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