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‘First’ Cape citizen shares city’s history and talks of Rosens

By Staff | Nov 12, 2008

There was a line hanging out of the door of the Cultural Park Theater on Tuesday afternoon as people waited to hear Kenny Schwartz recall the earliest days of Cape Coral.

Like a true rock star, Schwartz kept people waiting as the Cape’s “first resident” made his way from the east coast of Florida back to the community he helped the Rosen brothers build from the ground up.

When Scwartz did arrive he delighted the crowd with what he called the “true, inside story of the Rosen brothers,” around which much speculation has circulated since their deaths.

Scwartz threw around words like “brilliant,” “creative” and “dreamers” when talking about the Rosens, showing his deep and ageless respect for his past employers by still referring to them in stories as “Mr. Rosen.”

“They were remarkable people, warts and all,” Scwartz said. “They really complimented each other, they made a fabulous team.”

Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Jack and Leonard Rosen were self-made entrepreneurs, selling everything from ice cream to time slots for television stations.

Of course, they made their fortunes in the real estate game, selling lots in the Cape for $20 down and payments of $20 a month.

Scwartz was the second official employee and the first salesman of Gulf American Corporation, the Rosens’ fledgling real estate empire. Lots originally sold for a whopping $990.

“Lots were $990 for a waterview,” Schwartz recalled. “All we had was waterfront and waterview lots. The waterfront was true, but the waterview was kind of a stretch. I had good eyes, and even I had trouble seeing the water.”

Gulf American Corporation was eventually sold for $120 million, though the Rosens never really got to enjoy the fortune their hard work earned them.

Jack died in 1969. According to Schwartz, Leanord laid penniless on his death bed.

By the time the company was sold Schwartz had moved on, long before allegations of misconduct began to swirl around the Gulf American Corporation.

Still, the level of pride Schwartz feels for his part in the development of Cape Coral is high, if not mighty. He cited competing property developments in LeHigh and Port Charlotte that did not have the “far superior quality” of the Cape real estate.

The first pioneers of the Cape, those who purchased the property as much as the Rosens’ vision of a paradise along the Caloosahatchee River, are what the 82-year-old Schwartz called his “legacy.”

“We had a wonderful time, we served our clients so well,” he said. “After the dust settled, the people who bought from us were happy they did so.”

Longtime Cape resident Stu Pepper, who came out to hear Schwartz’s tale, wondered aloud why the city has not honored those like the Rosens or Schwartz by naming a street after them.

“Why isn’t there a street or a boulevard named after the Rosen brothers or Kenny Schwartz?” he asked. “These guys stuck their necks out.”