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A SoWal Classic - Seagrove Villas Motel

May 23, 2010 by Lynn Nesmith

You’ve just re-connected with a high school classmate on Facebook. Unfortunately, your newly found former acquaintance has just invited herself and the entire family to the beach for the long holiday weekend.  What to do? 

First, thank your lucky stars the old Seagrove Villa Motel survived the real estate bubble. Next - tell the friend in Atlanta or Nashville or wherever she currently calls home to make better use of her time online and surf over to and get a room at the Seagrove Villas Motel. 

Editor's note - the motel closed for good in August 2012.
Read more about it here >

Perched along the bluff in the heart of Seagrove, Seagrove Villas is a classic old-Florida motel directly on the Gulf of Mexico. With rates starting at $75 a night in off-season, it’s surely the best bargain on the beach for a $9.9 million-dollar view.  (At least that’s the current asking price for the entire property.)        
 

Step Back in Time Since 1952, the Seagrove Villas has been a popular South Walton getaway and in many ways a reflection of real estate development in our area.  The mom-and-pop motel started as a summer retreat with two concrete-block duplex cottages in the middle of nowhere.  And what a magical nowhere it was back then -- a 30-foot bluff right on the Gulf along a pristine stretch of the Panhandle beach, halfway between Panama City and Fort Walton, in the still unincorporated town of Seagrove.   It was even marketed at the time with the clever catch phrase “where nature did its best.” 

A couple more duplexes were added the next year. It wasn’t long before a two-story motel-style wing with efficiency apartments followed.  By 1996 when a more ambitious three-story stucco structure was completed, the Villas found themselves in the center of everything - or at least the heart of SoWal at the mid-point of the 20-mile stretch which had come to be known as Scenic Highway 30A and a few blocks to the east of Seaside. 

Nearly a victim of the real estate boom because of its prime location, the Seagrove Villas closed in 2007 and was slated for demolition to make way for a private beach club and condominium. But after a two-year hiatus, the beloved motel with its 32 beach-front units reopened in the summer of 2009 after a top-to-bottom renovation.

Rather than wash away the quirky character of the compound with a major overhaul, the new owners dressed up all the buildings with cosmetic changes, fresh coats of paint, new furnishings, as well as structural and mechanical updates.   Absence does make the heart grow fonder, because the Villas seem to be more beloved than ever before.      

Pick of the Litter  The six signature cottages offer by far the most authentic old-Florida experience.  Perched on the edge of the cliff, Cottage 1 sets the high water mark. This prime roost features a traditional sun room with a slanted expanse of glass and deep overhangs for splendid sunset views. A queen bed, sleeper sofa and built-in bunks accommodates up to six, while the open layout encourages conversation after lights out, if not a lot of privacy.

A close second is Cottage 2, blessed with a windswept magnolia framing the Florida room with shading and shadows.  These two choice units book up months in advance – often reserved by families who have been coming for decades.  In the concrete cottages, a mix of reproduction 50s furniture, faux ultra-suede sofas and chairs, a hodge podge of artwork and colorful hanging light fixtures instill the feel of family beach house furnished by a creative owner on a budget – not a corporate decorator.  

Although two-story structure lacks some of the personality of its older concrete sisters, ground-floor patios and second-floor balconies directly along the beach are more than amble compensation.  The three-story building offers roomy accommodations with spacious one- and two-bedroom efficiencies. 

The Villas are charming and clean and downright fun. Kitchenettes are stocked with the basics and few necessities such as a highly productive ice machine and blender as well as hammocks, picnic tables and charcoal grills. (Yes, there is Wi-Fi.)   The lodgings might be considered opulent, but count on the true luxuries of an old-fashioned Panhandle vacation – a heated swimming pool, a private beach walkover and shaded gazebo, Pawley Island hammocks, and a perfectly pristine stretch of emerald water and white sandy beach.    

Postcards from the Edge Always more dependent on word-of-mouth than paid promotion, the Villas reopened in the spring of 2009 with little fanfare.  They flipped on the restored neon sign to beckon drivers and sent out a mailing.  “The response from past guests was amazing,” explains Jason Sprenkle, co-owner of 360 Blue Properties, which manages the Villas. “I’ve had calls from people who received the postcard and they were crying because they were so happy the Villas are back.”  Absence does seem to make the heart grow fonder, because the Seagrove Villas Motel is more appreciated than ever before.
 

Editor's note - the motel closed for good in August 2012.

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Lynn Nesmith's picture

Lynn Nesmith

Lynn's career includes stints with Architecture Magazine and Southern Living. She's been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Better Homes & Gardens, Traditional Home, House Beautiful, Architectural Record and Coastal Living. Lynn lives in Seagrove and writes from a third-story tower with a glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico.

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