archives, objects, and publications pertaining to area history and is housed in the historic 1927 Triangle Inn building. The museum engages the public in local history through changing and permanent exhibits, tours of the Triangle Inn, special events, newsletters, social media, as well as onsite and offsite educational outreach programs to youth and adults. Additional services offered also include assisting the public with research requests and assisting with image request orders. The museum’s gift shop offers books, DVDs and other merchandise pertaining to local history available for purchase.
The museum is located in the historic Triangle Inn (351 Nassau Street South, Venice, FL 34285) and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1927 as an inn, the building was saved from demolition in 1991 and is a beautiful example of Venice’s Northern Italian style architecture. The Venice Museum & Archives is free (donations appreciated) and open to the public. Explore the VMA's online collection: Online Collections | Venice Museum & Archives (pastperfectonline.com)
HOURS: Monday – Wednesday 10am-4pm. (941) 486-2487 | firstname.lastname@example.org. The Julia Cousins Laning and Dale Laning Archives & Research Center is only open by appointment.