Bird Key Info
One hundred years ago
The waterfront homes and luxury real estate that make Bird Key distinctive could not have been imagined only a century ago. One hundred years ago Bird Key was a commonplace 12-acre mangrove island visited mostly by sea turtles and migratory sea birds. In 1906, Thomas Worcester, a Cincinnati native who fell in love with the area after several visits, purchased Bird Key. In 1912 Worcester began the dredging that would eventually make Bird Key the paradise that it is today. Worcester dredged 30,000 cubic yards of sand, raised the island's land level, and built one of the area's first and most splendid mansions, "New Edzell Castle," named for his wife's Scottish ancestral home. Circus tycoon John Ringling purchased the island in the 1920s. Apart from the completion of Ringling Causeway in 1926, linking Bird Key and several other islands to the mainland, Bird Key remained virtually untouched until the 1950s.
A development plan for Bird Key was approved by the City of Sarasota in 1953, but nothing actually transpired on Bird Key until 1959, when developers moved ahead with a plan for a major dredge-and-fill project that would expand the island to more then 10 times its original size. Bird Key became the site of 291 luxurious waterfront properties and 220 inland, single-family luxury homes. The proposed underground electrical system, which used 145 miles of electrical cable, was visionary for its time. Bird Key was the focus of a national marketing campaign in the early 1960s as developers asked, "Who hasn't dreamed of living on a tropical island?" An elegant new yacht club, designed in the Colonial Bohemian style, replaced the fading Edzell Castle and became the centerpiece of this distinctive, boating-oriented community.
The question developers asked in the 1960s can still be asked 50 years later. Who hasn't dreamed of living on a tropical island? For more than half-a-century, homeowners, their families, and their guests have enjoyed the good life as it's lived on beautiful Bird Key. If this sounds like a spot where you could relocate, retire, or purchase a vacation home or great investment property, call us today to arrange for your tour of the stunningly beautiful luxury homes on Bird Key.
1959 was a watershed for Sarasota
1959 was a watershed for Sarasota. Just as the completion of the Mira Mar on Palm Avenue in the early '20s had signaled our emergence as a fashionable resort, the announcement the plan to develop Bird Key and John Ringling's other Sarasota properties (bought for a reported $13.5 million) indicated that Sarasota's days of being a small, quiet town were numbered.
The first phase in the grandiose development program was to be Bird Key, and its promotion surpassed anything ever seen in Sarasota. Full page ads, slick brochures, television and radio spots, articles in Life, Time, Sports Illustrated and other national publications touted Sarasota throughout the country.
The object of all this promotion had originally been the spectacular domain of Thomas Worcester. He added to the 14 acre isle in 1912 by dredging pp 30,000 cubic yards of sand, planting trees and tropical foliage and building New Edzell castle, a $100,000 showplace named after the ancestral Scottish estate of his wife. In a letter to Worcester, she wrote of Bird Key: "This is what I want for my old age ... Oh! Words cannot paint the scene imagination cannot conceive of such grandeur." It was to be their retirement paradise, but Mrs. Worcester died before its completion.
Bird Key Development Corp., whose president was Ida's son, circus head John Ringling North, bought the property in 1951 with the intention of expanding it to almost 300 acres. Their plan for luxury home sites would offer less than a decade later, but the Ringling consortium received a less that enthusiastic reception.
The approved plat included 511 home sites 291 were on the water with the then futuristic concept of underground utilities, a $250,000 yacht club of Colonial Bahamian design and the most attractive feature of all, "the sheer beauty of Bird Key's tropical vista." On Oct. 15, 1960, after one year's work, the project was completed. Lots were priced from, $9,000 to $32,000 and sold quickly.
After the death of John Ringling in 1936, his estate was in probate for 10 years before clear title could be given to his holdings. By 1950, what emerged, as far as the keys were concerned, was a group of corporations that owned them, all headed by John Ringling's nephew, John Ringling North. In 1951, the Ringling Interests proposed to develop approximately 277 acres of land around Bird Key and to fill 37 acres on north Lido Key. The master plan for the development of Ringling Isles was prepared by noted architects Ralph and William Zimmerman in 1951 but was revised eight times before the city commission accepted it in 1952. But the debate did not stop there with the plans. The city required many changes to the plan and after six months of debate between the Ringling Interests and the City, the plan was approved in March 1953.
Although approved by the city, little was done with the development until 1959 when Arvida Realty, Inc. purchased the Ringling Interests' holdings on the key. Arivida planned to fill in Bird Key to allow for 511 lots, 291 water-fronts and 220 off-water sites. This would be the luxury place to live in Sarasota. One unique feature of the development would be an underground electric utility system, consisting of nearly 146 miles of electrical cable. By building standards in 1959, this utility system was ahead of its time. Arvida began to promote Bird Key heavily by the use of newspapers and the media. One example of these ads in the following that appeared on January 17, 1960, in the Herald-Tribune: "Who hasn't dreamed of living on a tropical island? Where the climate is always mild, where the beauty is everywhere, where silence is broken on by the rustling of the palms and the sound of the sea as it washes the shore. All of this is yours on beautiful Bird Key, set like a jewel in the waters of Sarasota Bay."
For over 50 years, Arvida Realty, Inc. has succeeded, with its Bird Key and Longboat Key developments, in making Sarasota the luxury place to live.
Worcester Home on Bird Key
The Worcesters had visited Sarasota from Cincinnati, Ohio, several winters before deciding to build a home on Bird Key. Davie Worcester designed much of the building and named it New Edzell after his wife's ancestral home in Scotland. She died in 1912, and her husband completed the construction. The Sarasota Times gave front-page coverage to the opening social event in February 1914. "Combining the useful with the beautiful, as was the order of her life, stands a monument made with hands, set in one of nature's fairest temples, to the memory of a gifted and good woman." Thus did the writer introduce the home as a labor of love. Davie's paintings, one of which portrayed the ruins of the original Edzell Castle, hung on the walls.
New Edzell introduced a degree of comfort and convenience little experienced in Sarasota at the time. Steam heat warmed winter temperatures, and hot and cold water was available throughout the house. With an electrical generating system, there was both electric and gas lighting. At a time when the city of Sarasota had very limited electrical service, a writer for the newspaper was impressed with the sight across the bay. "The spacious grounds and high dwelling flamed with electric lights (and gave the arriving visitor) the sensation of approaching enchantment."
John Ringling purchased Bird Key in the early 1920s and made the next in the series of changes. His idea to convert New Edzell into a summer White House for President Warren Harding failed to materialize before Harding's death in 1923. The Bird Key mansion then became the home of John Ringling's sister, Ida Ringling North, until her death in 1950. When Ringling built the first causeway and bridge to St. Armands Key, he included an extended Bird Key in the project. No longer was the island isolated from automotive traffic.
In the late 1950s, Arvida Corporation purchased the bulk of the Ringling properties in Sarasota, including Bird Key. After considerable debate in the press and City Hall, Arvida proceeded with the most dramatic of the changes than had been wrought on Bird Key. A massive dredge and fill operation build on the shallow grass flats enlarged the Key to nearly ten times its size at the beginning of the century. A modern Bird Key Yacht Club replaced the fading mansion and more than 500 building lots became available for a growing Sarasota population.
Legendary circus entrepreneur John Ringling completed the first home built on Bird Key; that magnificent structure is today the Bird Key Yacht Club, one of the most esteemed clubs in Florida.