Powel Crosley Jr. built his palatial winter residence "Seagate" on Sarasota Bay in 1929. The 11,000-square-foot Mediterranean Revival-style mansion contained 10 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms. It was reported to be the first residence built in Florida using fireproof steel frame construction.
The family wintered here until 1939 when his wife Gwendolyn died in her upstairs bedroom of a lung ailment. Thereafter, Crosley leased the mansion to the government to quarter men learning to fly World War II fighter planes.
Crosley's early business career was rife with failures but blossomed in 1916 after a loan from his father enabled him to found the American Automobile Accessories Co., a mail-order business that offered among other items his best seller, a flag holder that held five American flags and clamped to auto radiator necks. World War I generated patriotism and thousands were sold.
Crosley's philosophy was to produce items that everyone could use, and sell them inexpensively. By 1919, he had more than 100 employees and brother Lewis became his general manager.
Radios were next. When his son asked for a radio, Crosley thought $130 for a small radio was excessive. He bought a book on radios and studied it. He started producing the Harko Jr. radio that sold for $9 in 1921. By 1924, the Crosley Radio Company was the world's largest manufacturer of radios.
Broadcasting followed. Crosley founded and operated WLW -- the most powerful radio station ever built. Until the federal government ordered its power reduced in 1939, the 500,000-watt station could be heard anywhere in the world. An impressive list of entertainers performed on WLW, including Red Skelton, Doris Day, Jane Froman and the Mills Brothers.
In 1932, Crosley entered the refrigeration field with the patented Shelvador refrigerator, the first refrigerator with door shelves.
In 1934, Crosley became president of the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Club. The club was in financial trouble when Crosley stepped up to the plate to ensure the Reds would stay in Cincinnati.
Crosley prevailed upon the National League to allow the Reds to play seven night games under lights. The first night game drew more than ten times the normal weekday attendance. Other major league clubs scrambled to electrify their ball parks.
In 1935, Powel backed construction of the Crosley Flea ? a compact homebuilt airplane. The Smithsonian Museum currently has one in its inventory at the 28-acre Silver Hill Museum near Andrews Air Force Base, the storage and restoration division of the Smithsonian, with 200 aircraft in 25 buildings. Crosley Flea plans were published in magazines.
At the 1939 Worlds Fair, Crosley exhibited his "Reado" machine. It wasn't commercially successful and he took it off the market. Today the invention is better known as a fax machine.
When the first Crosley car debuted at Indianapolis in May of 1939, it sold for less than $400. The post-war Crosley Motors sedan in 1946 sold for $853.
In 1945, Crosley sold the Crosley Corporation to AVCO. The sale included all manufacturing plants and Station WLW AM 700. Powel's share was some $12 million. He kept his Cincinnati Reds and continued on with his first love - manufacturing automobiles, now under the banner of Crosley Motors Incorporated. The last Crosley was built on July 3, 1952.
Crosley died March 28, 1961, of a heart attack.
For additional information on this subject or another relating to Sarasota County's history, call 861-1180. The History Center is located at 701 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236.
Norm Luppino is chairman of the Crosley Estate Foundation
The secluded bayfront property in south Manatee County known as Seagate is celebrated as the site where Powel Crosley Jr. built his palatial winter estate in 1929.
Before Crosley's association, this site attracted another nationally prominent citizen and was once envisioned to be an exclusive residential suburb.
Crosley's 63-acre estate was part of a 279-acre tract that extended north to what is presently Whitfield Estates.
In 1915 it was purchased by Bertha Palmer, one of the nation's wealthiest and most prominent citizens. Bertha was the widow of famed Chicago businessman Potter Palmer, who was the namesake for the renowned Palmer House Hotel.
An enormously successful business person in her own right, Bertha was an early Sarasota pioneer and a large land owner whose name today is linked with Palmer Ranch and Historic Spanish Point. Bertha died in 1918 and never utilized the property for any known purpose.
During the 1920s Florida Land Boom, the property became one of the most sought after pieces of real estate in the area. After Bertha's estate sold it in May 1924, a buying and selling frenzy ensued in which incredible profits were made.
A Chicago lawyer purchased the property for $120,000 and declined a profit of $50,000 the next day, selling it 50 days later to a Lakeland group for $279,000. One month later, it was sold to a Tampa corporation for $450,000.
By early 1925, the property's value had been driven so high that the 279-acre tract was divided into three parcels to make it more marketable. Each fronted Sarasota Bay and extended across the Tamiami Trail.
The southern 63-acre parcel, which Crosley would later acquire, was purchased by a development team in late 1925 for slightly more than $365,000.
At $5,800 per acre, it was reported to be the highest price paid for a bayfront parcel to date. Plans were announced for the development of the most magnificent subdivision this section had ever seen.
Seagate was selected as the name for the venture because it expressed in a single word the beauty of the property's land and water. The subdivision was promoted nationally as "Sarasota's most aristocratic suburb."
Things did not go as planned, however. Construction to widen the Tamiami Trail from nine feet to two lanes severely hindered the ability to develop and market Seagate. Just when the road was completed in the fall of 1926, the land boom suddenly collapsed.
Except for the erection of a sign along the Tamiami Trail and some site clearing, no other development occurred. The property went into foreclosure and was sold at auction in 1928 to the Tampa corporation who had previously divided it.
Powel Crosley Jr. purchased the 63-acre parcel in May 1929 for the reported price of $35,000 -- less than 1/10th what it sold for three years earlier. One month later, construction of Crosley's 18-room winter estate commenced.
Crosley's mansion, featuring the newly restored and decorated second floor, is opened to the public Tuesday through Dec. 10 for "Holidays at the Crosley, a Festival of Trees."
Dozens of beautifully decorated Christmas trees, entertainment, Crosley automobiles (weekends only) and Crosley radios, gift boutique, bayside caf?, and a vintage railroad display will be featured.
Admission is $5 and all proceed are used to continue restoration work on the born-again Crosley mansion.