LONGBOAT KEY — Longtime Manatee County resident Allan Weissman has a fondness for Whitney Beach, a small public beach that’s a bit of a challenge to find on the northwest tip of Longboat Key.
“It’s one of the few places you can get to that’s deserted,” Weissman said of Whitney, which is cloaked from the passing eyes of most Gulf of Mexico Drive motorists by large trees and condominiums.
Whitney’s virtually unmarked Gulfside entrance is near North Shore Road and immediately south of Longboat Pass Bridge, which connects Anna Maria Island to Longboat Key.
Knowing a little history of this beach in southern Manatee County and its surroundings makes it even more prized, locals say.
Stories of huge sharks and marlin caught off Whitney are true, said Shawn Childers, a surfer and commercial fisherman from Bradenton who was visiting Whitney with his wife, Rebecca, on Sunday.
“We still catch mangrove snapper, redfish, trout, snook and many others,” said Childers, a 1991 Southeast High School graduate.
Seventy years ago, J.A. “Sharkey” Holbrook caught sharks in Longboat Pass and created a shark processing plant right near Whitney Beach.
“He tanned the hides for belts and shoes,” said Whitney Beach amateur historian and Tampa corporate attorney John Holcomb, who was dining at Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub, across Gulf of Mexico Drive from Whitney Beach, on Sunday with his wife Dr. Mary Beeson and friend Bubba Foxx.
The Gordon Whitney family settled in the area in 1935 and built the Whitney Cottages on the Gulfside.
The Mar Vista then was a fishing camp.
The beauty of the Whitney is powder white sand, waving wild sea oats in an isolated setting, vivid sunsets and the fact that you can walk to Beer Can Island, said Terri Mason of Lakewood Ranch, who was at the beach Sunday with her husband, Robert.
Beer Can Island, also known as Greer Island, has thousands of feet of natural beachfront.
“We called it, ‘Our Beach,’” Terri Mason said.
The Masons are concerned natural erosion has been claiming chunks of Whitney, thus making it harder to walk over to nearby Beer Can Island.
“We used to walk from Whitney to the island and we would see trees with huge root systems tilted over where people would hang shells as decorations, Robert Mason said.
“You generally have to be in a boat to get over there now.”
“They’ve dredged and put in some grayer sand,” Holcomb said. “We love the white, white beach.”
Longboat Key got an emergency permit to bring in the new sand because a certain percentage of Whitney Beach that was lost could impact nesting turtles, said John Martin, a member of the Longboat Key Police Department.
Despite the grayer-looking sand, there is no better place for recharging than this small stretch of beach, said Craig and Brenda Wilson, of River Place near Tara in East Manatee.
The couple, both agents for Keller Williams Realty, made a decision to take Sunday off and have a day of fun.
What did they do?
Ride the historic train in Parrish, have lunch out and hit the beach.
They had a half dozen or so beaches to choose from, but they opted for Whitney.
“It’s quiet, beautiful and not crowded,” Brenda Wilson said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.