Longbeach Village resident Michael Drake recalls a moment from Sunday when a woman passed through his neighborhood to show a friend the Longboat Key Center for the Arts.
Though the woman had grown up near the Key, she had not visited in years. Drake said she was shocked and saddened to see the arts center in a demolished state.
When Drake, president of the Key’s Historical Society, told the woman of his organization’s initiative to move two historic cottages from the arts center site, he said she was overjoyed.
“She almost started crying,” Drake said. “She was so happy.”
Drake said the woman’s reaction is a sentiment shared by many Key residents and visitors, who are eager to see relics of Longboat’s history preserved in a time when much of the past is being replaced.
In June, developer Jim Clabaugh purchased the 2.3-acre arts center site from Ringling College for $1.85 million. Clabaugh intends to construct 12 single-family homes on the land.
The same month, Drake began raising money to relocate the two cottages, which were built in the 1930s as part of the Whitney Resort, to make them a headquarters for the Historical Society.
Now, Drake is one step closer to that goal. On Aug. 10, the larger of the two cottages was moved to its new location, a 0.44 acre plot at 521 Broadway St. The smaller cottage followed on Tuesday.
“I’ve never had a doubt that it was going to happen,” Drake said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Drake contracted Johnson Housemoving to relocate the cottages to the new site, about a quarter of a mile from the former arts center property. For the move, the larger cottage was separated into two pieces and reattached at its new location.
At 521 Broadway St., the smaller cottage, which is about 380 square feet, will one day be used as a museum for the society’s materials, including artifacts and photos. Drake envisions the larger, 1,100-square-foot cottage as a place for gatherings and meetings, as well as a space for the Historical Society to conduct its programs.
In March, north end resident group LBK North began a public discussion about the possibility of the town relocating the larger of the two cottages to a former gas station property across the street from Drake’s proposed location. That site is no longer available.
Vice Mayor Ed Zunz said he sees the move as a positive change.
“I think it’s good that (the cottages are) being saved,” Zunz said. “This is certainly the second-best arrangement. I hope it works out well.”
Drake emphasized that there is still a lot of work to do.
“Donations are key,” he said.
The Historical Society’s initiative includes two phases of fundraising. The goal of the first phase is to gather $100,000 for moving costs and securing the cottages on foundations on the new site.
As of this week, the organization had raised $61,000. Drake aims to have the new foundations constructed by early September.
The target for the second fundraising phase is to raise $450,000 to ultimately acquire the property at 521 Broadway St. for the Historical Society.
Planning, Zoning and Building Director Alaina Ray said the lot is zoned for residential use, but the historical society could apply for a special exception to the code for nonprofit organizations.
The exception would need to be approved by the Planning and Zoning Board.
To donate to the Longboat Key Historical Society:
Longboat Key Historical Society
260 Bay Isles Road
P.O. BOX 8744
Longboat Key, FL 34228