Siesta Key's Historic Grand Hotels
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Siesta Key today is known around the world for the sparkling white sands of Siesta Beach, which is consistently ranked as America’s top beach and as one of the most remarkable beaches in the world.
Siesta Key is also acclaimed for its fabulous resorts and desirable luxury homes on Siesta Key. Yet luxurious living on Siesta Key is nothing new. The island has a heritage of grandeur going back more than a century. As early as 1900, Sarasota’s barrier islands were already emerging as popular tourist destinations.
It was 1906 when E.M. Arbogast visited Sarasota from Marlinton, West Virginia. Arbogast had a sharp eye for money-making ventures, and he quickly saw the potential of the barrier islands. Arbogast purchased acreage at the north end of Siesta Key, which was originally called Sarasota Key. Arbogast initiated the construction of the Bay Island Hotel, which opened in 1912 bringing luxury and grandeur to Siesta Key. The Key was 2 miles from downtown and 20 minutes away by ferry, but even with no bridge to Siesta Key, the Bay Island Hotel was a smashing success. The most up-to-date amenities – running water and electric lights in every suite, and a fabulous seafood menu including oysters and stone crabs – were provided. Guests paid the upscale-for-its-time rate of $2.50 a day.
Naturally, the Bay Island became even more popular when the first bridge from the mainland finally reached Siesta Key in 1917. The grounds took up 10 full acres; classical landscaping was designed to blend with the native, moss-draped oaks and majestic pines. Boats were made available to guests for cruises and fishing trips. Tourists enjoyed the Bay Island’s splendor and elegance until the building was lost to fire in 1952.
The Bay Island Hotel was by no means the only spot on Siesta Key for luxury and grandeur in those days. Local businessman and politician Harry Lee Higel also saw Siesta Key’s potential. In 1907, Higel and his partners at the Siesta Land Company platted the north end of the island and initiated plans for a grand luxury hotel. Hotel Higelhurst opened in March 1915 with 20 suites, a number of adjacent guest bungalows, and a huge, elegant dining facility. More than 200 took ferryboats to Siesta Key for Hotel Higelhurst’s grand opening celebration. The hotel featured hot and cold running water in every room, large baths, gas and electric lights, and even telephones, the “high-tech” amenities of the time. Sadly, the Hotel Higelhurst burned only 2 years after it opened, and Higelhurst did not rebuild.
The Bay Island and Hotel Higelhurst are long gone, but these legendary hotels established a legacy of elegance, luxury, and grandeur that remains the standard on Siesta Key today.