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Longboat Key Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018 10 months ago

'Passion upon passion'

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Murf Klauber and the Colony are gone. But the treasures he prized — his beach and Makepeace groin — will remain as lasting legacies.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

“Mr. Walsh, it’s AnnaMary. Can you take a call from Dr. Klauber?”

For 15 years, up until 2010, when the Colony closed, that was the routine. Some months, it was weekly. It depended on whatever had him riled up. Or it might be his next grand vision that consumed his passions and energy.

Matt Walsh

It felt like being summoned by the king, the king of the island, sitting atop his castle, in his fifth-floor penthouse office, overlooking his kingdom: his priceless beach, his world-class resort, his Makepeace groin and the vast blue sky and aqua Gulf of Mexico that stretched over the horizon.

Of course, I took the calls. I loved them.

The best ones, which were most of them, were when “Murf” — aka Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber — ranted about the town … the town commissioners or the town manager … and wanted the Longboat Observer to do his bidding.

“Matt,” he would say, “we’ve got to make sure we get the right people elected in the next town election. We’ve got to get the word out about [candidate he liked] … We can’t let those PIC (Public Interest Committee) people get elected. They’ll ruin the town.”

Or, frequently: “Matt, we’ve got to do something about those people at Town Hall. They’re going to ruin our beaches. How many times do I have to tell them if they would just do what I’ve done at the Colony with the Makepeace groin, they wouldn’t have to waste millions and millions of taxpayers dollars on beach renourishment? Can’t they see that we have the biggest and most beautiful beach in front of the Colony?”

And lo and behold, if you saw the Colony beach from his penthouse vantage point, he was right. While condominiums up and down the Key fretted year after year over their disappearing beaches that needed newly dredged sand, the Colony’s beach was always wide and crystal white.

Sometimes, the phone calls were invitations to his penthouse office to see his pride-and-joy beach. “Look at that,” he would say, surveying the Colony’s expansive beach. “It’s so simple to do.” Or, they were invitations to hear about and see his next visionary idea.

His office actually was not the marble palace fit for a king. It was cramped and cluttered, with room for a couple chairs close to his desk, walls and shelves covered with memorabilia and a desktop disheveled with newspapers, magazines and stacks of documents that looked more like an editor’s nest than that of a worldly restaurateur and hotelier.

When he took you into the room adjoining his office, this was pure Murf Klauber.

Those who knew him knew he always was striving for superlatives — the biggest building, the best restaurant, the tastiest food, the most fabulous fireworks show. Many of his great ideas and visions came to life in this adjoining office, where a large table displayed miniature architectural renditions of his next project. Even they were “the best” renditions.

Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber

Before the Colony’s demise, Klauber envisioned creating, as he would say, “the most high-tech” conference communications center in the country, with a new Colony high-rise conference center abutting Gulf of Mexico Drive. At one point in the early 2000s, he decided to go bigger. His rendering room featured a model consuming an entire block of Second Street in downtown Sarasota devoted to bringing his vision to life. He went so far as to present this grand vision at an elaborate reception at the Sarasota Opera House, only to have the Sarasota City Commission summarily reject it.

To hell with them. Klauber took his vision to Tampa to be developed at Channelside. But there as well he was ahead of his time. Now a decade later, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is transforming Channelside.

“When he made up his mind,” said 40-year friend Bruce Bozzi Sr., “it was impossible to dissuade him.”

Klauber and Bozzi, one of the owners of the famed Palm Restaurants, had a daily ritual for 40 years whenever Bozzi was on Longboat Key: after a round of doubles tennis (often with the late Bud Collins), they would refresh with cocktails at 5:30 p.m. at the Colony bar, toward the end at Pattigeorge’s. Klauber: Rob Roys; Bozzi: Dewar’s and soda.

They talked about everything, a lot about the restaurant business. “He was the most upbeat and innovative person I’ve ever met,” Bozzi said.

“Passion upon passion,” said Michael Garey, former Colony restaurant manager and now owner of restaurants on Longboat Key and in Sarasota. “Vitality and energy. I left when he was 77, and he was still tireless and positive.”

Garey has never forgotten what Klauber showed him about devotion to employees. 

“If he saw you with your spouse or child, he would make them believe you were the one who made the Colony great,” Garey remembered. He recalled New Year’s nights, after the stroke of midnight, Klauber, his daughter Katie Moulton and her husband, Michael, would leave the Colony Restaurant and head to the kitchen, where they made celebratory drinks for the staff. “Legitimately heartwarming and unselfish.”

Bozzi: “A lot of people saw him as an opportunist and self-serving, but he was not that. He really had the best interests of the Colony, Longboat Key, Sarasota and his employees.”

To be sure, Klauber lived and played in rarefied, worldly circles of celebrities, successful entrepreneurs and legacy families. His second wife, Sue Carling Bassett-Klauber is a descendant of the Canadian Carling beer family. He frequently entertained Mary Lou Whitney, an heiress to the Vanderbilt fortune and horse-racing royalty. He dined with the late Klaus Jacobs, a Swiss billionaire candy baron. He skied in Aspen, spent summers in Toronto, went on wine and travel safaris in South Africa.

But mostly, his world revolved deeply around two places dearest to his heart, the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort and the town of Longboat Key. The three —Klauber, the Colony and Longboat Key — were so intertwined they were one in the same. By force of his energy and will that he pulsed through the Colony, Klauber’s daughter, Katie Moulton, is not exaggerating when she told us: “He built the brand of Longboat Key.” He built it worldwide.

You cannot go through the annals of Longboat Key and find any one person more responsible for bringing more people — and the extraordinary caliber of them — and more positive notoriety to Longboat Key over as a long a period as Murf Klauber. And you would be hard-pressed to find anyone with passions for Longboat Key as strong as Klauber’s.

When he took his 4-mile, sunrise walks along the beach and Gulf of Mexico Drive, his body leaning forward, gait swift, collar up on his polo, he was not walking only for his health. He was inspecting the kingdom, especially keeping watch over what he knew to be the most important treasure on this 11-mile island: the beach.

Murf Klauber was proud of a lot of things at the Colony — being the No. 1 tennis resort in the world; giving Nick Bollettieri his start; the Colony Restaurant and its Sunday brunch; hosting presidents and other celebrities; creating a family-like atmosphere; being the first establishment on the Key to serve Starbucks coffee. But especially prized were the Colony’s beach and the protector of that beach, his Makepeace groin.

Standing on the groin late Sunday afternoon with members of the Klauber family, her arm sweeping the expanse of the Colony beach, Michael Saunders said, “This is what drew him here. This is what he loved.”

It had to be divine providence. Murf Klauber’s Colony is gone and soon will be replaced. But the piece of his legacy, the part that drew him from Buffalo to Longboat Key, the beach and its protector, the Makepeace groin, will survive.

“We’re survivors.” That was always Klauber’s greeting to Dora Walters, retired senior editor of the Longboat Observer. “We’re survivors, Dora.”

And it had to be divine providence that the day after the final brick of Colony’s mid-rise building and Klauber’s penthouse fell to the precious beachfront ground, on Thanksgiving night, surrounded by four generations of family, Murf Klauber said goodbye.

It was as if the voice from above said, “Your work is done, Murf. Let the memories and your legacy live on in the next generations. It’s OK to come home now. Welcome to the No. 1 resort of all time.”

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