Stop 61 & 62: The 1921 Sarah Elizabeth “Essie” Coleman Building
The 1921 Sarah Elizabeth Coleman building at 37845 and 37847 Meridian Avenue, Dade City is credited with being the best example of Mediterranean Revival Style architecture in Dade City’s downtown business district. The classic old building has housed numerous businesses over time, including Coleman Insurance & Real Estate, Apple Annie’s Antiques, Anthony’s His and Hers Hair Salon, Robert L. Hogan. Gayle M. Hogan & William Hogan Business; Sugarcreek Antiques, Physician Herman Fennell, and many more enterprises.
Ora Gandy rescued the building in November of 1982 just after condemnation and renovated the exterior in 1987 with architect Tom Mathion of Clearwater who tried to bring back the look of the original building through paint color, balcony, and awning styles. The red brick building then had a gray stucco façade and wrought iron railing with enclosed balconies on the second-floor French doors. It was the recipient of one of the first Façade Improvement Grants from then Dade City Main Street Organization.
To explore the history of the quaint spaces is to understand what The Dade City Banner dubbed “the Pioneer Business Woman of Dade City,” Sarah Elizabeth Coleman who preferred to be known as S.E. which evolved into the phonological pronunciation, “Essie.” Born on September 10, 1892, Essie was christened from her paternal grandmother. Prominent as a socialite–a small-town debutante, her escapades were broadcast in weekly society columns and she was an achiever… graduating from Cox College in Georgia and returning for two post graduate degrees in education and music.
When she was offered a teaching professorship at Cox Music Conservatory, her alma matter, she declined the characteristic female career to enter the world of business like her father, one of the pioneering founders of Coleman & Ferguson, Henry Coleman.
Essie took the reins as Chairman/President of the Board of Coleman & Ferguson (next door) in 1919 (with Younger O’Neal as Vice President and manager of the department store) just after Essie’s father passed away. Her father’s partner Ferguson retired that same year and relocated to Tampa to enjoy several years of travel until the stock market crash contributed to his untimely death.
Essie facilitated the incorporation of Coleman & Ferguson, and then created her own insignia business and erected this iconic Mediterranean Revival structure, right next door in 1921. With the business savvy, she created a thriving insurance and real estate enterprise at the Sarah Elizabeth Coleman building and impacted Dade City for many decades.
Accolades for Essie included President of the Board of Realtors, President of Pasco County Insurance Agents, President and charter member of the Dade City Garden Club, first President of the Professional Woman’s Club of Dade City, and the list goes on. If What’s My Line? were still in play, nobody would guess an unheard-of female contestant such as Essie as women proprietors were non-existent or scarce in the post-Civil War South.
Today you can visit Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread and the Angel Tea Room & Heavenly Treasures Gift Shop and savor the ambiance of the lovely locations and perhaps reflect on the nearly one hundred-year-old history.
Given two spots on the self-guided tour, it is worthy to note that the two contemporary women-led enterprises that occupy the space have inadvertently carried on the traditions of Essie Coleman as women leaders.
Shifting Gears to look at the history of the proprietors in this age-old shoppe:
In the eastern section of the Essie Coleman building, the Angel Tea Room & Heavenly Treasures Gift Shop is operated by Margaret Angell, a 1966 graduate of Pasco High School. She was the first female Private Investigator in Dade City, beginning in 1982, and operated a multi-agent business for several years. To get to the position of Private Investigator, requirements included attendance at the police academy and service as both a Dade City police officer and a Pasco County Sheriff’s officer.
As a segway of historical significance, Margaret has also been the President of the Merchant’s Association for eleven years and is committed to preserving the character and culture of Dade City. The Merchant’s Association was formed in April of 1926 so it parallels the history of the iconic building. The Dade City Banner wrote, “Grocers, dry goods merchants, meat dealers, automobile dealers, and representatives of every other line of mercantile houses in Dade City met Wednesday night at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Woots Huckabay (Woots and Mildred) Stop 30 and Stop 37-38 and discussed plans for the organization of a Dade City Mercantile Association. More than 75 percent of the firms engaged were present.”
In the almost one hundred years of operation, the Merchants Association has advised on taxing, size of the city commission, infrastructure, and tons of legislative issues, while they have sponsored antique sales, downtown events, Santa visits, and much more.
Angel Tea Room evolved in 1997 from Cathy Hayter who fulfilled a dream of opening a tea shop. She grew up drinking tea and was skilled at crafting angel figurines, and sought to combine the two crafts with a Christian-themed English Tea Room. In 2007. Margaret Angell and Brenda Tester purchased the shop from Cathy and have carried on many of the menu items and traditions. Today, one can see the evidence of angelic decor throughout the tea room and the aura of an English garden with ivy vine wallpaper and wisteria, cozy teapots and charm throughout. The English tea experience is offered in the classic tea room.
Next door to the west in the Essie Coleman building, you will find another remarkable business operated by a lady role model. The shop is Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread. A local girl, Mary Katherine Mason has a remarkable background. A service-disabled wounded U.S. Marine who was enmeshed in a career in hotel interior design, was abruptly faced with an obstacle during COVID 19, and took a different fork in the road. Utilizing an amazing family recipe from her Great Grandmother of delicious shortbread of traditional and unique flavors, she started a Scottish Shortbread bakery in Dade City in 2021 and became an active part of the community. The ambiance of her amazing shop is worth a visit and fits beautifully beside the space that once held the original Dade City Bakery.