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Westover Cottages Provided Beach Escape

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Mark Smith, former Sarasota County Archivist
Source: Sarasota County Historical Resources
Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - Westover Cottages Provided Beach Escape photo

If you were looking for a place to escape in the late 1940s, Longboat Key was a largely undeveloped barrier island. Farmers once had tomato farms on the key and mosquitoes were a big problem. The northern end of the key had some residences but there were no bridges that connected the key to the mainland until 1927. After the bridges were constructed, you could drive from Sarasota to Anna Maria through Longboat Key. However, this was short lived as the bridge at the northern end of the key that connected Longboat to Coquina Beach was washed out in 1932 and was not replaced until 1957.

John Ringling attempted development on the southern end of the key with the construction of the Ritz-Carlton hotel and an 18-hole golf course in the late 1920s. Unfortunately, the Ritz-Carlton was never finished and the golf course closed.

With the end of the land boom and the Great Depression engulfing the county, there was little development on Longboat Key. However, in 1935, Lora and Gordon Whitney arrived on Longboat Key and set up a beach resort on the northern end of the key. The Whitneys built small beach cottages and advertised them as the perfect place to bring your family and pets. The couple is credited for sparking development and new interest in the key.

It was not until the end of World War II that development really began on Longboat. During the war, parts of the key were used for bombing practice and an emergency landing strip for the Sarasota Army Air Base. After the war, small hotels and beach cottages appeared up and down the key. One example of the type of beach cottages that were built was the Westover Beach Cottages.
The Westover Beach Cottages were owned and operated by Mr. & Mrs. Howard P. Knapp. The typical floor plan of the cottages was two bedrooms, a living room, a dinette, one bath and a screened porch. Their main focus was on offering the vacationer “fishing and bathing amid restful surroundings and a friendly atmosphere for an enjoyable vacation.”

According to their promotional brochure, Westover offered “modern living, accommodating six persons to a cottage. Spacious, five room cypress cottages, furnished with all modern conveniences. A large living room with breath-taking view, a fully equipped, up-to-the-minute kitchen with gas stove, electric refrigerator, and cabinet space. A dinette, two large bedrooms with twin beds, a davenport in the living room, a tile bath with tub and shower and hot water. Each cottage has a large screened porch, fronting on its own private beach.” A few of the cottages had fireplaces and a picture window facing the gulf.

The main attraction of the Westover Beach Cottages was that it was located on four hundred feet of private beach on the gulf. Rates varied during the year, from $90 per week from April to November, to $225 per week from January to April. These smaller hotels and cottages remained popular until the 1960s.

After the Arvida Company began to develop the southern end of Longboat Key in the early 1960s, Longboat Key began a growth period that continues to this day. Although most of these smaller hotels and cottages are gone; places like the Westover Beach Cottages remind us of a more laid back time on the west coast of Florida.