SARASOTA OPERA HOUSE–YODERS

The Sarasota Opera House – Yoder Family Restaurant

By Duncan

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The Sarasota Opera House (originally called the Edwards Theatre, or “The Edwards”) now called ‘Opera House’ is located at 61 North Pineapple Avenue in Sarasota, Florida, and opened for business, April 10, 1926.

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The Venice, Florida, area became a popular residential spot for many early settlers. A well-known resident was John L. Edwards. The Edwards’ had seven children, five boys and two girls. Of these children, Arthur Britton Edwards became a very successful Sarasota resident who involved himself in a number of projects which helped Sarasota grow.

Arthur Brittan EdwardsA.B., as he was known, lost his parents before he turned fifteen and he cared for three of his younger brothers. He married Fannie F. Lowe and they had four daughters. In 1907 Edwards was elected the first tax assessor of the town of Sarasota. Also, in 1907 Edwards was one of the original members of the Sarasota Yacht Club which was built on the north end of Siesta Key. At one point, Edwards became the first president of the Sarasota Citrus Association.

Because he, and many other Venice residents, wished to see more trade and growth come to the area, Edwards became an agent for acquiring the rights-of-way for the Seaboard Railway. This would provide a long-awaited rail connection to Venice.

Edwards helped establish the Lord and Edwards real estate firm which was the first real estate office in Sarasota. His company sold land to Mrs. Potter Palmer of Chicago. At the time, she paid $625 for a half interest in fifty acres. Edwards organized the Good Roads Committee with Harry Higel and Palmer real estate promoter, Lamar Rankin. One of their desires was to have a bridge go across the bay from mainland Sarasota. They also worked for a “permanent” road from Sarasota to Venice.

Perhaps the greatest honor bestowed on A.B. Edwards was that of first mayor for the newly-incorporated City of Sarasota on December 6, 1913. In the election he defeated his opponent William Worth by 45 votes. It is recorded that one of the first acts performed by the new city council was to prohibit persons from permitting chickens to run at large. This restriction followed the ban for hogs and cows to roam freely on city streets.

Archival photos reveal Sarasota as a simple hamlet with buildings of wood and riddled with bungalow hideaways. The handsome little town was beginning to take its place on the resort map. Edwards had a vision for Sarasota, and with the infusion of an increasingly healthy real estate market (due largely to the efforts of John Ringling) he set out to realize his dream. Mr. Edwards commissioned Jacksonville architect, Roy A. Benjamin, to design a “multi-purpose” building that could accommodate all types of entertainment including opera.

The vision by Edwards opened on April 10, 1926. The Sarasota Herald Tribune hailed Edwards for “having admitted Sarasota into a fairyland of costly decoration, rich furnishings and never to be forgotten artistry.”

The building was designed by Roy A. Benjamin in the Mediterranean Revival Style Architecture and constructed by the GA Miller Construction Company.

In the 1920s, the building quickly became a popular entertainment venue with major performers of the day, such as Will Rogers (in 1927) and the Ziegfeld Follies (1928). The Florida Theatre bought it in 1936.

“When they were renovating this place, Jane Mansfield signed her name with 42, 26, 36.”

There was a fruit stand to its left, then the Montgomery Roberts clothing store, then Morrison’s Cafeteria. “Sally Rand was here with her bubble bath and fan dance; she was the burlesque queen in the 1930’s. She was a stripper; I’m told she did it with glamour.”

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ELVIS PRESLEY

On February 21, 1956, a young man (Elvis) making a name for himself played multiple performances at the Edwards for .76 cents a seat.

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ELVIS PRESLEY

It also became a movie theatre when it presented the world premiere of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (which had been filmed in Sarasota). Charlton Heston and Dorothy Lamour were in the building for the opening of the film.

Over the years management changed, as did the name of the theatre. In December 1936 it became The Florida Theatre. So, whether you call the building The Edwards Theater, The Edwards, The Florida Theater, The Aslo Theater or its current name, Opera House, change always happens.

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In 1930 in Asolo, Italy, (yes, I’m taking you a long way away form Sarasota for a few minutes) there was a building called The Asolo Repertory Theatre just outside of Venice. The theater was built in 1798 by Italian impresario, Antonio Locatelli. In 1930, the Asolo Theatre was dismantled and put into storage. In 1949 the State of Florida purchased the theatre which was boxed up and shipped to Tampa and then to Sarasota. The building is now called Asolo Theatre and opened its doors here on January 10, 1958. The theatre has since been moved to its current location on the Ringling grounds and is now known as The Historic Asolo Theatre. The Asolo Theatre opened its doors in the Edwards Theater on January 10, 1958.

Asolo theater 1956-1957

A hurricane damaged the Robert-Morton pipe organ. Various attempts to modernize removed most of its original Art Deco. The building became a full-time movie theater, but, in 1973, it closed its doors.

Opera was beginning to be presented in Sarasota by a non-profit organization, the Asolo Opera Guild, which presented small-scale operas from out of town in the 320-seat Asolo Theater. In 1979, the Asolo Opera Guild bought the old Edwards Theatre for $150,000. Needing major renovations to restore the house the new Sarasota Opera House appeared on the National Register of Historic Places in March, 1984.

Further renovations between the end of the 2007 season and the March 2008 opening of the season have led to a significantly-enhanced opera experience. Sarasota Opera reopened with Verdi’s Rigoletto. Seating was expanded to approximately 1,200. After the 2009-2010 season, some seats along the far sides were taken out and replaced with aisles on either end of the theater leaving 1,119 seats.

The $20 million renovation included gutting the auditorium, resulting in a newly configured seating plan, expansion of the public areas and Opera Club on the second level, and the opening up of the 3-story atrium. This to exposed a newly installed skylight system which had existed in the 1926 building, but which was covered by a ceiling and a chandelier used in the film Gone with the Wind.

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OPERA HOUSE - FROM STAGE

So, it was off to the Sarasota Opera House with 55 of my closest senior citizens in tow for an afternoon holiday show. The Christmas and Holiday show was performed by the Ditchfield Family. The Ditchfield Family Singers are acclaimed for their close harmony, warmth and wide variety of musical styles and presentations. For over fifteen years The Ditchfield Family has provided audiences with unforgettable entertainment experiences. They perform everything from the popular music of the ’30’s, ’40’s, and ’50’s to Broadway show stoppers, to the best loved traditional and inspirational standards of our time.

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Led by father Stephen Ditchfield the group consists of his wife, Bernice, daughter, Stephanie, their son Nathaniel and his wife Regina, son Michael and his wife Taylor and youngest son, David. On special occasions, they are joined by their four grandsons: Andrew, Christopher, Joshua and Timothy.

They present a variety of Christmas favorites performing as many as 25 Christmas Concerts throughout the Southeast each December. Their hometown is Sarasota, Florida, and the annual Ditchfield Family Christmas Show has become one of the community’s holiday traditions. The fare offered is definitely considered family entertainment.

Singing Christmas Carols is where it began for the Ditchfield Family Singers. The Christmas show takes you from Victorian England, and the Traditional Carols, through the Christmas classics made popular by all our favorite contemporary performers and, of course, back to a lonely hill in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. Most of my senior citizen friends were thrilled with the show.

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Stephen Ditchfield is the leader and father of the Ditchfield Christmas Show. He considers himself a highly accomplished Bass/Baritone soloist. He has been entertaining audiences for over 30 years and calls himself the Musical Director of the Ditchfield Family Singers. His experience is wide-ranging and includes activities as a motivational speaker and sales trainer, broadcaster, ordained Minister, publisher and golf professional. Busy fellow, no?

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Bernice Ditchfield, Stephen’s wife is the booking agent, sales manager, and Christmas Show ticket chairman of the Ditchfield family business. As a former executive secretary for a marketing firm and sales manager for a publishing company, she now combines her many varied talents and skills juggling concert dates.

I watched the audience slowly emerge from the building with wheel chairs, walkers and canes. For most walking out the theater their gate was focused and measured. With a smile on their face it was time to head to a restaurant and enjoy a home cooked meal.

YODERS – SARASOTA

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Yoder’s is a favorite dinning spot for a lot of people. It’s a simple building and has a very large following. Seeing the complex as it stands today, one might wonder how it all began. In the 1970’s Levi and Amanda Yoder sold their farm in Nappanee, Indiana, and moved to Sarasota, Florida. Due to the recession they found themselves investing their life savings into a small restaurant on Main Street in 1975. Levi had a heart for people that created lasting connections and Amanda’s second nature was good home cooking. The combination of the two had an instant way of making customers feel as if they were back in the comforts of “Mom’s dinner table”.

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Levi and Amanda Yoder

A second location was purchased on Bahia Vista Street in 1984. Both locations were open for several years, but in 1986. They decided their efforts would be best focused on the one location. Over the years Yoder’s has continued to grow, consistently winning first place awards for “Best Amish Restaurant” and “Best Homemade Dessert”. Yoder’s has become a local tradition and favorite destination for many.

AMANDA YODER

AMENDA YODER

The quality and freshness that began over a million pies ago is still the foundation of our strong customer loyalty and success. From the time the doors first opened on Main Street, Yoder’s Restaurant has established a culture of hearty portions and quality Amish home cooking, served with friendly service in a family atmosphere.

YODERS WAIT STAFF - AMANDA

In 2007, the doors to Yoder’s Amish Gift Shop opened and shortly thereafter, in 2009, they launched their Produce Market. The Deli followed in 2010. With tremendous growth, Yoder’s restructured and in 2011 Yoder’s Restaurant and Amish Village was born. Yoder’s has always prided themselves in the value of family. As of today, there are many branches of our Yoder family tree involved in the day-to-day operations of the Village, including Todd & Mary Lou Emrich (son-in-law and daughter), and Brian Emrich (grandson).

BRIAN

BRIAN EMRICH

Speaking of Brian, I was in the back of the complex in the far back parking lot and found a place to park the bus. I took two parking spots and noticed a young man walking toward me with an Amish style beard. I figured he was going to tell me I couldn’t park in my spot. He walked up to me and I asked him, “Am I okay parking here?” Brian looked at the bus and said it’s perfect. He then put orange traffic cones around the front of the bus so that I could get out of the parking area without any trouble. On the way in to the restaurant I asked Brian the history of the restaurant. He gave me the basics. He even walked me past the people waiting in line and seated me at a table and asked Amanda, my waitress, to come and take my order.

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The food was good, really good. I had the fried chicken, mashed potatoes with white gravy and corn. I needed to get back to the bus and asked Amanda for my bill. She turned and smiled and said, “It’s been taken care of.” I quickly asked, “By who? The Restaurant or one of my senior citizens?” Amanda said, “Brian comped it!” I tipped Amanda, and thanked her. As I was leaving, I noticed Brain walking by and yelled to him, “Brian, thanks for my dinner.” He smiled and mouthed, “Your welcome.”

Can I give a personal testimony about bus drivers and venues? Years ago it was not uncommon for a bus to pull into a restaurant and spill 50 people on the place. The owner or manager was more than happy for the additional business and made sure the driver got his food quickly. Most of the time the restaurant would be happy with the added business and the driver would have a meal on the house, so to speak. That practice simply does not happen today. I even asked the Opera House if I could see part of the show from the back of the theater.

“What do you mean? Where is your ticket?”

I simply thanked the woman with way too much makeup and left the building.

Yoder’s is a family owned and family operated business. The family is hands on, watching and working the business every day. It’s not a franchise, with someone in their ivory tower on the west coast putting out a memo on how to operate a restaurant. Will I encourage my next group to have dinner at Yoder’s? You can count on it. Is this a commercial for Yoder’s? Let’s just call it a testimony!

About the author

Stephen A and Scott Duncan publish "ByDuncan.com" Scott photographs (Duncan Photography) and is the guy who keeps this site running. Steve (left) is a photographer (Duncan Photography) and writes to "ByDuncan.com"