Bubil: A man who was more than a mere surgical wizard


Invited to speak to the Venice Chapter of the Women’s Council of Realtors last week, I knew I could not drag out the same old spiel about Sarasota real estate history.

No, my topic, “Real Estate Leaders and Losers,” had to focus on Venice’s development origins, which in some ways are more interesting than Sarasota’s.

Through my research, little of which involved Wikipedia or the Internet (for a change), I actually had to read (a few pages of) books.

The best one on the subject is “Venice: Journey From Horse and Chaise,” by honest-to-goodness historian Janet Snyder Matthews.

In it, I learned a lot about an amazing New Yorker named Dr. Fred Albee, for whom Albee Road is named.

Called the “Wizard Surgeon” and “the greatest surgeon in the world” in the early years of the 20th century, Albee, starting in 1917, bought a good bit of land in the area and played a key role in the development of both Nokomis and Venice, which once was known as Horse and Chaise. Changing the name seems to have worked out.

By then, the Harvard-trained doctor had already performed the first successful bone graft and developed tiny surgical saws that ran on electricity. He practiced overseas during World War I, developing therapies for injured soldiers. The highly celebrated surgeon also was a pioneer in the treatment of clubfeet and tuberculosis of the joints. He used motion pictures for educating other surgeons, and, after the war, advocated for improvements in rehabilitation and public health, traveling the country in a whirlwind tour to do so.

In what was then southern Manatee County, Albee hired Boston’s famous urban planner, John Nolen, to draw a plan for Albee’s vast acreage in and around Nokomis and what would become downtown Venice. Judging by the traffic and pedestrians on Venice Avenue at any one time, the Nolen plan was well-conceived.

Albee, sensing that the land boom was about to fizzle, shelved his Venice plan just as the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, looking to recoup losses from a previous bad investment of pension funds, decided to jump into the Florida real estate frenzy. It bought the holdings of Albee and several other landowners.

Albee was right about the boom turning to bust. Unfortunately for the BLE, it spent millions of dollars for tens of thousands of acres in the fall of 1925, just as the boom was reaching its peak.

The following summer, with the hyperventilated market feeling faint and the real estate-hawking “binder boys” heading back north, the BLE built an impressive number of buildings and parks and miles of roads in its dream city. But when the market crashed following the September 1926 hurricane, the BLE lost its $12 million-plus investment. Venice became a ghost town until World War II.

Albee had sold at precisely the right time, proving to be as adept a real estate investor as he was a surgeon.

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: April 12, 2014
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