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Cape marked its 50th year as a city in 2020

By CJ HADDAD - | Dec 30, 2020

While 2020 was full of what could be called memorable events, the city of Cape Coral celebrated its 50th anniversary since incorporation throughout the calendar year despite those challenges.

The golden year celebration started with a night of jubilation five decades in the making that took place at the Cape Coral Yacht Club in January. City leaders of the past and present, along with residents, paid tribute to 50 years since incorporation of the Waterfront Wonderland that is the Cape.

The packed house (prior to the pandemic) at the Yacht Club was treated to a short historical film on the city, a spectacular Liquid Fireworks by Waltzing Waters show and speeches cementing the importance of the city from dignitaries.

The night’s most honored guests were Linda Rosen-Sterling, the daughter of Leonard Rosen and her daughter, Julia Swift, the granddaughter of the Rosen brothers.

“I would say the highlight of the year was having Linda Sterling at our jubilation and having the Waltzing Waters return,” said Cape Coral Museum of History Executive Board Presidents, Gloria Tate.

As it is well documented, the Rosen brothers — Jack and Leonard — along with pilot Ed Wilson (who was also in attendance) found the site of what we now call Cape Coral in July of 1957. They broke ground for a new community just four months later.

The Rosens had a vision, and that vision is being played out today.

The community they built from raw hunting and pasture land was then incorporated via a vote by the residents in August 1970.

“I was just stunned — stunned,” Rosen-Sterling said in January of seeing what Cape Coral has become. “And I started crying. It’s so emotional for me to be here.”

She remembers being upset with her father upon the news they would be moving to Florida. She also remembers it being all swamp and mangroves — “Lots and lots of mangroves.”

“(The city) gives Leonard and Jack so much credit, but it’s everybody here that made it happen,” said Rosen-Sterling. “They’re the ones that animated their dream. They’re the ones that fulfilled their dream. I’m grateful to everyone here because they realized my father’s dream.”

Tate said it was a one-of-a-kind experience to have Rosen-Sterling and Swift attend.

“Hearing her stories and sharing her experiences as a child here and having see what her father built was just incredible for us,” Tate said.

A special treat via Michael Przystawik and his Liquid Fireworks by Waltzing Waters ended the evening in a memorable way.

“It’s awesome to be a part of this celebration,” Przystawik said in January. “Seeing lots of old friends here and folks that remember the Waltzing Waters from when it first debuted in 1964. In my case, it’s a double heartfelt thing because it was Waltzing Waters that brought my family here.”

Liquid Fireworks by Waltzing Waters, a mesmerizing synchronized-to-music water display featuring lighting and, quite frankly, a little bit of magic, has been featured at Disney, Universal, Sea World, Comerica Park in Detroit and in countless venues across the United States, Europe, Asia, South America and Africa.

The magical fountains even caught the eye of the Rosen brothers back when Cape Coral was established.

The jubilation was followed up by a free concert behind the museum called Jammin’ In Cultural Park where local artists performed for the community. Attendees could be seen wearing 50th anniversary T-shirts, enjoying food and beverages from vendors and enjoying an immaculate Southwest Florida afternoon.

Shortly after those kickoff events, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Southwest Florida, putting the kibosh on many special moments planned.

Tate said while difficult to navigate, the pandemic did not deter them from trying to rework their plans or create something entirely different to continue to promote the history and anniversary of the city.

“I think the energy and excitement of the jubilation event sustained us through the year,” Tate said. “When we felt things were coming undone (due to COVID) we remembered all of the support we had and how much people cared about our history and we kept going forward.”

And that’s exactly what they did.

The museum in June launched the first of special exhibits dedicated to first responders in the community fighting the COVID-19 battle while also highlighting their history as part of the city’s anniversary. The museum dubbed these special exhibits “Behind the Mask.”

The Cape Coral Fire Department was first featured, followed by the Cape Coral Police Department and then Cape Coral Hospital.

“We wanted to figure out how we could move forward safely and still keep our doors open and have people experience history in a different way,” Tate said.

On Aug. 18, dignitaries gathered to reenact the signing of Cape Coral’s incorporation papers. Current and former city and county officials, a few of the founding residents of the city, and even the county commissioner who signed the original document that day, were in attendance for the 35-minute event that told the story the road to incorporation and looked forward to the next 50 years. Among the people there that day was Bruce Scott, who was the county commissioner who swore in the city’s first mayor and city council in 1970 — Paul Fickinger, who the new council tapped as the city’s first mayor, Cleo Snead, Chandler Burton, Robert South, Gordon Berndt, Lyman Moore and Casey Jablonski.

“Having Bruce Scott there and able to participate with all of our county commissioners and the history we had there that day was incredible,” Tate said.

The city signed the official papers when Joe Mazurkiewicz was mayor, and he was among the four who signed during the re-enactment this August, along with Scott, State Rep. Dane Eagle and Lee County Commissioner John Manning, who was on the city council at the time Mazurkiewicz was mayor.

In November, the Cape Coral Veterans Memorial Monument was rededicated and illuminated for the first time in six months. The 55-foot structure sits in the median on Cape Coral Parkway near the intersection of Cape Coral Parkway and Del Prado Boulevard.

The pointed, yellow spire-like monument was treated to new lights, a repaired fountain and a variety of other improvement — breathing new life into the Veterans Memorial Monument, inspired during a Rotary meeting in 1967 during the Vietnam War. The monument was originally dedicated in 1969. Lighting, a fountain, and extensive median landscaping were added in 2000. One of the most notable additions is color-changing LED lights and the replacement of the medallions that represent the four branches of the military: the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Marines. The new set is a little bigger, brighter and more colorful than the old ones. They were also manufactured locally.

Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello also issued a proclamation for the rededication of the Cape Coral Parkway Memorial Arch. Before the standard white lights were turned on, the monument was lit with red lights for Valentines Day, red and green for Christmas and red and blue for the Fourth of July.

As a special way to commemorate the city’s golden anniversary, Breeze Newspapers canvased its archives and reached out to the public, putting together a photo book to mark Cape milestones. The 128-page pictorial history book is entitled; “From Impossible Dream To Reality The City of Cape Coral Turns 50” and was named by local resident Jim Strosser.

“‘From Impossible Dream to Reality,’ is a community effort made possible through the contributions of a number of individuals and organizations to whom we are very grateful,” said Breeze Newspapers Executive Editor Valarie Harring in an earlier story announcing publication. “From the reader-contributed title, to the era overviews provided by Cape officials, business leaders and residents who lived through them, to many of the photos collected from various sources, our anniversary book is truly our book, the Cape’s book.’

The book can be purchased at The Cape Coral Breeze office at 2510 Del Prado Blvd. or online at the paper’s website, capecoralbreeze.com , as well as at the Cape Coral Museum of History at 544 Cultural Park Blvd. A portion of the proceeds benefits the museum.

The Breeze also created in-paper special sections that included unique stories on pilot Ed Wilson, Connie Mack III, local leaders who grew up in the Cape, historical articles and more.

As far as what the next 50 years holds, city leaders hope it’s bright.

Coviello said while the city is still in its infancy, many obstacles have been met and conquered in five decades, with many more to go.

“The city is a young city even though it’s 50 years old, and the city has met a lot of challenges over the years and has overcome quite a few,” Coviello said. “We’ve seen a lot of development and many things take place that are good for our city. We’re on the upswing as a city and a community. Our residents are becoming bigger, more and many.”

Coviello knows there’s more to do when it comes to job creation, land development and meeting the needs of a growing community.

“We’re about halfway built out from a population standpoint,” Coviello said. “We seem to be a place where people want to come to and I think that growth is going to continue.

“I’d like to see us continue with some of the projects such as the Utility Expansion Program and build our infrastructure, especially along the commercial corridors to help bring more jobs to the city. That’s important to our residents.”

Coviello is confident the new City Manager, Roberto “Rob” Hernandez, will steer the city in the right direction going forward.

“I was excited to be part of the hiring of a new city manager,” Coviello said. “Moving forward, he’s our top executive in our city that’s going to help shape the future of Cape Coral. I think that’s a big part of the future and I believe his vision is one of bringing the city forward.”

Tate agreed and, as a member of a pioneer family, can’t believe the city is already 50 years old.

“What’s so exciting is that when I drive around every day and show people this city, it just continues to improve,” Tate said. “And I think the best is yet to come. Our new city manager has a strong vision for our city and the new council has the same vision. I’m anxious to see how we move forward.”

The Cape Coral Museum of History underwent a rebranding in 2020 (formerly the Cape Coral Historical Society and Museum) with the focus still remaining the same; to bring the unique history of Cape Coral to the forefront.

“I think it’s going to be a good year for us,” Tate said. “The idea of the rebranding was to refresh and make people aware. As we look forward, we continue to want to bring history alive, to make it jump off the page and make people excited about it.”

The museum’s first new exhibit in 2021 will take a deep dive into Cape Coral Parks.

“We’re going to highlight all the parks, showcase where they are, who they were named for and what the history of that person or park is,” Tate said. “We think people will enjoy learning more about where they live, what park is in their neighborhood and why it’s called what it is.”

Additional exhibits are in the works for the New Year. Tate said many local community members have been coming forward with interesting and not-seen-in-decades artifacts that are being collected. The museum is hopeful to put together an exposition by springtime. They also hope to once again resume school field trips in 2021.

For more information on the Cape Coral Museum of History, membership and upcoming events and exhibits, visit www.capecoralhistoricalmuseum.org.

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj