Market snapshot: Historic Vamo


In 1923, two couples who had moved to Sarasota pooled their financial resources and got into the Florida real estate boom.

This Vamo Drive house was built in 1924. It has two bedrooms and two baths in 1,900 square feet.

Together the Gibson and Wren families bought a large section of land — about a mile long and a half-mile wide — on the inlet north of Little Sarasota Bay from the estate of Bertha Potter Palmer. (The Chicago socialite and businesswoman who owned much of Sarasota County had died five years earlier.)

The area was known as Bayonne at the time. Today it is the land south of Sarasota Square Boulevard down to Potter Park, including the Westfield Sarasota Square Mall, and the neighborhoods along Vamo Road west of the Tamiami Trail just to the north Osprey.

It was the Gibsons and Wrens who renamed the area Vamo, combining the abbreviations for their home states, Virginia and Missouri. There must have been some wrangling about which state would take precedence, because there is also a Mova Street in the neighborhood, perhaps as consolation prize for the couple from Missouri.

A little more than 20 families lived there at the time, taking advantage of the abundant fishing grounds between the shore and Siesta Key. For many years, Vamo was a commercial fishing community, and the sliver of land on the bay that is now a public park was a summer fish camp.

Starting in 1924, the new owners built 13 homes along Vamo Drive, which runs downhill from Vamo Road toward Little Sarasota Bay. Similar in floor plan and elevation, they all displayed the stucco walls, flat roofs and ornamental parapets of the Spanish-Mediterranean architecture that was popular at the time.

Originally, the houses sat on 75- by 100-foot parcels with another vacant lot of the same size next to each. Over the years, as residents wanted larger living spaces, they remodeled and built additions. Some of the homes now have attached buildings, second stories, garages and swimming pools with lanais. Others sport gabled roofs covered with clay tiles or metal siding.

Surrounded by majestic oaks and lush landscaping, each house now has its own look, but they all retain their historical character, making Vamo Drive one of the singular "Old Florida" places in Sarasota.

There is one other house on the street, a three-story, eight-bedroom building sitting on 5 acres by the bay. Built in 1912, it first was used as the clubhouse for the community. Then a doctor made it his residence and practice and delivered a number of the neighborhood babies there.

Norma Martin, of Jack and Norma Martin Realty, has lived on Vamo Drive since 1946 and knows the neighborhood and its lore well. Although Jack is no longer alive, Norma Martin has kept his name as part of the business. At 97, she is not only Sarasota's oldest Realtor and broker, but also the longest-working in the same location.

"I have sold a number of houses on the street several times," she said.

Three weeks ago, she sold two parcels of land on Vamo Road — her most recent transactions.

When the Martins arrived, they bought the old clubhouse. By then, it was being used as a small hotel. "My friends were quite envious," she said. "Here I lived in a nice big house, and could stay home and work."

Much of Vamo was still undeveloped, with large mangrove forests lining the shore and wooded pasture for cattle grazing inland. "You couldn't see the bay then because there was so much vegetation," Martin recalled. "We didn't have mail delivery in those days. You had to walk to the end of the road, where there were 14 mailboxes on Vamo Road."

Most of the residents were retirees, and the newcomers with their two children were the youngest members of the neighborhood.

"There was no air conditioning, no TV and sulfurous water came from the tap," she remembered.

Since then, Martin has seen a host of changes come to the area. Subdivisions like Tropical Shores cropped up, starting in the 1950s. It was followed in more recent decades by Pelican Cove and Fishermen's Bay, with its million-dollar waterfront homes, as well as condo developments like Portofino on the Bay.

Today, the area is pretty well built out, but historic Vamo Drive is still off the beaten track, little known by most people in town, except for the kayakers and boaters who use the public park on the bay as a launch spot.

While Martin does not have any listings on her street, she mentions that four homes are on the market, including one "for sale by owner," with the highest- priced property at $439,000.

Just to the north, Rita Street and Mova Street are lined with homes from the 1950s and later in the ranch style. Mova even has two houses with modernist architecture, built in 1993. Two lots are for sale on Mova, priced at $45,000 and $50,000.

Between Vamo Road and U.S. 41, four more properties are for sale, with a lot at $48,000 and three houses priced from $120,000 to $180,000.

Last modified: November 29, 2012
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published without permissions. Links are encouraged.