For old-timers, it was a walk down memory lane. For more recent residents, it was a glimpse of Longboat Key in years past, highlighting the people and events that created today’s island.
The recollections came from Tim Field, son of the late Herb Field, developer of The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort and The Buccaneer Inn, and Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber, who bought the Colony from Herb Field in 1972. They were guest speakers at the Longboat Key Historical Society’s “Elegant Benefit” fundraising dinner April 22, at the Colony.
Historical Society President Tom Mayers introduced the speakers and special guests. His mother, Fran Mayers, organized the society, and it was revitalized in the 1980s by Ralph Hunter, who attended the dinner with his wife, Claire. Mayers’ sister, Michael Saunders, and Kent Chetlain, historian, were also present.
Klauber, a successful orthodonist in Buffalo, N.Y., recalled it took just one night and an early morning run on the beach to decide to move to Longboat during a visit. And he hasn’t regretted that decision since.
“In 42 years here, I have never had a bad night or bad day,” Klauber said.
He spoke of developing the Colony into a world-renowned tennis resort, hosting both Andre Aggasi and Pete Sampras on the courts.
And one memory will last forever.
On Sept. 10, 2001, then-President George W. Bush was at the Colony for an appearance in Sarasota. On Sept. 11, Bush was at Emma E. Booker Elementary reading to students when he received word of the terrorist attack in New York City. Bush flew from Sarasota, eventually landing in Omaha. But, the Secret Service and the media returned to the Colony.
The Secret Service told Klauber, “The White House is closed.” And for the next 24 hours, the Colony became the nation’s central headquarters.
Klauber took a quick minute to point out an easel with a rendering of a renovated Colony.
“I love The Colony, this is my life,” Klauber said. “This will happen in two years — that’s a guarantee.”
Field’s slide presentation traced the history of Longboat Key and noted the roles of John Ringling and Arthur Vining Davis, of Arvida Corp. (which is an acronym for the first two letters in each of Davis’ names).
“Ringling may be known for the circus, but he really was a developer,” Field said. “He built the Ritz-Carlton at the south end the Key, and the economy collapsed. The hotel was 90 days from completion when the economy went bust. It was never finished and was razed in 1963. He did finish the museum (the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art), which he deeded to the state of Florida.”
But it was Davis who really shaped the Key. In 1959, he bought thousands of acres of land on Longboat, St. Armands, Lido, Otter, Coon and Bird keys. Arvida’s first development was Seaplace in 1973, followed by Bay Isles Harbourside and the Bayou section five years later.
It wasn’t easy, though, because town officials worked to keep density low with numerous restrictions. The Key’s appearance reflects their efforts today.
One of the best-known resorts on the Key for several decades was Herb Field’s The Buccaneer Inn.
Known for its good food and casual atmosphere, Field operated it until 1992 when he retired. It was closed in 2000.
“My father was ever the promoter,” Field said. “He hired a man with a peg leg to ride a Vespa scooter on the Key and around St. Armands to drum up business. It worked.”
Herb Field was a community activist and served eight years on the Sarasota County School Board during the 1960s when desegregation was an issue; he was later named to the Sarasota County Commission.
Field showed aerials taken over the years that photographed the undeveloped key and showed scenes of damage caused by hurricanes, although Longboat has never suffered a direct hit.
In a humorous aside, Field said, “I was Murf’s first manager at The Colony. I lasted four months.”
The Longboat Key Historical Society is all about Longboat Key’s past, but its logo? That’s history. The group wants to jazz up its look, so it is holding a contest to see who can redesign the logo. Prizes will most likely be in the form of Historical Society swag. For information, call 387-8323.
Contact Dora Walters at [email protected].