Decades before the Emerald Grande, two Memphians developed one of Destin’s first condos, the Silver Dunes in 1971.
While it may not look like it once did 40 years ago, the condo complex has held its stance as a family-friendly place to enjoy the beach has been consistent in this pioneering condo on the Destin coast.
"There's a real sense of home here," said General Manager Pam Beal. "Our guests refer to Silver Dunes as their second home, even if they're not an owner."
Maybe that's because most of the Silver Dunes staff has been employed at the gated condominium complex for 10 years or more, or perhaps it's the kids that are running free throughout the property — from the pool to the game room to the two tennis courts to the basketball court.
"We're very family-friendly," Beal said. "When my kids were little, they would run around with the others. Everybody feels love behind the gates."
Hailing from Elvis Presley's birthplace, Tupelo, Miss., Medford Leake and his wife were looking for a second home to escape to when they found the Silver Dunes in the mid-1970s.
"When we decided to buy a condo, we were looking from Seagrove to Fort Walton Beach," Leake said. "Silver Dunes was just what we needed."
Leake appreciates the kid-friendly atmosphere as his children and grandchildren regularly visited throughout the years. He recalled one night, years ago, when his grandson, then 6 years old, was visiting and said, "You know, I really feel at home here."
"The wisest things come from voice of grandchildren," Leake commented.
Staff feel just as comfortable as owners and visitors. Betty McHenry, the executive housekeeper and assistant manager sums up her 37 years at Silver Dunes perfectly.
"It's a wonderful place to work and be," she said. "I've never minded coming to work here."
After decades of business — and hurricanes — Silver Dunes has seem some cosmetic changes over the years. Today, the property boasts 98 units, 70 of which are rentals.
During peak season, there may even be a waiting list to rent.
"Taking into consideration that the resort is older — sometimes that turns people off," Leake said. "But these people around here don't turn their backs on things that need to be done."
Outside, the resort features close to an acre of well-kept courtyard space and 355-feet of beach, where you'll meet George Noble, beach manager. Since 1975, Noble has been guarding the beach and providing umbrellas and chairs through his sub-contracted company. What's kept him around was the families he gets to see every year.
"I've met a lot of owners over the years and I've enjoyed watching the families grow," Noble said.
Coming back to his second home and seeing the familiar faces of Beal, McHenry and Noble is paramount, Leake said.
"That's why everyone keeps coming back," he added.
Whenever he heads back to Mississippi, Leake said he's always homesick for Destin.
"Speaking for my wife and myself, it always feels so good to be here," he said of Silver Dunes. "It's a good place to shake the cobwebs out."