Market snapshot: Alameda Avenue in Sarasota


PHOTO GALLERY: Alameda Avenue in Sarasota

Sarasota's grand houses and estates tell a big part of the city's history, and that is certainly true along Alameda Avenue, south of Indian Beach Road near Ringling College.

Alameda Avenue south of Indian Beach Road in Sarasota. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

Alameda Avenue south of Indian Beach Road in Sarasota. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

But the name best associated with this stretch of Sarasota bayfront is not John Ringling, Owen Burns or even Bertha Palmer. They had yet to be born when this choice property, dotted with Calusa Indian mounds, was occupied by William Whitaker. In 1843, he and half-brother Hamm Snell became Sarasota's first white settlers.

Whitaker put down roots just south of Whitaker Bayou, then known as Snell Bayou, and got a deed from the U.S. government for 145 acres in 1851. The next year, he bought another 48.6 acres for $1.25 an acre, giving him two miles of bay frontage. His home at Yellow Bluffs was burned during a war with the Seminole Indians in the mid-1850s.

In 1910, Burns and Palmer would show up, and Sarasota would be on its way to becoming a proud little city. But in the days before the Civil War, Whitaker had to rely on the land and sea to survive. He did just that, supporting a large family by fishing, growing and trading.

Before Whitaker, Cuban fishermen reaped the bay's bounty, sending their harvest south to Cuba from their "ranchos" here. And before that, the Calusa thrived, creating shell mounds, or middens, with their refuse.

The middens still can be seen; one particularly nice specimen exists behind a mansion on Alameda Lane. The high ground was treasured as a protection from storm surge.

That area, platted in 1920 as the Sarasota Bay Park subdivision, is still treasured, both for its beauty and for being a three-minute drive from downtown Sarasota.

"Van Wezel is so close you could almost hit it with a rock — if you had a good arm," said Realtor Nora Johnson of Michael Saunders & Co., who has an Alameda Drive semi-mansion listed at $2.9 million.

"It's a hidden secret," she said.

The bayfront properties along the Alamedas — lane, avenue and way — have several advantages over other prime homesites along the north bay, including lots of land and the ability to have boat docks, a rarity along the north bay.

Several of the estates have one or more acres. A bit north of Johnson's listing, Janet Garelik and Michel Rapoport are fielding inquiries for their 7,000-square-foot bayfront house on two acres that would be like Selby Gardens if the Selbys' thumbs were a bit greener. "Lush" is an understatement.

"I like the diversity of the architecture and the people," Garelik said. "The foliage is old Sarasota, so it is very Floridian.

"There is nothing planned about it. There is a lot of serendipity, so you can have a $10 million house in one place and a $350,000 house across the street."

Alameda and the pathways that reach bayward from it follow the contour of the shore. The old plat, recorded in 1924, shows an abandoned right-of-way that hugged the coast.

"You would have to find someone pretty darn old to tell us what was there," said David Jennings, a Coldwell Banker agent and local history buff who lives nearby.

Garelik's own shell driveway snakes between hedges shaded by huge oaks.

"We see a lot of people on bikes and walking, so it is very user-friendly as a neighborhood," Garelik said.

The neighborhood is part of the Indian Beach-Sapphire Shores Association, which is "as strong as can be," she noted. "It keeps people apprised of what is going on in the neighborhood, both good and bad."

Garelik is especially happy with a new neighbor, the Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy, which replaced an old motel on U.S. 41 that she described as "an eyesore."

Jennings said the Alameda area is "certainly not well known because there is no direct way through to get back to Tamiami Trail. Residents know to take 22nd Street or Caloosa and Sylvan drives to get to U.S. 41. But your tourists and real estate lookie-loos are not doing that, so we do get fewer 'sign calls' on Alameda than we would in other parts" of the city.

Alameda is an illustration of the extremes, said Jennings. "You have affordable bungalows on one side of the street and you've got some of the largest bayside parcels left in the county on the bay side of the street. With the ancient tree canopy and shell paths, it has an island feel."

Johnson said Alameda's "absolute and total privacy" often is lost on many buyers looking for waterfront property.

"People need to understand you can have this kind of privacy and be two or three minutes from downtown," she said. "A lot of people there are enamored with being that close to the airport, too," to use private aircraft.

Her listing on an acre, at 2145 Alameda, was built in 1992 and has five bedrooms and five baths in 6,439 square feet, with a boat dock. Another bayfront listing, at 940 Alameda Way, backs up to Whitaker Bayou, one lot from open bay. Built in 1988 and priced at $1.15 million through Dyrk Dahl of Coldwell Banker, it has four bedrooms and four baths in 2,689 square feet.

"I have never seen properties like this on the bay," said Johnson. "It is more like a Manasota Key or a Casey Key."

No Gulf beach, though.

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: May 11, 2013
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