The lots were priced starting at $9,000.
It was 1959, and there were 511 in all, 291 on the waterfront and 220 off-water lots on Bird Key. In bold, capital letters, the top-story headline of the Oct. 16, 1959, now defunct Sarasota Times proclaimed:
“ARVIDA ANNOUNCES BIRD KEY PLANS.”
Five years earlier, Arthur Vining Davis, owner of Arvida Corp., had purchased vacant land on Longboat Key, plus the tiny peninsula of Bird Key, from John Ringling North.
Arvida would go on to advertise Bird Key as a tropical paradise. And, in case buyers needed an extra push to buy a piece of paradise, the company would build a club, which would be known as Bird Key Yacht Club, at the site of the Edzell Castle, the only home on the island, where John Ringling’s sister, Ida Ringling North, had lived with her family. The building would house the company’s sales office, while also offering a recreational area, swimming pool and tennis courts.
“It is expected that the Bird Key Yacht Club will be one of the finest on Florida’s west coast,” stated the Sarasota Times article.
Arvida would be responsible for the club’s financial deficit and would also choose the club’s board of governors. Board members would get free lunch (but no liquor) and didn’t have to pay dues. Dues were $200 per year, plus a $250 initiation fee.
Emmet Addy was the first commodore of the club, which held its formal opening Saturday, Oct. 15, 1960, with approximately 100 members, many of whom were Arvida salesmen, who also didn’t have to pay dues.
In the 1960s, the club started many of its traditions that continue today. The first fashion show on record took place in May 1962. The boating luncheons also got started when two members sat down over lunch to talk about boats.
“We had the luncheon on a Monday, talked boats and had such an enjoyable time that we decided to do it again the next Monday and bring a friend who was also interested in boats or just good company,” one of the men wrote. Within a few meetings, the bar area where they held the meetings was packed.
In its first year of operation, the club operated at a $90,000 deficit. By 1967, that number was down to $33,000. At that point, it was clear that Bird Key Yacht Club could sustain itself as a debt-free organization. So, on Oct. 31, 1967, Arvida signed the title for the club over to its members. Four months later, in February 1968, the club’s members elected their board.
The club’s early days of independence were a challenge. The dining room had to have at least 100 members eat dinner there each night to break even. On slow nights, members would get on the phones and convince other members to come out to dinner. And, if a manager quit unexpectedly, a member would step up to supervise operations.
Today, the club has come a long way, with 350 memberships and more than 500 members. Only one-third of members are Bird Key residents, with some coming from as far as St. Petersburg.
The club has been through more than $2 million in renovations since its beginnings and continues to operate without debt.
According to current Commodore Tony Massaro, members view the club as a second home.
“It’s like family,” he said. “It’s part of their home.”
Contact Robin Hartill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bird Key Yacht Club celebrated its 50th anniversary at its Commodore’s Jubilee Ball Saturday, Nov. 21. To see photos from the event, click here.
November 1959 — Bird Key Yacht Club was incorporated for “the benefit, amusement, recreation and entertainment of its members and their friends.”
Oct. 15, 1960 — The club formally opens with 100 members, many of them Arvida salesmen.
Early 1960s — The first boating luncheon took place as an informal talk between two friends.
May 1962 — The club held a “Spring Fashion Show,” its first fashion show on record.
1962 — The social committee formed with a seven-member group to plan and direct club programs.
1964 — The board of governors started children’s programs, raised the price of shrimp cocktail from 75 cents to $1 and started a series of duplicate bridge clinics, but then canceled them due to the many arguments.
Oct. 31, 1967 — Arvida turned over the deed of the club to its members.
1968 — The club began $250,000 worth of renovations.
1969 — The board of governors ruled that men must wear suits and ties in the lower dining room.
1970 — The club’s art committee formed.
1974 — The club established its bowling league.
1977 — Board members voted to remodel the bar area after quelling rumors that the view from the deck would be blocked.
1982 — The club added a second parking lot.
Oct. 26, 1985 — The club held its first “Blessing of the Fleet.”
1999 — Paula Herod became the club’s first woman commodore.
Jan. 27, 2000 — The club held the grand opening for its expanded tennis facilities.
2007 — Club members voted against merging with nearby Sarasota Yacht Club.
2008 — Commodore Tony Massaro relaxed dress-code rules, allowing men to eat in the lower dining room without jackets or ties.
Nov. 21, 2009 — Bird Key Yacht Club celebrates its 50th anniversary at its Commodore’s Jubilee Ball.
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