Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Lido Beach Casino's Magical Seahorses

If a magical creature like a Seahorse can exist, it’s seems to me that the world is open to anything you can dream up. Some of my fondest teenage memories are of the Lido Beach Casino and the seahorses. The majestic eight-foot tall seahorses were the design of the building’s architect, Ralph Twitchell. They were cast of concrete in molds created from full-sized, hand drawn templates. They were then attached to the fa├žade of the casino to create an eye-catching motif on the second story promenade of the building. For almost 30 years they stood as sentinels casting an eye out to sea and affording the perfect backdrop for a magical photo portrait in paradise.

The iconic seahorses and The Lido Beach Casino offered something for everyone, and especially for me and my teenage friends in the late 50’s and early 60’s. We spent every summer day playing volleyball, swimming in the huge pool and hanging out at the Bather’s Grill (pictured above top right), chowing down hot dogs and burgers and girl-watching. As a life-long resident, the Lido Casino was an enduring symbol for me and although it only stood for 29 years, I can still picture in my mind this magnificent structure with the four giant seahorses looking towards the Gulf of Mexico.

My wife’s late father, artist John Hardy, used to reminisce of his ‘time with the seahorses’. He was in the Air Force in the mid to late 40’s and remembered being bused from MacDill Air Base in Tampa to the Lido Casino and said it was unlike anything he had ever seen. It was one of the reasons he moved to Sarasota after WWII along with his acceptance into Ringling College of Art and Design. He would be delighted to know that an exact replica of the seahorses is at the Hartman Gallery, then owned by Bill and Marty Hartman, fellow students at Ringling.

It was a sad day when we all found out that the Casino was to be torn down due to damage from salt, sea and sun and it was demolished in 1969. Before it was completely razed, a number of the seahorses were carefully removed. Then the building was gone and the seahorses disappeared from sight. (They are now privately owned). But…those seahorses as replicas kept popping up, first at the Sarasota Quay, which has since been torn down and now at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, at the Mote Marine Aquarium and the Hartman Gallery.

The memories remain for me and all who enjoyed the marvelous Lido Beach Casino complex. So now when I cast my memories back, it's nice to know I can still go see my magical seahorses in my Hometown. If you are looking to buy or sell a home in Sarasota, Florida, call me at 941-957-3311 and I will find your dream property and tell you some stories about growing up in Sarasota.
Here is a wonderful video about the famous Lido Beach Casino:

Credits: Jeff LaHurd,,

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Ritz Carlton Ghost Hotel

One of my early memories of ‘luxury’ in Sarasota is about a building that never happened – the “Ghost Hotel” on Longboat Key. We now have many First Class hotels in Sarasota, but in the 1920’s, this never-completed structure was to be one of the few luxury hotels in the area. John Ringling conceived the idea to build a Ritz-Carlton on the south end of Longboat Key to draw visitors to what he called ‘the finest in the State of Florida” It was to have 200 rooms, dock facilities, and a railroad line that would bring passengers right to the hotel, along with an 18-hole golf course paid for by local subscriptions, built on adjoining land. But…it turned out to be a far cry from today’s Ritz-Carlton in downtown Sarasota!

By November 1926, the first of the hotel's three units was nearly complete when Ringling gave the stop work order. Ringling continued to state that he would resume construction on the hotel. But as the hotel neared completion, the Florida land boom bubble burst, and Ringling’s huge holdings that included real estate, banks and circuses began to rapidly dwindle. Some estimates state that as much as $650,000 was spent on the unfinished hotel. In 1959, the Arvida Corporation purchased the land from John Ringling North with plans to develop Bird Key and Longboat Key.

By the early 60's, the old unfinished Ritz-Carlton was called a "fortress." When I was in high school, my boyhood friends and I would frequently go out there to explore, climbing the old brick and mortar walls, which were between 16 and 20 inches thick. It’s a good thing our parents didn’t know. According to Sarasota County historian Jeff LaHurd, as many as eight people fell to their deaths in the abandoned hotel. Visitors would later claim to have seen the ghost of a Sarasota High School student, who was one of those teens who died in the hotel, calling out the names of his friends. After that death in 1954, officials placed a steel fence around the building. But it didn’t keep the trespassers away, myself included.

Today, my memories live on and Ringling's idea lives on as the land he once owned is now the Longboat Key Club resort and we have a beautiful Ritz Carlton as one of the crown jewels on Sarasota Bay.

If you are looking for a luxury property in Sarasota, Florida, give me a call at 941-315-1185 and I will help you find your dream home…and tell you some stories of life in Sarasota ‘back in the day’!

Here's a cool video about The Ghost Hotel:

Credits: Sarasota History Alive, The Observer, Jeff LaHurd

Friday, September 9, 2016

Sarasota's Bustling Five Points

Drawing by John Hardy for the Sarasota Herald Tribune circa 1951

The bustling roundabout intersection known as ‘Five Points’ is, historically, the anchor of downtown Sarasota. Located at the Pineapple, Main and Central Intersection, this downtown spot is well-known to us ‘Hometowners’. 

My memories go back to the mid-fifties and include pushing my little sister, who was on a float in the Sara de Soto Pageant Parade, down Main Street, headed for the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium. I remember feeling awkward and almost embarrassed being on display at the time, but now it’s a fond memory. I also remember passing by Five Points on the way to the City Pier to get permits with my dad, who was a builder here in the fifties and sixties. The Sarasota government offices were located on the pier at that time before moving to their downtown location. (More on this in a future Blog!)

Many activities thrived and culminated at Five Points back then. My wife remembers blisters on her heals from marching down Main Street to Five Points with the Sarasota High School marching band back in the late sixties. Her mom often told stories of her participation in the parade and the filming of the movie, The Greatest Show on Earth, about the Ringling Brothers Circus...and I was in the crowd watching the grand parade as it was being filmed.

Her dad, artist John Hardy, labeled Five Points as ‘The Hub of a Great Art Center’ in the late forties. He was attending Ringling School of Art (as it was known back then) and worked at the Sarasota Herald Tribune as the Art Director. His drawing of Five Points for the Herald Tribune depicted here shows lots of activity during those bustling days before the malls took much of the downtown business away to the suburbs of Sarasota. The centerpiece of the drawing is the stone monument, which was installed in 1928, honoring our Sarasota soldiers who served us proudly. The monument was moved to Gulfstream Avenue on the Bayfront in 1954 because it was considered a traffic hazard. I remember it as the focal point of downtown Sarasota and will hold on to my memories!

If you are looking for real estate in downtown Sarasota, call me at 941-315-1185 and I can show you today's beautiful Sarasota and tell you stories about the wonderful history of my Hometown.

Here’s a great article about Five Points and the Monument by ABC 7/My Suncoast’s Linda Carson. As Linda said: “It still remains the heart of Sarasota.”

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Memories of Siesta Key

My wife and I both grew up in Sarasota. We are Baby Boomers, so we have seen a lot of changes over the years. One of my wife’s favorite stories is about a condo I sold on Siesta Key at Beach Villas. When I mentioned the listing to Liz, she asked me the address and when I told her it was 221 Beach Road, she got teary-eyed.

She and her family lived at that EXACT address in the mid-50’s through the early 60’s. Her aunt and uncle owned 13 little cottages just around the curve of Beach Road, coming south from Siesta Village. There were two little cottages right on the beach and the rest were just across on Beach Road. They were simple little places – pecky cyprus walls, no air conditioning (but a wonderful gulf breeze blowing through the Australian pines), and  sulfur water (no water treatment plants then) but she didn’t mind any of it. She remembers when there were no buildings taller than two stories and nothing blocking access to the beautiful sugar sand beaches along Siesta Key…and few people on the beach back then, especially in the summer. Her days were filled with building sand castles, picking up shells (she still has a huge shell collection) and the feel of tiny sand crabs and live coquinas wriggling between her toes as she walked the wide, white sand along the shoreline. She describes walking barefoot to Siesta Sundries in The Village and buying Supergirl comic books and cherry cokes at the soda fountain. Those were the days!

Even though we miss those days gone by, Siesta Key is still incredibly beautiful and a fabulous place to live and play. It’s the number one beach in the world, and Siesta Village is filled with great places to eat and buy beach treasures. I have sold several properties on Siesta Key and have a listing now at 1156 W PEPPERTREE DRIVE Unit# 114C in Peppertree Bay. Call me at 941-315-1185 to find your dream home on Siesta Key – and my wife can tell you some great stories!