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The history and evolution of Island Estates


Published:   |   Updated: January 2, 2014 at 11:36 AM

ISLAND ESTATES — Some 50+ years ago the North Bay Company, headed by a local named Wallace Skinner, began to develop Island Estates.
 
In phase I, they dredged the channels and built the seawalls to create the streets known as Leeward, Midway, and Windward Islands, and Windward Passage.
 
Next, they built the four Palm Islands (NE, SE, NW and SW) along with improving sidewalks in Phase II. 
 
Lastly, they built Phase III, which consisted of the north end of Island Way, Snug Island, Harbor Island and Harbor Passage, and included the improvements of sidewalks, trees and underground utilities.
 
They opened a small development office on Windward Passage and began selling lots. 
 
I first became acquainted with the Island because my father, Joe King, established the first real estate company on Island Estates in 1969 known as Island Estates Realty. He bought the land where he built our office on Island Way from a man named Frank Houston, an investor. I remember Houston was an older gentleman and a close friend of the fried chicken king Colonel Sanders who started Kentucky Fried Chicken. I never knew he really existed until his death in 1980.
 
Looking back to my earliest memories of the Island, I recall the fresh new black asphalt roads north of the Palm Islands. There were lots for sale on either side of the roads, but they didn't look like lots because all you could see was white sugary sand, like Clearwater Beach sand, billowing across the roads.
 
Around the same time, local Clearwater High School students used Clearwater Point on the south end of the beach as a favorite "parking spot" after dates. The streets also had lots covered in beach sand, with lovely water vistas and reflections of  the evening stars and moon.
 
At the same time Sand Key was a favorite for weekend bonfires for high school students because nothing existed there except sea pines. Both the Point and Sand Key now are home to thousands of condominiums.
 
Island Estates began to grow and develop, but the Island Estates Shopping Plaza had not as yet been built. The closest food store was downtown.  I remember going with my mother to shop for groceries at what was then known as Cleveland Plaza on Cleveland Street east of Missouri Avenue.
 
All the residents, by then known as "Islanders," were excited and happy when the Island Estates Plaza was built in 1974, and shopping became very convenient. Soon followed by all the conveniences we enjoy today. 
 
St. Brendan's Catholic Church was built behind the shopping plaza in the late 1970s.
 
Ross Yacht, owned by a friend of mine, Courtney Ross, was established on Windward Passage just west of the Island Way intersection.  It was a well known brokerage and yacht repair establishment catering to the yacht racing community throughout the area for many years.  It was eventually sold and absorbed into the Aquarium property.
 
I remember the small green ceramic banks, shaped like turtles used to raise money for the Aquarium. A lady named Mary McCormick, a community activist, lived on the Island at Clipper Cove Condo.  She placed the turtles in all the local businesses to raise money for the Aquarium, among many other things I am sure she did to help the cause. The aquarium, then located in the old sewage treatment plant on Windward Passage, is today of international fame.  Home to Winter the dolphin with the prosthetic tale, and of movie stare fame in the movie "Dolphin Tale".  Winter's success has allowed the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to do the important work of rescuing and rehabilitating injured marine animals.  She draws disabled children and adults from all over who identify with her success story.  
 
There was a dry storage marina located on the west end of Windward Passage named High and Dry Marina which was a successful business for many years. Boaters could fuel dockside, and buy snacks and drinks for their day of boating.  There was a large metal building which housed 3-4 levels of storage racks that held boats hoisted by forklifts and stacked them on the racks.  At the end of their day on the water, boaters simply docked, and let the handlers lift and store their boats until their next boating adventure.  In 2005 High and Dry was sold to make way for a new condominium.  The developers of The Residences of Windward Passage condo purchased it and developed the last condo built on the Island.
 
The Island Yacht Harbor wet slip marina at the west end of Windward Passage still exists today, and was the area's first condominium boat slip product.  Next door is the neighborhood playground provided by the City of Clearwater, with a lovely waterfront vista to the southwest.
 
A lovely and popular restaurant known as the Seaspire was built in 1974 on the west end of Windward Passage.  The triangular shaped three story structure was two levels elevated above parking, mostly glass, capitalizing on the beautiful water views overlooking the waterways, marina and causeway to the beach.  Later it was closed when backers tried to convert it to a private club, and absconded with the monies they had collected from willing patrons to do so.  Today the site houses the lovely townhomes known as The Pools.
 
At the entrance to the Island the popular seafood restaurant known as The Flagship was built in 1978.  It suffered two fires, and after the second one in 1985 it underwent a major renovation, replacing the “beachy pecky” cypress with elegant rich wood finishes and leaded glass interior windows. 
 
In 1999 the Flagship sold to Landry's Seafood. Landry's never really took hold, and after a year, they sold to the Island Way Grill, owned by local entrepreneur and area promoter, Frank Chivas, and partners, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mike Alstot and Mike Moore.
 
Today Island Way Grill is a local landmark, and fabulous, thriving restaurant featuring Pacific Rim cuisines. 
 
The first multi family structure on the Island was built 50 years ago. The Dearborn Towers at 223 Island Way was built in 1962 by the City of Dearborn, Michigan as a Florida rental retreat for its senior citizens.  It was later affectionately referred to by Island residents as the blue beast because of the unusual blue paint color of the building.
 
The co-op known as Horizon House located at 31 Island Way was also built in 1962. It is the only co-op on the Island, and is very popular with snow birds and second home owners due to its pricing and close proximity to shopping.
 
Next door to Horizon House is 51 Island Way Condominium which was originally rental units, converted to a condominium in 1978.
 
Over a dozen other condos were built over the years, and the Island Estates Realty staff has sold the same condos and homes many times over. 
 
Today, this beautiful and vibrant waterfront community consists of over 550 single family homes and approximately 1300 condominium units.  Accessed by beautifully landscaped mediums and cul-de-sacs, the commercial and multi-family areas are appropriately designated in conjunction with the single family homes. 
 
Along with the casual quality of life it affords, Islanders enjoy the secure sense of community where we can walk to boutiques, restaurants, salons, banks and grocery.  Not to mention the deep navigable waterways, and proximity to beautiful, award-winning Clearwater Beach.  Everything is within walking distance, and public transportation and the Jolley Trolley run daily. 
 
The developers envisioned a thriving, self-contained waterfront neighborhood over half a century ago.  Little did they know that their ideas would evolve into a destination community. 
 
If you live on Island Estates, you'll love where you live!

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