Tierra Verde is one of the most beautiful communities in Pinellas County. It has a calm, laid back vibe that fosters a lifestyle of luxury and leisure but, it didn’t always have a quiet reputation. Here are 5 historically cool facts that make Tierra Verde an awesome place to live:
Tierra Verde used to be a group of 15 plant-covered islands where Native Americans hosted ceremonial gatherings because the land was deemed to be sacred. So sacred that if ever outsiders tried to trespass, there would be some major conflict. In fact today, there is still a marker just north of East Shore Drive, claiming the discovery of Native American Relics. Later, in the early-1500s, Spanish explorers ventured into the area, as well as pirates and buccaneers (including Jose Gaspar), because it was said that a treasure was once buried there.
In the mid-1800s, Robert E. Lee proposed that Mullet Key & Egmont Key be used for coastal defense during the Spanish-American war and in 1898, Fort De Soto was built. In 1948 the federal government sold Mullet Key to Pinellas County to be used for parks and recreation. The area is now known as Fort De Soto Park. Remains of the fort can still be found throughout, in addition to fortifications on Egmont Key including a lighthouse. Egmont Key is only accessed via boat/ferry but is open to the public as an excellent place to snorkel, hike and explore. Fort De Soto Park has a dog friendly beach, campgrounds and plenty of land to hike, cycle and explore.
Things were relatively quiet on the islands until the mid-1950s when Dr. Bradley ‘Doc’ Waldron traveled to Tallahassee with the intent to purchase Pine Key, Cabbage Key, Pardee Key and the surrounding bay bottom. This was close to the time the original Skyway Bridge was being built. Waldron partnered with two builders from Detroit, Hyman and Irving Green, and named their island investment ‘Green Land’. A couple years later, Waldron-Green associates applied for a dredge-and-fill permit with the intent to pump nearly 2 billion gallons of sand and shell from the bottom of the bay to raise the ground level of all three keys turning them into one large island. At the time, the only way to get to ‘Green Land’ was by boat until the state developed plans for Pinellas Bayway. The Department of Transportation agreed to add a leg to Fort De Soto so long as Waldron-Green would contribute the land to do so. Pinellas Bayway would soon become the land of access to the proposed Tierra Verde.
The dredging created nearly 5,000 acres of buildable land at which point, Waldron-Green sold the islands to a New York contractor, Louis Berlanti and his son Fred. In 1961, Louis was named president of the Tierra Verde Community Association, Inc. and by the end of 1962, there was a road and a bridge leading into the community. It was around this time that Guy Lombardo opened up Port O’ Call Resort where famous artists such as Frank Sinatra, Liberace, Marlene Dietrich and others performed. For 10 weeks Guy and his band promoted the resort via bus tour, taking several minutes at each show to talk about Tierra Verde. They even had a Tierra Verde banner hanging off the side of their tour bus. Guy and the band came back to Tierra Verde for a second season but then never returned. Guy Lombardo died in 1977 and the resort he originally opened was sold in 2017 for $22.5 million.
The same year Lombardo died, real estate developer Frank E. Mackle, III was elected president of the Tierra Verde Company, who worked with a network of international brokers to sell many of the land lots to overseas investors. Growth on the island was slow until 1984 when Pinellas Bayway got an exit ramp off of Interstate 275. The easier access made Tierra Verde property sales skyrocket and in 1985, the community of Tierra Verde was turned over to the homeowners. Tierra Verde is now a 667 acre, unincorporated region of Pinellas County. The original 15 islands have become the now, 6 areas of Tierra Verde; Monte Cristo, Entrada, Pinellas Bayway, Sands Point, East Shore (Bayview) and West Shore (Oceanview). The waterways have been engineered so the Gulf tides help keep the waterways clean. As a local, you can enjoy fishing and sailing on the water or camping and exploring the beaches and parks – regardless, you will definitely see some dolphins and manatees.