BY PATTI SMITH PHOTOS BY RICK COOPER
From the time he was a child, Johnny Patronis dreamed of owning a penthouse. That dream came true over 30 years ago when he and his brother Jimmy sold land they owned on Panama City Beach to New York Judge John Lorenzo, a former Secretary of State. Judge Lorenzo built Moonspinner, a 162-unit condominium development neighboring St. Andrews State Park in the early 1980s. Ownership of the 2,500-square-foot penthouse was part of the sales transaction.
“We bought it because it’s off the beaten path. One reason I like the East end of the beach is because it’s convenient to a lot of things: Restaurants, the marinas and shopping and you don’t have all that traffic pressure,” Johnny says. “It’s low density, and it’s next to the 1,200 acre state park. It’s a great place to ride your bike or go for a walk.”
Johnny Patronis and his late wife Opal enjoyed the grand views from the penthouse and used it frequently. His brother, Jimmy Patronis, owns the adjacent penthouse. From Johnny’s favorite seat in the living room, his La-Z-Boy recliner, he can watch the sun rise over the bay in the morning, and set over the Gulf in the evening as the floor-to-ceiling windows open up the views to the north and to the south.
But it wasn’t always that way. The original design of the condo included walls and hallways that created several rooms. About 15 years ago, the condo underwent a major remodeling project. With the help of local interior designer John Henry Sherman, the walls came down and windows were added. A shopping trip to Ft. Lauderdale yielded fine coastal furnishings that were just right for creating elegant but comfortable living spaces.
Johnny Patronis decided to change the threebedroom penthouse to a two-bedroom. He created a master suite by taking the smaller bedroom and turning it into a sitting area with an arched open entryway into the master bedroom. Tearing down walls in the main living area revealed unsightly plumbing pipes. These were covered and turned into stately columns which add an upscale feature without blocking the magnificent views of St. Andrew’s Bay and the colorful waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Johnny opted for white and off-white flooring, walls, and plush sofas and lounges. “Everything is neutral. You’re not locked in to one color when you decorate,” Johnny explains. Throughout the condo, throw pillows, bed coverings and decorative glass pieces offer splashes of blue, Johnny’s favorite color as he explains: “I love blue.”
Several art pieces inside the condo remind him of his family’s proud Greek heritage. Photographs taken on visits throughout the Greek Islands are framed and adorn many walls throughout the home. One of Johnny’s favorites is a view of the monastery where the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation that is now part of the Bible. Books about Greece and Greek art sit on tables, and a 2,000-year-old clay and coral vessel used for storing wine came all the way from the Island of Patmos.
A statue of the Greek mythological god, Hermes, is the centerpiece of one of the large windows that offers views to the wooded areas of St. Andrews State Park. It came from Athens. Hermes is the god of transitions and boundaries, which is quite symbolic of the coastal location of Moonspinner and the many changes Johnny has witnessed in the area since he came to Panama City with his brother in 1953. “There was nothing much on the beach at all— mainly sand dunes and a lot of mom and pop motels. You had a feeling of community that you don’t have today,” he recalls.
Johnny’s father Theo J. Patronis came to America from Greece in 1913. He landed in Apalachicola where his brother, Gregory Patronis, had settled about two years prior. Johnny Patronis says several Greeks relocated to Apalachicola in part because of the reputation for great fishing. Later, Theo Patronis moved to Tallahassee and opened the 5 and 10 Cent Lunch, where people could purchase a hamburger or hot dog and cold Coca-Cola for just that price. Johnny’s dad operated the restaurant during the Great Depression while Johnny grew up.
There is a fondness in his voice when he talks about life in the early days of Panama City. In 1953 Johnny and his brother Jimmy opened Seven Seas, a restaurant in downtown Panama City where people would gather for a good meal and stay a while. People would come to it from the beach, Wewahitchka and all over the county.
“We were doing really good there. It was one of the best places in Bay County. It was a family place. People gathered there during the day and talked politics and discussed their prophecies (about where the city was headed). There was a real sense of community. That’s what I miss. We don’t quite have that anymore. We were always involved in the community from day one because we wanted to help make Bay County a better place,” Johnny reminisces.
When Capt. Anderson’s restaurant became available, the Patronis brothers purchased it and moved to the beach. “It’s been beautiful ever since,” Johnny smiles. His wife Joanie agrees. She loves coming to the beach and enjoys the sand between her toes. She is especially fond of spying deer wandering between the sea oats right next to the condominiums. Her heart, however, is in the country at Ecofina, where the couple owns a farm that offers beautiful views of the river. The Patronis children and grandchildren gather there for special times enjoying four-wheelers and swimming in the spring.
Joanie and Johnny divide their time between their farm and their home in Bay Point. The beach penthouse, which is up for sale, is only used a few weeks out of the year. As many fond memories the Moonspinner penthouse bears, Johnny says “it might be time to sell it. We are just not using it too much anymore.” But then his eyes wander to the horizon and the Gulf of Mexico, and there goes his resolve.
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