Golden anniversary Yacht Club turns 50
Fifty years after its grand opening, the Cape Coral Yacht Club complex continues to be a hub of activity, despite the city rising up around it.
The complex on Driftwood Parkway officially opened on June 9, 1962. Funded by the Rosen brothers, the $1 million project consisted of the main building, a youth center, swimming pool, tennis courts and development of the beach.
A bait and tackle shop was built on the pier. Now, it is KC’s Riverstop.
“When the Rosen did things, they did it right,” city historian Paul Sanborn said. “The fact that 50 years later the building is still standing – I think the Rosens knew what they were doing when they were spending that money.”
Sanborn managed the yacht club during the first four years.
In 1962, there were about 1,200 people living in the Cape.
“There was really no facility for large gatherings,” Sanborn said.
Everything took place at the Nautilus Inn, the local hotel.
“There were no church buildings,” he said. “No large auditoriums.”
With the opening of the complex came a rush of excitement.
“We kept waiting for it to open,” resident Gloria Tate said, adding that a huge barbecue was held for the grand opening and everyone was invited.
“It was a big party,” she said. “We were treated as one big family.”
Sanborn explained that the Rosens used the facility as a selling point as homeowners automatically became members. A constant flow of potential buyers were escorted through the complex, tours of the club amenities.
“The main purpose of the building was to sell property,” he said.
But the complex also served the community and its citizens.
Churches held their weekly services at the facility, and local clubs and organizations held their regular meetings there – the Civic Association was the first. It was the venue for Cape weddings, dances and bingo games.
The youth center at the complex was a thriving entity itself.
“No adults admitted unless accompanied by a child,” Sanborn said.
Each child age 13 and older was provided a key to the center – the “key club,” as it was called – but the facility was off limits to the adults.
“It was very high security at that point,” Tate laughed.
Twelve years old at the opening and still too young when Christmas arrived, she petitioned to get into the teen holiday party weeks before turning 13.
“The youth center was amazing,” said Tate, who later served as a city council member, adding that the children in the community spent all their time there after school and on the weekends.
“We had great dances, a lot of fun,” she said. “A place for us to get away from everyone – it was just our own little private getaway.”
Cape business leader Elmer Tabor was 10 when the complex opened. He explained that there was “tremendous excitement” from all ages in the community.
“There was absolutely nothing here,” Tabor said.
“There was nothing, I mean nothing, for the kids to do,” he added.
Tabor recalled growing up on Flamingo Drive, just across a canal from the facility. Rather than take the long way around, he and his friends would jump in the water, swim across to the complex, then go to the pool to hang out.
After the city’s incorporation in 1970, the Rosens sold the Yacht Club property to the Cape for 10 cents on the dollar – $100,000 total.
“There was always some kind of activity going on,” Sanborn said.
In the early 1970s, Larry King was hired to emcee the Miss Florida World competition at the club while employed as a deejay in Miami. A boatercade out of Kissimmee used the complex as the ending point of its route one year.
“As many as 400 boats traveled from Kissimmee,” Sanborn said.
“It was so large is became national news,” he added.
During the ’70s, the youth center became the senior center.
“The kids really abused the right to have it,” Tabor said. “It got to be high maintenance baby-sitting the kids and keeping them on track.”
Still, the complex remains a gem of the community today.
“Some 50 years later there are people really enjoying and utilizing it,” Tabor said. “It’s kind of historic for those of us who were here in the early days.”
“It was a home for us. It was where we hung out and grew up,” Tate said, adding that some have wanted to tear it down or remodel it over the years.
“I would hope that no one would ever try to change what is there,” she said. “Improving that, but never changing the foundation of what they built.”