Take three small islands, add some swamp land and top it off with submerged bottom land, totaling over 2000 acres, and Voila! You have the Isla Del Sol and Tierra Verde communities!
In 1959, Louis Berlanti and his son, Fred, did just that. Pine Key and Cabbage Key, blended in with several small "mangrove" islands, along with 3 ft. deep submerged sand in Boca Ciega Bay, were purchased by the Berlantis for $5.12 million dollars. They had plans to build the "finest resort on the west coast of Florida", so quoted the St. Petersburg Times in 1959.
But progress was slow as the cost rose for dredging up the sand, the permit process dragged and the battle for the proposed Pinellas Bayway loomed ahead. Without road access to the island, slowly becoming known as Tierra Verde, the word "development" would take on a new meaning. But after a bitter and complex battle, the Pinellas Bayway finally opened in 1962. It found its way off Maximo Point west to land on St. Pete Beach at the Don CeSar Hotel. At an intersection on Isla Del Sol, the Bayway turned south to travel to Tierra Verde and Ft. DeSoto on Mullet Key.
The Berlantis began to build and sell homes and lots, but after spending over 10 million dollars in dredging costs etc, they joined forces with John and Clint Murchison, wealthy developers from Texas, which boosted the development dollars to over 50 million. However, in 1963 the resort was still faltering and an unexplained plane accident over Lake Okeechobee, took the life of both Louis, 55 and Fred, 31. The Murchison Brothers foreclosed and the resort, Port-o-Call, which was partly owned by entertainer Guy Lombardo, reverted to the Florida Federal Savings & Loan.
The island owned by the Murchisons developed slowly for the next ten years. Port-o-Call Hotel and Motor Inn was managed by several groups, including Resort Inns of America owned by the Fortune family of St. Pete Beach, owners of the Trade Winds Resort.
In 1975, the Murchisons partnered with Frank Mackle, Jr. and his son, Frank, III, owners of Deltona Development Corp. With new money involved, the first 128 units of Isla Del Sol were built, soon to be followed by 250 more. These sold for $40,000 to $50,000, while single family homes on Tierra Verde were going for $150,000 to $200,000 for waterfront.
In 1978, the golf course on the southwest end of Tierra Verde built by the Berlantis to help lure prospective buyers was closed. It proved too unprofitable and expensive to maintain. The resort idea was long gone and a residential community was evolving. In 1979, a battle ensued with Pinellas County over the extended development of the islands. After a big flap with property owners, the County Commission backed down. In 1984, the Tierra Verde community considered annexing itself to St. Petersburg or St. Pete Beach, but decided to "stay country for a while and see what happens." Despite other efforts to consolidate, the communities remain the same.
An interesting side note is when the Mackle family became involved; Port-o-Call became the Tierra Verde Hotel Yacht and Tennis Club. It played host to many entertainers such as Billy Eckstine, Vic Damon, Frankie Lane, Lional Hampton, Norm Crosby, Mel Torme and Rosemary Clooney. In the early 1960's, a young Canadian comic by the name of Rich Little played his first "gig" in the U.S. in the big ballroom where Lombardo played so often. Shortly after that appearance he signed on with the Judy Garland TV show, and the rest was history for Little.
Tierra Verde, Isla del Sol, Point Brittany and Bayway Isles have come a long way since the Berlanti family dredged it up with dreams of a huge, first class resort. It has become a community, although still unincorporated, of retired executives, winter residents, young families with children and senior citizens golfing along the Isla course. One can't help but wonder if the Berlantis would be pleased to see their dream in 1959 finally developed. We hope so.