Posts made in September, 2010

Villa Am Meer, Chapter 14

The Florida Master Site File, and a few other tidbits

New here? Start with Chapter 1…

For those who don’t know me, my father is a Minnesota Christmas tree farmer who runs two cut-your-own farms, several tree lots, and a large wholesale operation from his company just north of Minneapolis. Last week, he wanted to go look at some trees from a grower in Quebec, so my mom decided to go along because she’d never been there, and I got invited along because I know how to speak French (sort of). I’d been to Quebec once before, on a 9th grade French trip, but truth be told, I couldn’t remember a single thing about the city or the trip. So, we did the town, took some tours, drank some wine, ate a lot of great food, and had a fabulicious time.

While I was in Quebec, I received a few blog comments that I thought I’d pass along. First, I heard from someone named Frank who mentioned he’d been good friends with Ralph Smith, a husband to one of the six Benedict daughters. It turns out Ralph had been the best man in Frank’s wedding, so every now and then, the two couples would vacation together at Villa Am Meer. Frank mentioned that he and his wife spent many evenings sleeping in the southwest bedroom of Villa Am Meer, listening to the sounds of the waves crashing on the beach. If my bearings are correct, I believe the southwest bedroom is the one with the beautiful stained glass window that faces the beach.

View my entire album of Villa am Meer photos, taken in 2010…

Tilly Foster Farm, Brewster, New YorkI also heard from someone named Annette who mentioned that she’d worked on the Tilly Foster Farm from 1985-1999, and served as Manager for the last five of those years. She mentioned that Elena called Mrs. Kohl “Tante” which means “Aunt” in German. It was Mrs. Kohl (Hertha) who was the one with the parrots, and in the attic of one of the barns at the Tilly Foster Farm, there were several large, ornate bird cages that used to belong to Mrs. Kohl.

A while back, I also heard from Shannon O’Donnell who is a Historical Data Analyst for the Florida Master Site File, a State maintained inventory and archive of recorded cultural resources in Florida. She had found a link to my blog in a recent issue of Sarasota History Alive, and contacted me about recording the Villa Am Meer property with the FMSF. That way, if it was ever to be torn down in the future, there would be a permanent historical record of this beautiful home. I was concerned about whether this “historical designation” would hinder the future development of the property, and she assured me it would not. I was also concerned that I had no direct link to the property, nor its original owners, but she assured me that anyone could register the property, regardless of whether I was an owner or not.

So, with a little guidance, I completed the form and now Villa Am Meer is officially recorded with the Florida Master Site File for all posterity. Shannon also included all the posts from my blog, along with the photos I had taken of the property. For future reference, the Florida Master Site File ID number for Villa Am Meer is SO6900.

I’m afraid I’m coming to the end of my Villa Am Meer story, not for lack of interest, but simply because I’m running out of material. If you have any thoughts, memories, or photos of this house, please send them my way.

Next time: A few final thoughts and a new mystery to solve…

Read Chapter 15

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Villa am Meer, Chapter 13


University Commons… the beginning of the end

New here? Start with Chapter 1…

Back in Chapter 1, my very first blog post, I started with a list of questions I wanted to know about “my house” on Longboat Key. Who built it? How long had it been there? Who owned it? And finally, why had it fallen into such a state of disrepair? Over the past several months, I’ve answered all but the last one. Today, I’ll do my best to answer that question as well.

Throughout the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, the Kohl-Benedict family had a good run. They built a family fortune that started with perfume. They ventured into real estate. Dairy farms. Thoroughbred race horses. Tropicana orange juice. Private islands. And something about parrots…? I never did get to the bottom of that one.

Indeed, it was a lavish lifestyle… private schools, country clubs, debutante balls, luxury Manhattan apartments, corporate parties at the Rainbow Room, and beach parties at Villa am Meer (attended by the occasional celebrity).

Things clipped along until 1985, the year Hermann Kohl’s company, Norda, Inc., was acquired by Unilever, a huge Anglo-Dutch food and fragrance company dually-based out of the UK and the Netherlands. If you think you’ve never heard of Unilever, think again. Think Lipton, Hellman’s, Dove, and Axe.

When the deal was done, the question, I’m sure, was what to do with this latest windfall. How could the family invest their wealth to guarantee a sustained income for future generations of “Dukes and Benedicts?”

The answer, it seems, was a Sarasota retirement community offering sequential care for the elderly. Enter University Commons, “a 256-acre nursing/retirement home complex covering 567,800 square feet, with golf course, resort hotel, and office space.”

It was to be built on land purchased by Hermann Kohl in 1931, north of University Parkway, at the intersection of Tuttle Avenue. It was such a large undertaking, the project was deemed a “DRI,” or Development of Regional Impact. After all, as late as 1982, University Parkway was still unpaved, and referred to simply as “County Line Road.”

All that changed by October of 1992, when University Parkway was converted from a two lane road to a six-lane superhighway that connected I-75 with the international airport and two other major U.S. highways (301 and 41) between Sarasota and Bradenton. In all, seven DRIs were planned for the five mile corridor along University Parkway.

It certainly seemed like a good idea. After all, during the 90s, millions of aging baby boomers were busy stuffing money into their IRAs and making plans to move to Florida in droves. Yes, everything would be coming up roses for the Benedicts for a very long time, assuming all went well with the University Commons project.

All did not go well.

I have no idea what went wrong with the project, but the property tax records for 8104 Tuttle Avenue tell some of the story. On August 2, 1994, the University Commons property was sold to Unicom Nursing Care for $900,000. Unicom was another corporation owned by the Benedicts. This company was incorporated on July 31, 1994 in the state of Florida, but was based out of Edison, New Jersey. Two years later, on December 31, 1996, the property was sold for $1 to OIDC, Inc., a land subdivision and real estate credit company based out of Greenwich, Connecticut. One year later, OIDC sold the property for $541,900 to Life Care Health Resources, Inc.

The Life Care Center of Sarasota was completed in February of 2000 with 120 beds and a staff of 180. It was no longer a development owned by the Benedict family, but instead by Life Care Centers of America, a company that operates more than 200 skilled nursing homes, assisted living facilities, retirement living communities, home care services, and Alzheimer’s centers throughout the U.S.

To be sure, the Benedicts must have spent millions of dollars in plans and permits for the University Commons development, only to lose it all in bankruptcy. It appears to have been the beginning of the end for the Benedict fortune. One by one, other properties were foreclosed upon, including Villa am Meer, the Tilly Foster Farm, and eventually, Elena’s home in Purchase, New York.

Sigh. I wish there was a better ending to my story.

Next time… the Florida Master Site File and a few final thoughts.

Read Chapter 14


Growth Traps Homeowners,” Sarasota Herald Tribune, February 21, 1994

Assisted Living Company Plans 248 Acre Retirement Community,” Sarasota Herald Tribune, December 2, 1997

Manatee County Property Search

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