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Richard and Alison Light, and their daughter, Chloe Jane, donated the Little Free Library to their community. Photos by Jessica Salmond
Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 16, 2015 3 years ago

Palm Island: the heart of Siesta Key

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A neighborhood of 150 homes in the middle of the island boasts friendly neighbors and a rich history.
by: Jessica Salmond Staff Writer

Richard and Alison Light, 18-year residents of Siesta Key’s Palm Island neighborhood, visited a park in Colonial Oaks earlier this year with Chloe Jane, their 4-year-old daughter. While she was playing, Richard noticed a little wooden box filled with books and magazines — a Little Free Library.

After researching the Little Free Library project online, the Lights loved the idea of bringing a similar community library to their neighborhood. They commissioned a craftsman from Nokomis, Peter Built, to make a small library to place at the Elsie Blair Park on Palm Island in February. 

“We wanted to contribute to our park,” Light said. 

The library has a placard inscribed with the words: “Donated by the Light family, 2015.” Light wanted his daughter to have something tangible to remind her of her family and her community as she got older. 

“It’s a memory for her,” Light said. “I wanted to have a legacy.”

Within days of being installed, the neighbors warmed to the new community collaboration and filled the library with books and magazines for all ages. 

The location was ideal: Elsie Blair Park is already a gathering spot for the small, close-knit community.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Palm Island is a heart-shaped island in the middle of Siesta Key. Created by a dredge project to expand the canal system, legend has it that Frank Archibald, the original planner of the community, made the heart shape for his wife. 

Its shape and location has earned it the nickname, “the heart of Siesta Key.”

The island is home to about 150 houses and includes a mixture of retirees, families and part-time residents. It’s not a deed-restricted community but does include the Palm Island Neighborhood Association, which formed in 1951.

Richard Light said Palm Island is different than most of Siesta. Although within walking distance of the beach and Siesta Key Village, when one stands in Elsie Blair Park, it’s quiet. No traffic sounds, no Village sounds.

As a one-way access community — Calle Florida — it doesn’t get a lot of outside traffic, so it remains isolated from tourists. Neighbors can be seen chatting on the road during a morning run or when they’re checking the mail.

Elsie Blair Park

The island holds one small county-owned and neighborhood-maintained park in the eastern point of the island. It’s named the Elsie Blair Park, after one of the earlier residents and one of the most active neighbors in the community. Elsie Blair and her husband, Donald, moved onto the island in 1963. She founded and was president of the island’s Garden Club and served as president of the homeowners association. She died in 1994 at 96 years old. 

Her granddaughter, Cindy Woodling, lives on Palm Island. Her family used to come down for vacation and visit her grandmother, and in 2006 Woodling decided to relocate permanently. Following in her grandmother’s footsteps, she has become the resident expert about the island. 

 “It’s wonderful to live in this neighborhood with this park named after my grandmother,” Woodling said. “It’s special that the community asked it to be named after her, for her contributions to Palm Island.” 

The Round House

Palm Island is home to more than a few interesting residences, such as a house painted dual shades of bright purple and another with abstract sculptures decorating the lawn. On the corner of Calle Florida and Island Circle sits “The Round House,” almost completely obscured by trees.

Thorton Utz, an internationally recognized artist, designed and built the home the 1950s. It served as both his residence and studio. It looks just as like sounds: a perfectly round home.

Alison Light had the opportunity to paint with Utz before he died in 1999.

 

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