Villa Am Meer, Chapter 1

It all started with a walk along the beach…

A stroll along the beach

For 15 years, our family has been visiting the beautiful barrier island of Longboat Key, Florida – just outside of Sarasota on the Gulf of Mexico. This year, like every year, we found ourselves ambling along the beach and imagining what it would be like to live in one of those beautiful new oceanfront mansions that seem to keep cropping up. We marvel at the architecture and wonder who could possibly afford to live there, then we saunter along, hoping this is the week we finally hit all six numbers on Ross’s PowerBall ticket.

There is, however, this one ramshackle, weather beaten house that has continued to hold our interest for all of these 15 years. I call it “my house,” because I’ve always told my husband that I would buy it someday. Someday, when I write a bestseller, option a screenplay, or hit the PowerBall. Someday…

My house

I’ve never been able to quite put my finger on it, but something about this rundown, abandoned-looking house has always intrigued me. I stare at it and I wonder. Who built it? How long has it been there? Who owns it? Why has it fallen into such a state of disrepair?

It’s clear that it was beautiful once, with stained glass windows, hand-painted ceramic tiles, and a spiral iron staircase that leads to a rooftop patio. I can only imagine the resolve it’s taken for the family to stave off the condominium developers, encroaching from either side. Clearly, there is some nostalgia attached to this home. I can almost picture it in my head… images of days gone by… children enjoying long, lazy days on the beach, building sandcastles and collecting seashells… the grown-ups looking on, waving and laughing, sipping piña coladas from the patio.

Waiting for the wrecking ball?

This year though, things were different. The high rise condominiums just to the north were putting in a new concrete pier (groin) to prevent erosion of their rapidly diminishing beachfront. Large, heavy equipment was moving in and out of the property, and I worried that “my house” had finally been sold and was about to be torn down.

I panicked. I returned with my camera, anxious to preserve a bit of Longboat Key history before the wrecking ball did away with this vintage treasure and all its romantic charm. The problem is, photographing the house only caused me to fall more in love with it. I wanted to know more. Who lived here, who played here, who slept here? What was life like on Longboat Key, before the condominiums, before the Crackberry, before the chaos of our 21st century lives?

And so it began… my quest for answers. I will admit, I went a little bananas. For over a week now, I have put off things like laundry, housecleaning, and preparing my income taxes to delve into the history of this charming little beach house.

And to think it all started with a walk along the beach.

View the rest of my photos on Flickr…
(You’ll need to click the “Show Info” link in the upper right corner of the screen to view the captions.)

Oh, and stay tuned. We’ve only just begun.

Read Chapter 2

24 Comments

  1. Oh Joy,
    What a neat story! It reminds me of a perfect Nancy Drew mystery from our childhood!!! I’ll be axious to see what unfolds with your house 🙂

  2. Joy,

    This is wonderful! You have a great talent! I’ll be waiting for the rest 🙂

  3. Kathy Alm... |

    Wow, can’t wait for further updates. I continue to plotch up and down the beach while you delve into mysterious and perhaps really juicy history. Good luck!

  4. Joy, the more I get to know you the more interesting you are!Here I thought you were another tkd drop out like me and avid Vikings fan!!Can’t wait to read more!

  5. Two thums up here.
    Ihope I don`t have to wait too long for the next installment,my thumbs will get tired, Iam getting old you know.
    Who`s the guy on the beach, looks like he had a bad round?

  6. Great blog Joy,
    Love “your little house” and your thoughts put into words. I think I will stay tuned….

    Blessings Joy 😉

  7. Congrats on the blog!

    Your wondrous weaving of words entice our return for more stories about your house.

  8. Hey Joy you rock!

  9. Joy-
    Two thumbs up to you. How you can make a simple subject seem so interesting. I can not wait for the next blog of your house. Keep up that curious mind of yours and I will stay tuned in.

  10. Ditto on the other comments. I cannot wait to hear more!!

  11. Waiting to hear more…

  12. We need more, and soon!!! So brave to post evidence of your crime… of course many great works are written in prison…

  13. mine or yours?

  14. I love your voice Joy and have missed reading your work. This brought back memories of reading your papers in high school. Can’t wait to hear more…..keep it coming!
    Love, Lisa

  15. I can’t wait to hear more about Our home Joy (yes, it’s mine now too…) Thank you for bringing me on the winter vacation I that missed out on this year!

  16. You’ve got real talent, Joy. Can’t wait for the next chapter!

  17. julie rogan |

    Joy,

    My parents have had a condo at the Islands West for 35 yrs, they bought it when i was 12. I have also had the same love for that house for 30yrs & have also said if i win the lottery some day i’m buying it! We still continue to vacation every year around July 4th w/other families in the same bldg for 20yrs kids all around the same age. I remember those days of the beauty of the house i remember how wonderful it was. I have seen the beauty & decline for many years. My daughter also has a love for this house she’s 23, she’s the one who found your blog. Thanks for taking wonderful pictures & thanks for also enjoying what the house used to be. It was one of a kind.

    juli r.

  18. Thanks for the comment Julie. Can you tell me more about what the house used to look like, before its decline? When I was photographing the house, I noticed the pool in the backyard was very small, in the shape of a cross I think. I was confused about the pool… wasn’t sure if it was a swimming pool, or just a fish pond or something. It seemed too small to be a swimming pool, but the tiles seem too beautiful for a fish pond. Someone also mentioned there used to be another house on the property… a Bavarian-style house with a little fish pond in front of it. It also had a wrought-iron bridge that led to the front door. I’ve also heard mention of a carriage house… is that still there?

  19. Carly Rogan |

    Hey Joy,
    My name is Carly Rogan. My mom just left a comment on your blog as well. In answer to your question about the additional houses/carriage house, I can tell you that this year on my last day in Sarasota I went up to the boundary of the estate and thought I saw an additional building on the property. There is the caretaker’s house which is visible from the beach and is not original to the estate. However, if you go on google maps and switch to the satellite view of the area you can zoom in as close as you can and it looks like there is another building surrounded by trees. I am not sure if this is the building you are talking about or if you went any farther on the estate past the actual house but there is definitely something there. Unfortunately, I left Florida this year without plucking up the courage to venture onto the estate. Let me know what you think or if you have already checked the google image out. It is definitely mysterious….I am so glad there is someone out there who shares the same passion for this beautiful property.

  20. Carly,
    I had also looked on Google Earth, and thought the same thing… that maybe there was another building under those trees in the back left corner (looking from the beach). However, that may be the “carriage house” which may be nothing more than a garage of sorts. My great hope is that one day I’ll be able to tour through the estate with a video camera and have someone who’s been there tell me their memories of the place. We’ll be back on Longboat in March, maybe I can try and line something up at that time.

  21. Carly Rogan |

    Joy,
    Definitely keep up the good work. The pictures are amazing. I was really excited when I found your blog and will continue to eagerly wait for updates. Hopefully you can check out that building. It is about as big as the actual estate and is located in a large group of trees on the middle of the property. Hopefully its what you are looking for!

  22. Sherry Gaudelli |

    My husband was employed by The Benedicts for 40 years. He was very loyal to them and so was I and my 2 sons. The building you spoke of as “The carriage house” was actually called “The Guest House”. It had a full kitchen,2 bedrooms and a living room. There was a caretaker’s house on the property too. It was a great pleasure to be associated with this family. Your writings are very factual and you sure have done your research well.

  23. Randy Almendinger |

    Joy, Susan is visiting me here in Bradenton this week (Feb 2 – 7, 2012). We have noted the address and will make it a point to go visit ‘your house’! Should be a fun trip. Cuz Randy

  24. Monika Wehofsich |

    Hi Joy, I would like to contact you because I am a member of the Family from Herta’s side. She was my grandfather’s sister. I have quite a lot of information but would also like to find out more.
    Please write back.

    Best wishes from Hamburg, Germany

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