MANATEE -- Paula Curl was pruning her trees and bushes on Hernando Avenue in Whitfield Estates last week when a visitor came up and asked her what she enjoyed best about living in the roughly 90-year-old community in southern Manatee County along Sarasota Bay.
"It's a great neighborhood," Curl said. "Everyone has a half acre. There are beautiful trees and lots of landscaping everywhere. We love the natural feel. We love the history, and it's close to everything."
Located on both sides of Tamiami Trail, near the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and about a mile north of the John and Mable Ringling Museum, New College of Florida and the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, the 3,000 residents of Whitfield Estates enjoy the distinction of living in the oldest planned community in Manatee and Sarasota counties, said Michael Holderness, co-owner with his wife, Judy Holderness, of SaraBay Real Estate.
"We are also proud of the fact that we have one of the oldest golf courses in Florida at Sara Bay Country Club," said Holderness who has been a Whitfield Estates resident for 30 years and specializes in sell
ing in the community.
"This was called the Gold Coast in the 1920s," Holderness added of Whitfield Estates and the surrounding area. "Don Ross designed our golf course and made it miserably difficult."
Whitfield Estates Country Club opened in 1926, shortly after the first homes, and had as its first head golf professional Tommy Armour, known to golf fans as "The Silver Scot."
Golf great Robert "Bobby" Jones was the sales manager for the real estate surrounding the club, according to the club's website.
The club changed its name to Sara Bay Country Club in 1964.
Whitfield residents who don't fancy taking walks on a golf course can walk in minutes to the lip of Sarasota Bay, where they have an unobstructed view five miles over water to Longboat Key.
"Many of our streets go right down to the bay where you can park your car," Holderness said.
"If you are down on a weekend, you will see people out there fishing and see kayak racks on top of cars," Holderness added. "It's cool."
After nearly a century of growth, Whitield Estates has now evolved into roughly a dozen neighborhoods forming a mile and a half square hive of homes from Magellan Drive on the north and south to Braden Avenue.
Within that mile and a half square are upwards of 1,400 homes, Holderness said.
Those 3,000 residents live in everything from Spanish-style homes from the 1920s to Mediterranean revival style homes from the 1940s to ranch-style homes built from the 1950s to the 2000s to ultra modern style homes with lots of glass built from the late 1990s to present day.
Home prices in Whitfield Estates currently range from $175,000 to $3.95 million for the currently-for-sale 16,165-square-foot, seven-bedroom, six-bathroom, three-story glass home overlooking Sarasota Bay on the corner of Hernando Avenue and Longbay Boulevard, Holderness said.
Whitfield's USS Indianapolis survivor during World War II
Harlan Twible and his wife, Alice, are among Whitfield Estates' most famous residents.
Harlan Twible, who will be 92 on March 10, is the former president of Siemens Corp. and is also one of the 317 survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, the Portland Class heavy cruiser that delivered parts for the atomic bomb later dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima before it was sunk.
Twible spent four days and five nights in the shark-infested waters after the Indianapolis was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy on July 30, 1945. He kept his story to himself until being coaxed by Tom Brokaw into going on NBC's "The Today Show," which Brokaw co-hosted from 1976 until 1982.
"We were Depression era kids who had gone through two wars, World War II and the Korea and we didn't talk much," Twible said of his generation.
"I refused all interviews until Tom Brokaw called me and said, 'Mr. Twible, you owe it to your country to tell your story,' " Twible said.
Twible flew to New York City for the interview and ended up speaking for two 15-minute segments, double what he expected, he said. He returned to Whitfield Estates as a hero in many people's eyes. But it didn't sway his own self-opinion.
"They were all impressed," Twible said. "But the real heroes were the 900 men we lost on the Indianapolis.
"I never doubted I would survive," added Twible, a U.S. Navy ensign and part of the ship's 1,196-man crew. "I had faith God would do what he would with me. They never teach you in the Navy what to do about sharks but I told everyone to kick and scream. The commotion kept the sharks away at least for awhile. Those who died were mostly injured or decided to try to swim to safety."
The story of the USS Indianapolis also entered modern culture through the 1975 movie, "Jaws," where an account of the sinking and shark attacks is given by the character Samuel Quint, played by Robert Shaw.
"I was pretty surprised when I saw 'Jaws,' " Twible said.
Alice Twible, who had her 90th birthday on Feb. 1, is renowned in the community for her youthful looks, often passing for 20 or 30 years younger.
"Happiness," Alice Twible said when asked if it was Whitfield Estates' drinking water that has kept her looking young. "Being a few steps from the Sarasota Bay is wonderful. It's also quiet here. We thought of moving to Palm-Aire or The Meadows when we got older. But we never did. We're still here, and it's been 37 years."
The Twibles, who moved to Whitfield Estates in 1976, remember when Whitfield Estates was granted special overlay district status. The overlay is still in place, although it has been challenged by newer residents, Holderness said.
"We were a really tight village with a very strong community association and we had very restrictive ordinances and we enforced them," said Harlan Twible.
"If you show up with boat in your yard, you will get a fine," Holderness said. "You can't have big trucks or trailers with signs that say, 'Joe's Plumbing.' You can't put a boat or RV behind your fence, unless it's in a garage."
The Twibles say some of the rules have been relaxed over the years.
"When we first came here you couldn't park a car in a yard," Alice Twible said. "Now, you see three cars and a truck in many yards."
The Twibles wish for the old days when no one would think of leaving their can out on non-garbage pickup days and every car was in a garage or carport.
"Times change and people change," Harlan Twible said. "But it's still a wonderful place."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.