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Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, the Sarasota Opera House has been in operation since 1926, serving as one of the city's main entertainment venues. It was designed in the Mediterranean Revival style by local architect Roy A. Benjamin and is named after Arthur Britton Edwards, the developer responsible for building the theater. He also served as mayor from 1914-1915, 1918-1919, and 1920-1921. Reaching a height of 4.5 stories, during the early part of its history the theater hosted silent movies, vaudeville acts, opera, and a number of nationally-known acts such as Will Rogers and Elvis Presley. Today, it is home to Sarasota Opera, which is well regarded around the country. The theater, which was renovated in 2008, also hosts ballet, symphony performances, concerts, and other events.

The Sarasota Opera House was erected in 1926 as the Edwards Theatre.

The Sarasota Opera House was erected in 1926 as the Edwards Theatre.

Arthur Britton Edwards was a major figure in Sarasota's early years. Born in the Sarasota Bay area in 1874, he established the city's first real estate and insurance company in 1903. Four years later, he became the first elected tax assessor and served until 1911. As noted above, he was elected Sarasota's first mayor in 1914 and served two additional terms. Edwards played a key role in establishing the county and improving roads. From 1922 to 1924 he served as president of the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. Part of his vision for the city, which was growing in the 1920s, was to have a large theater facility that could be used for a variety of entertainment purposes.

When the Edwards Theatre, as it was first called, opened on April 10, 1926 the Sarasota Herald-Tribune praised the theater for "having admitted Sarasota into a fairyland of costly decoration, rich furnishings and never to be forgotten artistry." The building also had space for shops, offices and even furnished apartments. The theater also feature a Robert Morton orchestral pipe organ, which unfortunately was severely damaged by a hurricane in 1928.

Over the years, the theater was altered to accommodate changing times and tastes. Some of the Art Deco elements were removed and eventually the Edwards became a movie theater. It closed in 1973. Fortunately, at that time an organization called the Asolo Opera Guild was attempting to put on opera performances in Sarasota. In 1974, they bought the Edwards Theatre and have remained ever since.

"About Sarasota Opera." Sarasota Opera. Accessed October 13, 2018.

Kearns, Sarah. "Edwards Theatre." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. March 22, 1984.

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