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Sanderling Beach Club

Articles: Sarasota History

Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Sanderling Beach Club photo

In the early 1949s, the area south of Point of Rocks, on Siesta Key, was largely uninhabited.  Most of the land was held by investors awaiting appreciation in value. The southern portion of the barrier island became part of Siesta Key in 1921 when a hurricane closed the original Rocky River Pass, just south of today's Sanderling Club, and opened up Midnight Pass, about 2 ½ miles further south . The island, south of Point of Rocks, is very narrow in width and features several miles of white sandy beaches along the Gulf of Mexico on the west, a two-mile-long lagoon in the center, and a mangrove-fringed Inland Waterway on the east. Midnight Pass Road runs south through the center of the island.

Developer Elbridge S. Boyd, originally from Atlanta, formed Siesta Properties, Inc. in 1946 with the intent of creating a gulf-side membership residential community south of Point of Rocks, later to be known as The Sanderling Club. Boyd developed other parts of Siesta key at this time; each of his developments “showed great concern for ecology with an aesthetic feeling.” Boyd and the Board of Directors of Siesta Properties, Inc. combined resources and efforts to buy and unite adjacent properties into a cohesive whole for the proposed community.

The first of four units to be developed as Siesta Properties, Inc. consisted of about 52 individual lots, up to two acres in size. Those on the west side of the linear development each had about 200 feet of beach fronting the Gulf of Mexico. The remaining lots fronted the inland Heron Lagoon on the east. Land sales were very slow in the beginning, but soon took hold when some of the first land owners introduced their friends and acquaintances to the area. “Between 1946 and 1958, 67 houses were built, and during these formative years community effort and spirit were very much in evidence…houses built during this period were basically three-month beach houses which were furnished with wicker and had bathroom doors on the beach.”

In 1951, the Siesta Club was formed as a homeowners association for the Siesta Properties residents. One year later, a cabana club was created on Siesta Properties land to provide beach access to the property owners located along the interior waterways and boat basins. The site selected for the cabana club was originally larger and had been set aside for the construction of an inn to accommodate guests of the property owners. By 1952, Mr. Boyd had not found anyone to design, build, staff and operate this proposed first class establishment. At the property owners' request, the existing Sanderling Road (labeled a “private road” on the original plat maps) was moved westward which provided two additional residential lots on the east side and a strip of land fronting the Gulf of Mexico on the west. This strip of land was purchased and developed as a cabana club by the newly formed Sanderling Beach, Inc. Only members of The Siesta Club (i.e. property owners) could become shareholders of the profit-making Sanderling Beach, Inc.

Local architect Paul Rudolph was selected to design the clubhouse, cabanas and observation tower. The initial phase, built in 1952, consisted of a concrete patio with a small white wooden observatory. The platform, about 10 feet up, was reached by a simple set of stairs, along the east side and furnished with chairs and a table. On either side of the patio was a single-story structure containing five cabanas each. A two-bay restroom building was located east of the tower. Each of these structures displayed a distinctive roof consisting of a series of shallow vaults constructed of thin plywood. Several resident-members participated in the construction of these early buildings. By 1958 three more buildings, with five cabanas each, were constructed by local contractor John Innes. Three new cabana buildings, which followed Paul Rudolph's design for the original two buildings, were arranged in a stepped line extending south of the original group. “A tennis court had been built, a life boat and telephone provided a measure of swimming safety to the area, and Sunday lunches were being held underneath table umbrellas.”

A clubhouse was not constructed until 1960, although included in Rudolph's original plans. John Crowell was hired to prepare the plans for the new two-story building. It was to abut the existing restroom building on the south and contain five Rudolph-style cabanas on the second floor. It was also expected to align with the shell roofed observation tower. However, a lack of structural integrity was recognized in the tower soon after its construction. For a time people were no longer allowed on the platform. The entire tower was torn down in the late 1960s.

Beach erosion was recognized as a problem for the development, particularly just south of Point of Rocks. A rock revetment was added along the shoreline in the mid-1960s to prevent further deterioration of the receding beach.

It was not until 1974 that a merger of the Siesta Cluba and Sanderling Beach, Inc. was completed. This resulted in the creation of The Sanderling Club – a social club which provides beach access and amenities to 110 property owners and 65 annual associates. Each of the individual cabana units is leased annually by club members, often remaining in the same family for years. Each occupant has equipped the interior of their cabana to meet their needs and desires, adding improvements such as a refrigerator, sink, bar storage, shower, closet, etc.