Laurel Park was the first downtown neighborhood to transform itself from shabby and low income to chic and charming, and it’s only getting better. A recent flurry of building has solidified its position as the place to live downtown, if you can afford it.
I bought my very first house here, back in 1985, so I can attest to the fact that, as neighborhoods go, it’s close to perfect. Back then it was a little run-down, but wonderfully atmospheric and eccentric, a faded dowager of a place, the perfect setting for a Tennessee Williams play. I fell in love with it when I first saw the flocks of wild green parrots that used to fly around the neighborhood.
My next-door neighbor was a German botanist who created a rainforest in his garden with hoses attached to the trees. On hot summer nights the raccoons would play in the water. Two doors down from him lived Judge John Early, 97 years old, a former mayor of Sarasota famous for being the oldest living Eagle Scout. He walked briskly around the neighborhood every morning saluting passersby with his cane.
It was a wonderful place, and hopefully still is. Most of the old houses are still there, very nicely updated. Linda Driggs of Michael Saunders says it’s the neighborhood’s big draw. “People love the great diversity of architectural styles,” she says. “There’s a lot of greenery around and you have your own privacy. These old homes are the perfect alternative to a downtown condo.”
Linda’s listing at 512 Madison Court is a good example of what you can find. The two-bedroom, two-bath 1922 Spanish bungalow was renovated by architect Dale Parks as his own home. He gave it a new interior and left an old-fashioned exterior. It’s listed for $649,900.
Laurel Park is the kind of neighborhood where tear-downs are frowned upon, and you may be shunned if you attempt one. To get around this problem, some clever architect invented a special Laurel Park version of a big fancy house, one that fits on the smallish infill lots, practically all gone by now. It has a sleek modern style, and probably a pool and a chic little garage apartment that will make a great Airbnb rental. These homes go for around $1.2 million.
And new condos are appearing around the edges. There’s the Q on Ringling Boulevard, The Orange Club on Osprey, and a group of townhomes called the Enclave on Lafayette Court. Prices run from $600,000 to around a million. With a great walkability factor, hidden alleyways that resemble Key West, and—hopefully, still—wild parrots, Laurel Park remains the premium downtown neighborhood.