Long-time guests would still call the Frangista Beach Inn phone number to re-book their old rooms and would now reach the Frangista Beach Development construction office. “For a while, our secretary's outgoing voicemail message was, "The Inn is just a memory...but the legacy lives on,’” says developer William Wilson. And now, the phone number may be still be the same, but a new Frangista Beach -- a shorefront community of single-family homes -- has since replaced the concrete-block motel.
Though the original Frangista Beach is gone, the silky white beach and emerald waters still lure vacationers. And the ties between the Wilsons and the first owners—the Nitsos family, who named it for their hometown in Greece—endure.
“We didn’t develop Frangista,” says William. “We just stepped into it.” That was in 1976. “My family bought the Phillips 66 gas station near the motel, and we bought the rest of the property as it became available.”
The family’s love of the 9-acre site only deepened over the years. William and his sisters spent teenage summers working at the gas station and motel. He says, “I was the guy who knocked on doors and said, “Housekeeping." There was nothing else around here for miles. There certainly wasn’t a bank. We’d take the money from working at the gas station and put it in the freezer.“
As William grew in size, so did the area’s population...and the property’s potential. Over the years, his family owned everything from a roadside shrimp stand to a fine-dining restaurant. But William’s most wistful memory comes from when he was known across the Florida Panhandle as “Billi Willi.” The surf shop bearing his nickname became a local hangout. After a three-year stint as a surfer dude, William traded in his long hair and pink Karmann Ghia for the family textile business. Later, he joined a pro-golf tour. “I’ve traveled all over, but I always ended up back here,” he says.
In 2000, he and his father began developing the new Frangista Beach community. Since the Nistos family platted the property as single-home lots in the 1940's, the Wilsons, along with developers Curtis Gwin and Ray Shoults, were able to follow the earlier plan. They hired architect Lloyd Vogt because of his three-decade commitment to the coastal vernacular.
“Lloyd was consumed by this type of architecture,” says Curtis. Known for his work in other coastal communities, Lloyd formed a neighborhood centered on a common pavilion and pool area. Though Lloyd has now passed away, he left a set of unique designs for Frangista Beach. With hardwood floors, 10-foot ceilings, abundant porches, and custom-crafted details, the homes displayed an instant sense of warmth and history. “We wanted to save the best part of the old Frangista Beach and re-create it for the next generation, “says William.
Modern elements mix well with the old-fashioned features to create low-maintenance living. Building materials such as three-coat stucco; fiber-cement siding, and UV-tinted doors and windows withstand the harsh beachside climate. Houses are wired for security, sound, and Internet access. “If you want to come down for the weekend, you can dial up the house on the computer and turn on the A/C and lights. Owners know their home is safe,” says Curtis.
While residents revel in the modern amenities, some assets here can’t be built or bought---the gentle waves, the warm breezes, the Wilsons’ hospitality. “I know everyone personally,” says William. “They have my home phone number. They ask me to bring their flowers in when it's cold. I’m kind of an on-hand concierge providing 24-hour service.” For William, some things about the old Frangista Beach will never change.
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