In 1968, Gordon Whitney sold his Whitney Beach property to Paul Neal. Fifty years later, the community is thriving.
In 1935, Gordon and Lora Whitney set foot on Longboat Key.
They built 13 cypress cottages, a guest house, tennis court, skeet range and family home on the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay, Ralph Hunter wrote in “From Calusas to Condominiums.” Eventually, the couple bought 1,000 feet of beachfront property around the 6750 block of Gulf of Mexico Drive and called it Whitney Beach.
During World War II, the cottages were home to military members for rest, but Whitney Beach became an active resort again once the war ended. Gordon Whitney closed the resort in 1957. It then sat vacant until 1968, when Whitney sold his property to Paul Neal Jr.
The residents came for the lush grass and ample greenery, beach and bay access and amenities. But the reasons they stayed run deeper. It was as if Whitney Beach was an oasis.
“It’s just very friendly and not ostentatious,” said Sue Goetzinger, who has lived there for a year and a half. “You didn’t feel like you had to dress up and take all your jewelry you ever owned and put them on for dinner or parties, and it just had a very low key and friendly atmosphere.”
Neal developed the land with 139 units. In 1971, it was completed as one of the first condominium complexes on Longboat.
“It just seemed quaint, beachy,” Karen Hazelton, who has lived at Whitney Beach for 30 years said of finding her home. “You didn’t go up an elevator. You opened the windows and there were the palm trees. The instant we saw it … we fell in love instantly.”
It’s these reasons why Pat Neal, of Neal Communities, who helped his father develop the land, said people came to Whitney Beach in the first place. Today, for Whitney Beach’s 50th anniversary, these reasons remain the same.
“They came to Whitney Beach for the same reasons they come today — blue skies, white sands, nice people, low taxes, to get away from the snow,” Neal said. “The only thing different today than yesterday is there were probably 2,000 people on Longboat Key at that time and now there is a population cap, of I think, 12,600, but it’s still beautiful.”
When Pat and Paul Neal first saw the Whitney Beach property, it consisted of a boat dock, shooting range and a resort for people to “be away from the world,” Neal said.
“They came to Whitney Beach for the same reasons they come today — blue skies, white sands, nice people, low taxes, to get away from the snow. ”
Today, the property has tennis courts, picnic tables, a tiki hut, three swimming pools, shuffleboard and the boat docks, plus a boat house where residents can clean their fish. The residents have watched Longboat Key grow into what it is today.
When Judy Blume’s parents first came to Whitney Beach, there wasn’t much between their home and the Longboat Key Club beside some motels and private beach cottages. Blume’s mother didn’t drive, so the proximity of Whitney Plaza, which housed a grocery store and post office at the time, was convenient.
Now, when asked how Longboat has changed, most residents think of traffic first.
Sally Mott and her sister, Betsy Bauernschmidt, have been visiting Whitney Beach since their mother, Fidelia Joyce, first came to the property in 1969.
“It’s become very popular,” Mott said. “The town of Sarasota has grown up and offered a lot more cultural things than when I first came down here. The island has just been built up and offers some very nice restaurants and some beautiful beaches.”
But they’ve also seen Sarasota change.
“When I go to downtown Sarasota, I think of those early years, when I came down here, and I think if any of the people are still alive, and we dropped them in downtown Sarasota, they would be shocked,” Blume said. “They would just not know where they are.”
The residents know, though, that people can’t be kept away from Longboat Key or Sarasota. However, their homestead at Whitney Beach has remained relatively the same. Over the past 50 years, Whitney Beach has maintained its “Old Florida” feel, the residents say.
“You can’t help but be relaxed at Whitney Beach because we’re surrounded by beautiful landscaping, the bay with the manatees, and the ocean, the dolphins, the white pelicans that come in winter,” Goetzinger said. “Longboat is a unique place, but you know this is special. Whitney Beach is just different.”
Whether it was the first time their toes touched their sand, like it was for Herman Kruegle, or being able to relate to those with political views “180 degrees” differently than their own, like it has been for Denton Crews, the residents at Whitney Beach all have their reasons for staying.
And for Neal, Whitney Beach set up a model he uses with his son today.
“The best part of Whitney Beach for me, was the personal experience with my dad,” Neal said. “It was also a wonderful business experience because my dad’s and my skills were different. They were complementary. We could use his sales skills and creativity and my financial degree and attention to detail, and it was a marvelous thing for both of us.”