Steven Vitale appreciates downtown Stuart for its history, charm and beauty. The 48-year-old Sewall’s Point resident owns the Old Colorado Inn, a boutique hotel comprised of a series of historic buildings with associated rental homes, which are some of the oldest and most historic houses in Stuart.
Tell me a little about the Old Colorado Inn.
The hotel was originally the Coventry Hotel, which was the main hotel in Stuart, built in 1914, the same year the town was incorporated. It was the first brick building in Stuart and has a rich history. It was owned by Frank Coventry, who was reported to be the getaway driver for the Ashley Gang.
Among the historic collection of buildings is the Ernest Lyons house, which is the oldest house in Stuart—built in 1890 by the man who was the longtime president and editor for the Stuart News.
The “Blue House,” also known as the Barnes-Garrison House, is named for its original owner, Lyndon W. “Doc” Barnes, who ran the Arcade Drug Store and Soda Fountain. The house is a Sears Roebuck kit house built in 1915.
And I recently moved the Clifton Guest and Fishing Lodge to a vacant lot between the Ernest Lyons House and the “Blue House.” It was going to be knocked down as part of the Seminole Bluff project, but I hired the Brownie Company to move the house down the river by barge and bring it across the street to its new location. That house was built, I believe, in 1915 by Sam Matthews, and it’s most notable because Ralph Evinrude, who was married to movie starlet Frances Langford, lived and courted her there.
There are some cottages throughout the premises—and the latest addition is the Owl House, a very uniquely shaped house built in 1904 by a ship captain who designed it to withstand hurricane winds. It was used as a birthing center until the late 1970s or early 1980s.
What is it about Stuart’s history that sparked your interest in these buildings?
I’m originally from Staten Island, where I grew up in a family that loves and appreciates restoration. I watched my dad, Otto Vitale, do hundreds of renovation and restoration projects, and he taught me what was worth preserving and how to bring the beauty out of something. I relocated to Martin County 23 years ago to practice as a real estate attorney, and I have a large family—a wife and seven children—so when the real estate market tanked, I needed to run two businesses to make ends meet. I had the good fortune of acquiring these properties, which were in good shape because others who share my passion for historic preservation and charm really did most of the heavy lifting on the renovation projects.
Who helped you turn this dream into a business?
There are a lot of people I follow in the footsteps of. Mike Braid owned one of the buildings and originally renovated it and did a lot of the restoration work. I was also fortunate to be inspired by local historian Sandra Thurlow, who shared a lot of historic photos of the buildings, which I display in the hallways and units. We give many tours to promote the appreciation of local history that Sandra has worked so hard to preserve.