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:  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:

Monday, September 17, 2018

On Time!

You can get almost anywhere in the world starting from the Sarasota–Bradenton International Airport. Most of you have probably landed at our airport a time or two. I love this airport, especially knowing how crazy it can be getting to the Tampa airport or any other large airport around the country. The airport here is so very nice and easy and modern. My wife Liz and I remember when it was very different…but still very nice. 

When we were kids flying back from somewhere into Sarasota, the plane landed and off-loaded passengers who were always well-dressed…our dads like the other men, were in suits and ties and the ladies were in dresses, heals and hats, looking very stylish. These days it seems most people practically travel in their PJ’s! When the door to the plane opened back then, we did not walk through a ‘cattle shoot' directly into the building…we walked down the steps, across the tarmac and into a simple building. Those who were meeting in-coming passengers were waiting right there behind a fence lining the tarmac. The Sarasota-Bradenton Airport now is quite different and has a rich history.

In January 1946 our airport was the Sarasota Army Air Field and was deactivated and opened to civilian use as the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport. Liz’s dad was in the Army back then and told us stories about coming down to Sarasota from MacDill in Tampa during his time in the service and ‘borrowing furniture’ that remained from the old Quonset huts at the airport after the base closed! National Airlines, which had provided sporadic service to the old municipal airport in the late 1930s and resumed service next to the military base in 1944, moved into a building vacated by the Air Corps. 

Transformation to civilian status became more visible with the construction of a new control tower in 1957, a terminal in 1959, and the removal of old military buildings. Although commercial airline service began as early as 1940 at Sarasota Bradenton Airport, it was not until 1965 that jet service was first provided to the area by National Airlines. Eastern Airlines began commercial service in 1961. 

My fondest memory of the old airport was also a ‘teaching moment’ in my life. I was a paperboy when I was a teenager. I lived near the Ringling Museum and one of the wealthy residents on my paper route who lived near next door to the Ca d'Zan (The Ringling mansion), was a pilot and owned a small airplane. One day he invited me to join him on an early morning flight around Sarasota and offered to teach me to fly if I was interested. We set it up…and I forgot all about it. By the time I remembered, it was too late and he never asked me again. To this day, I have never been late for anything!

Sadly, there is another memory we will never forget. Air Force One delivered President George W. Bush to our airport on September 10, 2001 for a 9/11 visit to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School. He was listening to the children read when terrorists struck the World Trade Center. He flew out that day, some say Air Force One took off from the taxiway, not even waiting to get on the tarmac. No, we will never forget.

Today, we have a world class international airport – a new tower was just dedicated recently and our airport remains a pleasure to travel to and from our beautiful city. Many thousands of people have traveled here to paradise for the first time…and they decide they want to stay and live in my beautiful hometown. I don’t blame them! So if you have friends or family who are thinking of buying a home in Sarasota, please give them my name and together we will find their dream home! I will even pick them up from the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport – and I will be ON TIME!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Excellence In Caring

My wife Liz and I recently accompanied a friend who had out-patient surgery at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and while waiting, we thought back to all the changes we have witnessed over the last 50 years. 
Liz was a ‘Candy Striper’ volunteer as a teenager and this experience helped to shape her career choices. I remember visiting SMH as a kid with a friend whose mom was executive secretary to the director. 

Back then the hospital was much smaller but as kids, it seemed huge to us! Liz and I remember it when there were only five stories. It has grown so much that they now have volunteers just to help you find your way!
From modest beginnings in 1925 as a 32 bed hospital to the teaching hospital and vast network of specialty care it offers today, Sarasota Memorial Health Hospital has come a long way since I was a kid. Sarasota Memorial Health Care System is the second-largest acute care public health system in Florida, with about 5,000 staff, 900+ physicians, 600 volunteers and about 500,000 ER, inpatient and outpatient visits a year. With an 806-bed acute care hospital and comprehensive network of outpatient services – pain care, rehabilitation, diagnostic imaging and laboratory, home health and a nursing home among its many services. It is the only hospital in Southwest Florida that has ranked repeatedly among U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Hospitals,” the only one recognized among “America’s Safest Large Hospitals” by Forbes and the only one awarded Magnet Nursing Services Recognition – the nation’s highest honor for excellence in nursing.
Over the years, we have watched all the additions, demolitions and growth – we lost some of our favorite restaurants along US 41 as the complex grew, (Sugar and Spice Amish restaurant was great!) but it was well worth it to know we now have one of the best health care systems available right here in Sarasota. And the expansion is not over yet! By 2020, Sarasota Memorial Hospital hopes to have a new $220 million cancer treatment facility and a $12 million parking garage built at its midtown campus.
If you are considering moving to Sarasota, Florida, rest assured you will have fantastic health care - from the best doctors and the BEST hospital. And when you are ready to buy that home in the Sarasota area, call me and I will tell you some stories of growing up in a great town!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Shop Till you Drop!

My wife Liz and I have enjoyed a lot of great lunches and dinners at Connor’s Steakhouse lately and going to Cinebistro at the newly remodeled Westfield Siesta Key Mall. Looking back at growing up in Sarasota, I continue to be amazed at the evolution of shopping in my hometown. When I was a kid, there were no malls. We had lots of mom and pop stores and small strip centers and a few of the big name stores like Woolworth's and Winn Dixie. The shopping center Liz and I remember the most is Southgate Plaza, now the Westfield Siesta Key Mall on the corner of Siesta Drive and 41. 

The original Southgate shopping center opened in 1956 as a strip mall and included two supermarkets - Publix and Winn Dixie, along with a W. T. Grant and Woolworth’s, Rexall Drugs, a hardware store and a few other small stores. Liz grew up in Southgate and went to Brookside Jr. High School, which was just behind the shopping center and remembers sneaking into the bowling alley that was located there after school with her friends to play pinball. This was a no-no. J. C. Penney was added as part of an expansion in 1961, along with a Kwik Chek grocery store.

W. T. Grant closed its store in 1976, which was then sold to Burdine's. A J. W. Robinson's department store replaced the former J. C. Penney in 1978, after J. C. Penney moved to Sarasota Square Mall, now Westfield Sarasota Square. The Southgate Shopping Center was enclosed in 1988. In 1994, Publix moved to a larger store across the street. The old Publix building became Saks Fifth Avenue in 1996. Following the opening of Saks, the mall was renovated to include more upscale stores such as Williams-Sonoma, and Ann Taylor. many changes! And it wasn’t over yet. Westfield Group bought the mall in 2002, renaming it Westfield Shoppingtown Southgate. Burdine's became Macy's in 2005 and he "Shoppingtown" was dropped on June 2005. On June 1, 2017 the mall was renamed to Westfield Siesta Key. Dillard's closed their doors at Southgate soon after, consolidating into their newer University Town Center. In late 2014, Cobb Theatres announced it would take over the Saks space for a "Cinebistro". Saks eventually moved to The Mall at University Town Center. Also, there is Connor's Steak and Seafood, Bravo Coastal Bar and Kitchen, along with Metro Diner and Luckey’s Market and LA Fitness and more! 

Our simple little Southgate Shopping Center is nothing like we remember, but it’s still fun to go there and we will always have our happy memories of going to Woolworth's!

Sources and Credits: Wikpedia, The Mall Hall of Fame, Sarasota Herald Tribune

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Sarasota...A COOL Place to Live!

My wife Liz and I spend most evenings on our lanai with a cold drink in hand, enjoying the cool Sarasota breeze…and that includes these dog days of summer evenings. The other night we started reminiscing about the summers in Sarasota when we were kids…we did not have air-conditioning then and surprisingly, we don’t remember sweltering or suffering. That’s mostly because of how homes were built back then.

Liz’s family lived in a little cottage on Siesta Key which was built in the early 1950’s. In those days, trees were left on the lots for shade and homes were built a bit up off the ground and had porches and windows all around. This allowed for ventilation from below and a cross-draft through the windows to capture the gulf breeze. The porches shielded the front rooms from sunlight, thus keeping it cooler and allowed windows to remain open, letting air circulate even when it was raining. This is how we Floridians survived before the days of the air-conditioner.

We were accustomed to a “front porch” lifestyle when our families would spend time outside of the house on the front porch where it was cooler. People would socialize while on the porch, and neighbors would often walk by and visit each other while cooling off. I kind of miss that.

When I was a teenager I worked with my dad building spec homes and again, we followed the ‘cross-breeze’ technique in these homes as well as their orientation, even when air-conditioning became more common. The invention of air-conditioning is an often overlooked factor in the shaping of the history of Florida. We are all so dependent on it now we hardly think about it. But ‘way back when’, it wasn’t the norm.
Decades before air conditioning became a must-have item in homes, cars and businesses, Sarasota was referring to itself as "The Air Conditioned City" because we were fanned by gentle gulf and bay breezes that blew  through the community, making the hottest day in August a pleasant experience in comparison to our northern brothers and sisters who were dropping like flies in the heat. A newspaper article proclaimed, “Records prove that while temperatures soar over the Nation, it’s comfortable here.” “Beat the Heat! Stay in Air-Conditioned Sarasota where it’s C-O-O-L!”
Air conditioning didn't become part of the average Florida home until the 1950's with the advent of the window unit, fondly know as the ‘window shaker’. That was followed by central air in the 1960's and the heat pump, which provides warmth and cooling, in the 1970's. Air conditioning marked a major cultural shift for Florida: Over 400,000 southern homes had central air units in 1960; by the mid-1960's more than 40 percent of the homes being built in the region were equipped with ‘central air’. While air conditioning of public buildings in the north began to take root in the late 1920's and 1930's, it was not until post WWII that it became more commonplace in the south. By the 1960's air conditioned hotels and motels had become more common. Motels and restaurants boasted air-conditioned facilities for their visitors. This greatly increased the tourism industry as visitors to Florida could visit in comfort during the summer months. You could say that air conditioning built Florida.

Air conditioning is thought to have played a role in the large population density boom in the South, with the population density doubling from 1930 to 1980. While you could argue that Florida has lost some of its “front porch culture”, there is no doubt that the introduction of air-conditioning has greatly shaped the recent history of Florida. Sarasota was once promoted in song as "the Air-Conditioned City." Now every Florida city is air-conditioned. Less that a hundred years ago, people had to rely mostly on architectural tricks to find relief from the heat. And, in the event that you find yourself with a busted air conditioner in these dog days of summer in Florida?  Open your windows - you might discover a cross-breeze you never knew you had!

Sources and Credits:  The Sarasota Herald Tribune/Jeff LaHurd, The Orlando Sentinel, Sun Sentinel, University of South Florida,

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wait...What? No Pre-Approval Letter?

I, like most good Realtors in Sarasota, Florida, spend most of my time either searching for homes for my buyers in MLS, setting up showing appointments and driving them around looking at homes. That’s my job and it is very time intensive. So one of my first questions to a potential buyer who will be getting a mortgage is: “Have you gotten a pre-approval from a bank or mortgage broker?” Why is this so important? Getting pre-approved for a home loan before you start looking at houses — and certainly before you make any offers — can make your life much easier. You’ll know how much money mortgage lenders will give you and you won’t waste time touring houses you can’t afford or making an offer on a house that you can’t back up. 

I can't tell you how often I am contacted by a potential buyer who wants to look at homes, yet they have no idea if they are even qualified to purchase. This is the classic case of the "cart before the horse". If you haven't been pre-approved, you're home shopping in the dark without a flashlight. You may be looking in a price range that you cannot afford. Or…you may be able to afford much more than you think!

It is a well known fact that few listing agents will risk taking their listing off of the market unless they are convinced that you are fully qualified to make the purchase and this is especially true in a buyers market like we have in Sarasota, Florida right now. This means a lot of housing for sale could have multiple buyers considering it, and may end up starting a bidding war. You don't want to go into a transaction without pre-approval when another buyer could have that simple letter, making them a more attractive buyer to a seller. For this reason, the listing agent usually requests that a pre-approval letter is submitted with all offers. If you don't include one, your offer will most likely be rejected. If you put yourself in the seller’s shoes, an earnest money check and offer without anything supporting the qualification of the potential buyer to purchase would be a very bad risk to accept, wouldn't you agree? Especially with multiple buyers waiting in the wings.

Pre-approval typically involves pulling credit, looking at debt-to-income ratios and other financial aspects of your life. Getting on the road to mortgage-readiness could include things like paying down debt and increasing your credit score.

My advice: get in touch with a lender right away and get pre-approved before shopping for homes! If you're out looking for homes - either on the road in real life or on the internet with sites like RE/, or Zillow - it's a good idea to prepare yourself for getting a mortgage well in advance. I will walk you through the process and then we can hit the road and find the perfect home for you in Sarasota, Florida! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Ca' d'Zan 'Sunflower'

As lifetime residents of Sarasota, Florida my wife Liz and I seldom do sightseeing in our own hometown except when we have guests from out of town. And it reminds us of what a special town Sarasota is! One of the first places we take visitors is to the Ringling Museum of Art and we always take the tour of John and Mabel Ringling’s home, the Ca' d'Zan. It just so happens that my late father-in-law, artist John Hardy, gave my wife a special gift that has a connection to this beautiful, historic home. 

My wife and her dad were visiting Judy Axe, a Ringling College of Art and Design classmate of his from the late 1940's. She was a very well known Sarasota artist and during their reminiscing, the topic of the Ca' d'Zan came up and Judy shared a great story. 

When the Ca' d'Zan was being renovated in 2002, Judy got a phone call from a friend who was working on the renovation project and was told that one of the beautiful tinted glass windows had been broken during handling. Judy, amongst her many artistic talents, created glass mosaic pieces, so she rushed right over and collected the broken pieces. She showed Liz and John what she had created with the Ca' d'Zan's brownish pieces broken window glass – it was a beautiful sunflower and the brown pieces were the seeds! John knew that sunflowers were Liz’s favorite (she was even wearing a sunflower t-shirt that day!) and he bought it from Judy for Liz on the spot. It hangs on our lanai and shines in the sunset every day in memory of John and Judy.  

My memories of the Ca' d'Zan for me are mischievous ones. I grew up just a few blocks from there and I used to sneak in with my boyhood friends. We could always find a hole in the fence and loved romping around in those beautiful Banyan trees!

The Ca' d'Zan (Italian for ‘House of John’) has a wonderful history. John and Mabel Ringling finished the $1.5 million mansion just before Christmas in 1925. They moved in the following year and are considered among the first and most important developers in Sarasota history. Measuring 200 feet long, the sprawling estate boasted broad patios, a waterfront dock, Venetian glass windows, and a six-story tower that Mrs. Ringling kept lit in the evenings and reportedly could be seen for miles around. It was meant to look like the palaces and mansions the couple saw while traveling in Venice. The Ca'd'Zan has the oldest residential elevator in the state! Guests, including Will Rogers stayed in a bedroom on the fourth floor, and those beautiful, multi-colored glass windows on all four sides looked out over the bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Unfortunately, by the late 1990s, the house and grounds had descended into a state of neglect and in 1998, at the depths of its dilapidation, the Cà d'Zan served as the backdrop for an adaptation of the Dickens classic Great Expectations. Its depressing appearance in the movie inspired some action on the part of the state of Florida, which transferred the property to Florida State University and provided more than 40 million dollars toward new building, renovations, and an endowment for the property. In 2002, a six-year renovation commenced which restored extravagant details like the gilded interior doors, fixed the leaky roof, and refinished the original furnishings…and the beautiful Venetian glass windows. And Liz and I are lucky enough to get to enjoy the lovely, sparkling pieces of one of those windows every day!

Sources and Credits:,, Sarsasota History Alive