Cape Coral — a dream taking shape
In July, 1957, there was a report of a $678,000 purchase of property in Lee County “for an excessive residential community.” The land was “on the north and west banks at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, with about five miles of waterfront.”
Records of the transaction showed a complicated background, involving as the purchasers a Sandy Development Co. and the Baltimore Invest-ment Association.
Sellers of the land were Granville Keller and Frank Miles. The tract of land belonged to Charles F. Miles (of Miles Laboratories) of Elkhart, Ind., and Ogden Phipps of Roslyn, N.Y. The land had been used as a game reserve.
Also involved in the sale was Jupiter Properties of West Palm Beach, which engineered the land transaction through Fortnier-Miller Realty and William Reynolds Co.
Two brothers, Jack and Leonard Rosen, owners of Charles Antell Hair Products of Baltimore, were the major figures in the purchasing group, which became Gulf Guaranty Land and Title Co. As the organization of the company went on, Leonard Rosen’s duties would be in the administrative area while Jack Rosen would head the sales effort.
Four months later, on Nov. 4, 1957, ground was broken on the more than 1,000-acre site for the beginning of a housing development at Redfish Point, a small peninsula jutting into the Caloosahatchee River.
In January, 1958, advertisements for a new community on the west coast of Florida began appearing in select parts of the country. Cape Coral, America’s “waterfront wonderland,” made its debut.
Within months, a splash of advertising, publicity and mail brochures announced to the world that this community, on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River, opposite Fort Myers, was a phenomenal sales success. Homesite sales at Cape Coral were “breaking all records” and development milestones were constantly being reached.
By the summer of 1958, brochures reported that land sales exceeded $5 million in five months. Buyers from throughout America and from U.S. possessions, military bases and Canada provided positive proof that Cape Coral “gives folks more of what they look to Florida for.”
People all over the country received literature explaining that a yacht basin was “now open to boat traffic,” scenic boulevards “are practically completed” and negotiations for a modern restaurant “have been completed.” Property owners visiting Cape Coral could see their homesite when they took a free plane ride, and the Gulf Guaranty Land and Title Company provided residents and visitors with gratis bus service to and from Fort Myers, according to publicity.
Much of the promotional material was mailed out to perspective buyers and the advertisements that appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the nation indicated that Cape Coral was a city in-the-making, an idea that had really caught fire.
By making a down payment “now,” a person could look forward to a valuable piece of Florida real estate to live on to use as a vacation retreat as a retirement paradise or a property investment to hold as land values increase. And the prices of land always seemed to be increasing.
And then in June, 1958, a few families moved into the first houses in Cape Coral and the community began. Four homes were constructed in the area of Riverside Drive, several more were added, and soon homes started sprouting throughout the area.
Life was difficult for those first residents. They were truly pioneers. There were no stores, no banks, no post office – just barren land and construction crews building a city for tomorrow. Roads were rough and it was difficult to get from one area to another. Canals were taking shape, but there were no bridges. People couldn’t go out at night because of snakes and bugs.
But more and more pioneers moved to Cape Coral, and as the community grew, life became easier. During the early 1960s, the success of land sales spurred the acquisition of adjacent tracts, later totaling more than 60,000 acres. Twelve years later when Cape Coral was incorporated, it had become Florida’s largest city in geographical area.
Today, 60 years after the first brave residents moved to this community, Cape Coral is a thriving community of 170,000 people – and still growing.
The early years:
In January, a whirlwind of advertising began to tell Americans about the new community of Cape Coral. The developers, Gulf Guaranty Land & Title Co., were located at Weaver’s Corner at the intersection of North Business 41 and Pine Island Road. At that time the first three employees arrived: Tom Weber, resident engineer; Kenneth J. Schwartz, general manager; and Connie Mack Jr. Mary (Anderson) Harborn was the first salesperson.
On Jan. 23, the first sale was made to Charles and Gertrude Frease of Bell, Calif. A homesite could be purchased at the time for $1,380.
In March, 1958, most operations moved to Cape Coral and were housed in the development’s first building, a four-plex at the southwest corner of Cape Coral Parkway and Coronado Parkway.
To stimulate and solidify sales volume, construction was sped up, with the crucial job being the completion of key roadways – Cape Coral Parkway west to Coronado, then Coronado south. Harney Point Road, now Del Prado Boule-vard, dead-ended a quarter mile from Cape Coral Parkway. The first large section in the master plan was from the river (bridge) area west about 2 3/4 of a mile, then south to Lucerne and over to the Yacht Basin site. The construction payroll soon included 150 workers.
As soon as Cape Coral Parkway west of Coronado was completed, planes started landing on the south side, bringing sales prospects and company executives to “the property,” as it was called.
By April, 1958, the Yacht Basin and been dug and seawalled.
In June, the community officially began when the Kenny Schwartz family moved into one of the first six homes on Riverside Drive. Other early residents included the Duffalas, Petries, Pearsons, Wiborgs, Chandlers, McGinns, Schroders and Werners.
In November, nine miles of streets were completed and in use.
In 1958, a security patrol was on duty 24 hours a day.
By fall, 11 children were going by bus to school in North Fort Myers.
In January, construction of the Bimini canal and basin were under way.
The first of what were to be many sports spectaculars took place in April when 47 boats participated in the First Annual Sailboat Regatta held on the long stretch of barren beach near Dolphin Drive.
Another first occurred in April: the Women’s Club, the community’s initial community organization, formed and elected officers.
The first apartments in the community – the Garden Apartments – were built in July behind the Nautilus Inn. The units were used to help house guests from August to January when the motel officially opened.
In August, the 100th home was built in the fledgling community and Rutenberg Homes came into the picture as the development’s prime builder.
On Aug. 8, the Surfside Restaurant opened. Shortly thereafter, a food market opened in the back of the restaurant.
In September, the first commercial building – the Chand-ler Building – was constructed on Cape Coral Parkway.
In October, the first model home village opened on York Court The two-bedroom, one-bath Cherokee model was priced at $10,500, and the three-bedroom, two-bath Semi-nole was $11,500. The first builders were Connie Raymond, Butch Duffala and Sam Baugh.
In November, the developers claimed $20 million in sales and the Cape Coral Sun, a publication for property owners, prospects and employees, was established.
On Christmas, more than 150 employees celebrated with a buffet at the Surfside.
On Jan, 24, the new, two-lane Del Prado Boulevard was officially dedicated with Connie Mack Jr. and Lee County Commissioner Mack Jones cutting the ribbon. Ceremonies were held near the “Welcome Wigwam,” which operated for some time at the Pine Island Road intersection.
Some of the notable active community members were Clarence (Butch) Duffala, John Chandler, Aage Schroder, Francis Ritter and H.D. Anderson.
Perhaps the first major development of the young community came about on Feb. 15 when a ground-breaking was held for the first shopping plaza, developed by Citizens Mutual.
In March, a string of “sports spectaculars” began when the First Annual Power Regatta was held in the Yacht Basin riverside area. Said to be the largest speedboat regatta ever held in Florida, the event attracted several thousand spectators. IN August, the National Inboard Hydroplane Championships – the World Series of Power Boating – were held in the same spot. A reported 30,000 attended and seven world records were set.
March 27 was also a key date because the community’s first church service took place at the Nautilus. It was sponsored by Lutheran Redeemer Church of Fort Myers,
The fishing pier at the Yacht Club was finished in July. It was 600 feet long and had a 200-foot T at the end.
In August, Elmer Tabor’s store, the Cape’s first supermarket, opened.
The Garden Club was organized in 1960 and the Teen Club was started. The Little Theater also formed.
Cape Coral advertised that you could still purchase a homesite for $1,660.
1960 was also the year of Hurricane Donna, and the community suffered the full force of the eye on Sept. 10. Several homes were severely damaged, with smashed windows and rain-soaked interiors, and one was completely destroyed.
Only hours after the storm, sales prospects were driving down Del Prado, although it was still flooded in spots and littered with tree limbs in others. And, it was reported, several people bought properties that day.
During the storm and several days after it had passed, until power was restored and houses repaired enough so families could safely go home, residents were housed and fed, at the expense of the developers, at the Nautilus and Surfside. Each had a generator for emergency power.
In 1961, the community was taking shape and things were changing fast.
On March 8, Gulf Guaranty Land &?Title Company became the Gulf American Land Corporation, and started selling stock to the public.
That year, the idea of the Cape Coral Bridge was beginning to be taken seriously. Many residents opposed it vehemently since they thought a separate tax district would increase property taxes, some felt also that a bridge would destroy their quiet existence.
However, the first step toward the actuality of a bridge was taken. By a vote of 174-124, Cape Coral freeholders brought about the formation of a Cape Coral Roads and Bridge District.
Faith Presbyterian Church was officially organized and at the same, Christ Lutheran Church was being organized by the Rev. Everett Bunck.
Construction flourished. In April a new model home exhibit opened west of Del Prado Boulevard with homes now priced from $10,990 to $19,750.
Seven shops were added to the Shopping Plaza, and the Graf Building was built. The Wiborg Building was also under construction.
The first civic club, the Kiwanis, organized. The community also got its first dentist, Dr. Robert A. Ross; and had its first wedding, the Howard Slonakers.
A five-man police force was established, paid by the developers and deputized by the Lee County sheriff.
On July 9, the first nine holes of the long-promised Championship Golf Course opened, with Ed Caldwell as the golf pro. It was designed by Dick Wilson.
On Sept. 2, a groundbreaking was held for the $750,000 Yacht Club complex, and on that same day, the Yacht Club tennis courts and the Junior Olympic Swimming pool were opened.
City residents crowded the Yacht Club for the grand opening weekend June 9 and 10, which featured an open house, tennis exhibition, barbecue, semiformal dance, water ski show and more.
The Youth Center adjoining the Yacht Club opened in September.
Ground was broken for Faith Presbyterian Church, the first church building in Cape Coral.
Near the end of the year, ground was broken for the Cape Coral approach to the new bridge causeway.
The city got its first resident physician, Dr. Robert Tate, who moved from Tampa to open an office in the Medical Clinic at the Cape Coral Shopping Plaza.
The library opened in November in the shopping center, the Methodist Church conducted its first service and a putt-putt golf course opened across from the Nautilus Hotel.
Paul Sanborn replaced Lt. Col. R.G. Crawford as community relations director for Gulf American. Crawford, owner and founder of The Breeze, sold the paper to Thompson Cassel and Windsor Brown.
Gulf American added 10,840 acres to its Cape Coral holdings, extending the boundaries to about 15 miles – from the mouth of the Caloosa-hatchee River to Charlotte Harbor. The new purchase was made for a total cost of $3,850,800.
The Civic Association was formed, with Vern Schlegel as its first president; Pastor Everett Bunck sponsored the first Boy Scout troop; the Lions Club as chartered; and Ameri-can Legion Post 90 got its start.
Work also began on the Volunteer Fire Department building at Chester and Lafayette streets.