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‘Come on down!’

‘The Price is Right,’ other TV game shows offered free homes in Cape, vacations here as prizes

By Staff | Jul 30, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Air Force Airman First Class Charles Bennett shows off the new home he won in Cape Coral on “The Price is Right” in 1961.

Cape Coral homes and vacations were once sought-after prizes on national television game shows. There was a time in the late 1950s and early 1960s when shows like “The Price is Right,” “Concentration” or “Queen for a Day” offered the chance for contestants to win their dream home or trip to the small little community of Cape Coral.

That’s right. The trip of a lifetime to a community that at the time barely had roads or for that matter, people – but it had plenty of water and plenty of land. As Cape Coral celebrates 50 years of incorporation, game shows were a big way the nation learned about the young community.

“The Price is Right” – although it has evolved with several makeovers over the past 64 years — made its debut with Bill Cullen as host on Nov. 26, 1956. Three years later, Selma Wood of Berkeley Heights, N.J. won a 1,598-square-foot Cherokee model home — valued at almost $11,000 — and a Cape Coral homesite, while appearing on the show. Wood, her husband and three children, got their first look at their new prizes on Block 46 of Rutland Court and El Dorado Parkway about three months later.

The game show wasn’t done shopping Cape Coral to the nation. In 1961, Charles E. Bennett, who at the time was an Air Force Airman First Class, appeared on the game show and came the closest to guessing the cost of a new home and homesite in Cape Coral. His guess of $18,000 (the actual price was $16,870) won him the Flamingo home. Joel Weber, Cape Coral’s national housing director at the time, gave Bennett, who served with the Navy during the Korean War, a tour of his new place. He was asked several times if he was going to move to Cape Coral, but Bennett, who was stationed at Andrew Air Force Base, politely said not yet. He did say he would come to Cape Coral in a few months to accept the deed and key to his new home, which came with a swimming pool.

Margie Patrick, a Dallas schoolteacher, also won a Cherokee home on “The Price is Right” with a bid closest to the $15,000 asking price. She said at the time: “I knew the man next to me was a builder and I was sure he was bidding close to the actual cost. I took a chance and stayed under his figure.”

There were several more winners of Cape homes and lots on “The Price is Right” through the early 1960s.

The “Queen for a Day” program, which awarded prizes to women a little down on their luck, made a winner of California resident Mary Trinosky, who won a week’s vacation in Cape Coral, staying at the Nautilus-Congress Inn in 1963.

“The thing I liked the best was swimming in the Yacht Club and Nautilus pools,” she wrote in an article for the Cape Coral Sun. “We were also surprised at the number of young people around; the activities seem to be as much for young couples as older ones, too.”

The “Concentration” game show, which gave contestants an opportunity to match prizes on a 30-square board, also won a week’s vacation at the Nautilus-Congress Inn for the Glen Rock, N.J., couple Ronald and Leila March.

Giving away Cape Coral homes as prizes wasn’t exclusive to the game shows. The Cape had its own contest in 1961 and the number 98,530 won Sgt. First Class Walter L. Mason a home in Cape Coral. The winning number selected by the military veteran of 18 years came the closest to the number of cars that visited the community from February to September. The actual number was 98,565. He and his family were living overseas at the time, but planned to move into their new home when they were back in the U.S. Cape had the same contest a year later and the traffic count soared more than 500 percent to 517,411 vehicles, winning a home for New York’s Joe Ottieri and his wife.

Submitted by Tom Hayden, a Cape Coral History Museum board member. As we celebrate 50 years as a city, much of our area’s history, chronicled at the museum, will be featured twice a month in similar articles provided to the Cape Coral Breeze.