Murf Klauber Rebranded The Colony, Remade Region



Murf Klauber, who left an indelible mark on Sarasota hospitality and changed the international reputation for Longboat Key, died on Thanksgiving, a day after the demolition of The Colony concluded.

“They tore down his unit last,” recalls son Michael Klauber, who went to the resort with family to watch the last buildings come down. The moment proved more than a little bittersweet for family. But the synchronicity of The Colony and the elder Klauber leaving the shores of Longboat permanently behind, it seemed one last fitting chapter in the story of a visionary.

“He left us with elegance and grace,” Michael Klauber says.

Murf Klauber, 91, over the course of several decades changed the worldview of this region as a retirement and vacation destination, a figure who loomed in his way as a John Ringling for the 20th century’s latter half.

Klauber himself began his relationship with Longboat Key as a vacationer, visiting here with family and then deciding to stay and invest. When Colony founder Herb Field sought investors, Klauber first signed on in 1968 and quickly took a leadership role at the resort. It was Klauber who thought to turn a bohemian beach resort into a luxury destination made up completely of suites.

Klauber, too, rebranded the venue as The Colony Beach and Tennis Resort. He recruited tennis pro Nick Bollettierri to start a tennis academy on property that would attract the sport’s greatest phenoms and eventually evolve into today’s IMG Academy. And all the while, the resort began to attract and introduce this island community to luxury travelers, many of whom slept here for the first time in a room at The Colony but later made this region their home.

“I don’t think people understand how strong the Colony brand was at its peak,” says Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County. “Murf had the vision to focus on tennis just as the sport was rising in popularity. One of his other impacts was establishing the feeling for casual elegance as a calling card for the west coast of Florida.”

Indeed, for a successful medical professional and a veteran of development before he even arrived in the region, Klauber in life seemed the picture of whimsy. As a hotelier, he broke ground developing a slate of children’s activities at the resort years before such programs became an industry expectation. The key to The Colony’s success, he insisted, relied fundamentally on whether families—parents and young ones alike—had fun.

Klauber ran the resort for decades, but largely turned the manager keys over to daughter Katie Klauber Moulton in 1988. Sons Michael and Tommy became some of the region’s most prominent culinary entrepreneurs.

The visionary didn’t always get along swimmingly with all around him. Disputes with property owners at The Colony ultimately led to legal wrangling and the closing of the resort. And at various points, Klauber pursued plans to redevelop parts of Sarasota’s Bayfront, ambitious dreams that never quite came to fruition.

But Klauber’s mark on the region endured regardless. And in his lifetime, he saw the seeds of his vision grow, even if in sometimes unexpected ways. A recently approved master plan for The Bay, one in which Michael was deeply involved, owes some of its spirits to Klauber’s dreams. Of course, so too will the redevelopment that eventually will rise at the site of The Colony.

Klauber just before his 90th birthday spoke with SRQ, showing up to a photo shoot in a brightly colored blazer and a pair of shorts, with pure fondness for the region that he helped redefine but which had enough appeal to draw his family here in the first place.

““I fell in love with Longboat and Sarasota,” he said then, “and it was a wonderful love affair.”

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan: Murf Klauber

Read our 2017 feature on Murf Klauber

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