Posts made in March 26th, 2010

Villa Am Meer, Chapter 2

A few dead ends lead to an orange juice story

New here? Start with Chapter 1…

First things first. I wanted to know the history of my house, who built it, and who owned it.

So, one day when the rest of the gang had opted to go golfing, I stopped by the Longboat Key Library to check out their local books.

Sidebar.

Longboat Key Library

Longboat Key Library

The Longboat Key Library is located next to Town Hall and directly across from Publix grocery store. It’s not a public library, but a private non-profit organization, staffed and operated entirely by volunteers. It’s very small and supported solely by membership fees and donations (of both cash and books). According to their web site, “Not one cent is levied upon taxpayers by the Town or the County to support the library.”

My question is… why? Not to take anything away from the diligent and wonderful volunteers who run the library, but if a town like Longboat Key can’t get enough taxpayer support to fund a public library, then what’s this world coming to? But… I digress.

End sidebar.

I started combing through a few of their “Local Interest” books, including Calusas to Condominiums by Ralph Hunter, but I couldn’t find any information. I asked the ladies at the library if they knew anything about the property, but they weren’t familiar with it either. They referred me to the Historical Society down in Whitney Beach Plaza.

Longboat Key Historical SocietySo, a few days later, on a wet and rainy morning, I convinced my dad to come along with me to the LBK Historical Society to see if they knew anything about my house. When we arrived, no one was there, but we did find a flyer taped to the window with a phone number of the current board president – Tom Mayers. We called and talked briefly with him, but he wasn’t sure which property we were referring to. We went next door to “Steff’s Stuff” and chatted with her a bit, but she didn’t have any information for us either. She did mention though, that Tom Mayers had grown up on Longboat Key and lived at the historic “Land’s End” property, right before the bridge that takes you to Anna Maria Island. I filed that away for future reference and we went on our merry way.

Street entranceIt was at this point we realized an address would be helpful. So, we drove back toward the old ramshackle cottage, slowly passing condo after condo, looking for the street entrance to the old vintage estate. Of course, we knew it right away when we saw it… stone columns, iron gates, inlaid ceramic tiles. A perfect entrance designed to match the architecture of the house. We wrote down the address on the mailbox and headed to the LBK Town Hall.

They were very gracious and willing to help me at the Town Hall. After doing a few lookups on the computer, the woman there gave me the name and number of the current owner (“BBC Key LLC” out of Northbrook, Illinois). I hurried home and dialed the number, anxious to get some answers to my questions. But of course, as luck would have it, the number had been disconnected.

Bummer. Dead end.

Hmm… now, what would Bosley and the Angels do at a moment like this? Well of course. It was time to start Googling.

Sarasota Herald Tribune, 8/14/2006

Sarasota Herald Tribune, 8/14/2006

I went back to the resort, entered the address of the property, and voila! I came across a 2006 newspaper article from the Sarasota Herald Tribune that gave me a wealth of information and a ton of new leads.

The story gets really good from here… and a little mysterious. Here’s the full article:

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Lots of local history behind Benedict Estate on Longboat

By Stephen Frater, Sarasota Herald Tribune

August 14, 2006 – Two weeks ago, I reported that the former Benedict Estate on Longboat Key sold for $18 million to Tampa-based developers Statewide Associates.

The developer plans to build up to 30 town homes on the property.

More historical details have been unearthed about the property by Cindy Alegretto, the Herald-Tribune’s news research manager.

The once much-larger property originally was developed as a private estate by a Dr. Kohl in 1935.

In the 1940s, Kohl was said to have been one of the original invetors, along with Italian immigrant Anthony Rossi, in a Manatee County-based citrus business.

Kohl was said to have invested $7,500 for a 49 percent stake in the business, which grew to become one of the largest citrus businesses in the world, Tropicana Products Inc., now a unit of soda giant PepsiCo Inc.

One of Kohl’s daughters, Elena Kohl, married into the Benedict family, which is how the property came to be known as the Benedict estate.

A sharp eyed reader pointed out that the rusted estate’s gate columns still feature the letter “K” in a design motif that outlasted Dr. Kohl’s original Mediterranean villa on the site.

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Stay tuned… you’ll learn more about Dr. Kohl, the Benedicts, and the current status of the “Villas Am Meer” condo project…

Oh, and by the way, here’s a link to a large image of that rusted gate. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any K in the motif, even when I looked in real life. Let me know if you can find anything. Be patient, it’s a 2.32MB file, so it may take a while to load.

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