Keeping it real

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Leave it to the traditions at Sanderling to make a simple red bench something special 

Nestled within the 7000 block of Midnight Pass Road lies one of Siesta Key’s hidden gems and most coveted neighborhoods: the Sanderling Club.

This enclave, established in 1946, emerged on reclaimed land following a 1921 hurricane that closed the original pass from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Gulf of Mexico — located slightly south of the area near the present-day beach cabanas — to the Midnight Pass opening that was between Siesta Key and Casey Key. The visionary behind this development was Eldridge S. Boyd, affectionately known as the “mayor of Siesta Key,” who also spearheaded projects such as Hidden Harbor, the Turtle Beach Cabana Club, Cedar Park Circle, and Coconut Bayou.

Boyd’s aim was to craft a gulf-side community south of Point of Rocks, all while prioritizing ecological preservation and visual harmony.

To this day, the neighborhood preserves its trees and natural tropical landscape, even amidst the construction of new homes and the demolition of old ones. As you drive through the 24-hour guarded gate, you’re transported to a bygone era, evoking a sense of simplicity reminiscent of when visitors flocked to Siesta Key to escape the harsh northern winters.

Today, the Sanderling Club comprises 110 homes, situated within and just beyond its gated confines. Inside the gates, along Sanderling Road residences line a scenic 2-mile stretch of Gulf of Mexico shoreline with additional homes gracing Pine Needle Road, Turnstone Road, Plovers Way and Melaleuca Way. Members of the club also include those residing on North and South Basin Lanes, positioned on the eastern side of Midnight Pass, providing direct access to the Intracoastal Waterway. Additional member residences include 10 properties on Midnight Pass Road.

The neighborhood was meticulously planned to serve as an all-inclusive club for its exclusive membership. This tradition continues today, requiring an initiation fee upon closing (currently $38,000) and that you undergo a screening process. According to the Sarasota County History Center, Boyd initially envisioned an inn on the property but this plan was abandoned due to challenges in finding design and staffing solutions. However, in 1952, the renowned architect Paul Rudolph was enlisted to design the clubhouse and cabanas, which now hold a place on the National Historic Registry. Additionally, the neighborhood features a boat basin on North Basin Lane, offering leased boat slips for homeowners as well as vibrant tennis and pickleball courts.

While numerous tales recount the rich history of the Sanderling Club, my focus was on delving into the lifestyle enjoyed by its residents. I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Jessica Townsend Teague, whose family has owned property in the Sanderling Club since 1976. Jessica’s connection to Sarasota traces back to her childhood in the 1950s when her grandparents would winter at the Sand Castle resort on Lido Key.

Captivated by the area, Jessica’s parents, upon her grandfather’s passing, decided to make the Sanderling Club their home, purchasing their first property at 7309 Pine Needle.

Recollecting those early days, Jessica describes their home as a “one-story, genuine, rectangular mid-century modern abode, with pecky cypress interior walls, jalousie windows, wide sliders, and a guest house accessed via a screened-in courtyard adjacent to the pool.”

The Townsend home serves as a quintessential representation of the original residences within the Sanderling Club. During her family’s initial purchase, Jessica recalls the neighborhood’s homes, predominantly consisting of the original structures built from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, showcasing distinctive mid-century design elements, with many featuring guest homes. Rapidly integrating into the community, Jessica’s parents forged enduring friendships, some of which endure to this day, with a few individuals remaining in the neighborhood or participating as associate members. For Jessica and her family, the most cherished aspect of their club membership has always been the strong sense of community fostered within the Sanderling Club.

Throughout the years, my colleague Judie Berger and I have facilitated the sale of numerous homes within the community. Prior to my interview, I had often heard about the Sanderling Club being renowned for its friendly atmosphere and bustling social scene, and this was indeed confirmed during our conversation.

Jessica fondly reminisces about her parents’ habit of hosting week-long gatherings for groups of friends during her young adulthood. These gatherings were meticulously organized affairs, with each day’s activities outlined and responsibilities delegated among the guests, including arrangements for dining at either Miguel’s or Ophelia’s. Attending one of the Sanderling Club’s six or seven neighborhood gatherings held each year during the season was always a highlight for visitors. 

Jessie recalled her mother would always let her know if she was visiting during one of the social events, as full battle dress was required, which included suits and ties for both adults and children. The same attire was required for any of the many parties that were also very well attended. 

Jessie had many stories about the many social clubs that sprung up over the years. She remembers fondly the “Fisherman’s Club,” of which her father was a member. This was exclusively for men and she said the wives would happily pack them a sack lunch and send them out for the day. This club would host the Fisherman’s Wives Ball every year at the clubhouse. She said to this day, there is a women’s social group that stays in contact to discuss pretty much anything and everything. There is a very active tennis/pickleball club and they still have parties during season at the clubhouse. 

One of the most heartwarming tales from Jessie’s time in the Sanderling Club revolves around a small yet significant addition to her home: a red bench she placed at the end of her driveway on 7435 Sanderling Rd. Originally her parents’ second house in the neighborhood, it’s now Jessie’s cherished home.

About 10 years ago, she noticed that many of her mother’s friends, who were at this time in their 80s and 90s, were still walking the neighborhood. One afternoon, while getting the mail, she stumbled upon a letter tied with a ribbon. Written by Martha Luger, a longtime resident whose family has owned a home at 8410 Sanderling Rd. possibly since the early 1950s, the letter contained a poem titled “Ode to the Red Bench.”

In it, she describes the utility of the bench and her love for the gesture Jessie had made. Not only did it give passersby a place to rest on their walks, but also a place to sit and reflect. She headed to West Marine, grabbed a waterproof case, and filled it with paper and pens, inviting people to jot down their thoughts, whether it was a profound reflection or just a simple grocery list.

Currently in the Sanderling Club, there are six active listings, two pending (two of the actives and one pending are listed by our team), and three that have sold in the last six months. The prices range from the sale of Jessie‘s parents’ first house at $1.9 million to an active listing at $21 million.

Many of the original homes have been greatly expanded and updated or torn down and replaced with new homes. 

The Sanderling Club stands as a timeless testament to coastal living at its finest. With its rich history dating back to its establishment in 1946, this cherished enclave continues to captivate residents and visitors alike. Its commitment to ecological preservation and visual harmony, paired with a strong sense of community fostered among its members, sets it apart as a truly unique destination.

From its scenic Gulf of Mexico shoreline residences to its vibrant social scene, the Sanderling Club offers a glimpse into a lifestyle characterized by relaxation, camaraderie, and cherished memories.

As one delves deeper into the stories shared by its residents, such as the heartwarming tale of Jessie Townsend Teague and her red bench, it becomes evident that the Sanderling Club is not just a neighborhood, but a place where lifelong connections are forged and treasured moments abound.

Natalie Gutwein
Author: Natalie Gutwein

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