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Cape historian showcases city’s early years; Presentation comprised of photos, stories

By Staff | May 14, 2008

When Paul Sanborn first came to Cape Coral in 1962, there were only 1,100 residents living full time in the fledgling community. Aerial photographs taken at the time showed a landscape yet to be wholly tamed by developers, the Rosen Brothers.

Del Prado Boulevard was a two-lane road that connected nothing to nothing, vanishing into the untamed wilds of North Fort Myers. It was a sight that would be nearly unrecognizable to anyone who braves Del Prado at rush hour in the modern era.

Most of the slides shown by Sanborn at the Cape Historical Society’s general meeting Tuesday were similar. They depicted roads, intersections and places in the Cape that have morphed so completely over the years, they appear as relics of a bygone era.

“People often ask me if I mean 11,000 residents when I give this presentation,” Sanborn told the audience, smiling. “I say, ‘No it was 1,100, and those were the real pioneers of Cape Coral.'”

Sanborn worked for the Rosen Brothers is several capacities during those early days, from head of security to managing the yacht club when it was eventually opened.

According to Sanborn, there was only one hotel in 1962, the Nautilis, located at the intersection of Del Prado and Cape Coral Parkway. The Nautilis’ purpose was twofold: it acted as housing for prospective buyers, and as a source of entertainment for Cape residents. Other than the Surfside Restaurant, the Nautilis was the only place to hang out, or get a bite to eat.

“If you needed to do any shopping, if you needed anything at all, really, you had to take the long trip down Fort Myers over the Edison Bridge,” Sanborn said. “If you needed a quart of milk you drove an hour to Fort Myers.”

The Rosens took great pains in presenting the Cape as a favorable destination to curious outsiders.

They built a rose garden, featuring thousands of roses and intricately landscaped gardens, a porpoise show and the Waltzing Waters, a synchronized light show in a man-made lagoon.

They even used the newly minted streets of the Cape as runways to give clients tours from the air.

“We had more take offs and landings than Opa Locka airport down in Miami,” Sanborn said. “When the Rosens did things, they did them right.”

Even though those first years were lean, things started to happen quickly after 1962. As the Cape took off and more people came pouring in, it became apparent to the Rosens that their original vision of a 4,700-acre development would not be sufficient. A medical facility was eventually built, so was a shopping plaza with a grocery store.

According to Elmer Tabor, a friend of Paul Sanborn, things quickly went awry. Tabor’s father built the first grocery store.

“It was planned as a perfect community in those days,” Tabor said. “But it was never designed to be as big as it is today. It was so successful it got out of control.”

Still, Sanborn looks back fondly on his time with the Rosens, and as one of the original residents of the Cape. He considered it a blessing to cross the Cape Coral Bridge after it was built in 1964, and return home.

“Every time I came over that bridge I thanked the Lord I had something to do with the city of Cape Coral,” he said.