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Casey Key: The Rainbow’s End

Casey Key is one of those pleasantly unexpected places where your first impression, almost from the moment your front tires roll onto the island, could easily be summed-up by the legendary cinematic understatement of 1939: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

No sooner do you cross the historic Blackburn Point Swing Bridge—which has linked the north end of Casey Key to the town of Osprey since 1925—than you realize the only real similarity between Casey and its more familiar cousins to the north, Siesta and Longboat, is the word “Key” in their names. Each of these islands has its own extraordinary ambiance, with Casey being one of breathtaking tropical seclusion amid an atmosphere of unmistakable affluence. It’s impossible to travel its eight mile length without uttering the word “wow” at least a dozen times.

At some places along the key you can easily lob a seashell across the entire width of the island. At others you’ll spot some of the Gulf Coast’s most splendid residential compounds stretching luxuriously from gulf to bay; their sumptuous environs buffered by acres of lush native landscape. Let there be no doubt, if you live in the estate section of Casey Key—which is to say most of the island—you’ve definitely “arrived.” Although several well-known people have homes on Casey Key, what makes it so desirable is not who lives there, but why so many successful people from all walks of life opt for this small, secluded jewel box of an island.

Is Casey Key secluded? Definitely.Is it isolated? Not at all. All the conveniences and attractions of Sarasota are just a few miles north; the pleasures and conveniences of downtown Venice just a few minutes south. Both are easily accessed from the key’s two bridges, with the much newer Albee Road Drawbridge linking the mainland to the key’s southern end.

Gracing Nokomis Beach, just in from the drawbridge, is the superbly restored Nokomis Beach Pavilion, a fine example of the famed Sarasota School of Architecture; and one of the first major works by architect Jack West, who also designed Sarasota’s City Hall. Dedicated in 1956, then rehabbed and rededicated in 2008, the structure was Sarasota County’s first beach pavilion. Its thin horizontal roof lines and slender vertical supports provide a classic example of the minimalist forms associated with mid-century modern architecture; a movement in which Sarasota architects figured prominently throughout the 1940’s, ‘50’s and ‘60’s. Just south of here you’ll find North Jetty Park, where you can buy bait, fish along the jetty or enjoy a sunrise cup of coffee as you watch fishing boats head out to sea.

Less obvious than its natural beauty and splendid seclusion are the more practical reasons why Casey Key is such an inviting place to buy or build. Chief among them: Although no area in Florida has been totally immune to the on-going real estate correction, Casey Key will forever have room for only 400 properties while enforcing minimal commercial activity and a ban on high-rise structures. Most properties front the beach, the bay—or both; making Casey Key that much more of a rare and coveted commodity. Because the eight-mile strand of properties can never get longer, sprawl inland or soar upward, demand for Casey Key properties has itself soared upward in recent years compared with Sarasota County’s other barrier islands.

Since 2000, 68 single-family homes valued from $3 million and above have sold on Casey Key; 40 of them in only the past four years (2005-2008). Compare this to just 18 single-family home sales over the past four years on Lido/St. Armands Key, 25 on Longboat Key, 35 on Siesta Key and 18 on Bird Key and you can see how demand for Casey Key’s limited supply of properties has significantly outpaced its much larger sister islands. And since prices have essentially corrected back to where they were in 2002/2003—before the boom—today’s buyer is that much closer to enjoying a resumption in normalized property appreciation.

If you approach the island from the south bridge you can jump right into the spirit of the key by stopping for a casual waterfront meal at either one of the two restaurants that occupy the east bank of the Intracoastal Waterway.You’ll find Pop’s Sunset Grill and Pelican Alley Restaurant just to your left as you approach the Albee Road Drawbridge. On the north end, the Casey Key Fish House is just to your left after you cross the Blackburn Point Swing Bridge. Each is a revered neighborhood establishment where fresh seafood rules the menu, water rules the view and the ambiance is decidedly old-Florida casual. Directly across from the Fish House is Casey Key’s very own, privately run, not-for-profit library.

The words “old Florida casual” truly sum-up the Casey Key experience. Sure there are grand new homes at nearly every bend in the road, but they co-exist rather nicely with the island’s vintage homes and classic beach bungalows; as if it was somehow meant to be like this. The many different styles of homes—stretching from one end of the key to the other—are thread together by Casey Key Road, a quaint two-lane thoroughfare where you best be watchful for oncoming traffic, cyclists and pedestrians. You’ll want to idle along slowly anyway to feast on the homes and chew the fabulous old-Florida scenery, especially where canopies of green suddenly make way for a drive along the azure shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico. Toto, stop the car. This is the rainbow’s end.

  • User Gravatar SUZANNE ASHLEY
    July 31st, 2010

    I DONT EVEN KNOW IF I HAVE THE RIGHT MICHAEL SAUNDERS AND I DONT, IF EVER YOU WILL REMEMBER, ME BUT I USED TO STAY WITH MY AUNTY GLADYS, WHO KEPT THE POST OFFICE ON THE KEY AND WE USED TO PLAY TOGETHER, WHEN WE WERE 12 AND 13, IF YOU CAN BELIEVE THAT AND I WAS WONDERING WHAT YOU ARE LIKE NOW. I LIVE IN SPAIN AT THE MOMENT BUT NEXT SPRING I AM COMING BACK TO CARDIFF AND WOULD LOVE TO COME AND SEE APPLEDORE AGAIN. I HOPE TO HEAR FROM YOU SOON.

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