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The eventual rise of Longboat Key

by Roger Pettingell

Longboat Key: Circus times to today

Our story picks up from last week on the history of Longboat Key

Ritz-Carlton hotel in 1952
Ritz-Carlton - Ringling's dream of a grand hotel on Longboat Key ended in the late 1920s. The structure was demolished in 1964 to make way for Arvida's new Longboat Key Club with its many amenities

While John Ringling had eyes on developing his circus on the mainland, he had a keen sense for the barrier islands as a real estate developer. He was the visionary for bringing his circus to Sarasota in 1927 and purchasing land in the Sarasota area. It was that period before then in which he purchased much of the south end of Longboat Key, an undeveloped Bird Key, St. Armands Key and a couple smaller keys. He set out to create a grand playground for the rich to vacation in this slice of paradise.

A short time before then, another developer Owen Burns had his own plans for developing Sarasota and the barrier islands, starting with the development of the Lido Key Beach. Before World War I, under his Burns Realty Company and the Burns Construction Company he was instrumental in its development and the area now known as Burns Court in Sarasota.

He and Ringling together were working together to manage the tremendous growth they had seen for the area. This is where we pick up from last week on the early years of Longboat Key, and progress to what is today Longboat Key.

St. Armands Circle was a vision Ringling had for shops and dining. He purchased a home under construction to be used for Warren G. Harding as a winter White House for the president. This was a great growth spurt for the area during this period of the roaring twenties. Ringling also set out to construct the first Ringling Bridge from Sarasota to St. Armands Key in 1925. It was then that his grandest illusion was forming, the construction of a Ritz-Carlton branded hotel that would be the invitation for the rich and famous.

Tragedy struck in many forms. In 1921 a hurricane devastated the area and created a New Pass inlet that now separates Lido Key from Longboat Key. Ringling may have used this as an omen to build his Ritz-Carlton on the southern edge of Longboat Key overlooking New Pass. A bigger set-back may have been the economic breakdown and land bust during the Great Depression that started in 1929. It didn't stop there, there was the death of his beloved wife, Mable, also in 1929. The project was abandoned and the empty shell of this great hotel would sit idle for many years. John Ringling himself would pass on several years later.

One of the remaining Whitney Beach Cottages
Progress Continues - One of the remaining Whitney Beach cottages on the Longboat Key Arts Center site was moved to make way for a new development. A new Arts Center behind the Publix is in development.

One of the first developments on the island began in 1935 when Gordon and Lora Whitney purchased Gulf to Bay property on Longboat Key and built 13 cottages on the northern end of island. These were resort-style properties with a tennis court for use by guests. Whitney Beach was popular and even used during WWII to house servicemen. The resort would close in 1957 and some of the cottages moved to different locations. One of the last remaining cottages was moved to the northeast corner at Gulf of Mexico Drive and Broadway Street. It will be repurposed as a Longboat Key historical museum and greeting center for visitors entering from Bradenton and Anna Maria Island.

Longboat Key would make modest gains in the years following, certainly not at the fervor pace that Ringling had set. Development was slow to a point that even in 1942 the U.S. Air Force saw the barren land on Longboat Key and determined it would be a great location for use as 50-caliber target practice at the beginning of World War II. For a few hours a day P-40 aircraft would strafe the mid-section of the island in their practice sessions.

The town had seen moderate growth following the war and the town would vote to incorporate in November 1955 by nearly a unanimous vote of nearly 100 citizens. Eight commissioners were elected that day, the Honorable Wilfred LaPage was selected among them as the first mayor of Longboat Key. The anniversary is next week.

Longboat Key was to see its next growth spurt. Arthur Vining Davis, with his namesake company by combining the first two letters of his name, Arvida Corporation, made a major investment in Longboat Key by buying up Ringling property holdings from Bird Key to mid-Longboat Key. In the years following the 1958 purchase, the 91-year old Davis with his corporation made great strides in the development of Longboat Key. It was a modern era of growth.

Under Arvida's commitment, Bird Key was forming from a small area of land to a tropical island of well-planned canals and streets. Dredging and land fill expanded the land mass from 12 acres to 250 acres by the early 1960s. Stately homes were built to attract celebrities. The Bird Key Yacht Club was formed in 1959 to become a center post of activity. Today Bird Key is a family-oriented community where you can visit with neighbors on the street, walk your pet or take a relaxing ride on a bike in this gated community.

Arvida was also responsible for the development of Country Club Shores on the south end of the island with its series of canals with direct access to the bay. Arvida was responsible for much of the Bay Isles development, with communities that were distinctly different from each other. Bay Isles is a gated set of communities and its owners have deeded access to the Bay Isles Beach Club. Grand Bay, with its six buildings on the bay is a prime example of this luxury development. Fairway and Marina Bay offer similar lifestyles. Corey’s Landing has its villas with maintenance-free living. Next door is Queens Harbour with single and two-story upscale homes.

New Guard Gate
Longboat Key Club - The old guard gate to Longboat Club Road is in the foreground of the new entrance structure under construction by Ocean Properties

Arvida soon began one of its biggest projects where the abandoned Ritz-Carlton hotel started by Ringling sat deteriorating. It demolished the structure in 1964 and started its plans for the Longboat Key Club where the degrading structure stood. An 18-hole golf course was built near the structure. The Longboat Key Club is now comprised of two championship golf courses, marina in a protected harbor, tennis courts and fine restaurants. Ocean Properties purchased the resort in 2012 and plans are underway to expand with hotels and family residences, discussed in this REALTALKplus™ article.

The Colony Beach and Tennis Resort was also beginning its rise in the 1960s. It would grow to become one of the world’s renown centers for training rising stars in professional tennis. Celebrities gathered there to relax. George Bush stayed at the resort on September 10, 2001 before attending a class demonstration at Booker Elementary School the next day. It was there that he was informed of the hijacking of American airplanes. The Colony fell into bankruptcy and eventually closed in 2010.

Longboat Observer update
Colony Beach & Tennis Resort - Developers faced with obstacles to develop the abandoned property.

But the Colony may rise again. The Orlando company, Unicorp National under its president, Chuck Whittall, have plans to demolish the existing buildings to build a set of 78 luxury residences and a 166-room hotel on the site. Many of the buildings have been taken down, but Unicorp faces some legal hurdles with ownership rights of some units. The completed resort will be run by St. Regis, which manages some of the top hotels in the world and is part of the discussion in this REALTALKplus™ article.

This new growth helps to spurt some luxury home sales, including four new listings last week. Three qualify as Coldwell Banker Global Luxury properties for their price and luxury features. Please contact me at (941) 387-1840 for an exclusive showing or if you have a property to sell or buy.

Address List Price Media Slideshow
604 Mourning Dove Drive $2,495,000 Video Photo Slideshow
1465 Hillview Drive $1,995,000 Video Photo Slideshow
260 N. Shore Rd, #4 $1,695,000   Photo Slideshow
519 Bayview Drive $849,000 Video Photo Slideshow

 

Call us at (941) 387-1840 for an exclusive showing

 

Longboat Key Early Years

by Roger Pettingell

Beginnings from Indians to Depression

The Longboat Key formation by early settlements of migrating northerners

Shell mounds in Sarasota and Longboat Key
Early Shell Mound - This mound in Sarasota is evidence that Indians once inhabited Longboat Key

As in today, Longboat Key was used as a vacation destination long before the European explorers landed on the island. As comical as that may sound, there is evidence that native Indians came to Longboat Key to escape persecution or as we do in modern times, travel to a warmer climate. Studies of bone, pottery, with hunting and fishing artifacts lead archaeologists to believe that these early settlers were living on Longboat Key anywhere from 1,000 BC to 800 AD.

There is even evidence they vacationed here. But not from the north, but from the neighboring mainland areas that surround Longboat Key. It may have been paradise to them then just as it is now. Most of this evidence has been gathered from the area around what is now known as Bay Isles. This includes the area of Queens Harbour, Corey’s Landing and Grand Bay.

The skeletons that have been found depict a tribe of very large people. The remains of Indians as tall as 7 to 8 feet have been uncovered. Of the five tribes in the area, anthropologists suggest that either the Timucan or Calusa tribes were most likely these early settlers. Their diet consisted of mostly seafood as you might expect, but I read one account that indicated tiger and deer bones have been unearthed.

It is suggested that any remaining Indians were forced out when European settlers discovered the island and began inhabiting it around the time of Hernando de Soto. The two tribes either fled or were wiped out by small pox and other diseases. Although no official historical records were kept, de Soto’s chief scout Juan Anasco may have been the first. He was commissioned by de Soto to explore the area of Tampa Bay and the surrounding islands.

There is no confirmation but wrecked vessel parts found in the area of Whitney Beach on the Manatee County northern end were believed to belong to Anasco. A current Longboat Key road was named for the scout, Juan Anasco Drive is on a canal that opens to Bishops Bayou. It is even suggested that de Soto himself explored Longboat Key with Anasco in 1539 but moved north to the Palma Sola area when they could not find fresh water.

Thomas Mann home
First settler Thomas Mann and his thatched roof house

Although some locals from the mainland traveled to Longboat Key in the years after, it wasn’t until 1888 when Thomas Mann acquired 144 acres through a homestead claim that Longboat Key had its first full-time settler in recorded history. A few years earlier, Colin Witt was granted 7 acres on the north end and Rolin Witt claimed 57 acres on the south end. Their settlement on the island was postponed. Elizabeth Mann, the wife of son James Mann, was granted land in 1892 and along with others, Longboat Key had its first population growth. The Mann’s meager survival came from farming the land on Longboat Key.

Communities were seeing their first formations. Longbeach on the north end was platted on old maps. Other plats were named Long Beach, Long Boat Beach, Long Boat Key and Longboat Key. They converged and is now considered one town Longboat Key, celebrating its 63rd anniversary as an incorporated town on November 13. The island town is divided into two counties, Manatee and Sarasota. It is one of three cities in Florida with this distinction.

The beginnings of Corey’s Landing, now behind the gates of Bay Isles was forming its growth in 1904. Corey’s Pier was a stopover of the first regular steamer to frequent the island, the Mistletoe. Byron Corey was operator of the pier and the location of the island’s first post office in 1907, with Corey as its first postmaster. His regular trips to Sarasota for mail was on his own boat the Vilas. Corey was also a produce farmer and shipping entrepreneur. Today Byron Lane in Corey’s Landing offers exclusive views of the bay and flows through a stretch of Harbourside Golf Course, one of two championship courses of the Resort at Longboat Key Club. Named for the steamship, Mistletoe Lane runs parallel to Byron Lane.

At the turn of the century Longboat Key experienced more growth and was becoming known for its resorts and winter homes. The fertile soil made for tropical fruit growth which was transported by steamship for sail on the mainland. Boat was the only transportation for tourists to visit Longboat Key but had limited room accommodations. The Jordan Hotel on Broadway began its operation in 1913 and had become the place to stay on the island. Named for its first owner, Rufus Jordan, the hotel was renamed the Longbeach Hotel after its 1925 sale.

Soon after, famed circus promoter and real estate magnate John Ringling put his eye on Longboat Key and sought to create a destination for the rich to come and play. His first bridge to Lido Key was built in 1925 so his target audience could find their way to the key. The bridge was replaced two times after the initial bridge, the most current is a Sarasota landmark 60-foot segmental bridge completed in 2003. Ringling started his grand endeavor in 1927 to build the best destination hotel in the world, and market it under the Ritz-Carlton trademark. But the great depression plunged the country into economic chaos and the project was abandoned months after its start. Its shell was demolished in the 1960s and a new wave of development started for the next chapter of Longboat Key.

The Legacy of John Ringling was covered in my 2016 REALTALKplus™ article and the iconic bridge in this 2018 REALTALKplus™ article. A light and lively poem in 2016 on the History of Longboat Key was penned by our own Mary Kay Ryan, director of customer care.

Much of the history of Longboat Key has been preserved by the Longboat Key Historical Society. The organization has been looking for a new home and is hoping to receive enough funding to purchase the land at the intersection of Gulf of Mexico Drive and Broadway Street. There they have moved a displaced cottage that once belonged to the historic Whitney Beach Resort. This was one of 13 cottages built in the 1930s by Gordon and Lora Whitney.

1710 Kenilworth Street
West of Trail - 1710 Kenilworth Street, Sarasota

I listed three new homes for sale on Longboat Key and Sarasota last week. The first is a rarely-available 3BR townhouse residence located directly on Longboat Key’s Gulf shores at 260 N. Shore Rd, #4, offering stunning modern upgrades. Begin your dream home or a renovation project in my second listing at this waterfront site in Country Club Shores. Just a stone’s throw away from Sarasota’s open bay waters, this 3BR/3BA is located at 570 Yardarm Lane. In my third listing immediately enjoy a luxurious lifestyle West of the Trail! This newer, 4BR home at 1710 Kenilworth Street is in a sought-after, centrally-located neighborhood. Please contact me at (941) 387-1840 for an exclusive showing or if you have a property to sell or buy.

Address List Price Media Slideshow
260 N. Shore Rd, #4 $1,899,000   Photo Slideshow
570 Yardarm Lane $899,000 Video Photo Slideshow
1710 Kenilworth Street $889,000 Video Photo Slideshow

 

Call us at (941) 387-1840 for an exclusive showing

 

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Roger Pettingell?

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  • Over 33 years as a top producing REALTOR® on Longboat Key and in Sarasota.

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  • Number 1 single Coldwell Banker agent in all of Florida for 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017
  • Number 1 Realtor on Longboat Key and Bird Key for 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018
  • Number 1 Realtor for all Sarasota in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018
  • Coldwell Banker Society of Excellence award in 2013, 2014 and 2016
  • Ranked among the top 250 agents in the country for 2014, 2016 and 2017 by REAL Trends as reported in the Wall Street Journal.

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About Roger Pettingell

Roger Pettingell of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate is your Longboat Key, Florida Luxury Real Estate Specialist. Roger provides his real estate expertise to sellers, investors, developers, and buyers in the Sarasota area including Anna Maria, Bird Key, Bradenton Beach, Casey Key, Cortez, Grand Bay, Holmes Beach, Longboat Key, Marina Bay, Osprey and Siesta Key. Search for homes, luxury homes, condominiums, investment property, development property, and vacant land and lots on the Longboat Key, Florida and the surrounding area.