Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Sarasota

John Ringling on the steps of Ca' d'Zan in Sarasota, FL, his Mediterranean Revival home patterned after the Doge's Palace in Venice.
My Sarasota
By Geraldine Fabrikant

The Lauder wedding was a Sarasota affair.
When Leonard Lauder married Judy Glickman earlier this month it was a relatively low key affair with a reception at the Ritz Carlton Beach Club on Lido Key. Though Mr. Lauder has a palatial estate in Palm Beach, he and his future bride picked Sarasota in part because her son is the rabbi at Temple Emanuel there.

While the social elite has been charmed by Mrs. Glickman, a widow who was friendly with the Lauders when both her late husband Al, a prominent real estate developer, and Leonard Lauder’s late wife Evelyn were alive, the popular couple probably avoided the dilemma of deciding who to include and who to exclude were they to wed in Manhattan or Palm Beach.

Still, Sarasota is hardly a social backwater. It may be less familiar to New Yorkers because the town was originally the winter playground of families from the Midwest who came down I-75, intrigued by a coastal setting on the Gulf of Mexico that had been the discovery of John Ringling and where he put his circus during the winter months.

John Ringling put his stamp on the town with hotels, Ca' d'Zan, his Mediterranean
style home and a sprawling museum that he built to house an art collection assembled when collecting Old Masters was de rigueur for new money. Mr. Ringling was followed by the Selbys, a family that made its money in oil. They left their mark on Sarasota with a waterfront botanical garden.
Ringling's Ca' d'Zan was designed by New York architect Dwight James Baum. Ringling's wife Mable wanted a home in the Venetian Gothic style of the palazzi in Venice, Italy. Construction began in 1924 and was completed two years later at a cost of $1.5 million.
The entrance to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
These days however, East Coasters are finding the low key style of Sarasota: with its rich cultural life, increasingly appealing. Keep in mind that designer Michael Kors has just bought two adjacent pieces of land on Longboat Key, one of the best known enclaves for the wealthy in the Sarasota area. Mr. Kors, a newly minted billionaire, is building a home.
Longboat Key, Sarasota.
His is hardly the only big property on Longboat. When Mr. Kors was in town, he went down the road to check out “Ohana” a 10,000-square-foot house on 300 feet of waterfront property that is on the market for $22 million, and belongs to a family from Western Canada. A series of discreet pavilions with an octagonal thatched roof at its center, it could probably sleep more than a dozen guests. The house has all the requisites of high end beachfront living: an enormous swimming pool on the sea, a tennis court and a beachfront so private that one cannot see another house.
Ohana in full view.
The view from Ohana.
Ohana from the inside.
Designer Adrienne Vittadini has been going to Sarasota with her husband Gianni for years. Some time after she sold her company to Retail Brand Associates in 2001, she built, decorated and sold three Palladian style homes on the water in Sarasota. In the winter she and her husband commute between Italy where she and her husband ski, New York and Sarasota.
One of the Vittadini's homes overlooking New Pass at Lido Shores.
When Mr. Kors finishes his home, he won’t be far from his store in the new mall between Sarasota and Tampa, which also houses a Saks Fifth Avenue. Still, this is not Palm Beach or Miami. There is no Chanel, no Neiman Marcus and no Prada. There is a Ritz Carlton, but no Mandarin Oriental. It is a bit quieter, though there are hundreds of wealthy families. What Sarasota offers are some wonderful beaches: Siesta key — with its half mile wide white sand beaches — is said to be one the prettiest in Florida. Lesser known is the beach at Anna Maria Island, a 25-minute ride from town where there is not a single high rise to be seen.
The white sand beaches of Siesta Key.
Longboat Key may be the best known key, but the cognoscenti, who really want privacy, head to Casey Key, a sliver of an island, so narrow that there is only a single road through its spine and some homes front on the Gulf and back on the bay, promising sunrise and sunset views.

About a half hour from Sarasota, with no road signs offering a guide to its bridge, it is the winter hide-a-way for writer Stephen King, who has a modern compound at the very tip of island. Toward the other end of the island, Rosie O’Donnell has just bought a home for $5 million.
Rosie O'Donnell's house on North Casey Key Road.
Casey Key is not showbiz heaven, however. It is largely an enclave for chief executives, including Macy’s Chairman Terry Lundgren. Bob Gunther, an entrepreneur from New York, discovered Casey Key more than 15 years ago, when he was sailing along Florida’s west coast. “It was like discovering a private island,’’ he recalled. “There were really no hotels and it was so quiet with gorgeous beaches.” He built a home that copied the Addison Mizner style from which he could see both sunrise and sunset. (It is now on the market for $15 million.)
Bob and Jayne Gunther's home on the north end of Casey Key is now on the market for $15 million.
But these home owners are second and third generation to discover Casey Key. Berthe Palmer, the widow of Chicago industrialist Potter Palmer, read a story about Sarasota in the Chicago Tribune shortly after her husband died in 1902, leaving her with $8 million, a fortune at the time. Already a savvy businesswoman, Berthe Palmer was smitten with the appeal of the balmy weather and wide beaches. Not one to dilly dally, she snapped up 80,000 acres in the area and brought in Brahma and Hereford bulls. Aside from ranching she also owned citrus groves. Though she died of cancer in 1918, some Palmer descendants still live on Casey Key.
Bertha Palmer's estate on Sarasota Bay, The Oaks.
The reflecting pool at The Oaks still exists.
Whether or not its recluses chose to participate in the local culture, Sarasota is a hive of cultural activity. Murray Bring, the former general consul for Phillip Morris and board member of The Whitney Museum, said he finds the city to be impressively philanthropic. Mr. Bring is vice chairman of the Sarasota Opera and his wife Kay Delaney is on the board of the Sarasota Ballet.

The result of that support was evident last spring when the Sarasota Ballet attracted national attention after New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay wrote rave reviews of the company’s performance of ballets by the British choreographer Frederick Ashton under director Iain Webb calling them “uncannily perfect.” And it was among the companies chosen to appear in Fall for Dance this season at City Center in Manhattan. In December, when Mr. Macaulay anointed the ten best new dancers, included on his list was Logan Learned for his performance as the Blue Skater in Sarasota Ballet’s production of “Les Patineurs.”
"The Sarasota Ballet's four-day festival honoring the superlative choreographer Frederick Ashton that ended on Saturday was a triumph of courage, enterprise, enthusiasm, artistic importance, stylish dancing, but, above all, choreographic felicity." — Alastair Macaulay, The New York Times
Art museums, in Sarasota as in the rest of the country, keep proliferating. Ringling College of Art and Design has spearheaded a campaign to create a new contemporary art museum. Larry Thompson, Ringling’s president who developed the project with Wendy Surkis, a former New York advertising executive, is fond of saying that the effort was to create an entity to which graduates would have a sense of pride and loyalty at a school where there is no football team and a relatively short academic history. So far, he has raised $22 million.
Sarasota Museum of Art/SMOA president Wendy Surkis, SMOA board member and Ringling College trustee Elaine Keating and Ringling College president Dr. Larry Thompson.
Meanwhile the grand old Ringling Museum of Art continues to diversify its exhibits. It is now hosting “Art in the Spanish American Home: 1492-1898” an exhibit that has already been well received at the Brooklyn Museum. And leading local real estate lawyer Thomas Luzier, who serves on the board, said that the museum is becoming more aggressive at courting new members from the world of families moving to Sarasota.
Leading local real estate lawyer Thomas Luzier.
If the local cultural life needed the ultimate imprimatur, it is the two week presence of Itzhak Perlman. Mr. Perlman and his wife Toby were visiting their friends, violist Heidi Castleman and her late husband Dr. David Kleinmore than a decade ago when the idea came to start a winter residency. It is now in its eleventh season and brings three dozen students from around the world who come for 17 days of rehearsals and public events. That program will start later this month.
Itzhak Perlman with students at the University of South Florida's Sarasota-Manatee campus for the annual PMP Sarasota Winter Residency.

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