Venice's El Patio Hotel: Home away from home
Local hostelry owner recalls building's glorious past
Venice Gondolier Article. By Tim A. Gielau, Features Editor.
There's a hotel where? And it's been their how many years?
If you didn't know about the only hotel in downtown Venice, it's probably because you are new to the area.
The El Patio Hotel has been a landmark in the downtown area since 1926. And for the last 51 years, 91-yew-old Faye Miles has been its sole proprietor.
"My late husband, Walter Leslie, and I had a hotel in Marion, Md., for about a year. But he had a heart condition and his doctor told him to move to Florida for his health. That was in 1947 said Faye. "We heard this place was for sale so we bought it. I've been here ever since?
Located at 229 W. Venice Ave., the El Patio has become the home for scores of winter visitors, many of whom return year after year to the familiar surroundings of Faye's hotel.
"When we bought the place, I think there was a bank, a hardware store and a doctor's office, and that's all there was to downtown. But we were still the center of the community, just like today," said Faye. "We had diagonal parking along Venice Avenue, and it seemed like somebody would hit the building with their car about once a month."
The first year m business was a slow one, she said. About the only folks that stayed at the hotel were the parents of students at Kentucky Military Institute, a private military academy in Linden, Ky., that spent its winters in Venice.
"A few of them were fathers, but mostly it was the mothers who stayed here," she said. "We checked in 17 guests one day who had come for the tarpon fishing. That was a pretty big day for us."
But with each subsequent year, the El Patio’s guest register grew and grew. Before long, they had developed a steady stream of guests who would begin coming around Christmastime and stay until Easter.
"People like being in the center of town," said Faye. ‘They liked to spend their time window shopping. Then, when it was time to leave, they would go make all their purchases?
The lobby of the hotel used to be on the ground floor, accessible from the open arcade. But after a stream of unwanted visitors began using the corridor, Faye’s husband took measures to close it off.
"We were getting people in bicycles, on motorcycles and even a horse once in a while that would just come tiding through. So Walter went to the city to get it closed off," she said.
The arcade is still there, but you have to go up the stairs to get to the El Patio’s lobby. On the second floor, 32 rooms line the lobby on either side. And each of the rooms also opens to the outdoors on the exterior walls.
"We didn’t have any restaurants in Venice, so we held these big potluck dinners for the guests. Sometimes we’d have as many as 60 people for dinner. When we did want to go out, we would go to this restaurant in Sarasota by the airport where they had a woman who played the piano recalled Faye.
Faye Miles stands in one of the 32
bedrooms in El Patio Hotel.
The hotel isn’t as full as it used to be during the winter months, but Faye still has a few regular guests who count on seeing her every year. And though running a hotel can be a lot of work. Faye isn't showing any signs of slowing down any time in the near future. Especially since she took up competitive ballroom dancing when she was 75.
"I don't know of any secrets to living a long life," said Faye.
"It's just not something I think about."
Faye W. Miles and the El Patio Hotel
from the July / August 1999 issue of Venice Gulf Coast Living
Faye has been the owner of the El Patio Hotel in the Arcade Building on Venice Avenue for the past 51 years. Life on Venice Avenue has changed; guests of the hotel could go downstairs after a good night’s sleep, get something to eat at Dick and Meadows Pharmacy lunch counter, have prescriptions filled, purchase necessary items, get a haircut, buy something for a friend at the gift shop, have their shoes repaired, pick up or post their mail, and never leave the building. Faye remembers, "When we first got here it really was the center of activity. There were about 800 living in Venice at that time. The post office was in the Arcade and people could hear when their mail was coming in on the train. It always went out at 8am and was supposed to return at 4pm, but sometimes it could be midnight. Whenever it was, people would walk right through the Arcade to get their mail, you got to know everyone in town that way.
I first learned of Faye from John, of the Arcade Barber Shop. She is his landlord and he enthused, "She is 91 years young, and she is amazing. She’s very active, always out doing something, and she always waves 'hello’ as she goes by the barber shop window. She can tell you some great stories of back when in Venice.”
I, along with John, love her stories. She talked of the people who stayed at the hotel and those who worked for the circus. She recalled the digging of the Intercoastal. She painted word pictures of how Venice Avenue looked, the unpaved single lane of traffic, the angle parking, the people, and the orange tree filled landscape between the two sides of the street.
Even now, the hotel has the look and feel of a stage set for a play. It was built European style in 1926 by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, founders of Venice. It is the only remaining in-town hotel, and the only one that was built by the engineers, giving the town its upscale reputation.
Guests at the El Patio share a long central lobby that is more like a living room with bedrooms opening onto it. Coffee perks all day, and guests bring breakfast foods from their room refrigerators as they greet each other. There are 32 rooms arranged in pairs, joined by a common bathroom, and are now rented as suites. Each opens into the living room area and also outside onto overhung side porches.
In my conversations with Faye I found her to be a sweet, interesting woman with an exuberance for life. Born in 1908 and raised in Indiana, she learned to survive as second to the youngest of four siblings. Faye had to create her own identity, which she continues to do with style. She met her husband, Walter Leslie Miles, in college. They were both teachers and were married May 9, 1928. They had children, Bob and Mary Jo. Leslie became a principal.
Looking for a change, they managed a hotel in Indiana for four years. Leslie’s health failed, and his doctor recommended a move to Florida. Hearing about the El Patio, Leslie came down and bought it May 2, 1948. Faye followed the next fall with Mary Jo, who finished her senior year at Venice / Nokomis High School in a graduating class of 17 students.
On one of my visits with Faye, Mary Jo joined us. The two reminisced over pictures in several albums of happy days and smiling faces. The stories they shared of potluck dinners and vast amounts of food, prepared in Faye’s kitchen, sounded more like the rememberings of family gatherings rather than a business. Mary Jo also talked about her mother, “My father had his first heart trouble when I was in 7th grade. My mom knew that there was a possibility he would not be there to help raise their family. When you think you have that to face it either breaks you or makes you strong. It made mom strong.” Faye added, “That is where I spent my time, being there ... helping my kids and him, that helped me, too."
Leslie’s health stabilized and he took care of maintenance around the hotel. Faye took care of most of the rest. From renting the rooms to decorating, she had her hand in all of it. Right after her husband died in 1978, Faye concentrated her energies on the hotel. She sewed, fixed and repaired and then found that she needed to be out with people again. She became involved with the Arthur Murray Dance Studio and began traveling all over the world and competing in ballroom dancing. She proudly displays her trophies.
Walking through the building with Faye was like looking through the picture albums. She told me about each change that had been made from stairways to gardens, furniture to trash disposal, from the draperies she made to the cushions she re-upholstered. She pointed out so many little things about the building that what I once looked at as unique and special, began to feel rare, precious and irreplaceable. Countless original items remain: minors, metal furniture, even the original wooden-slat Venetian blinds at each window. In an age of throwing out or destroying the old to make way for the new, it is seldom that we get to experience something truly historical; something that is a part of our past and remains a part of our present. We still can at the El Patio Hotel. What a great place to enjoy the charm and magic of days gone by, set in the present day uniqueness of Venice Avenue. Spend the night and step back in time, treat yourself and your out-of-town friends to a taste of the real Venice.
When I asked Faye for some words of wisdom on how to stay as vital as she has, she laughed, “I guess just staying active. I am really lucky to have had the life I have had... I have been able to meet so many wonderful people here that I wouldn’t have experienced any other way. This city and hotel are in my blood. I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else and it’s been quite an experience for me; and still is. Maybe I can’t do everything I want to anymore, but I can do most things.”
Then, she had to get going. She had to get her hair done; she was off to the symphony that evening.
From the El Patio Hotel brochure
Small hotels on the main streets of small towns, close to the bus station. These were transits for people from the country to test the town, for men forced out of breaking up marriages, for salesmen traveling to downtown accounts trying to save a few bucks.
They were different from the fleabags because their neighborhoods were decent. Bums didn't hang out, and the lobbies felt something like the ~ or a hostel or retirement home. The lights were dim, the furniture plain, and the desk clerk, who was street-smart and courteous, would look after your suitcase while you got a haircut or bought food for the ride between the time you checked out and your bus or train came.
They were still respectable before malls superseded downtowns, and before newer hotels prideful of chain affiliations were built with urban renewal grants.
Some of the small ones on main streets remain. Sometimes great will, foresight, and dollars lead to their remodeling and re-emergence in the European style. Their new popularity is helped by never having changed their location.
Despite alterations that have removed its namesake patio and busied its look, the little hotel fits well in the bustling downtown which, thanks to the wide pleasant grassy mall that divides Venice Avenue, and the resurgence of downtown retailing, has become a popular pedestrian area.
The hotel's large plate window on the avenue fits with the look of bakeries, boutiques, and the drug store. The building is not set back with a circular drive. There is no special No Parking zone. Guests are no more fashionably dressed than for an appointment with the optometrist.
She looks faintly stagey, a petite woman treated well by her years. She and her late husband have been the only owners since 1948. A certain style has settled in with an appreciative clientele that returns winter after winter.
Guests share a long lobby that is more like a living room that bedrooms open onto. Coffee perks all morning. Guests bring breakfast foods from their refrigerators and chew over plans for the day. It is a place for bridge or for reading, watching TV, tending the plants. Some evenings the crowd pitches in for a potluck dinner using Faye's kitchen. There is the little feeling of a congregate living facility. That's because familiarity prevails.
Rooms that were small and plain have now been reconfigured so that from 27 there are now 16 units, some with two bedrooms and some with one, but all with private baths. Venetian blinds give privacy to rooms that open onto the lobby. All have color cable TV; small refrigerators, heat, and there is air conditioning in all. Some have floor fans. During 1990 the exterior of the hotel was restuccoed and repainted, and a new roof was put on during the winter o~ 1990-1991.
El Patio is the only remaining in-town hotel, and the only of those that in the Twenties gave Venice its upscale reputation. The other three great hotels, all built by the brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers who founded the town, have either been razed or converted to other uses1
The liveliness at El Patio reflects Faye's own life-style1 Active and vivacious, she competes around the world as a gold medallist on the ballroom dance circuit.
During the season she gets out evenings to dance, and her guests go out as well for everything from aerobics to knitting clubs and lectures at the Civic Center. "When the season's at its peak, it's like a giant three-month party among the guests."
It is reasonable too, and a few blocks walk from the beach.
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