Tuesday, April 23, 2019


“Mayday, mayday, mayday, Coast Guard. Mayday, mayday, mayday. Get all emergency equipment out to the Skyway Bridge. A vessel just hit the Skyway Bridge. The Skyway Bridge is down,” the pilot was heard shouting. “Get all emergency equipment out to the Skyway Bridge. The Skyway Bridge is down. This is a mayday.”

In previous blogs, I have recounted my memories and stories about bridges in and around Sarasota, but this one is very different. 39 years ago on May 9th, 1980, tragedy struck our tropical paradise. The Sunshine Skyway bridge, which connects Sarasota and Bradenton to Tampa and St. Petersburg, was struck by a freighter. Six cars, a truck, and a bus plunged 150 feet into Tampa Bay, killing 35 people. Wesley MacIntire was in the truck when it fell onto the deck of the freighter and then into the water. He survived.

Those of us who lived here vividly remember that day. My wife Liz was a dental hygienist and her patient who had just arrived had simply heard on the radio that a boat hit the bridge. She remembers not being terribly upset, thinking it was probably a pleasure boat striking a piling and she hoped the people on the boat were OK. When she got home a turned on the local news, she was shocked. I was a building contractor at that time and my memories were equally shocked by this tragedy. The old Skyway Bridge was a familiar sight when I went fishing as a teenager and drove back and forth to St. Petersburg with my friends for a night on the town. I remembered that there was originally one two-lane span and the second span was added later to carry more traffic. 

How could something this horrible happen? Capt. John Lerro was the harbor pilot that fateful day, trying to guide the freighter, the Summit Venture, a ship two football fields long, into the 58.4-mile channel that leads to the Port of Tampa. It is a long and treacherous channel thanks to the shallow depth of the bay and Florida’s unpredictable weather. The freighter was already dealing with fog when it was hit by 60 mph, tropical-storm force winds and blinding rain. The radar went down, too, when Lerro had to decide when to turn the Summit Venture between two of the Skyway’s main piers as the storm hid the ship’s bow from its pilot. On the bridge, Lerro considered his options. Visibility was terrible. There was also a ship leaving the bay approaching. Unable to track the approaching ship Pure Oil, the pilot judged it too risky to turn out of the shipping channel — what if he turned into the path of the oncoming ship? If he tried to bring the Summit Venture to a halt, the winds could cause the freighter to lose control and fling it into the bridge. The best course, Lerro decided, was to get the Summit Venture safely between the bridge’s pillars. But he misjudged the winds, unaware that a squall had changed the direction of the wind, pushing the freighter out of the channel and off-course. The vessel was also empty, riding high on the waves. A minute before impact, the skies cleared just enough for Lerro to see the Sunshine Skyway before him. Despite a flurry of last-second maneuvers, it was too late. At 7:33 a.m., the bow of the Summit Venture struck bridge pier 2S. The pier came down, and so did Interstate 275 above it during rush hour. Lerro radioed the Coast Guard for help. A Greyhound bus, seven cars and MacIntire’s 1974 blue Ford pickup hurtled into the stormy abyss. Thirty-five people died; MacIntire was the only survivor. Richard Hornbuckle's car rested where it skidded to a stop just 14 inches from the edge. Inimaginable. 

The Florida Department of Transportation began construction on a safer Sunshine Skyway Bridge only days later. At a cost of $244 million, the bridge opened in 1987, making it a very rapid construction project considering the size of the structure. Since then, the bridge has been lauded for its design, which includes some very unique elements, most focused on the central span of the bridge. The cables descending from the two towers of this span are set in the middle of the bridge, with 40-foot roadways on each side. By placing the cables here, instead of on the edges of the bridge, the designers ensured that motorists would always have an unimpeded view of the bay. As a final touch, the cable cases were all painted bright yellow, representing rays of sunshine in the Sunshine State. More than 300 precast concrete segments were linked together with high-strength steel cables to form the roadway. Protecting the new bridge from ships was a big priority, so they installed large concrete islands, called 'dolphins', around each of the bridge's six piers to absorb unwanted impact.

Here are some other interesting facts about the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge:
  • The dolphins around each pier were designed to withstand the impact of an 87,000-ton ship.
  • Twenty-one steel cables support the roadway. The cables are sheathed in steel pipes, nine inches in diameter. The pipes were painted a brilliant yellow to reflect its location: the Sunshine State.
  • Forty-foot-wide roadways run on either side of the cables. This design allows drivers to have unobstructed views of the water.
  • Tampa is a busy shipping port. To ensure that navigation would not be blocked, engineers designed the bridge to soar 190 feet above the water.
In 2005, an act of the Florida Legislature officially named the current bridge the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge, after the former Governor of Florida and then U.S. Senator who presided over its design and most of its construction. The Sunshine Skyway, surely one of the most beautiful bridges in existence, has garnered more than its share of praise. The graceful span and shining yellow cables are well lit at night, and can be seen for miles day or night. It can best be viewed from the East Beach area of Fort Desoto Park. Due to its beauty the span has been the scene of several auto commercials. It is also worth noting that a special on the Travel Channel rated our Sunshine Skyway third best of their Top Ten Bridges. (See the Travel Channel link below)

The next time you drive across the Sunshine Skyway, perhaps you will recall some of it’s disastrous history…or hopefully you will just enjoy the stunning view. Or perhaps you will fish off of the old portion of the bridge that was saved and became The Skyway Fishing State Park. When the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge was built over Tampa Bay, connecting St. Petersburg with Sarasota, the old bridge was turned into the world's longest fishing pier. Either way, the bridge is yet another reason Bradenton, Sarasota and St. Petersburg are such a unique place to live or visit. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Orange Juice Anyone?

As Realtors in Sarasota, my wife Liz and I drive around Sarasota a lot showing property for RE/MAX Alliance Group. One of the neighborhoods that we sell and list that always holds fond memories, especially for Liz, is Southgate. Liz, her mom and her sister lived there for over 30 years on a little one block street near Shade Avenue and Webber Street. At the time her mom purchased the home in the early 1960’s, the neighborhood was fairly new and she paid about $16,000 for the house. She loved the location – it was close to schools and shopping and was a safe neighborhood where the kids could ride their bikes to almost everywhere they wanted to go. The other great thing about the house was the row of orange trees in the backyard.The reason most of those home had a row of orange trees goes to the history of Southgate.

According to a Sarasota Herald Tribune, in the mid-1950s, Sarasota developers Rolland King and Frank Smith purchased 1,240 acres of citrus groves that had originally been planted by Bertha Honore Potter, the Chicago socialite who purchased 80,000 acres of land in Sarasota County beginning with her arrival in 1910. When King and Smith began developing South Gate, the groves were being worked by Minute Maid. Some of the original citrus trees are still growing in the back yards of some South Gate homes today.

In the mid-1950s, there were few construction companies that could undertake such a large-scale project. The same was true for the real estate industry. Many small firms had a hand in building and selling South Gate. Deciding who would build where was simple. Every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, Smith and King would entice real estate agents with free orange juice and coffee. They would sell plots of land while sitting around the large conference table. Groundbreaking occurred in 1955 for the first South Gate homes near Siesta Drive and School Avenue. By 1956, the pair, who had drawn blueprints for the first phase by hand, had already sold 1,250 lots. Over the next 15 years, South Gate added more than 2,000 homes.

The first three model homes opened in March 1955. The first home sold was at 2207 Siesta Drive. The Southgate Post Office opened March 30, 1957. The South Gate Shopping Center became Westfield SouthGate then Westfield Siesta Key, opened that year, as did some of the shops in the Southgate Village along Siesta Drive east of the Post Office.

Homes in Southgate now sell anywhere from $265,000 to upward of $700,000 along Phillippi Creek. Although the homes plotted along streets named after different varieties of oranges may seem ordinary today, the development changed Sarasota, bringing in more developers with grand-scale plans. It was the precursor to places like Lakewood Ranch and Palmer Ranch. And to this day, Liz laughs about all the frozen orange juice that her mom made from the oranges she picked - it literally filled the freezer and all of it from the trees in her backyard!

If you are looking for a great neighborhood to buy a home in Sarasota, Southgate is certainly one of them! Give me a call and I'll join you over a glass of orange juice to talk about it!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

It's a Jungle Out There Tarzan!

Sources and Credits: Sarasota History Alive, Wikipedia, The Story of Sarasota

My dad built homes in Sarasota in the 1950’s-60’s and the first home he built that I remember was on Bayshore Road near Jungle Gardens.  I recall loving that neighborhood, mostly because of Jungle Gardens. Our little house (pictured at the left) was practically across the street from it and my boyhood friends and I often snuck in the back gate and had many adventures amongst the gardens and wildlife. We didn't know enough to be afraid of the alligators nor did we have much appreciation of all the exotic tropical plants and trees. We were just being Tarzan! And little did I know back then that the area has been used by people since prehistoric times! 

According to research conducted by the Sarasota County Historical Commission for the Indian Beach Historical Marker, the area has been used by people for at least 5,000 years! And this Florida attraction has current roots that run deep. To step into Sarasota Jungle Gardens is to take a step back into time…more than 80 years back in time. 

The concept for Sarasota Jungle Gardens first came in the early 1930s when a local newspaperman named David Lindsay purchased 10 acres of land just west of U.S. 41 with grand plans to develop the virgin subtropical jungle into a botanical garden. Along with partners Pearson Conrad and H.R. Taylor, Jungle Gardens opened on New Year's Eve 1939. According to Karl Grismer in "The Story of Sarasota," the developers added thousands of plants to those already found growing in their natural state. At first called "The Sarasota Jungle," the attraction opened early due to public demand. The December 31, 1939 Sarasota Herald Tribune reported that "The garden, containing more than 3,000 varieties of plants from all parts of the world is being thrown open today only because of many requests from people who would like for their holiday guests to see Sarasota's newest and most beautiful attraction." On the following day, the Herald reported in a follow-up story that "hundreds of visitors thronged at the Sarasota Jungle, luxuriant garden spot on the Indian Beach Road at Myrtle Avenue yesterday to view Sarasota's newest attraction."

My wife also has a connection to Jungle Gardens… a humorous one. Her dad, artist John Hardy, was studying at Ringling College of Art at the time and as a ‘starving artist, also worked for David Lindsay at the Sarasota Herald Tribune as Art Director. (Her mom was Mr. Lindsay’s Executive Secretary). As a third job, John was hired by Mr. Lindsay to work at Jungle Gardens for grounds maintenance, which really meant walking around with a machete cutting weeds. One day, one of the peacocks decided to attack him and he smacked it with the side of his machete and down it went. (Peacocks can be up to 5 feet tall!). He was pretty sure he had killed it and when he found out from they guy working with him that it was Mr. Lindsay’s favorite bird, he was sure he would lose two much needed jobs. But thankfully, the bird was fine…he eventually got up and probably had a little headache, but her Dad kept his job at the Gardens and at the Herald Tribune. Mr. Lindsay never knew about ‘the attack’!

Over the years, the South Florida attraction changed hands several times. In 1971, Sarasota Jungle Gardens was purchased by Arthur C. Allyn. His daughter, Dorothy Tinney, and her family operate the Gardens today. Sarasota Jungle Gardens boasts more than 100 birds and animals, and features bird and reptile shows four times daily as well as a Tiki Garden, Shell Museum, Gift Shop and CafĂ©. Promotional literature boasts that it is the only Florida attraction which allows its Flamingo's to roam freely. Sarasota's Indian Beach neighborhood, with its featured attraction, Sarasota Jungle Gardens, has been a pleasant place to visit since prehistoric times, and remains so today. So when I visit that part of Sarasota showing property, I give a fond nod to our little house on Bayshore Road and to Sarasota Jungle Gardens…thanks for the boyhood memories! 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Out with Old...in with the New!

Happy New Year! 

The New Year is often a natural time for reflection. One way or another, January is the time for assessment and sorting things out in several ways and with good intentions. Out with the old, in with the new. The phrase literally means to MOVE FORWARD...The phrase suggests that in order to move forward, one must purge, remove or let go of one thing, with the expectation of gaining something else. Not necessarily. When it comes to memories, I prefer to hold on to mine as I embrace all the new stuff around me. This can refer to physical objects. It can also apply to relationships, mindsets…and even the town where you grew up.

If you've spent any time with me, there is a possibility that I have said things such as, "I remember when none of these buildings were here”, or “this used to be a dirt road.” It can be interesting to hear stories about how my hometown used to look, and how things used to be, and I like to believe that the pictures I paint in my head of Sarasota back in my childhood, and then share with you, are accurate. I think that this is probably something most people go through who have lived in the same town for a lifetime. Sometimes you have to let go of the old while keeping the memories and embrace the new. Change can be good. And Sarasota certainly has changed! From the Sarasota Herald Tribune: "Dozens of projects, some cresting to the maximum 18 stories, are permanently changing the appearance of the city in a post-recession surge of building sparked by pent-up demand and unbridled confidence in the future". And then there is Lakewood Ranch and the many developments east of Sarasota that I couldn't have even imagined when I was a youngster in Sarasota. 

Many of my days selling Real Estate are spent driving around Sarasota, my hometown. Driving past an area that used to be a baseball field when I was a kid or noticing trees have been cleared off in cow pastures or orange groves and new homes are going up still surprises me sometimes. New roads have been built and old homes torn down, buildings have been revamped or are occupied by new businesses, people have moved, construction is going crazy and new paint is drying everywhere. As I reflect on all of this, I am struck that back in the day, Sarasota was paradise and today…it still is!  Every time I drive across the Ringling Causeway from St. Armand's I am stunned by the city view and how beautiful (and different from the old days) it is! To paraphrase the famous Sarasota author, John D. MacDonald: A person living in Sarasota for a long time, looks around and sees a larger, busier place that is all grown up from their first memories; The person just arriving from the urban northeast sees a brand new paradise of warm weather, sandy white beaches and beautiful sunsets. I don't take living in this paradise for granted - ever! So if you are looking to buy a home and share my paradise, call me! You will love it here!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Happy Holidays!

Another season settles softly like the white sandy beaches of Sarasota and reminds us that the goodness of humanity flourishes. The gestures of the holidays exist in sounds and images that stir our hearts.

As the spirit of the holiday fills your days, we wish for peace on earth through small steps toward a better tomorrow for everyone.

May you find PEACE this holiday season and into the New Year!

Ron, Liz & Tiki

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

I Am Thankful!

My wife Liz and I were enjoying another beautiful sunset over the lake from our lanai and commenting on the many things we are thankful for. We started making a list that continues to grow!
  • Good Health - Even if you’re health isn’t great, it could be worse and you likely still have some working parts to be thankful for.
  • Money in the Bank - Having just a few coins makes you richer than most people on Earth.
  • Good Friends – Most of the time, it’s the quality of friendships, not the quantity. Cherish your friends.
  • Having a Partner - Being in a loving relationship can teach you so much about the world and yourself.
  • Pets – Our dog Tiki is one of the best examples of unconditional love ever!
  • Education - The opportunity to attend school is something many people don’t have. I am lucky that I got to go to college and continued my education in the U.S. Air Force, which brings me to what the United States and our troops still fight for:
  • Freedom - The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. The absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government. The the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. Much of the world has not experienced this.
  • Books and the Ability to Read - if you’re reading this right now, you have a lot to be thankful for. Books provide an opportunity to enter another world all from the comfort of your own home. 774 million people in the world cannot read. Go grab a good book!
  • Laughter - Without laughter, the world would be such a sad place. 
  • Sunshine - The sun’s warmth can brighten any day and I am thankful to live in The Sunshine State!
  • Time - Although we often don’t think there’s enough of it, time is something we shouldn’t take for granted.
  • Freedom of Speech - Being able to express your thoughts and feelings freely should never be taken for granted.
  • Mentors - I have had many mentors in my life and especially these past 10 years as a Realtor. You know who you are.
  • Wisdom that Comes with Age - Thankfully, we grow smarter over time. I hope this means I’m pretty smart!
  • The Beach - Our beautiful beaches in Sarasota provide us with beauty and recreation all year long.
  • Sunsets - Sunsets are a reminder that we should enjoy the simple things in life and in Sarasota, the sunset is always a beautiful event.
  • My Mind - Being able to think, remember, and solve problems sure makes life easier. I am grateful my mind is still working just fine!
  • Career - I am fortunate to have had many careers throughout my life and I have loved them all. 
  • Moon and Stars -  My wife and I are always looking up at the sky and remarking what a miracle it is that this...and we...exist at all. The moon and stars encourage us to dream.
  • Air Conditioning - Staying cool on a hot day is something people wouldn’t have dreamed about in past centuries. I grew up in Sarasota without it as a child, but I sure appreciate it now!
  • Ability to Learn - The ability to learn new things means we have endless potential. I am always looking to learn new things and constantly re-educating myself. We should never stop learning.
  • People Willing to Teach - Whether it’s your dad teaching you to build a house as mine did or my years of teaching computer classes, be grateful that others are willing to use their time and talents to teach you something new.
  • Modern Medicine - Without advances in modern medicine, many of us wouldn’t be alive. In Sarasota we have access to one of the finest medical communities.
  • Music - Music brings out emotions, memories and joy...pop those earbuds in your ears or go to the many music venues in Sarasota!
  • An Internet Connection – It’s easy it is to take the internet for granted, seeing how none of us had just a couple of decades ago. I was on the cutting edge of technology all those many years ago and it still amazes me.
  • Challenges - Without challenges in life, we wouldn’t be the people we are now. When I started in Real Estate in 2008...the year the bottom dropped out of the market, it was rough. But it made me a better Realtor and I have been successful for more than 10 years in a business I love.
  • Growing up in Sarasota - I can't imagine a better place than Sarasota to call my Hometown! We have it all...great weather, the #1 Beach on Siesta Key, a wonderful local art community along with the Ringling Museum, the Ringling College of Art and Design, the Asolo
  • Having a Home - Whether you live in an apartment, a condo, a mansion, or a tent in Myakka State Park, having a place to call home is something to be thankful for. Not to mention a home in paradise - Liz and I are grateful everyday that we live here. (And if you are looking to buy a home in Sarasota, I’m your guy!)
Liz and I wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving! We are grateful for you - our friends, clients, family, mentors and teachers and we cherish you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Let's Eat!

Who doesn’t love going out to eat? My wife and I try to eat with health in mind…most of the time…and there are many restaurants in Sarasota these days that offer healthy options. But that wasn’t always the case, nor did we care when we were dating and having fun back when we were in our twenties and thirties. We have many happy memories of ‘pigging out’ in those days and sadly, many of those mom and pop places are closed.

In the 1960’s and 70’s, Sarasota did not have the plethora of restaurants we see now – there are so many great choices. But back then, we had more than enough to satisfy us and enjoy. Of course we had our favorites for a night out, to celebrate a special occasion, or just have a quick drink with friends on the way home from work.

According to a Jeff LaHurd’s article in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Spanish cuisine was one of the first ethnic foods served here. One of my favorites, The Plaza Restaurant on 1st First Street, opened in 1928 after the real estate crash and prior to the Great Depression, and somehow managed to grow and prosper, remaining one of Sarasota’s signature establishments until 1974. The last meal was served on Aug. 24, 1974 and I was so sorry to see it close. Still serving fine Spanish food and remaining one of the most popular and longest-lived restaurants is the Columbia on St. Armand’s Circle. Founded in Tampa in 1905, the Sarasota operation has been pleasing locals and tourists since 1959.

I lived in the North Trail area near the Ringling Museum and the go-to special place for me and my family was Zinn’s, another long-lived restaurant that became a local institution. Opened after World War II by “Mama” and “Papa” Zinn, the restaurant served chicken, fish, steaks and salads. A king-size Australian lobster tail was offered for $6.95 with salad, vegetables and beverage; the charbroiled steak — so large it was called “Mr. Sirloin” — was also $6.95. And my favorite, homemade pie a la mode, was 50 cents. With its beautiful waterfall room and outside fountain and rock garden, Zinn’s was a popular spot, and the food was good enough to keep it on the Florida list of top 100 restaurants.

Also on the North Trail was  the Mel-O-Dee, Ranch House and the The Golden Buddha, with its large, trademark golden colored statue, was the first place, if not the House of Chong, many of us locals tasted Chinese cooking. But my all-time favorite was The Broadway Bar. Established in 1925, The Broadway Bar was an iconic early Sarasota bar and pizza joint, known for potent drinks and thin-crust pizza at its location on Tamiami Trail near Van Wezel. The iconic restaurant’s location was sold to make way for the Broadway Promenade development and, after several years, the Broadway Bar relocated to a new building on Cocoanut Avenue. The Broadway finally closed last year, replaced by The Starlite Room. 

As for south Sarasota, El Adobe was IT! I helped build the bar way back when and was paid by what came
across the bar in the form of a cold one…lots of them! When planning for my wife’s 60 birthday, and since it was a 'special one' I told her we could go anywhere she wished…and she picked El Adobe! After 40 years of serving Mexican cuisine on Tamiami Trail, beloved restaurant El Adobe closed its doors. I still miss the best warm, thin corn chips, salsa and enchiladas ever!

There were so many more back then: Smitty's, The Oyster Bar, Morrison's, The Crown House, The Buccaneer, Magic Moment...lots of good food and good times!

The good news now is that Sarasota is teaming with lots of really great restaurants…it’s almost overwhelming! The next time you are planning to go out to eat, check out this link: https://www.opentable.com/features/fun-restaurants-sarasota-fl  And if you have friends or relatives looking to buy a home in the Sarasota, Florida area, please give them my name and after we house-hunt, we have plenty of great choices to have a toast and a great meal!

Sources and Credits: The Sarasota Herald Tribune, Jeff LaHurd, Photo collage by: srqwhatitusedtobe.blogspot.com