In the Know: Final closing date set for venerable Naples resort with roots back to Great Depression. Plus, new Mercato, Waterside stores.

Phil Fernandez
Naples Daily News

Thank you to one of our favorite inquisitive readers, Chad Haidet, for his question seeking an update on a famed venue.

It's now official. Put it on your sunset planner.

With roots that date to the Great Depression and ties to stars from Hollywood's greatest era, The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club shuts its doors for the final time on May 23, 2021.

After the credits roll for what's a tragic ending for some, construction is slated to begin on a new complex that also includes condos on the 125 acres at 851 Gulf Shore Blvd. N.

"I can't believe it's going to close for good," said Naples resident Susan Furlow, one of many of you who shared your reminiscences via various communication channels, old and modern, that dot this column. "It's a Naples landmark."

Currently led by Michael Watkins and his brother, Henry III, the legendary gulf front destination has been owned and operated by three generations of the same family since the end of World War II when their granddaddy Henry Sr., a retired Ohio toymaker, came to town.

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“Our family has had the privilege and honor of welcoming guests and groups to The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club for more than 74 years,” Michael Watkins said. "We are so very appreciative of our valued and cherished patrons who have stayed with us, dined at our restaurants, played golf on our championship course, experienced our spa or tennis center, attended a wedding or event, enjoyed our fun annual SummerJazz on the Gulf free concert series, or appreciated a spectacular sunset at The Sunset Beach Bar & Grill. We’ve taken great pride in our family tradition of providing outstanding hospitality for more than 70 years."

The Athens Group, which has been painstakingly working on a deal with the Watkins family for four years that is to culminate in May, plans to raze the hotel and build a 220-room inn and 185 residential units along both sides of Gulf Shore Boulevard. The golf course will be redesigned in the transition and remain open to the public as part of the redevelopment.

Not revealing any price tags, the Arizona-based developers are targeting the fourth quarter of 2023 for completion of the first phase that includes the lodgings, three condominium buildings and a market square.

Those will emerge out of the rubble from the expected four months of demolition slated to begin in mid-July that will leave memories untouched.

In 1929, Allen Joslin, and his wife, Lois, heir to the Jergens hand lotion fortune, built the first 18-hole golf course in the area, and The Beach Club on its adjacent waterfront grounds. After Watkins arrived in 1946, he created what sits there now between the golf course and the sparkling Gulf of Mexico with its 319 rooms and suites.

It's maintained a bit of old school thinking like the complimentary parking, whether valet or self. Amazingly, still no resort fees, which increasingly are showing up at chain locations, and in a world where fees must be someone's middle name at Airbnb and VRBO. Geez.

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There is one popular annual tradition the Watkins family started that are among those Athens intends to resume once the dust clears.

"Naples High School Senior Skip Day was at the Beach Club - 1971," remembers graduate Joy Hettel.

Last year, pre-pandemic, that meant free lunch, soft drinks and ice cream for students at the May 24, 2019 event, almost two years to the date of closing. They may just get the final one for now, just under the wire, with a little tweaking if they check their calendar and this vaccine comes together.

Black-haired beauty with big dark eyes

It's not unusual to run into Bob Seger on the property, his true Katmandu.

And the good old Beach Club has had its share of Hollywood Nights, too, and a black-haired beauty with big dark eyes.

First, if you peek behind the curtain of history, you might see the magnificent Gary Cooper, whom I picture every time I hear the name Lou Gehrig, just one of the late actor's multitudinous revered roles.

No. 7: "The Pride of the Yankees." Gary Cooper stars in 1942's "The Pride of the Yankees."

Cooper, who got around the area partly through the use of a boat known as Spunkie ll, lodged there in 1951 during filming of Distant Drums in the Everglades and on Little Marco Island, providing a bit of a boost to the economy.

As I poked through documents, I counted at least 122 local names involved in the production. The present-day Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs provided the animals and built the ceremonial snake pit, where soldiers, played by a few Naples men, are sacrificed to gators. The movie might be offensive to some.

Another familiar face coming for regular retreats with a strong Sunshine State connection: MGM's sultry siren known as "the world's most beautiful woman" who's also one of 45 members or so of the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame.

If you guessed the ultra-fascinating Hedy Lamarr, you're good.

The Austrian-born goddess golfed, often taking lessons at the club. She lived in Miami Beach and yes, Casselberry, before passing away in 2000 at the age of 85.

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Actress Hedy Lamarr is shown in this 1946 file photo. Lamarr was an Austrian-born inventor and actress whose exotic glamour and sex appeal sparked a string of hit films of the 1930s and '40s,

Along the way of a half-dozen husbands in about 30 years while inspiring women to part their hair down the middle and darken their makeup for an iconic look, she was a co-inventor of a patented frequency-hopping communications system created to help defeat the Nazis during World War II. 

PBS says that is the basis for today's GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi, which before I forget, also has been free at the club, another increasingly rare offering these days.

But surfing the internet in one of the foyers is not what you remember most there although listening to lobby piano player Gordon Banks with an adult beverage in hand has been a treat.

"My 20th high school reunion was there: 1989." said Naples High graduate Sherrie Trucker, who later studied at the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities and Augsburg University.

So many of you talked about reunions, weddings, honeymoons and what we now call staycations.

"Such a beautiful place to vacation at," said Naples resident Mary Kenney. "I am sure going to miss it."

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A sunset at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club.


“Many guests have such fond memories from their visits over the years," General Manager Jason Parsons said. “We know how much our guests love the stunning skyscape and spectacular sunsets on our beach."

Yes, the sunsets.

"The best spot for the sunset happy hour," said Naples resident Steve Goldsmith. "Going to miss it."

And not just the guests.

"Every day that was my view," said Naples resident Helen Crescenzo-Butler, who worked on the premises for five years in sales, coming down from Long Island. "I loved it there. Made some very very good friends in the process."

But a lot of you aren't letting it go quietly into the sea breeze.

"I used to work there from '95 to '97," said Bob Carson, a rental agent at Premier Sotheby's International Realty. "In April 2021, I plan on going back and spending several nights."

"Just stayed," said Heather Williams Taccone. " I live in Naples. We have drank there many times but never stayed. Finally did."

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I checked various web sites during the week, and on Sunday, you could still sneak in through Wednesday for a surprising $200 a night for a standard room including taxes on Orbitz. But then in the days and weeks ahead, tariffs rapidly escalate for that same accommodation to up to $760.

"Love this place. So many happy memories," said Naples resident Cynthia Beliles, recalling heartfelt times there with her "husband, with daughters, with grandchildren and extended family. Nothing can ever take that away from me."

A bulldozer doesn't erase everything.

Mercato and Waterside

As I've been reporting, changes keep coming to the Mercato and the Waterside Shops.

Kilwins Chocolates, Fudge & Ice Cream, providing both goodness and evil since 1947, depending on your waistline, has opened a second Naples location at the Mercato, 9106 Strada Place.

Kilwins Naples-Mercato franchisees Kevin and Rose Leslie said they launched the store, putting their son, Ian, in charge of managing on a day-to-day basis.

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Naples residents for seven years, the Leslies first discovered Kilwins when visiting the one on Fifth Avenue South. Kevin Leslie told us they've been looking at the possibility of their own spot since that day in 2014, and after visiting 30 other locales, moved forward with their own plans.

Over at Waterside Shops, 5415 Tamiami Trail, a purveyor of French luxury goods wants to give it another shot.

A Hermès franchise closed there in 2014 as its Paris leaders have been reducing that type of set up and instead going with ones solely operated by the company itself, according to Martin Roll company, which studies these sort of maneuverings.

While there's still quite a ways to go, renovation documents under consideration by Collier County call for the Hermès to go next to the Apple Store and into the slot held by Ralph Lauren, which hasn't publicly disclosed future plans.

As of 2019, Hermès had 311 stores globally. The nearest this morning are in Miami's blossoming Design District north of downtown, and The Royal Poinciana Plaza in elegant Palm Beach if you had the sudden urge to jump in your voiture.

Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez ( writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. In the mess at the moment right now that is Washington, it is sadly easy to overlook Pearl Harbor Day. But please don't today or ever. Many sacrificed so that you and I can freely write, pray, speak and protest. One way to support Democracy: Kindly subscribe to a newspaper. Thank you for your readership.