Cape Coral Yacht & Racquet Club: Crown jewel of a budding community
60th Anniversary: A look back
“You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Those were the prophetic words of Cape Coral developer and Gulf American Corporation President Leonard Rosen during opening ceremonies for the Cape Coral Yacht Club on June 9, 1962.
As the city celebrates the 60-year anniversary of the iconic building, which has hosted everything from celebrities, major events, weddings, clubs, civic gatherings and much more, the Yacht Club thrives not only as major destination venue but also a big part of the area’s history.
On that day in 1962, almost 2,000 people — the men and boys in coats and ties and the women and girls in dresses — gathered for the much-anticipated unveiling. He didn’t know it at the time, but Rosen and his words that day, first uttered in a different form by entertainer Al Jolson in 1927 when he said “you ain’t heard nothing yet,” were certainly fitting of the city’s future. Then, there were only 2,000 people in the community. Now, there are more than 200,000.
The opening ceremony was part of two days of events that included an open house, professional swimming exhibitions, a barbecue, a semi-formal dance, a water ski show, an art exhibit, a tennis exhibition and special party for the media.
Damian Minko, who lived in one of the first homes on Lorraine Court, just down the street from the Yacht Club, was just 13 years old then, but remembers some of the pomp and circumstance.
“I remember the celebrities of Cape Coral were there,” said Minko, whose father opened the first bakery in the community. “There were a lot of people there. A lot of locals.”
Rosen’s speech included how he and his brother, Jack, made their way from Maryland looking for the perfect location for a planned city and the confidence of residents to help the community come to life. He talked of excavating their way through swamp land and beginning to build over 400 miles of canals and the first homes in 1958. He proudly acknowledged the formation of the Gulf American Land Corporation, which attracted thousands to their water wonderland. He praised the company’s other crown jewel, the Country Club, and completion of the final nine holes, the expansion of the Surfside Restaurant and Nautilus Motel, as well as other projects. He also remembered the struggles.
“For two long years, we couldn’t even release a deed to even one lot,” he told the crowd. “My brother, Jack, and I were confident and backed this confidence with our own money. Yes, we were confident, but it was your confidence, you invested in Cape Coral and that permitted us to go ahead.
“I would like to say we not only have clear title now to 2,100 acres, but also to an additional 8,000 acres.”
Gulf American Vice President Connie Mack Jr. served as master of ceremonies and introduced well known sportscaster Bill Stern, who named the recipient of the first “Bill Stern Citizen of the Year Award.” That honor went to Everett Peter Bunck, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church. Stern also cut the ribbon opening the club.
Ahead of the event, Mack told the Cape Coral Breeze: “Opening of the Yacht and Racquet Club marks a tremendous stride forward in the development of Cape Coral as a progressive sports and recreation-minded community and we hope to make (the Yacht Club opening) the most outstanding event yet in the history of the community.”
The featured speaker was Florida Secretary of State Tom Adams. He praised the vision of its leaders for developing recreational and cultural facilities in the community and emphasized the importance of proper future planning.
Kenneth Schwartz, the city’s first resident and in charge of sales at Gulf American, talked about the community’s progress and its future.
Harry Sachs and his 10-piece society orchestra, played at the dance later that Saturday evening. There also was a tennis exhibition by professional player Karol Fageros, who won the Canadian Championships singles title and reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals in women’s doubles and mixed doubles.
What stood out to Minko was the Olympic-sized pool, where the opening ceremonies took place.
“I was amazed it had three diving boards — two lower ones and a higher one,” he said. “I remember jumping off the higher one and doing a one and a half off the lower one. “I also played a lot of tennis there against Bob Finkernagel (the Gulf American general manager at the time) … and Brian Gottfried (who played professionally and achieved a No. 3 world ranking in singles).”