The Banyan House was built in 1927 as a six bedroom, five bath home in the Northern Italian architectural style for Robert and Dorothy Marvin. Mr. Marvin was an engineer who managed the home department of The Venice Company, a subsidiary of the Brotherhood of Locomotive (BLE). The house was built of hollow red clay tile with a stucco finish.
This elegant house has terra cotta, patterned ceramic tile, and oak flooring, as well as original plastered walls, cypress ceilings, and exposed beams. The house has three elaborate fireplaces. The most elaborate is located in the first floor living room and was imported from Italy. A second, located in the corner of the first floor den, was constructed in the abode style. The third, located in the original second floor master bedroom, is faced with pink marble and has pink ceramic tile in front of the hearth.
When the BLE left Venice in 1928, the house was vacant until 1935 when it was purchased by Virginia Greenway Wilson. Mrs. Wilson had two children to support and engaged in various businesses to support herself and her family during the Depression. She rented rooms in her home, first calling it the “Copper Kettle Inn,” but eventually naming it the “Banyan House” after a large Banyan tree in the side yard said to have been given to the previous owner by Thomas Edison. She also ran a nursery school called the “Venice Country Day School” from the house and transported children in a station wagon with a surrey-fringe attached to the top. Because the house had the first, and for a long time the only swimming pool in the city, many children learned to swim in it.
In her spare time, Mrs. Wilson operated the city’s first taxi service, charging 10 cents for a ride anywhere in the city. She also ran a tea room called the “Copper Kettle” in downtown Venice in the building at 200 St. Augustine Avenue (currently Luna’s Restaurant). During World War II, Mrs. Wilson rented rooms to servicemen stationed at the Venice Army Air Base, now the Venice Municipal Airport and her home became Venice’s unofficial USO (United Service Organization).
In 1960, Margaret Thomas purchased the house from Mrs. Wilson and established a shark’s tooth and fossil museum in the house. Ms. Thomas wrote a book on fossil collecting and took many children on fossil collecting expeditions. She sold the house in 1976. Today the house is operated as an inn known as the Banyan House.
In December 1989, this structure was listed in National Register of Historic Places as a contributing structure in the Venezia Park Historic District.
Photograph provided by Venice Museum & Archives