A drive down Gulf of Mexico is a visual treat any day of the year. But nothing tops December, when Longboat Key illuminates with yuletide joy and displays its twinkling palm trees, bedecked boats, angels dangling down the front of high rises and reindeer perched in front yards.
Each year, the Longboat Observer judges the Key’s holiday light displays, because there’s nothing like a fun competition to ignite the holiday spirit.
As a reward for the muscle put into their holiday décor, the winners received trays of holiday desserts and a bottle of bubbly. Many expressed astonishment when the Longboat Observer showed up bearing gifts.
They may have been surprised they won, but you likely won’t be, if you’ve ventured around the island much the past few weeks. Without further ado, behold Longboat’s brightest, cheeriest holiday decorations — the winners of our “Light up the Keys” contest.
Saputo home, 10 Lighthouse Point Drive
One word sums up John and Denise Saputo’s Lighthouse Point home: stately. Visible from New Pass Bridge, the residence beams with 80,000 white lights that dance along their dock, bushes and 30-foot columns. Every year, the Saputos have a Christmas Eve party, with most guests lingering on the back terrace.
“With all the Christmas lights, it feels like daylight,” Denise Saputo says. No cutesy theme here — just a host of elegance and grace.
Crab and Fin, 420 St. Armands Circle
This St. Armands seafood restaurant epitomizes what’s so great about Florida winters: It’s not gray and cold! Crab and Fin uses a motif popular on Longboat (wrapped palm trees) — but with a vibrant twist. We loved the island vibe created with the red-and-green lights.
Michael Ruocco, a Crab and Fin server and the mastermind behind the electric palms, was out when we delivered the good news, but Manager Holly O’Mara said he’d be elated and shocked.
“He was super enthusiastic about our decorations and involved from point A to Z,” she said.
Beachplace, 1109 Gulf of Mexico Drive
Beachplace always ranks among the most festive of our most hotly contested category. To make sure the condo stays in contention for top prize, the condo always changes up its holiday theme. This year, it upped its game by transforming the guardhouse into a present, complete with a big handmade bow and a gift tag that reads, “To Longboat Key, From Beachplace.” Another addition was a semi-circle of candy canes lining the condominium association’s entrance.
General Manager Nick Luman let out a spirited, “Woo-hoo!” when The Observer arrived to deliver the news.
Will Longboat see the pretty present again in 2013? Don’t count on it, Luman says.
“We’ll try something new,” he says. “You have to stay fresh to beat the competition.”
Walker home, 7061 Longboat Drive E.
Peg and Pete Walker were perplexed when The Observer announced their win. For years, the couple has engaged in a friendly competition with their neighbors across the street — but they didn’t think the local newspaper was in the know about that. Nor did they imagine that their Longbeach Village yard outshined hundreds of others on the island.
The Walkers have steadily added to their collection of lights over the years, with Peg Walker always marking her calendar to start designing her Christmas display in late October.
“Most of the shopping’s actually done in early January,” she says. “That’s when I get great deals on holiday items.”
This year’s marquis pieces included a rowboat filled with colorful presents, a white-and-gold angel with wings that flap and a “Goodwill baby Jesus” the Walkers procured from, you guessed it, Goodwill.
“The neighbors said they didn’t stand a chance once we put out the angel and Jesus,” Peg Walker said.