Fronted by a large sandbar on the west side, it has private beaches and docks, lush flora, including dense mangroves and Australian pines, and beautiful sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico.
The key is named for the Goliath groupers known as “Jewfish” to the local fishermen. The island even has swashbuckling lore. According to legend, Spanish explorers buried a treasure there in the 1500s.
Originally, Jewfish Key was two islands — Pickett Key to the north and Fisherman’s Key to the south — with separate owners named Jordan and Zeisse. When the Intracoastal Waterway was dredged, they agreed to let the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deposit the spoil between them to form a single island, if they would become co-owners. Apparently, the deal was sealed with a case of Scotch whiskey.
For many ears, Jewfish Key had only a single home, owned by Jordan. But in 1954, the two owners sold it to a man named Smidt, who platted the land for 29 half-acre lots and cleared out a central dirt road, La Lenaire Drive. The project didn’t succeed, and eventually the properties were consolidated into 13 lots of an acre each.
The eastern half of the key is a flourishing nature preserve with plenty of birdlife — sea eagles, osprey, owls and woodpeckers — not to mention raccoons, rabbits and other critters. Sea life includes frolicking dolphins and manatees. Fishing off the docks is excellent, and shrimpers frequent the area at night.
Buried power lines provide electricity; water comes from wells, one of them more than 300 feet deep. There is also DirecTV and some cable access. The Jewfish Key Preservation Association charges annual dues of $1,200 a year, which includes upkeep for two community docks.
Over the past 25 years, five houses have been built on Jewfish Key, all in different architectural styles. The Town of Longboat Key approves designs and plans. The sixth, a beach cottage, has been torn down to make way for a brand-new home. The builder, Steve Ellis of MGB Built, broke ground in February and intends to finish construction before the end of the year.
Ellis owns the property next door. He acquired it about 13 years ago and built his own house there in 2010. “It’s a combination of Florida and New England coastal architecture with lots of found elements and reclaimed materials,” he says.
It contains old beams from the demolished John Ringling Hotel in downtown Sarasota. A jib sail from an old schooner, cut it into panels, became the doors for closets. The covered wrap-around porches act like cabanas that take advantage of the natural breezes coming of the Gulf.
“We use it as a getaway for our family,” says Ellis.
“For most people the island is a second or third home,” says Kim Freiwald, a Realtor with Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. “There is one house with a fulltime owner. Everyone else either rents or uses their homes for weekend retreats or vacations.”
Rentals in season command as much as $4,000 week. One house is also a popular wedding venue, offering memorable photos of bride and groom on the dock against the setting sun.
While the appeal of Jewish Key is its natural beauty, serenity and privacy, other amenities are fairly close. Historic Cortez fishing village is less than two miles by boat and has more than 20 restaurants. A 3- to 5-minute ride reaches Longboat Key’s town docks in the Long Beach Village, as well as the boat ramp at Anna Maria Island’s Coquina Beach.
Currently, there are two homes on the market, and one empty lot. According to Freiwald, many of the vacant properties are held by people as an investment. Her vacant listing at 7149 La Lenaire Drive is a good example of how prices have skyrocketed. “In the old days, it used to be worth $200,000, and now it is $1.275 million,” she says.
Freiwald also has a 2,330-square-foot house for sale at 7155 La Lenaire Drive for $1.495 million. The 2,330 square-foot home has a panoramic view of two barrier islands, the Longboat Pass bridge and the Gulf, with 330 feet of private beach and a dock.
The other listing belongs by Brandi Furlan and Lisa Morreale, also of Premier Sotheby’s. Nestled among the trees, the Adirondack home has floors, walls and ceiling, all in cedar wood. Situated on 1.84 acres, the biggest lot on the island, it was built in 1989 and is priced at $1.95 million.
“It is very unusual to have two homes for sale on the island, says Morreale. “The last one sold two years ago.”
“It’s really all about lifestyle and then the home,” says Furlan. “If you’re looking for something special, this really is a magical place.”
The Realtors are teaming up for a broker tour of both houses on the market with a shuttle to and from Jewfish Key from 4 to 7 p.m. May 4. For more information, call 941-364-4000.