Colony demolition begins after years of litigation, deterioration

Article Courtesy of The Herald-Tribune

By Chris Anderson    

Published July 30, 2018

A Resort that hosted tennis stars, celebrities and presidents is being torn down for new hotel, condominiums.


The bucket of an excavator ripped through the wooden planks of a condominium balcony on Thursday afternoon, and the reverberations could be felt in another country.


Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber knew this day would come — demolition day — so perhaps it was just as well he was summering in Toronto instead of being anywhere near the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort, the world-renowned establishment he began in 1967 that hosted presidents and movie stars and set Longboat Key on the international tourism map.

“If I could I would cry all day,” the 91-year-old Klauber said. “I loved it that much. I was there 48 years and I never had a bad day.”

A company called Unicorp is building the St. Regis Hotel and Residences on the 17.6-acre site. The plan is for a five-story, 166-room hotel and 78 residential condominiums in three, five-story buildings. There will also be 14,600 square feet of meeting space on the property.

Demolition of Longboat Key's famed Colony Beach & Tennis Resort started Thursday afternoon.


The demolition process that took place Thursday was essentially ceremonial and was contained to a pair of decks on Building 5. All of the structures on the property are expected to be down by December. Since 2010, the Colony had been mired in a series of bankruptcy filings and lawsuits and the property had dissolved into dilapidated buildings — some covered with graffiti — and tennis courts full of unsightly weeds.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Unicorp president Chuck Whittall. “It’s nice to see progress being made but it’s also sad seeing something come down that washes memories away.

“The Colony was a great hotel but in the last 10 years the only thing that has happened has been the buildings have deteriorated. It’s time to move on.”

Whittall said he is mindful of the Colony’s illustrious and colorful history and plans on producing a coffee table book with old photos and articles. He would also like to name a new bar after The Monkey Room, which was made famous by the Colony.

“It definitely put Longboat Key on the map,” said Susan Bassett Klauber, who married Murf in the living room of their penthouse at the resort. “Everyone came there from around the world and realized what a beautiful island it was.”

The Colony was once a mecca for tennis stars, with everyone from Bjorn Borg to Chris Evert to Andre Agassi staying and playing there. Tennis guru Nick Bollettieri began his famous academy at the Colony. Commentator Bud Collins broadcast from the resort.

Actor Dustin Hoffman stayed there one Thanksgiving and saw Tino Wallenda walk on a tightrope from a pier in the Gulf to the sixth floor penthouse, where President Bush eventually stayed the night before 9/11.

Michael Klauber, who owns Michael’s on East in Sarasota, remembers helping Wallenda into the building each Thanksgiving. He remembers a lot of things.

“I’m so proud of my dad for his vision and passion to create that magical place,” said Michael Klauber, Murf’s son. “My hope is that his legacy follows into the new site.”

A little known fact: Hall of Fame football coach and legendary TV analyst John Madden was a regular at the Colony — he always stayed in Unit 1 — and the guests would marvel at the “Madden Cruiser” bus he traveled in.

Dudley Moore and Susan Anton were guests. Singer James Taylor, too.

In a sense, former vice president Al Gore played an unsuspecting role in making the Colony an important footnote in one of America’s darkest hours.

Gore prepared for his 1996 vice presidential debate against Jack Kemp while staying at the Colony and he liked it so much that he returned in 2000 while preparing for a presidential debate against George Bush. Gore insisted on staying there even though the entire resort was being remodeled.

Since the resort had already been prepared security-wise for Gore, it was decided Bush would stay there on Sept. 10, 2001, the night before he was to read a book to students at Booker Elementary in Sarasota.

Susan Bassett Klauber, Murf’s wife, remembers meticulously cleaning Bush’s room with her stepdaughter Katie Klauber Moulton, who was the president and general manager of the resort for 30 years. They placed the family’s French linen sheets on the president’s bed, only to have the Secret Service mess up the room. They had to do everything all over again.

Murf Klauber arrived late that night from a trip to Atlanta and there was so much security he had trouble gaining entrace to his own resort. Snipers and surface-to-air missiles were on the roof and the Coast Guard patrolled offshore.

Susan Bassett Klauber set out her best china for dinner and the president had New York steak. Former Gov. Jeb Bush was also there.

The Klaubers’ penthouse suite was on the south side while Bush stayed on the north side. Murf Klauber said all that separated his head and the president’s head that night was 3 feet and a thick wall.

On the next morning were the terrorist attacks of 9/11. After the president received word at Booker Elementary, there was talk that he would return to the Colony because all the communications systems were still in place and Washington D.C. was not deemed safe enough to return.

Colony guests were worried about their safety if the president returned. Katie Moulton checked with a Secret Service agent and this is what she was told:

“There’s more firepower on this property right now than you want to know.”

To see the building now, it is hard to fathom a president once stayed there. On Thursday there was graffiti visible on the front wall. In the driveway there was an old razor and other toiletries. Off to the side was a VHS cassette of an Indiana Jones movie and an old tennis ball canister.

The building the president stayed in will probably be demolished two months from now, Whittall said.

The remains will be tossed into a landfill somewhere. Nothing will be kept.

And maybe that’s OK.

“Today what symbolizes the Colony to me is not the buildings but rather the daily stream of special memories that are shared with me by friends and strangers I meet,” said Katie Moulton, “and, of course, my own magical memories.”