Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fort Ortiz

This post is only peripherally related to 16th C. living history and conquistador reenactment, but if you bear with me I think I can pull if off.

I've been curious for years about a lone Spanish style sentry post or garita , located near Sarasota's Municipal Auditorium, similar to those on the walls of the Castillo de San Marcos in St, Augustine or El Morro in San Juan. Why is there one in Sarasota? The only fort that I know of associated with the area was the Seminole War era Fort Armistead. Was it the remnant of the entry to a failed subdivision or perhaps a garden "folly"? Maybe something related to one of Sarasota's many sister cities? There must be some story behind it. Below is a link to the Google Street View of it.,+Sarasota,+Florida+34236&ll=27.343581,-82.548072&spn=0.008177,0.013797&t=h&z=16&layer=c&cbll=27.343403,-82.548083&panoid=q2uHSufHSclEXoMKxJvGjQ&cbp=12,72.2,,0,0.72

I'd taken these pictures of it a decade ago and while going through my digital photo collection for another project I came across them and decided to see if I could track down the history of this structure. The result was far cooler than I could have imagined. Terms like "sentry post' or "garita" failed but I did find a Sarasota History site

They kindly and promptly responded to my query about the structure in question and even had a web page about it.

Spanish Fort Once Stood Behind Municipal Auditorium

and also in Google Books: Sarasota: A History

It seems that c. 1948 Karl Bickel, had a Weapons Park/Museum of Arms constructed adjacent to the Auditorium. As part of the complex "Fort Juan Ortiz" [named after Hernando de Soto's translator- no less!] with a breastwork and cannon facing out into the bay. The breastwork and cannon have long since been removed. I would imagine that was done in the 1970's when the Auditorium was remodeled leaving only the Sentential as a lone reminder of its bygone days when as my corespondent with Sarasota History Alive mentioned, "My friends and I used to play there as kids, and enjoyed our imaginary war games."

When I moved to Sarasota this Park and fort were long since gone. I suspect that it was removed when the Auditorium was renovated in the 1970's. But as a kid was was raised near Syracuse, NY and often had the "French Fort" (properly - Fort Ste. Marie de Gannentaha [hence "French fort in the local vernacular.]) as a playground.

The fort was a WPA project from the 1930's and as near as I can tell built more in the style of a US Army frontier post of the 19th century rather than one in the French 17th C. My brothers and I loved that place. The French Fort no longer stands, it was replaced and renamed with a much more authentic structure and living history program in the early 1990's Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois. I think I last visited the French Fort in the mid-1970's have yet to check out the new version. Although as a researching, authenticity striving reenactor I do appreciate the new emphasis; the kid in my will always miss the "French Fort" anachronistic and not remotely ADA compliant that it may have been. As the father of a now eight year old I do regret that the closest thing to a faux fort we have in these parts is the palisade wall at the living history camp at DNM, which is really meant as more of a a backdrop and safety barrier then the kind of place were you could climb ladders, shoot imaginary guns through loopholes, and fire the cannon without powder.

That's me, second from the right, with my Mom and brothers c.1965.

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