LUXLIFE 2017 | March 2017
Pants aren’t part of Dr. Murf Klauber’s regular wardrobe. Even if a situation calls for a sports jacket, he’s more likely than not going to pair shorts and a resort shirt with the coat. At 90 years old, the man who turned Longboat Key into a world-class resort vacation destination looks like he’s constantly ready for a Mai Tai at the poolside bar. And why not?
After spending decades making comfort and luxury quintessential elements of life on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Klauber gets to set his own rules and live by his own ideals. And of course, he always strives above all else to create environments that put smiles on faces and laughter in hearts. “The word is fun,” he says, wryly. During the decades when he ran the Colony Resort and Spa, he wanted an atmosphere of glee and happiness—when he dreamed of a future for the Sarasota Bayfront, it involved such wow-inspiring features as hovercraft rides. Along the way, he forged a path for his adopted community enthusiastically annotated with ambition, even though not every dream fully manifested. And today, his children have risen to become some of the region’s biggest names in hospitality and cuisine. Yet, the Murf Klauber mission remains the same as it ever was: make every child and adult that visits happy for the time that they are here. As he speaks about time, it’s clear Klauber has found plenty of reason to look at his own life and smile.
While Klauber gets credit for seeing the potential of Longboat Key, it was his former wife Joanna who first introduced him to the island. A family friend—basketball legend Hank O’Keefe if you must know—had rented a home here in 1967 and invited the Klaubers to come. Klauber couldn’t make it because he was presenting a paper in St. Louis, but his wife came down and reported the region was paradise and insisted her husband visit as well. So he canceled his plans and flew to the area. He got a room at what was then the Colony Beach Club, where he and his wife stayed beachfront. He still recalls put- ting sneakers on one morning and going for a run along the shore. “I ran all the way to the south end of Longboat Key,” he says, “and I’ve got to tell you, I was in love.” From the wildlife and vegetation to the calm Gulf waters stretching into the horizon, everything looked gorgeous. Soon, he was sitting in his Buffalo, NY home talking with his children about the future. “We were going to a private school that none of use liked,” recalls daughter Katie Klauber Moulton. “He asked how many of us would like to move to Florida? All of us said, ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’” And thus the Klaubers came to town to reshape the region forever.
While Klauber started his career as a successful orthodontist—he quickly corrects anyone to this day to call him Dr., not Mr., Klauber—he already reached into the community development realm while in New York. But he’d grown frustrated then that the Buffalo community seemed unwilling to evolve, with every plan for redeveloping a struggling downtown met with apathy or outright hostility. The same sort of emotion occasionally greeted Klauber’s visions here through the years, but he still saw a greater hunger and potential on the Gulf Coast than he ever could incite in New York. He developed a friendship with Colony founder Herb Field, who opened the original resort in 1952. When Field sought out investors for the Colony that would help revitalize the bohemian resort, Klauber signed on in 1968 and took a leadership role in modernizing and setting a new bar in luxury hospitality on the islands. Rebranded under his watch as the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort, the property transformed from simply a tropical hospitality destination to a sporting Mecca and pioneer in family entertainment.
The Colony would become the first resort in the world to offer a full-curriculum children’s activity program, now considered standard, with beach activities and semi-educa- tional tours of the local environment. It gave kids something to do during a weeklong stay, but most importantly, Klauber says, it gave the adults a break. “Parents needed their vaca- tion,” he says. He also remodeled so that parents could have separate bedrooms from kids in the suites, and had Murphy beds installed for the children—even folding out the bed at night would be an adventure. Rooms were originally deco- rated in orange and lime green to signal the arrival in a fes- tive tropic locale. Folding couches, then an unusual luxury, helped make every space one that could transform from bedroom into entertaining space. “I made it so the minute they hit the property, it was fun, and for 40 years we kept up to that standard,” he says. His greatest pride may be the introduction of tennis to the island. The public tennis courts now run by the Town of Longboat Key started out as a recreational complex for the resort. Klauber would hire ten- nis pros to come teach guests on the island the sport, one he was sure could keep resort goers of all ages active and healthy. His own kids played tennis regularly, as did their friends. “He considered tennis a sport for life,” recalls Katie, who would serve as general manager for the Colony from 1988 until the Klauber iteration of the resort closed in 2010. She said her father also wanted a high standard for the game. No “stiff and ugly” tennis allowed.
Frank Folsom Smith, a Sarasota architect, worked with Klauber on developing a new master plan for the resort, one where tennis would be the central attraction, in some ways even more than the beach. “It was not just a nice little beachfront hotel with a couple tennis courts,” he says. The Klauber legacy that would outlast the Colony was the formation of the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. In developing the island reputation, Klauber sought out Nick Bollettierri (a tennis director who had just had a falling out with the Rockefeller Resort in Puerto Rico) about setting up an expansive program that could produce world-class athletes to compete in the sport. In 1977, Bollettieri came on as an instructor at the Colony, and the next year he opened the academy. The school, which would eventually evolve into the IMG Academy, produced such stars as Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Jim Courier, who all worked closely with Bollettieri, as well as modern giants like Venus and Serena Williams, Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova, who have all trained with the tennis great at various times at the school.
Having Bollettieri connected with the academy only bolstered the national reputation of the resort, which quickly became a destination where sports legends, Hollywood figures and world leaders could share the beach with happy resort goers and tomorrow’s court superstars alike. Smith recalls that the island quickly became a central location in the entire tennis world. Families of athletes would move their whole lives to be close to the academy. Players that were recognizable even to those who never followed the sport closely could be found walking the beach or practicing on the courts, maybe grabbing something to eat or drink at the new Monkey Bar. Meanwhile, the kitchen at the Colony was starting to cook up a culinary reputation and beginning to heat up a prestigious lineup of chefs that still define the taste of the region for traveling foodies. Sean Murphy, founder of Beach Bistro and Eat Here, first arrived on the Gulf Coast islands by way of the Colony. A law student-turned-chef, he credits Klauber, who he still affectionately refers to as “Doc,” with catapulting his career forward. Klauber and Murphy met while the younger was still learning the craft under celebrity chef Archie Casbarian at Arnaud’s in New Orleans. Klauber attracted Murphy with a job at the Colony.
“Doc used to have a little hand-made wooden sign over his desk that said ‘Intentionally different,’” Murphy recalls. He knows that philosophy led the good doctor to take a risk on a little-accomplished chef to create a five-star menu at a prestigious resort. Murphy now runs his own small empire on the Gulf Coast, where Beach Bistro continues to attract lovers of fine dining to the Holmes Beach area while Eat Here feeds diners from here and afar. Klauber lists Murphy first among the chefs he attracted to the coast, but that’s praise Murphy dismisses quickly. “He brought damn near everybody here,” Murphy notes. Every chef at the Colony seemed destined for greatness—at various times the resort boasts in its ranks: Angel Torres, executive chef at Amore Restaurant, Jamil Pineda and Phil Mancini, executive chef and co-proprietor of Michael’s on East, Ray Arpke, executive chef and proprietor at Euphemia Haye and many more. And that’s before getting into hospitality leaders in the region with the any- thing-but-coincidental last name of Klauber.
Katie took her first job at the Colony before she was a teenager and rose to general manager and she remains a prominent hospitality consultant today. Oldest son Michael co-founded Michael’s On East with Mancini, creating perhaps the region’s most well known high-end restaurant. Younger son Tommy, who ran Pattigeorge’s until last year and still runs Polo Grill and Bar in Lakewood Ranch, got his start in the Colony kitchen. The Klaubers today are regarded as restaurant royalty on the Gulf Coast. “What stands out is the vision,” Murphy says. And as a result, the culinary reputation of the Colony, like the tennis program, would outlast the resort itself.
Klauber’s dreams never stopped at the property line for the hotel. He for years put much of his effort into the redevelopment of Sarasota’s Bayfront. He still keeps piles of papers documenting his own designs for a modern upgrade with new condominiums, hotels, commercial structures and even convention halls along the shores of Sarasota Bay. He points to plans for the Watergate Center, a hotel and resort sketched for where the Hyatt Regency stands now. Docks jut into the bay to make the resort as accessible by water as by land, while an artificial island structure creates a space for a pool surrounded by bay on three sides. There’s space for water-ready hovercraft that would have connected guests with the shopping center on St. Armands or the amenities on Longboat Key without ever getting into an automobile.
Smith sighs when he thinks of the plan. He worked for years on them but they would never come to fruition. “It was a mutual love affair with the property we called the Quay,” Smith recalls. Plans were drawn for a unified project that covered much of the waterfront, but the land eventually developed over time and under different owners. The Hyatt rose at the site where Smith and Klauber imagined a luxury resort, and while the location has became a stalwart in local hospitality, Smith can’t help but imagine the resort he and Klauber planned would have boosted the region even more. A commercial site that actually bore the name “Quay” would also take up a neighboring lot, but it eventually closed and was demolished; new developers just had a plan approved by Sarasota City Commissioners in January for the next project there. A stand-alone conference center remains a controversial and unrealized dream. But the push for bayfront redevelopment has never ended. In fact, it seems more promising than ever thanks to the recent formation of the Bayfront 20:20 visioning organization, a group advising Sarasota City commissioners and seeking professional consultation on the creation of a cultural district on public property near the Hyatt and Quay sites. The leader of that group, as it happens, is Klauber’s son Michael. “It’s been a very exciting process,” says Michael, who so far has worked with community leaders to develop a vision statement and guiding principles for the land. Landscape architects have studied the site; University of Florida graduate students have explored various plans for renovating or redevelopment the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall; the Sarasota Orchesta and Sarasota Ballet both voiced interest in running their own facilities there.
To Klauber, it’s exciting to see his son carry the vision forward. “Of course I’m proud,” he says with a beaming smile. “What’s different is more people in the community are actively involved who want to be part of this conversation. People weren’t as vested in the community back then as now. Michael has done a great job going into the community.” Michael hasn’t scrapped any past visions for the plan, and constantly refers back to prior ideas developed by city consultants like legendary New Urbanist Andres Duany, who called for a cultural district when he drafted Sarasota’s Downtown Master Plan in 2001, as well as the plans of his father. Indeed, ferries and transit remain part of the ongoing conversation for the site’s future. It may not come to fruition in his father’s lifetime, but the vision of an activated community resource on Sarasota Bay that further develops Sarasota’s identity as a global luxury destination seems destined to be codified by city leaders.
As Klauber looks at 90, he remains determined to have a good time. Asked how he will spend his birthday and what he will do that the typical nonagenarian will not? “Have sex,” he quips. “No!” jumps in daughter Katie, slightly embarrassed by this response but hardly surprised. “What else do you have planned?” She coaxes from him an answer that he will enjoy a brunch with the entire family, but will also go diving in the Gulf. The beauty of this region will remain a central part of any celebration.
Katie smiles when she discusses the impact of the Klauber name on this region. From giving to philanthropic causes to spawning culinary movements to creating a sports capital to leading a master planning exercise to preserve and accent the region’s greatest cultural treasures, the Klauber clan notably lent a hand. There have been fights along the way—legal battles with Colony residents and homeowners, unsuccessful struggles with Longboat Key and Sarasota elected officials—but there seems little doubt that 100 years from now, Klauber will be regarded as one of the region’s most important historic leaders. He lacks no modesty in this area, but he says the region always held potential. Klauber had the vision to tap into part of that, and he’s giddy his kin continue to do the same. “I fell in love with Longboat and Sarasota,” he says, “and it was a wonderful love affair.”