Bubil: Historical perspective paid off big


Having lived here since 1958, I love to tell visitors about the “good old days.”

When doing real estate and architecture tours, I try to keep things factual, but the pressure is off because the tourists are, after all, from out of town. If I mess up on some trivia, who will know?

That is all well and good until I encounter someone who has lived here longer than I. Clyde Wilson Jr., for example. When trading “war stories” with him, you have to know your stuff.

We had the chance to chat after an April 10 ceremony at Esplanade by Siesta Key, at which residential development company Taylor Morrison dedicated a new bridge on the property in honor of the Wilson family (see photos on page 13-I). The Wilson family moved to the area in 1877, as in 138 years ago, was headed by a postmaster and tax assessor, bought up lots of land, owned the first car in town and introduced a bill in the legislature that created Sarasota County in 1921. The Wilson house is now at Urfer Park off Bee Ridge Road.

So while a lot of people read about Sarasota history, Clyde Wilson Jr., born in 1940, and his family wrote a lot of it.

In 1945, the Wilsons bought the 80 acres where Esplanade by Siesta Key is now, after it was used as a military survival-training camp during World War II.

“We’d find machine-gun shells when I was a kid,” said Wilson.

“Sarasota is not like it used to be,” he said, repeating something we oldtimers already knew. “Florida had two wait for two things to develop — mosquito control and air-conditioning. When I was a kid, we had neither. It was brutal.”

He learned lessons about real estate from his father, who graduated from Sarasota High School in 1926, just as the great Florida Land Boom was turning to bust.

That lesson — “know when to get out” — came in handy during the 2000s boom. At its height, Wilson Jr. sold the property to the current developer, then known as Taylor Woodrow. He describes that time as “craziness.”

“I didn’t want to sell it,” he told me. “I was going to build a new home here. But that craziness came. One thing that helped me recognize it was that my father lived through the craziness of the 1920s here.

“The Florida real estate market was the canary in the coal mine. By ’25, they were flipping. They would flip contracts — people would come in on the train, and they (the real estate-hawking “binder boys”) would meet the train with a stack of contracts. Contracts would sell five or 10 times before closing, each time at a higher price. Then in 1926, the Florida market crashed, and in ’29 the stock market crashed.

“When we started getting flipping” in 2005 and 2006, “I thought, ‘Uh-oh, this doesn’t sound good.”

So he sold. For $40 million.

See, it really does pay to know your history.

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: April 18, 2015
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