The moss-draped oak trees of Towles Court have shaded this historic enclave of bungalows and cottages for nearly a century. The fortunes of this neighborhood have ebbed and flowed but it became unique Sarasota treasure. When you visit the Towles Court Artist Colony you step at once into Sarasota’s “Old Florida” history. It is a place that delights the senses, challenges the mind, and nourishes the soul.
In 1905 Sarasota’s first mayor, John Gillespie, was among the first to build not only a home but also a nine-hole golf course on the land that is now Laurel Park. Gillespie’s third home, “Golf Hall” may have been within the Towles District. The course, which gave Links Ave. its name, survived well into the 1920’s. It was then transformed by William B. Towles into a small residential neighborhood for professional people and seasonal residents. The area flourished for more than three decades before the new shopping malls and gated communities drained downtown Sarasota of vital energy. The historic cottages of Towles Court were carved into cramped apartments and dwellings for migrant laborers. The blighted area was about to succumb to the wrecking ball when it was rescued by the vision of N.J. Olivieri in 1983.
Foreseeing a rebirth for downtown Sarasota, Olivieri began buying up the derelict houses with plans to transform them into a picturesque neighborhood along the lines of Colonial Williamsburg. In the early 1990’s friends approached him with the radical concept for developing a bona-fide artists’ colony instead, and in less than two month’s time over 200 artists from all over the country had written letters endorsing Olivieri’s new plan. Special zoning provisions were secured from the city, and in December of 1995 the first artist signed a lease. more followed, and today there are artist’s studios, galleries, restaurants, and much more to be discovered when you “Stroll Towles” and wander beneath those same old oak trees that once shaded our first mayor as he played golf, and have since stood guard in the historic place for decades.