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Our Neighborhoods | Community spirit still strong in Bayshore Gardens

BRADENTON — Ray Omlor looked on as his wife, Roberta, made lemonade the old fashioned way, a homemaker’s ritual she’s performed in that cozy kitchen for a long, long time.

Try 50 years.

She used a juicer for their children and their friends.

Now she uses one for their grandchildren and guests who keep coming back for more.

Her secret?

“Sugar, water and lots of lemons,” said Omlor, 72.

Homegrown lemons, that is.

Grown in her backyard along with grapefruit, peaches and pineapples, as well as celery, lettuce and tomatoes.

“It’s fun to go out and pick your own,” Omlor said. “You know where they came from.”

Right there in Bayshore Gardens, where most of the streets were named by the developers after colleges and universities — i.e., Auburn, Dartmouth, Emory, Harvard, Rollins, Tulane, Wellesley. It is part of the old neighborhood charm that surrounds the Omlors, one of 1,400-plus families who live in the working-class community south of 60th Avenue West between U.S. 41 and Sarasota Bay.

Lying on their dining room table nearby was a brochure, yellowed with age, that offered a fascinating glimpse back into another time:

“Bayshore Gardens. On Sarasota Bay. The Utmost in Florida Living.”

It was from the late 1950s and depicted scenes of families boating, golfing and fishing — like something straight out of the old “Ozzie and Harriet Show.”

Especially the price of a ranch-style home back then.

There were several models offered, and the Bird of Paradise was the priciest at $15,490.

The Omlors’ three-bedroom home, the Century, cost $11,590.

“We splurged and paid another $250 for terrazzo floors,” she said with a laugh.

After life in Philadelphia, Bayshore Gardens was paradise.

“To me it was awesome to see these houses with bright colors and big windows and lots of grass,” Omlor said. “In Philly you didn’t have the beauty of nature coming into your house like here. Wherever you look you can see plant life here.”

Suzanna Young shares the Omlors’ affinity for the community.

She’s the acting homeowners association president and is on the board of trustees for Bayshore Gardens, where she and husband Richard have lived since 1993.

Young said friends of hers call the community “Mayberry,” while she prefers “Brigadoon.”

“We’re like a small town smack in the middle of everything going on in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, and we’re on Sarasota Bay,” she said. “It’s unheard of for the median income here.”

According to City-Data.com, that was $38,197 in 2007.

“That kind of stuff is reserved for only the millionaires,” Young said. “If we were developed today? We wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

It’s still reasonable, given the sluggish real estate market, of course.

Of 43 homes listed in the community’s Bayshore Banner March issue, 30 were selling between $99,000 and $179,000.

The priciest listing was $649,000.

“Back in the ’80s and ’90s, people wanted tall buildings with high ceilings,” Young said. “But the people who couldn’t afford those appreciated these. The design of these houses, even though they’re small — about 1,000 square feet on average — are classics from the ’50s and ’60s.”

Which was a factor in the change of the original makeup of the population in Bayshore Gardens.

It was a magnet for retirees in those early years.

“We used to have a larger retirement community, but it has dropped,” Young said. “It’s a blue-collar neighborhood now. There are more working people, working parents with kids. It makes it difficult to keep a homeowners association going with people not having enough time.”

That situation manifests itself in other ways, too.

A tour of Bayshore Gardens showed off many nice looking homes and lawns.

Others need attention.

Joyce Fisher, a resident since 1971, made no bones about it.

“Unfortunately, we have some people who don’t give a tinker’s damn what the yard looks like,” she said. “But sooner or later somebody will buy it and make it beautiful. It rotates like that.”

Jerry Manning, a past homeowners association president, agreed.

“We’re in a state of flux,” said the 53-year-old Hollywood native. “The neighborhood’s always changing. We’re having trouble like everybody else. Houses staying uninhabited. Petty crime.

“By and large, there are a lot of nice properties here, and some people keep their houses up really nice. Others do the best they can. Like me.”

Regardless, Young, Manning, Fischer and residents like them have put a lot of themselves into revitalizing community spirit in Bayshore Gardens.

“We promote that, and we do get a lot of people who do things with each other you might not get in other subdivisions,” Manning said.

For instance, he mentioned the Easter egg hunt, the July Fourth celebration, Halloween and Christmas.

The focal point for those activities is the 12-acre community center at the community’s south end,

“There’s a big influx of people coming to the park with the new playground equipment,” Young said. “It is a real scene for kids, teens and adults.”

Among the center’s features are a large clubhouse for events such as weddings and parties, a baseball diamond, basketball court and pool.

There is also a 125-slip marina, boat launch and channel to the Intracoastal Waterway and Sarasota Bay.

There is also a beach for kayaking and fishing.

It is a significant feature for this boating community.

That proximity sold Fisher and husband Bill, a 70ish couple who hail from the Boston area, practically sight unseen.

One too many snowfalls on their sailboat drove them here.

“My parents were in Sarasota and I said, ‘Find us some place we can put our boat.’ It fit us perfectly,” Fosher said. “My husband will not leave.”

Same thing happened to Manning, who had come from Atlanta to visit his mother.

“It was a regular neighborhood, regular people, plus it was on the water,” he said. “I decided to stay.”

That was 17 years ago.

“It’s real convenient,” Manning said. “I’d jump on my boat and be in the channel in 10 minutes.”

Manning and Fisher estimate 30 percent of Bayshore Gardens homeowners have boats.

“Some have two or three,” Fisher said.

The community marina is a bargain, too.

Depending on the boat size, slips run from $219 to $272 (tax included) for six months for residents.

“It’s very reasonable,” Manning said.

At Sara Bay Marina, 7040 N. Tamiami Trail, a slip for a 38-foot boat fetches $586 per month.

“If you have a house here, you can rent a boat slip cheap — and I mean cheap,” Young said.

Boating aside, Bayshore Gardens is also defined by a core quality for a community that has endured over the years.

“Neighbors being neighbors,” Omlor said.

n Trimming somebody’s palm tree fronds in advance of a storm.

n Volunteering for the Easter egg hunt.

n Pitching in to fix someone else’s plumbing.

“The plumbing got old all at the same time,” Manning said. “So everybody’s got the same plumbing problems, and my neighbors know that stuff. It’s nice like that with a lot of contractors and trade people living here.”

Cathy Place, a resident for 20 years, offered a more personal example.

“I had to have outpatient surgery, and my husband had to work,” she said. “So Rashmi, the girl who owns the mini-mart on 26th, took me to the doctors, and Suzanna and Richard Young were right there waiting for me when it was over.

“This is what you know you have in Bayshore Gardens — friends that’ll do whatever for you, and you will do just that for somebody else.”

Which has kept folks such as the Omlors right where they are for all these years.

“There’s no other place like it,” Roberta Omlor said. “It’s home.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fla. 34206 or email him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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