Monday, May 18, 2020

Birds in the Celery?

As a consequence of staying safe at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the silver linings for me and for my wife is enjoying the wildlife in our backyard more than we usually do. I do not consider myself as a serious birdwatcher (my wife is) but I can certainly say it’s been relaxing to watch a pair of cardinals raise their two babies, along with the Redwing Blackbird and Tufted Titmouse’s little ones. We regularly see Redtailed Hawks as well as Osprey and Cormorants hunting for fish and prey. We have three bird feeders along with suet for the songbirds We also have two ground feeders filled with cracked corn for our resident ducks that live around our lake, which include Wood Ducks, Mallards, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Mottled Ducks. We have also had the rare pleasure of observing Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks and Sandhill Cranes along with gators, otters and three types of turtles! All told, my wife has identified 42 different birds in our little ‘aviary’ out back.

The only other place close by for us to see all of this is The Celery Fields. It may seem to be a strange name for the county-owned preserve and home of the Sarasota Audubon Society’s Nature Center, so here’s a little history of yet another wonderful place to be outdoors in my hometown.

The Celery Fields got it name because of the area’s long history as an agricultural center where winter vegetables and, of course celery, were grown for consumption locally and for shipment nationwide. Area roads, with names such as “Packinghouse” and “Albritton Avenue” attest to the neighborhood’s long-standing agricultural heritage. The Celery Fields in east Sarasota just off Fruitville Road, has been important agriculturally and ecologically for more than 100 years, with the family of landowner Mrs. Bertha Palmer farming vegetables, predominantly celery, in the rich muckland from about 1920 on.

Construction of the Celery Fields began in 1923 and the main canals were finished by 1926. An experimental farm of 2,000 acres was set up and although different vegetables were tried, by 1927, it was decided to grow predominantly celery. Roads were built across the area and ditches served 10-acre tracts and artesian wells served two 10-acre tracts. The fields became part of a massive flood control project the county participated in to help quickly move storm water from the Phillipi Creek basin after severe flooding damaged scores of homes in the area in the aftermath of several heavy rain events in the early 1990s. The spoil hill was formed by the dredging of the farms, which were sold off as private units, continued to produce celery.

With the added water diverted to the fields came more fish and with more fish, more wading birds, especially avian hunters like Osprey’s and Kingfishers. With input from local naturalists and other members of the local chapter of the Audubon Society, shore vegetation like elderberry, saltbush and cord grass was planted. In 1995, Sarasota County acquired much of the land and the 360-plus-acre site now serves for flood mitigation and lucky for us, as a home to wildlife, walking and biking trails, birders and The Sarasota Audubon Nature Center.

We hope The Celery Fields can remain pristine forever for all the nature lovers out there such as ourselves.  Liz and I feel grateful to not only have it close by, but to have our very own little nature preserve right in our own backyard. The important thing is to take the time to enjoy it. Stay safe, be well and remember to revel in all the beautiful things around you!  

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Normal is a Setting on a Dryer

Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘normal’ as: conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. A Southern friend of mine describes it this way: “Honey, ‘normal’ is just a settin’ on the dryer”! (This is also the title of a book by Patsy Clairmont, which is an good read right now).

I skipped last month’s Blog Newsletter because things have not been normal in my world, in the world of Real Estate and in fact, not normal for anyone in the world.  This COVID-19 pandemic has hit us on so many different levels that we are not sure what ‘normal’ is any more. And every one of us is trying to find their ‘new normal’.

This ‘quietness’ almost reminds me of the off-season back in the day…Sarasota used to be a ghost town all summer. Businesses closed or reduced hours. There was very little traffic. There were no crowds and no waiting to get in to your favorite restaurants. You could find a parking place at the beach. We could easily do pretty much whatever we wanted to do. But not now.

Some of the things I can’t do now:
  • Shake your hand
  • Touch anything without thinking about it first
  • Go to the grocery store willy-nilly like I used to
  • Go out to dinner
  • Go to baseball and football games
None of this is the end of the world! 

What I CAN do:
  • Be thankful that my wife and I are healthy (and I hope that you are too!)
  • Stay on top of the Real Estate market every day
  • Dive into more continuing education on Real Estate law and contract law
  • Stay in touch with you just to say “Hi”, which I will continue to do
  • Catch up on household projects (my wife’s Honey-Do list is very long) 
  • Enjoy some extended quiet time on the lanai with books I have been meaning to read
  • Take the time to truly appreciate my life and my career
I am staying focused on the silver linings we have. We still live in paradise and now there’s more time to reflect on how lucky I am to have grown up here in Sarasota. My wife Liz and I have taken some long drives lately…sightseeing in a sense, and seeing what we have with different eyes and reminding ourselves how special life is. Yes, it will take a while for Real Estate to come around and, as it will be with so many things after this pandemic is over, it will be a different normal but we will all be OK. So for now, I am staying home...working on my Honey-Do list and helping Liz put the clothes in the dryer and trying to find that setting that says 'Normal".

I am confident that the Real Estate market will be fine in Sarasota, Florida. I am not considered essential as a Realtor right now. But I am essential as your friend. You can count on that. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

There's a Chimp in the Dining Room!

Can you imagine all-night parties with entertainment by circus aerialists and chimpanzees performing during meals? These were mainstays of the John Ringling Towers Hotel. Located on the site now occupied by the Ritz-Carlton on Tamiami Trail, it was a hotel until 1957 when it was converted into an apartment complex. In its years of grandeur, celebrities often stayed at the lavish hotel, and visitors and diners enjoyed the circus entertainment, which included elephants, chimps, trapeze artists and clown performances. Ringling even had ropes, rings and bars installed in the Fountain Room for dinner performances.

The hotel was constructed in 1926 by Owen Burns and originally named The El Verona for his wife, Vernona. In the 1930s, John Ringling acquired the luxury hotel and changed the name. His nephew, John Ringling North indulged the hotel with all the trappings of their famous circus. From its earliest days, the hotel was the site of numerous celebrations, dinners, dances and became the focal point of many of Sarasota’s stellar events. 

The adjoining M’ToTo Room, named for the famed circus gorilla, was one of the most popular lounges in Sarasota…and greatly enjoyed by our parents back in the day. Named after Madame ToTo, the famous circus gorilla, the bar was hugely popular, one of Sarasota’s favorite and most colorful watering holes. Even during Prohibition, booze was plentiful, despite police raids.

The hotel was later transformed into apartments, and ultimately it was abandoned and  sadly, the 1926 landmark was demolished in 1998 after a failed court battle by the Sarasota Alliance for Historical Preservation to protect it. 

My wife and I have many memories of this once grand building…but not the chimps performing in the dining room! (Some of these things were before our time but have been passed down to us by our parents). Our memories are of our high school Cotillion dances, which were formal affairs that the guys hated (coat & tie) and the girls loved (formal gowns, long gloves, up-dos and heals!) And the memory of the wrecking ball demolition of this once grand building still weighs heavy...just like it did with the destruction of the Lido Beach Casino

But time marches on and the Ritz Carlton, which replaced the John Ringling building, is indeed lovely. It is such an irony that Ringling tried to build a Ritz Carlton on Longboat Key (The Ghost Hotel) and now the Ritz is on the site of his once popular hotel!

If you are looking for Real Estate in Sarasota, Florida, give me a call and we can meet at Jack Dusty's at the Ritz Carlton, have a drink and find the perfect home in paradise!

Here is a great video about the John Ringling Hotel and the M'Toto Room...Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The "Old" SHS Building Keeps on Teaching!

Good schools are always important when buying a new home in Sarasota or any community for that matter. I attended school here in Sarasota from grade one in 1950 all the way through high school graduation as I reminisced in a previous blog postBut the schools I went to were by far not the oldest. Here’s a little history!

Sarasota's first school, built around 1878, was located on the south side of Main Street east of Pineapple Avenue next door to the old Kress Building. It was a small, one-room building 16 feet wide and 25 feet and the children sat on homemade benches and desks that were quite different from those in present times. In 1899, a two-room school was built on 8th  Street between the railroad and Central Avenue (what was then 8th Street is now 2nd Second Street). By the winter of 1903-1904 the school was badly overcrowded. A new building was constructed for $3,900 during the summer of 1904. Sources are conflicting as to the location of the building. One source says the school was located on Main Street east of Pine. Another source says the school was erected on Golf Street on the future site of Central School in 1936, where the downtown U.S. Post Office was later located. The two-story building contained four classrooms on the first floor and one classroom and an auditorium on the second floor. That school opened September 19, 1904 with an enrollment of 124 students.

During the spring and summer of 1913, a new brick building was built at a total cost of $23,000. School trustees predicted that the building's 11 classrooms and its auditorium would fulfill Sarasota's needs for at least ten years. The old frame building constructed in 1904 was sold and moved off the lot. When classes opened September 15, 1913, 200 girls and 153 boys were enrolled. The following fall it was decided to add two more grades and make the school a full-fledged high school as well as an elementary school…It seems that this is when Sarasota High School actually began. The old frame building which the new brick building had replaced was brought back and put to use. Located in back of the new brick building, it housed the younger children.

By 1927 Sarasota was once again in need of a new school building. School began on Tuesday, September 6, 1927, in a huge new building, which is now fondly referred to as "the Old Building". Several available figures conflict as to the cost of the building. Prices range from $317,000 to $345,000 to half a million dollars.
The 57,000 square foot building opened its doors to students from the 7th-12th grade in the fall of 1927 and flourished for almost 70 years. 

In 1984, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Although the “Old Building” school closed its doors in 1996, my wife and I and other members of the community felt attached to the building and we were inspired along with others to champion a new purpose. 

Fast-forward to 2002, the start of a two-year process of community involvement and consensus-building known as the Sarasota High School New Life Initiative. Funders of the New Life Initiative included the School Board, the City of Sarasota, Sarasota County, the Selby Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and private donors. More than 200 potential uses of the 93 year old historic building were considered. In October 2004, the School Board voted to lease the historic Sarasota High School building to Ringling College of Art and Design to transform the building into the 27 million dollar Sarasota Art Museum. Fast forward (through a lot of challenges!)  to December 2019...the doors are now OPEN and it is stunning! 

I taught Computer Basics in that old building for several years (anyone remember DOS?!) and my wife graduated from SHS. Her sister also graduated from SHS and went on to achieve three Bachelor Degrees in Art in college thanks to her art teacher at SHS who inspired her.  Liz was on the fund-raising committee which successfully raised 2.5 million dollars towards keeping the Sarasota High School name as part of the new museum. It is appropriately named “The SHS Alumni Auditorium”.

Today, the Sarasota High School historic building has been given a new life as a modern art museum. As hometown Sarasotans, we are grateful that this memorable educational institution will be preserved and be a place to be enjoyed for many years to come and that the historic Sarasota High School "Old" building will continue to be a central part of this community and will continue to focus on education.

If you are considering moving to Sarasota and buying a new home, our school system has an outstanding reputation. Contact me at RE/MAX Alliance Group and we will start your search for a new home and a great school! 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Politics at Christmas...BAH HUMBUG!!

A Politically Correct Christmas Poem

Twas the night before Christmas and Santa's a wreck...
How to live in a world that's politically correct?
His workers no longer would answer to "Elves",
"Vertically Challenged" they were calling themselves.
And labor conditions at the North Pole,
were alleged by the union, to stifle the soul.

Four reindeer had vanished without much propriety,
released to the wilds, by the Humane Society.
And equal employment had made it quite clear,
that Santa had better not use just reindeer.
So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,
were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

The runners had been removed from his beautiful sleigh,
because the ruts were deemed dangerous by the EPA,
And millions of people were calling the Cops,
when they heard sled noises upon their roof tops.
Second-hand smoke from his pipe, had his workers quite frightened,
and his fur trimmed red suit was called "unenlightened".

To show you the strangeness of today's ebbs and flows,
Rudolf was suing over unauthorized use of his nose.
He went to Geraldo, in front of the Nation,
demanding millions in over-due workers compensation.

So...half of the reindeer were gone, and his wife
who suddenly said she'd had enough of this life,
joined a self help group, packed and left in a whiz,
demanding from now on that her title was Ms.

And as for gifts...why, he'd never had the notion
that making a choice could cause such commotion.
Nothing of leather, nothing of fur...
Which meant nothing for him or nothing for her.
Nothing to aim, Nothing to shoot,
Nothing that clamored or made lots of noise.
Nothing for just girls and nothing for just boys.
Nothing that claimed to be gender specific,
Nothing that's warlike or non-pacifistic.

No candy or sweets...they were bad for the tooth.
Nothing that seemed to embellish upon the truth.
And fairy tales...while not yet forbidden,
were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden,
for they raised the hackles of those psychological,
who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.

No baseball, no football...someone might get hurt,
besides - playing sports exposed kids to dirt.
Dolls were said to be sexist and should be passe.
and Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.

So Santa just stood there, disheveled and perplexed,
he just couldn't figure out what to do next?
He tried to be merry he tried to be gay,
but you must have to admit he was having a very bad day.
His sack was quite empty, it was flat on the ground,
nothing fully acceptable was anywhere to be found.

Something special was needed, a gift that he might,
give to us all, without angering the left or the right.
A gift that would satisfy - with no indecision,
each group of people in every religion.
Every race, every hue,
everyone, everywhere...even you!
So here is that gift, it's price beyond worth...

by Harvey Ehrlich, 1992

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

So Much to be Thankful For!

Thanksgiving as a national holiday has an illustrious past. In 1789, George Washington introduced the event as a national holiday. It was not until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln set the final Thursday in November. Fast forward to 1989 President George H.W. Bush, when granted the first official pardon to a turkey, a tradition that continues today, including this year. Humorously, it’s time for us to grant a few turkeys we know a pardon or two as well, right? 

Seriously, it’s in the spirit of thankfulness that reminds me how lucky I am and how important it is for me to let others know how thankful I am. Sometimes we don’t often share that thought out loud. So let’s all stop and take a deep breath right now…stop time passing for just one or two minutes. What are you thankful for right now? Is it having a wonderful home and having time to enjoy the people in your life that you are thankful? That would be a ‘yes’ for me…I have a lot to be thankful for!

  • I’m thankful for the opportunities I have to make good on promises I’ve made.
  • I am thankful because of challenges which serve as a vehicle to train me to be a better person.
  • I am thankful for those who read, use, and share my Sarasota Hometown Blog content about my memories of Sarasota, my hometown.
  • I am thankful for you…my family, friends and clients
  • I am thankful for the most incredible and eclectic group of Real Estate clients who entrust me to help them make the right decisions about the largest purchase of their lives. And they not only give me the pleasure of using my gifts and experience to serve them, but they pay me, too, so I can provide for my family and live well!
  • I am thankful for like-minded friends and mentors in the Real Estate industry who energize, challenge, influence, and help me.
  • I am thankful for clients who entrust me with helping them to buy or sell their home in Sarasota.
  • I am thankful for the United States of America. As broken as our federal government appears to be, I remain a proud patriot and could not be more thankful for the freedom we enjoy, those who have sacrificed to keep us safe and free, and the unlimited opportunities available to those who call this great nation home.
  • I am thankful for the beauty of nature I experienced this past year, whether as dramatic as the Colorado Rocky Mountains or as simple as a ‘staycation’ at the beach here in my hometown.
  • I am thankful to a talented and passionate wife who allows me to do what I do and is always by my side not only as my wife, but my administrative assistant. (Long hours, 7 day a week!) I just want to say thank you to Liz, without whom I would be lost half the time.

Yes, I have much to be thankful for. From my family to yours please know that we keep you in our thoughts, and hearts and we are thankful for each of you. We wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

See Sea Life in Sarasota!

My wife Liz and I just returned from a week in Atlanta. Probably like most of you, we have traveled through or around the city on our way somewhere not to mention in and out of Atlanta’s airport. But this is the first time we have actually made Atlanta our destination for a sightseeing trip. We enjoyed the CNN Center, the Botanical Gardens, and the Jimmy Carter Museum and Library. But the best part was The Georgia Aquarium. This surprised us! We obviously have lived by the Gulf of Mexico all our lives and we have the Mote Marine Laboratory, but we decided to go to the Atlanta Aquarium anyway, mainly because it is the largest aquarium in the western hemisphere. It was fantastic…but in a different way than our own Mote Marine. For one thing, it’s really huge compared to Mote and we easily could have spent an entire day there. Also, there were many cold water animals and sea creatures we had never seen, along with the fantastic beluga whales. Did you know that they are the only whales that have ‘necks,’ which allows them to move their heads up and down and side-to-side?

But given all that, we realized that we are so very fortunate to have Mote Marine Laboratory right in our backyard! While the Georgia Aquarium is loaded with great exhibits, Mote is by far the best learning facility for marine science and those interested in nature. So here’s a little information about the six decades of Mote Marine Laboratory.

Mote has a long history of shark expertise, having been founded out of a combined effort by Dr. Eugenie Clark, the “Shark Lady,” and philanthropist Anne Vanderbilt, according to a history on Mote’s website. Clark’s work focused mostly on the behavior of sharks and the lab became known for it, and still is today. Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is an independent, nonprofit research institution founded in 1955. Mote began and flourished because of the passion of Dr. Eugenie Clark and her partnership with the community and philanthropic support, first of the Vanderbilt family and later of the William R. Mote family. The one-room facility in Placida where it all began doubled as a dock where the wealthy Vanderbilt family could store a boat, and existed chiefly so Eugenie Clark could quietly study the migration patterns of sea life in the Gulf of Mexico. It was known as Cape Haze Marine Laboratory until its 1967 renaming in honor of major benefactors of the laboratory William R. Mote, his wife Lenore, and his sister, Betty Mote Rose. Since 1960, it has been based in Sarasota, Florida, and has been located on City Island since 1978. 

More than six decades later, the laboratory continues to provide a foundation for marine and science-based industry in the region. Today, Mote is one of the top attractions in Sarasota, Florida and has five campuses stretching from Sarasota to the Florida Keys. Mote has more than 20 world-class research programs studying oceans locally to internationally, with an emphasis on conservation and sustainable use of marine resources. Mote’s vision includes positively impacting public policy through science-based outreach and education. Showcasing the Lab’s research is Mote Aquarium. 

On a recent visit to Mote, Liz and I had our eyes really opened about all the plastic pulled from the oceans. All of the art was formed from that plastic and it was something to behold. (see photo of the huge shark made from plastic.) The ‘Sea Debris’ exhibit was a fun and creative way to start a conversation regarding an issue that is affecting all of the world’s oceans on a macro and microscopic scale. The hope was that exhibit opened guests’ eyes, not just to the problem, but to the solutions regarding sea pollution. It sure opened ours!

Ground will be broken in 2020 for a brand new facility, the Mote Science Education Aquarium (Mote SEA) will be an iconic, educational and outreach hub that vastly improves access to marine science and technology for an estimated three million residents living within a 60-minute drive and visitors from around the world, representing a rebirth of the current Mote Aquarium. According to Mote’s website, Mote SEA will be built on 12 acres in the Sarasota County-owned land within Nathan Benderson Park. Mote SEA will be an iconic facility with 110,000 square feet containing more than 1 million gallons of exhibits featuring marine life and scientific displays from around the world, onsite diving programs, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) resource center for students, teachers and the general public, conference and special event space, educational galleries with interactive, advanced, digital and augmented reality technology to enhance learning, two STEM workforce training labs and three K-12 STEM teaching labsMote SEA is expected to be complete in 2022.

If you have never visited Mote Marine Laboratory, it is a ‘must see’ attraction in Sarasota, Florida and just one more reason to live in Sarasota paradise! If you are looking to buy or sell your home or condo in the Sarasota, Englewood, Bradenton area, call me!

Sources and Credits: Mote Marine Laboratory,, Wikipedia, Your Observer, Sarasota Herald Tribune