Originally built as a tourist attraction, the replica military installation known as Fort Juan Ortiz was once an impressive arms museum but after its close and subsequent dissolution, all that remains is a solitary gunner’s position that still stands in defense of nothing.
Built in Sarasota, Florida circa 1948, the fake fort was the brainchild of local leader Karl Bickel, who constructed his historical weapons park adjacent to the Municipal Auditorium. Fort Juan Ortiz, named after famed Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto’s translator, was built with a breastwork and cannon facing out into the bay. In addition to a number of cannons and assorted pieces of artillery, the museum also contained a fighter plane, and a historic French railway car.
The fort/weapons park operated for decades before falling out of favor and fading into obscurity. The famous French railcar fell victim to rampant graffiti, and the breastwork and cannon have long since been removed, most likely in the 1970’s when the nearby Auditorium was remodeled, leaving a single-occupany gunner’s bunker as the only reminder of the fort’s bygone days. The domed stucco tower continues to defend naught but memories.