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Longboat Key Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018 8 months ago

Klauber was often a thorn in the side of Longboat officials

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Lawsuit over revoked building permit went against town in 1997.
by: Suzanne Elliott Staff Writer

Woody Wolverton went on a trip to China years ago with Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber.

Wolverton, a former Longboat Key Commissioner who was friends with Klauber for more than 30 years, said the owner of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort brought a telephone with him that enabled him to call directly to the United States and vice versa.

Wolverton said Klauber wanted to stay in contact with his daughter, Katie, who was running the resort. But because of the time difference — 12 hours — and the number of calls back and forth between the two, Wolverton said his friend quickly tired of the gadget.

“He said to remind him to never take it on another trip,” Wolverton said.

A Colony employee helped launch Wolverton’s friendship with Klauber. He said he was new to the Key and had volunteered to work a local golf tournament. 

“We were both drinking beer and watching to make sure no one cheated,” he said of the employee. “She then told me I needed to meet her boss.”

The rest is history.

“I had a million drinks with him,” Wolverton said. “We had a hell of a good time.”

The coincidence of Klauber dying a day after the last building was demolished at the site of his beloved Colony Beach & Tennis Resort last week was not lost on Maggie Hicks, a Longboat Key Realtor and daughter of former longtime Longboat Police Chief Wayne McCammon.

“He died of a broken heart,” she said. “I guarantee it.”

During his nearly 50 years on Longboat, Klauber made a name for himself, especially with the Colony. But he was an occasional thorn in the side of town leaders. Klauber was not afraid to challenge or be generous with his adopted hometown, friends said.

In 1988, when the town’s Code Enforcement Board ruled that a Tiki hut over a beachside deck at the Colony was not permitted and needed to be removed, Klauber and the town battled back and forth for about a year. At one point, more than 300 employees formed a symbolic, hand-in-hand ring around the structure in solidarity with their boss.

Ultimately, Klauber dismantled the hut, but a single pole remained and became a sticking point with the town for months. The town contended it was part of the structure and had to go. Klauber pointed to photos that indicated it had been there since the early 1970s. By early 1989, the town ruled enough was enough and allowed the pole to stand.

Roughly the same time, on Jan. 6, 1989, Klauber and the town skirmished over a real estate office on the property. The Code Enforcement Board ruled the real estate office could not deal in properties beyond the boundaries of the resort, and gave the Rose and Klauber firm 10 days to stop doing such business or face fines of $250 a day.

“It isn’t like we’re conquering the world from there,’’ Charles Rose told the board, but the company complied.

Then, nearly two decades after acquiring the Colony, Klauber wanted to build the Reserve, a resort spa where the Vizcaya is now located. But in 1990, the town revoked his building permits, and Klauber sued. He claimed some members of the Town Commission opposed him and his political views, according to a March 27, 1997 story in the Longboat Observer.

“He thought his civil rights were violated,” Wolverton said.

A federal grand jury in Tampa — in December 1996 — awarded Klauber $8.9 million: $2.6 million for out-of-pocket expenses; $6 million for lost profits and $290,000 for mental distress. That amount was eventually reduced to $6.5 million, including $4.5 million in cash and $2 million to be paid in increments during a seven-year period.

In an interview with the Longboat Observer published May 29, 1997, after the lawsuit was concluded, Klauber said, “I was here to build a better, nicer, more refined, more fun island, and they don’t want anybody on this island.”

Klauber bought the former Far Horizons Resort and donated its old tennis clubhouse to the town. He also paid to move the building — now the town’s recreation center — to Bayfront Park.

Wolverton said Klauber talked him into running for Town Commission in the early 1990s and Key resident Dick Smothers, as well as his brother, Tom, and comedian Pat Paulsen would support him.

“You could write a book about Murf,” he said.

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