Joy Baker isn’t the only one intrigued by the little house by the sea.
Approximately 90 people attended her presentation about Villa Am Meer, which means “Villa By the Sea” in German, Thursday, March 7, at the last Longboat Key Historical Society meeting of the season.
Baker, a Minnesota resident, began researching and blogging about the property in March 2010, when she saw it surrounded by construction equipment and worried it would be torn down.
The equipment was actually being used for construction of two groins at the Islander Club next door.
“I could just tell a lot of pride went into the house,” she said, describing the elaborate stained-glass windows, ceramic tiles and spiral iron staircase leading to a rooftop patio, where she imagined parties occurred.
German immigrant Dr. Hermann Kohl, and his wife, Hertha, built the home in 1935. He had founded Norda Inc., in 1924, to create flavorings and additives for the beverage industry.
He had faced bootlegging charges, but about a year before he built Villa Am Meer, Prohibition ended, and the charges were dropped.
Kohl would go on to invest $15,000 for a 49% stake in what would become Tropicana Products Inc. in the 1940s.
In the audience at Baker’s presentation were Hertha Kohl’s great-niece, Monika Wehofsich and her daughter, Katja, who were visiting from Germany.
Wehofsich never met Hertha Kohl and knew her only from the letters they exchanged when she was a child. She discovered Baker’s blog when she did an Internet search for “Dr. Hermann Kohl USA,” seeking more information about her family’s history.
The Kohls were childless but informally adopted their gardener’s daughter, Elena Amaducci, who later married into the Benedict family and inherited the estate.
The Benedict family sold the property for $18 million in 2006.
Court records show that current owner BBC Key LLC became the owner of the property in 2009, after it went into foreclosure.
Baker doesn’t know what the future of the property will be, but her research about the property, along with historic photos, are now recorded with the Florida Master Site File, a state-maintained inventory and archive, so that no matter what happens to the home, there will be a permanent record of its story.
For the full story of Villa Am Meer, visit Baker’s blog, joybaker.com, and click on the “Villa Am Meer” tab.