Title: Interview with Mary Harborn (September 29, 1987)
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00006598/00001
 Material Information
Title: Interview with Mary Harborn (September 29, 1987)
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Publication Date: September 29, 1987
Spatial Coverage: 12071
Lee County (Fla.) -- History.
Funding: This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00006598
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location: This interview is part of the 'Lee County' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: LEE 47

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D--We are getting ready for an interview with Mary Harborn, and it is

Sept. 29, 1987. And we are in her office in Cape Coral. It's about

11:00. My name is David Dodrill and I'm the interviewer. Mary, tell

us a little bit about yourself and how you came to Cape Coral to work

for Gulf in the very beginning.

M--Well, I lived in Ft. Myers, and I had just gotten into real estate a

few months before and I heard about Cape Coral. I hadn't worked for

years until then and I had called the old Royal Palm Hotel and tried

to talk to Leonard Rosen but I got Kenny Schwartz. And he came over

to the old office I had down on First STreet and talked to me. So, I

went to work for them in January, 1958.

D--That was right at the very beginning.

M,--We didn't have an office on Cape Coral. WE had one on the trail there

at BAy Shore and old 41.

D--What was your job, exactly?

M--Well, at that time, I was hired because I had a real estate license and

I had a broker's license, but I was Jack-of-all-trades. I started typing

and doing contracts and showing land and we'd drive from that corner,

take people down to the property and that was January. In M.arch we moved into the

four-plex down the corner of Coronado and Cape Coral Parlvway. And we used one

of those apartments for an office, one for a lunchroom. The other two,

I believe Kenny Schwartz stayed in one until his family came down.

D--Were you the first realtor out here on the Cape? Working for them?

.I--Working for them. Bea Cleaves had a real license. She's a real estate

broker. And she later went down to Labelle and had an office, but I

think she sold that some years ago. And then there was another woman

from Ft. Myers that had a real estate office, but she went on with the

office in Maimi, but I can't remember her name.

D--So, the staff was fairly small?


M,--Very small. And Mr. Mack was in the real estate business, too.

D--How did most of you contacts, people that came in to buy, were they con-

tracted by phone or did they drop in?

M--Well, they started a mailout that when I went to work for them, the first

day I was back in the back room where they were sending out all kind of

brochures with Connie Mack's name on it. They had a mailing list. Of

course, they had been in the Charles Antel business and they bought mail-

ing lists and sent out a bunch of brochurds at that office on the corner

of Bay Shore. Surprising we would sell it. There was nothing down here

then. People would buy land.

D--Had any lots been sold before you came to work for them?

M--No. I don't think they had sold any, at that point. I don't think they

had started selling.

D-How soon way it before some houses started to be built up?

M--Well, they had started four homes down on the point down on Riverside

Drive. And those evidently were started, were under construction, when

they opened up the office in Iarch and it was rather difficult to get

down there, but you could drive down there.

D--What was the reaction of most people that actually made it down there,

somewhere into Cape Coral during those days?

I--Well, I think most people were impressed. A lot of people bought property

they were impressed with the layout. What was going to be done. And of

course, that was my first experience of being with a land developer. That

was my first experience at anything.

D==WVat roads were in, was it just Cape Coral Parkway?

I--Cape Coral Parkwa3 and Coronado was in part of the way. And then I think

after that it was more or less a dirt road, with deep ruts.

D--Iow long were you with the corporation?

I--I was with them until March of 1964.


D- How big had the sales staff gotten by then?

M--They were just in housing, and there were just a few of us in housing.

I can't remember, maybe five. But they were beginning to bring in a lot

of the salespeople into housing and it was doing real good. I don't know

how big the land sales force was. There were a lot of people in that

department. But I had been in housing almost since it started.

D--Now, when you say in housing, you were selling the actual houses

without involving the sales of the land?

M--No, I had gone into housing where the land people would turn people over

to us after that had had them.

D--What's the minimum amount you could have bought a house for back then?

M--I think we had one for $10,500. Originally we had one for about $9,250,

one of the first little houses. $10,500 or $11,500.

D--Kind of describe a typical meeting with a couple comes in off the street

and wanted to look at a house or possibly, you weren't so much involved

with the land sales, looking for a house and stuff. It's said that Gulf

used a lot of high pressure sales and everything. What we a typical....?

M--Well, someone whoud come in, at one time they had a rotunda over here and

the housing people would take turns sitting up there waiting for the land

people to be through with their people. And they would turn them over to

us and we would take them through the models. There was no high pressure.

I don't think I would know how to high pressure anyway. But as far as

housing, the housing program sells.

D--They were good quality houses?

M--Yes. Good quality. Art Rutenberg was a builder here for a while. He was

the contractor.

D--Arthur Rutenberg?

M--Yes. He built for Gulf American. We had a man named Sweeney that came

from Lehigh Acres. He was a good builder.


D-Do you remember his first name?

M--No. But my husband might know it. The houses that were built back then

were good construction and they are still good construction. They learned

a lot after Donna went through in 'GO.

D-Tell me about that.

M--Well, I was in housing and SAturday we decided to go home because the

storm was getting pretty bad and I think it was Sunday the storm came

through. I went back to work Monday and it was a roof off of one of

the models. There was a lot of damage becuase we had locked the models

up tight and of course the doors were blown in. In or out, I don't know

which ,but I know that it was a mess. And I thought that this was the

end of my job. I had a couple come in that day that had left here and

gonve up through the state. The storm had followed them and when it

went by they turned around and came back and I sold a house to them.

D--So the storm did not affect...?

M--It didn't affect sales. And they lived here for years.

D--What year was this?

M--'60, 1960.

D--You know, there was talk also that when people would come through they

would buy a house or buy land and they would have second thoughts and

want to cancel out. Was that typical?

I--No, it wasn't typical. Particularly on houses, now. And I"m sure a lot

of people did cancel out. As a matter of fact, when we had the office on

Coronado we had busloads come in from .Miami. And we had an awning outside.

There was a lot of us that would sit out there. So the bus left and we

saw them stop down on Cape Coral Parkway and watching them. What had

happened the driver had saw this big rattlesnake and he had gottne out

to kill this snake and we laughed and said there's going to be a lot of

cancellations on that bus.


D-So, most of the people that came into your houses with houses and stuff

like that, were they elderly, were they middle-aged, were they young


M--I think a lot of them were younger people. I think they wer planning for

the future. In fact, some of the people that came in then have lived

here for years and years. They were young then, and now they're all

getting old.

D--lWhat do you think, half of them were younger folks?

M--I don't know what you consider young. But I would say, they were young....

D-Under fifty?

M--Yes. Under fifty. A lot of them were.

D--You were the head of the sales for housing/

M--No, I was just in as a salesman.

D--Who was the head of sales?

M--Originally it was BArney Boland. Well I think Butch Duffalafor a short

period of time. Barney Boland came over from Miami. And JOhn Warren who

was a land salesman. And he lives in Ft. Myers. Now, he's a good person

for you to talk to.

D--The first name is John?

,I--Yes. And he had been a land salesman and they put him in housing. Direc-

tor. I believe they called it housing manager.

D--So, he was just over the housing, he was not over land.

.1--And then after that Charlie Blackburn came in and I think when he left

he went with Rutenburg. He became president of Cape Coral Bank.

D--What year was he in here, do you know?

II--He came in possibly 1961. I don't think he was here during Donna. Around

'61, I would think. And then after Charlie was Leo Zarripian, and he was

there when I left.


D-Who else in the corporation were you, did you ever get associated with.

WEre you in contact with Connie Mack?

M--In the early days, quite often. I guess he was right under Rosen. Man-

ager of whatever, the whole thing.

D--So, the guy, if he wanted to make things move was Kenny Schwartz? If

Rosen wasn't there?

M--yes. Connie kept things going smoothly.

D--Explain that.

M--Well, if anything got a little bit high pressure and this and that and

anybody had a complaint about something, Connie would take care of it.

D--What was Connie's official job? Was he like public relations?

M--Well, not really. He never thought about that. He was a broker.

D--He was a broker also?

1M--Yes. And of course his name meant a lot, all the literature that went out.

But Connie worked. He was here on the property a lot. And Bill STern,

they used his name too.

D--Now, Bill Stern was a broadcaster?

1I--Yes. And they used him originally. He advertised Cape Coral.

D--Who were some of the other people they would bring in to help advertise?

MI--Well, when they had the rose gardens they had Bob hOpe here one time,

probably somebody else could tell you more about that.

D--Did you know Leonard or Jack Rosen at all?

1,--Well, I Inew both of them but I knew Leonard more because he was on the

property and he held sales meetings and would get you all fired up, you

know because he just knew how to put himself over.

D--Tell me about him a little bit. Different people tell me things and I

never had a chance to meet him. What was he like?

M--I think that probably somebody else could tell you more about what he was

like because I didn't' see him that often.



D--Well, what you knew.

M--When I got into housing I didn't go to the land sales meetings.

D-Was he a motivator?

M--Yes, he was a motivator. He'd get everybody all fired up after the meet-


D-What would he say?

M-Oh, I don't know. You really need to take to somebody else. Frank Odle

would be a good one and he's on vacation now. He'll be back probably in

another week. But he went to a lot more. JOhn Warren would be a good

person for you to talk to too.

D-So, how often would there be meetings where Leonard would speak and you

would get reved up. Was that whenever he felt like it?

M--He was here quite often, but I was not involved. Becuase once I went from

land into the housing I didn't go to them. I may have gone to some in

the beginning, but I didn't go to all those meetings. Bea Cleaves because

she was Connie's secretary. And she would go to most all of them.

D---hat about Jack Rosen?

M,-Didn't Imow much about Jack. Jack came in once in a while.

D--What was the image that people had? A lot of people have said that

Leonard was the pusher and got things done and Jack was the brains behind


M--W11, this is what I've heard too. That that was the case, but I really

don't know.

D--Some people have described Cape Coral as a company town and it was started by

Gulf American and basically run by Gulf American for a long time. I

guess a company town in a good sense, in the sense that Gulf American

took care of the people here and made sure that everything went right.

Is that pretty much an accurate assessment?
a lot
M--It is. In fact, of the old timers hated to see them sell out.


Because there was a big difference when they did sell out. Because they

did take care of people here. And if there were complaints about some-

thing they seemed to try to take care of it. IVhen Donna came through

they fed everybody at the restaurant and took care of the people here.

D--What are some of the things they used to do for people?

M--Well, I don't know that I can really pin any one thing down, but if it

was something here in Cape Coral that the people thought they should do,

they would do it. And they were very good about it. I know there were

pressure sales in the Inad. But as long as they were here, they did what

they thought they should do.

D--And there was a difference once they sold out to GAC?

M--Yes, there was a difference. And of course, we are a city now. It may

have been a city anyway. But they did, just like the rose garden. They

spent a fortune on that. But when GAC came in and found out how much

money it was costing them, they closed that out. But they spent money

for promotion and they had a reason, I'm sure.

D--But they people that lived here ver very satisaifed with...?

.--The ones I knew were satisfied. There were a few with gripes.

Some people have that anyway.

D--HNo you lived here in the Cape pretty much.

:--I moved out here in '63 I believe. 'G2 or '63.

D--Everybody was pretty satisfied and hated to see them go?

M=-Yes. They didn't' realize that there would be a change, I think. When

they did leave. And as time went on, I'm sure it would have changed

anyway. Because it became a city and they weren't responsible like they

were in the beginning and I think they felt that way.

D--Do most of the people in the town during the early years know each other?

MI--Oh, yeah.

D--Like a big family?


M--Well, it was. We used to have, like Easter, we'd have services down by

the river and the first church services were held down at the yacht club.

It was a small place. You knew everybody.

D--Any particular memories from the early years that just stand out, that you

just sit back and chuckle at or just sit back in amazement at?

M--Well, I'm amazed at every time I ride across that bridge and think about

what was here before. But I can't think of any particular that I want

to talk about.

D--It seems that there is kind of like a pioneer spirit among the people that

came out here.

M--Well, there was. You had to have a pioneer spirit, if you could've seen

it then. Pete Petrie built on the river. He worked for the com-

pany. And he has real estate office out here.He had the home also in-Blowing Rock.

But Pete used to fly the plane. Fly people up off of Park Lane and then Cape

Coral Parkway. Ed Wilson from Ft. MIyers did.

D--He was a pilot?

M--He could fly.

D--Pete Petrie was a pilot. And what was Ed Wilson?

M--I think that he was from Ft. Myers Airways Company. He was a pilot too.

D--I heard that there was a lot of planes coming in here and different stuff.

Originally, what did they use for the runway?

M--Cape Coral Parkway. I think they used Coronado. The salespeople would

go up with people. I wan't too keen about going up in planes. And then

up on Del Prado they had a little airport there and we'd take them up

there and go up in little planes. WVe could go with them if we wanted to.

D--There wasn't much here then?

M--No. There wasn't.


D--I'm trying to think if there is anything else.

M--No stores, no restaurants until they built the Surfside. Now they have

torn that down. That was across the street.

D--Well, where about?

M--On that vacant lot right across the street, next to the hotel.

D--I didn't' know that.

M--When they built that they had a little grocery store in the back. And then

they had the post office back there too. But up until that time, I brought

the gorcieries in. I stopped at a little market' in Edison Park and picked

up the groceries and brought them out. It was a long way out here.

D--I guess.

I--And we used one of the little apartments for a kitchen and we finally got

a woman that came out and fixed lunches. Up until that time, we all

did it ourselves.

D--Was there a feeling that this project would succeed or was there kind of

a sense that, you know, we're not quite sure what the future holds?

Sometimes a project gets going and there's just such a confidence tht

it's going to succeed or we're working on something that's going to be


II--I think really it just started out as just the land sales promotion to

sell land and to move on to some other area. Because we didn't have all

this market that we have now. It was like 2100 acres that they started

with. But with their ability in sales that it just sold well and it took


D--So, they started with a much much smaller piece of land in the Cape...?

M--Yes. It was all that was just south of Cape Coral Parkway. 2100 acres

compared to what we have now--100 square miles.

D--That's great. Did you know the people that used to own land here before?

ARe they still around?

M--Yes, I think they are up on MacGregorBlvd. Donald and Louise BAss. It

was the MIles estate. He was a heir to, I think the daughter of the Miles.

D--The Miles were from Indiana, I believe.

M-I think so. I had known them since I came to Ft. Myers which was 1945.

It was a small town then, too.

D--How many people were in Ft. Myers?

M--I think eight or ten thousand when I first came.

D--Cape Coral's big time. Anything else you would like to add in? Anything

that you remember about Cape Coral?

M--I can't, unless you would ask me something, I just can't think. I didn't

take any time to really think about...I didn't know what you would be in-

terested in.

D--Let me ask you a question about the Cape Coral bridge. I understand there

was some sort of a fight over, the Civic Association, in there something,

over whether to have the bridge, whether they needed it.

h--There was something to do with the Civic Association. I can't remember

what it was. I would think that Bob Finkernagel and sme of them would

know, would remember that. If you talk with Connie tIack, he would

probably remember.

D--I'm working on Connie.

ii--He's a real nice person.

D--Did anybody else that was involved with sales is still around that you

think might be really helpful, that you mentioned?

r-I-Frank Odel and I can't remember what year Frank came. He was here before

I left.

D--It wouldn't matter necessarily if they were here from the beginning, just

as long as they were here before Gulf American sold out to GAC.

H--Frank Odle. John Warren was here from the very beginning. Pat Harrison. His

daughter, Beverly Metzger, works over at First Federal. And Jack said, my husband, he


ran into him at the dentist yesterday and said hello, but I haven't seen

him for a long time. He may be in the phone book. Danny Green who is

with Calossa Realty. I think he was here back then. Another one would

be Nell Jenkins and her husband.

D--Who's that?

M--Nell Jenkins. She's manager of the Delprado And Jenks, her husband

works for Gulf American for years and he went on down to Golden GAte.

And whether he's retired now. She could get you in touch with Jenks,

her husband. Because he was there for a long time. A person if you can

get a chance to talk with, Connie and then if you can talk to Kenny Schwartz.

I think he's over on the east coast.

D--I have his phone number and he's next on my list.

M--Well, if you talk to him, tell him I said hi.

D--I will do that. I'm tracking a few of these people down. All over the

place. Anybody else you can think of or is that pretty much it?

M--I can't think of anyone that's been here for a long time. Well, let me

see, yes. Well now I can't remember his name. I just saw him the other

day, but he lives here so he would be a good one. He was in land for a

long time. That's funny when you can't remember their names. I can't

think of anyone else that lives here.

D--Good. Thanks a lot.

M--BErnie Musket was the sales manager I guess at that time. So, John gets

out there and BErnie's talking to people and he's standing on

feet and got him around the legs. I thought, Oh boy, they are not going

to let me bring him out here again. And then one day, I came out. I had

taken some brochures to the motel and I had John with me. So I came out

and Leonard Rosen was here and he had two men from some place and he

wanted me to tour the property and here I had John with me. I couldn't

get the kid in the back seat. Both of the men had to sit back there.


So, I thought "Oh, well, I guess I won't be able to do that anymore."

It could happen to you way back then.

D--What did Leonard do in that situation?

M-He didn't do anything. He just put the men in the car. I don't know

what they said afterwards.

D--He was off doing something else. I can understand that. Well, good.

That's good enough.

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