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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
--We are doing an interview with Ray Meyer in his office in Cape Coral.
The date is January 25, 1988. The interviewer is David Dodrill.
Ray, tell me a little bit about your background, as far as where you
were born and when.
R--I was born in Kentucky and I came to Florida originally to the Miami
area 28 years ago. I was there about six months and I went to work over
here for Gulf American Corporation. I commuted from Miami for about a
year and then I moved my family over. At that time....
D--What year was that that you came to work for Gulf American?
R--I figure 26 or 28 years ago. When was Donna? It was the year of Donna
because I was here when Donna.
D--I think it was about '60 or '61.
R--I really don't remember. That was when it was. I was here when Donna hit.
I had gotten here about three or four months before Donna came. I was
employed by the company in the construction division. They had....The
brief history of their construction activities is that at one point they
had had Arthur Rutenburg. Rutenburg homes build some houses for them and
that only lasted a short period of time. And Art and Leonard apparently
had a disagreement about something, so ARt left. And then the company
for another brief period tried to do theri own building. They had an in
house construction department. That was also a very, very brief thing.
One thing you need to know about Gulf American is that being involved with
them, everything was accelerated. A month here in those days was equiva-
lent to six months or a year anywhere else in the world. It was just
absolutely unreal how fast the things were happening. The changes. It's
almost as if somebody took a record player and put a forty-five on it and
sped it up to sixty-eight because that's what it seemed like. You just
couldn't believe in a week or a month how many things transpired, how
much everything changed. And that's what happened with this construction
thing. It was very, it was only months that these things happened. What
happened was they went into the construction business themselves. They
built a group of models that were not very successful and they bought part
back. And Rutenburg homes was their builder under contract. And, by the
way, Art Rutenburg is back in Florida and back in business. Just as a
side, he and his brother bought out U.S. Homes. Everybody thinks U.S.
Homes bought Rutenburg, but it really wasn't that way. The two Ruten-
burgs bought U.S. Homes. And Art subsequently went and left U.S. HIDmes
and he was under one of these contracts and he just got back in the shel-
ter business, the homebuilding business in the past three or four years.
But anyway, Art is the one who hired me. I met a fellow by the name of
Charlie Blackburn for the initial interview and then he arranged for me
to meet Art at Boca Raton, and then Art hired me. I was a designer. I
worked in department stores all my life. I worked for Allied Stores and
I was part of their design team. They had a staff in New York that did
this but they picked people in their stores throughout the country for
specific projects to assist on specific projects. My actual job was
classified as a visual merchandise director which means you have respons-
ibility for everything that a customer can see of what the store does.
From the color of paint on the trucks to the color of the toilet paper
on the washroom displays and so on and so on. It was everything physical.
It did not include advertising and all that type. So, what they were
looking for when they hired was somebody who had interior design and
advertising and promotional experience, which I knew very well. I had
been visual merchandising director for a store in Cincinnati and the peo-
ple down at Burdines had been after me for about a year and a half and
they finally made a deal that I couldn't refuse and when I got down
there, there was no job. It was a buy out to get me. The typical thing.
The raid. And it would never occur to me that anybody would raid me be-
cause basically the position that I filled was not that sensitive a
position as a management position. Although I was part of the steering
"J ~ 3
committee and things like that. You know, you'd think they'd get the
controller or the merchandise manager or somebody who really had some of
the precedent, somebody who really had something. But, in any event, I
got down here and there was no job. Unfortunately, at that time, there
were only about twenty-six jobs in the whole United States at the salary
level and the prestige level as the one that I left. So, there was no
finding a job. I was commuting back and forth. With Iurdines, the deal,
I just quit. I said "I can't handle this." And they said, "Well, go
ahead and take a leave of absence." And they paid me for about, even
thought I had no contract to provide for that, they paid me for about
seven or eight months. But anyway, I saw an ad in the paper about these
people who wanted somebody for advertising and promotion and design ex-
perience which was an ideal combination. And I came over. I was going
crazy. They were only willing to pay me 87 dollars a week. I said, "You
are out of your mind." But I took the job for a hundred and a half.
D-Was that a lot of money back then?
R--Oh, no. Nothing. It was a lot of money for here, but it wasn't a lot of
money for what I was used to. But where I'm at, is I'm going crazy. So
I'll go over and take the job and when something breaks, I'm gone. But
what happened is that I got over here and I thought I'd seen the world and
knew what the world was like, but I want to tell you. Department stores
are a fast track, it's a fast track business. And I thought I'd seen it
all, but I wasn't here three days and I'd thought I was a babe in the wooods
and didn't know what the world was about. And it got to be to the point
where I couldn't wait to come to work and find out what was going to
happen next. It was just unbelievable. Everyday you'd walk in and it was
just like you walked into a movie or a broadway show. It was just unbe-
lievable. So that's how I got with them. Reading an ad. Rutenbug
left and they went into their own construction and they were eminently
iicnnessful in that up until the time they sold that. That was superbly
successful up to the time they sold. So that's how I got mixed up with
them. In the process of being with them, for some reason or another,
a typical example. About 2:00 one morning I get a phone call from a fel-
low by the name of Bob Granger. lie was a money man. Everybody used to
say he was Leonard's bagman. Bob had come to Gulf Amercan from G.E.
He had been in their marketing department, financial services department.
So he knew where the money was for investors. That's why they called him
Leonard's Bagman. He knew where to go out and pick up a couple of mil
here or there for thirty days or something.
D--His he still alive?
R--No. Bob is dead, unfortunately. But anyway, Bob called me at 2:00 in
the morning and said that we are having a meeting down there. Now, one
thing about the people in Gulf American, without exception, I think,
they had telephonitis. They had telephones in bathrooms, they had speak-
er phones. You name high-tech about telephones, Gulf American had it
before it was invented. And they'd drive you crazry with telephones. It
was nothing. They had a guy here named Milt Green, I'm sorry I'm digres-
sing, but I'm trying to tell you how this was. We had a guy by the name
of Milt Green who is still alive by the way. Is involved in condominium
development. Who I saw him one day talking on four telephones at the
same time. And a fifth one rang in his office. So he says to the guy
that he's talking to, "Hey, Joe, do you know Dick?" The guy's name was
actually Dick Hurtz. He said, "Do you know Dick Hurtz? You've got to
meet him." So he took the two telephones. Now, remember, he's got five
telephones. IIe took two of the telephones, laid one this way, turned
the other one around and threw a piece of cloth over it. These two guys,
one is in California, one is in Baltimore, talking to each other while
he's still fighting the other three telephones. lie had two in his hand
and one laying there and he'd say, "Wait just a minute," and pick one up.
-T-.. 4-1-4-t- ,, ^^^rrn ~n+ irn rf ivhnt nw1c c oninrr on.
but it would give you an idea of how they were with telephones. So when
he called me it was obvious, because you could hear when they were using
the speaker phone, that hollow sund in the background. So, it was ob-
vious that they were in the conferent room or somewhere they had a
speaker phone down in the LMami office. This was before the Miami office
building was built, by the way. But, Granger, at 2:00 in the morning says
"What are you doing tomorrow?" The usual thing. He said, "We're going
to send the big beach aircraft up. It'll be there at 7:30 to pick you
up. You have an appointment at 9:00 at Sarasota Federal Savings and Loan
with Mr. So and So." And I thought he was going to send me up-there to
look at some houses or something. Because that's what I did. I designed
their houses, the interiors basically. But I also did most of the
major building too. The country club and the hotels, motels, all that.
D--You helped to design all that stuff?
R--Right. I did all the interiors in them and I was on a design team. YOu
have to have an architect. But, anyway, what they wanted me to do, they
had decided they were goin gto go into the mortgage of homes. They said,
"What you do it you are going to go up there and you are going to spend
a day with them and they are going to teach you the mortgage business
and when you come back we are going to start a mortgage company." I said,
"Bob, you are out of your damn mind." Now you have to understand. You
ask people about me and the first thing they are going to tell you is
that he's crazy. Anybody, if you really ask them, they are going to tell
you the truth. He's crazy. That man is absolutely insane. Because if
you do what I do you have to be insane to be able to deal with the real
world, otherwise they will stomp you down and eat you alive. I said,
"Job, you're out of you mind. I don't know anything about mortgages. I
don't want to know anything about mortgages. That's what you got lawyers
for." He said, "Well, you know, we're over here having this meeting and
xw vnnt. to rot the morteale business and everybody agrees you are the guy
to do it." "Dob, come on." Nothing would do. But I had to go up there.
So I go up there and I spent the morning learning the mortgage business.
And I did come back and start a mortgage compnay. It turned out to be a
humongous mortgage company.
D--What was the name of it?
R--AT on point, it was Parkway Mortgage. It's still in existence, but I don't
know what its name is now. It's over in Ft. Myers somewhere. We don't
own it any longer. It was one of the things that was sold off. But,
man, they processed a lot of mortgages. And the problem was this. When
we discussed people that bought their houses up north 20 or 30 years ago
they bought it for 8000 or 12000 and they could sell them 20 years later
of 80 to 100 thousand dollars. These people coming down here were cash
rich. ANd it was very rare that anybody bought a house down here that had
a mortgage on it. So, you had to sell mortgages. You had to take them
into taking a mortgage. Now, we didn't know this until we got into the
mortgage business, right. So what the job became was not processing mort-
gages and the technical end. What in effect we had was the we were mort-
gage brokers. I'll think of the guy's name and tell you his name. I
don't have a mortgage brokers license. So they had a guy working for the
compnay down in Golden Gate to contract. lie had a mortgage broker's
license. So we were operating on his license. And this is totally il-
legal, but that's what we were doing. Binkov was his name. So anyway,
that's how we got in the mortgage business. And the first problem that
we encountered was getting people to take a mortgage so we had to find
a way to talk them into taking a mortgage. We found that at the point
interest rates were between four and a half and six per cent. Points were
one and a half to two and a half per cent. So, our pitch to get them to
take a mortgage was, "you've got all this money, right? But you are 62
years old. What if you get sick? You've got it all tied up in the house.
Whv don't you take that money?" At that time Naples Federal was paying
about a half to three quarters of a point over the mortgage rates up
here. And also some California institutions were doing the same thing.
"So, take your money and put it in these banks. Take the mortgage and
you are going to be making a half a point every month. But even more
importantly, if you need the money, it's there. You've got the money
to cover yourself if something goes wrong. And anytime you get feeling
uncomfortable, we'll just cash in you chips and pay the mortgage off."
Because in those days, the mortgages had no penalty clause in them.
You know, you owed them 40 grand. If you walk in with 40 grand, all
they get is that months interest and you know that's not how it it today.
That's what we had to do. We had to actually sell mortgages.
D-WVas it pretty successful?
R--Very successful. We went from no mortgages to about sixty per cent
D--When did that company start?
R--I had been here about a year. A year and three months, something like
that. And we were able to get money, you see, because of Bob Granger.
That's why Bob Granger was involved in it. Bob Granger was the one
who had all the money contacts. And we were able to get money. You see,
at the time, the only mortgage money in Southwest Florida was in First
Federal of Ft. Myers and the first Federal down below in Sarasota, Florida.
Or Port Charlotte or wherever. So they had it all their own way. Now,
the problem in those days wan't getting a mortgage. It didn't have to do
with the interest rates or the points. The problems in those days for
getting a mortgage was that the banks all wanted sweet mortgages. In ot-
her words, they wanted situations where a guy had got as much money as
he's borrowing in the bank. They want it in their bank and they only want
to loan you fifty percent of the value of the property. They only want
to land it to you for fifteen years and all this kind of nonsense. It
was suner ultra-conservative is what the problem was. So, you know, if
we had a problem selling mortgage, we also had a problem getting decent
mortgage. Because what the compnay....This was what this was all about.
In order for the company to borrow operating money from the big investors,
they had to show two things basically, legitimacy and growth. The only
way you can show legitimacy and growth in a business like this is to put
people on Inad. And the only way that you are going to put people on
the land is to get people to move into the houses down here. Because the
first step is to get the people to move into houses and that promotes
coramercial developments and then you start getting stores and services
for them. But the first step is putting the people on the land. Now,
the big investors they don't want people on the land to pay for their
houses. They want people on the Inad who have committed to mortgages.
Because in their minds, that's more stable. If we had 10,000 people liv-
ing her who paid cash for their house, we couldn't borrow a nickel. But
if we had 9,000 people who had eighty percent mortgages, you can go to
the moon with them. You understand? So, that's what this was all about.
Was to get bodies in houses here with mortgages and you see, they
couldn't sell mortgages without their own mortgage company.
D--So, the instigation for having a mortgage company and pushing mortgages
was really coming more from the top because they needed to be able to
R--You needed to be able to borrow large sums of money from big investors.
D--That was the requirement.
R--And that was one of the things that they looked for before they would
lend you money. It isn't the same thing as...,You can't go to them and
show them all the pretty brochures and take a picture of the pie in the
sky. These guys, they've been down this road beofre. They know better.
D--Was it explained to you?
R--Oh, no. It's just something that I figured out. Well, it was in one
mrft rf mnnvthv-r. nt it crweiathino- n wr firmnvo ni nc t1-imn -m wn+t I-r
Because on the surface there was no need for them to get inot the mort-
gage business. Initially, the mortgage business cost them a hell of a
lot of money to get into. Because they did other things. And the first
clue came when we had our first mortgage go sour. The first thing that
we did is that we paid it off. So, for almost six years, there wasn't
a defaulted mortgage in Cape Coral (while the Rosens were in the com-
pany). Not one. There were only three in the company. We bought them
all. WE paid for all of them. It wasn't out of the goodness of their
heart. You can see why. Once you understand why they are in this,why
they are doing this, they want any defaults. But the fact that was really
interesting is taht there were only three all together. But, in any
event, Bob Granger is the one who had the contacts. We were able to
get around the rather conservative attitudes of the federal dovm here.
Now, you have to understand in those days, there was another problem.
And that is that a federal could only loan money within a twenty-five
mile radius, whether it be a state chartered or a federal chartered in-
D--That was part of their charter?
R-That was part of their charter. So you could only loan within 25 miles.
So, we could not go to Sarasota, for instance, to borrow for down here.
What you could do is put together packages where the Sarasota Federal
people would put up the money and the Ft. Myers Federal people would put
up some of the money, like the Sarasota Federal would put up 90 per cent
and Ft. I.yers Federal would put up 10 per cent and then Ft. Myers ser-
viced it. So, in other words, on the books, what was happening is, Ft.
Myers Federal loaned the money to the individual. Sarasota Federal loaned
the money to Ft. Myers Federal. But Ft. Myers Federal had no liability.
That you could do. But you could only do that in, I think, a 100 mile
radius. So we couldn't get to Miami, even on participation. That's what
+,i onr-n 1+thnt. And M couldn't even go to Miami and get a participation.
That's the way that it was in those days. ITow it's nothing like that at
all. You can go out to California and borrow money for you house today,
in Florida. But, in any event, we got around the reluctance of the super
conservative position of the federal because Bob Granger had contact
with a lot of the insurance companies., So, we got Prudential and Metro-
politan. Where they gave us a coimmittment for like 10 million dollars
and then we would submit mortgages up to that commitment. So, they
would approve almost 00 percent of them but every once in a while they
would kick one out. So, what we in effect did, was totally change the
way the mortgage companies did business. Because up to that point, no-
body, GDC, was dealing with insurance companies or other investors on
single family dwelling mortgages.
D--They would send them to?
R--Locals. And nobody had the contacts that Granger had,. Granger was wired
into all these people because of his tenure with G.E.'s financial ser-
vices department. Which, even then, was one of the biggest investors
in the country. Like it is today.
D--So, Granger brought a lot of his expertise and contacts with him from G.E?
R--Sure. Then they got Granger, that's what they wanted Granger for. lHe
was in the construction, planning area in a nebulous kind of position,
but his real thing was he knew where the big money was.
D--How long did he stay with Gulf?
R--Oh, he stayed with them up until the time that they sold.out. He was one
of the ones that left after the sellout., And he's one of the straightest
people that you would ever meet., Bob's thing is that he called me one
time, he got into a deal over on the east coast with Rutenburg, U.S. IKnmes.
And called me to work as the architect. And the first thing h6 said as
I walked in the door, "now, you know, Ray, I'm probably going to screw
you out of least three or four thousand dollars, maybe ten if I can fi-
mirne mt. how to do it- And hn'd do it.- hut hei told von in front he wnqI
going to do it. But, you made enough money dealing with him. But,
unfortunately, Dob died. Je'was really young, by the way. lie was only
about 39. So that's the mortgage business story.
)--Tlll me a little bit about the Rosens. Did you know them personally?
Tell me a little bit about them. That motivated them? What did they
hope to accomplish in Cape Coral?
R--Well, I once heard Leonard say, "I had no intention of doing anything ex-
cept coming in her and buying this land for a dollar and selling it for
ten," or to that effect. You have to understand the two. They were
second generation Eastern Europeans. Jewish. Jadk was a very religious
man. Ile want orthodox, but he was a religious man. Lenard was not.
lie paid lip service, but he did too many that things that a good Jew
don't do. I don't think that he was as serious as his religion as
Jack was. INow this is my reasoning. You have to understand. They were
both given theri drive to succeed in business. They were both typical
of the Eastern European Jewish people with their attitudes about family.
Family was very, very important. Associates, loyalty to associates was
very,very imporatnat. To the point of being fanatical. They were two
total differnet people. Jack ,was a brilliant person and was off the
wall all the time. Things like the rose gardens and just the unbeliev-
able things that went on., 90 percent of it was Jack's., And for every-
thing that happened he would add 500 off the wall ideas. For one reason
or another that never materialized. He was just too far off the wall or
moeny. So, Jack, basically was the idea man. Leonard, was the pragmatic
man. The second from last time that I saw Leonard was at Bob's funeral.
And Bob knew all the big land people in Florida. So almost all of
them were at his funeral. Hlis wife had a wake for him and we were all
at this bar afterwards, sitting at a table. There was something going
on with the accountants where they were changing the rules about devel-
nninnt ern.nnnin wvnld do their accounting. And. vou Iknow. these guys
were in there talking about it and what the ramifications are. And final-
ly, Leonard said, "Look, this doesn't make any difference. The only
thingthat's important is the book." Now what he means is the receivables.
He says, "If you keep your eye on the book, you keep the book fat, you keep
the book healthy, let the damn fools do anything that they want. They're
not going to hurt you. But if you let the book get sick, you're in
serious trouble.," He didn't say it in exactly those words, but that's
what lie said. I'm telling you this to show how pragmatic he was., lie
was a woman chaser, womanizer. He was a fanatical tennis player. The
first time I ever met Leonard Rosen, I was in the bar, surfside restaurant,
And this dirty, scruffy, little Jewish fellow, obviously Jewish walked in.
Hle had a pair of dirty white tennis shorts on, dirty t-shirt and a dirty
hat. This guy walks in and he stands there for a few minutes. Now, he
owns this, you understands. He owns the damn place. lie walks in and he
stands there a minute and he walks over and he says, "You work for the
company?" And I said, yes. lie says, "Well, what's your name?" I said,
Ray Meyers. "I'm Leonard Rosen. I need a pack of cigarettes. Have you
got 75 cents?" Now he could of just told the bartender, give me the
cigarette machine. It was his cigarette machine,. So, I gave him the
75 cents. I still haven't gotten the 75 cents back. And I must have
asked him for that 75 cents five hundred times. There'd be a meeting
somewhere and there's all kinds of people around and I'd say, "Leonard,
when are you going to give me my 75 cents?" I still don't have it.
Anpther story about Leonard. Leonard had.,, ... Leonard figured that every-
body steals. So, everybody who worked for him was stealing from him.
Now, that's alright. But what w Leonard would do is he would have a
number in his head and you could steal up to that number., ut if you
took one penny over that he was going to come down over you like a ton
of bricks. Because over and over and over again, they were constantly
nil r,,1 rf nil these little things. Like, one time I got a phone call
after I got.... I was out of the mortgage company after about six months
after I got the professionals to come in. And I went on to something
else. And about six or seven months later I get a phone call again in
the middle of the night. It was Granger again. "Tomorrow morning, I
want you to go into the mortgage comapny and go into so and so's office.
Lock the door and snoop aroimd and call me and tell me what you think."
"What's going on Bob?" "Just don't ask any questions, just do what I
tell you." I said, "Well, what if he's there?" "Don't worry about
it. lie's going to be in Miami for a meeting."
D--So, Leonard told you?
R--No. Bob Granger. So the next morning I go in and go in this guy's
office and close the door and start looking around and lo and behold.
This guy was stealing the company blind. So I found enough to get me
started and then I really tore into it. And then I had to get the
accountant, so I got the accountant. Iave you met him?
D--.hat' s his name?
RL--Let me think of it. I get a mental block when I talk. 13ut anyway,
the guy was stealing the company blind. ANd also stealing directly
from the mortgage applicants. You know, he was telling somebody that
the application fee was 500 dollars., And he's take the application fee
and the application fee was only 25 dollars. And with the mortgage com-
pany it was good for any number of submissions. So he would take the
difference for himself., He would get 100 dollars for somebody for an
application fee and say, "Well, I'm sorry they turned you down. You'll
have to send me another 100 dollars so you can go to somebody else."
Which in those days wan't true. One application fee was good for
everybody. And the reason why is the mortgage company processed the
application. The federal didn't have to so the application fee went
to mortgage companies. If you go into the federal you have an applica-
did all that themself. What they were doing, is they were borrowing
chudks of money and all they had to do was hand to a particular person
to prove which nothing compared to the cost of the application if you had
to go through the whole process. And the first question that came up
with this guy was.... Well, we didn't find out about stealing from the
customers until later. WE only found out that he was stealing from the
company. And I mot Bob over here early in the morning with a rental car
and we drove all around the parking lot and I told him everything that
was going on with this thing. And he left and he called me the next
day and lie says,"WTell, we are going to get him a new secretary to slow
him down and we are going to do this, this, and this." I said, "Dob,
he's stealing." About that time we found that he was stealing from the
customers. lWhen Leonard was told that, boy. Leonard heard about it at
like 3:00 in the afternoon. This guy was gone at 3:01. That's the way
that Leonard was. One of Leonard's things with me was that every time
he would see me he would say, "Tell me how you are doing." "What, Mr.
Rosen? How am I doing what?" "IIow are you stealing from me?" I said,
"Leonard, I don't steal from you." He said, "SUre you do. Everybody
steals" Isaid, "Io, Mr. Rosen, I don't steal." Up until the last time
that I saw that man, they had a thing for him over in Miami and he came
in over from California, Law Vegas. And everybody else he says hi how
are you? lie sees me and he says, "Ray, tell me how you are doing it."
"I'm not doing it." That's the way he was. That's as pragmatic as
you can get. But he had a limit and apparently you were only allowed
to steal to you limit. Because I know of several instances and there
was a guy involved in part of the construction operation that for years
we had it documented that he was stealing. But t i want until he got
to a certain point that Leonard got rid of him. Now, Leonard's never
told me this. I just gathered it from him asking me how I am doing.
Thle fact that I Inow ofpeople that were stealing from the company and
nothing was done about it until it got to a certain point. Strange?
Vhlat kind of a man was Leonard? The company had a promotional thing.
One of the things the company did was get golf tournaments in here and
tennis tournaments and stuff like that. Room space here was always at a
premium becuase at this point we got the fly and buy program going. We'd
fly people in here. Wee'd have to house them for three days or so, but
this went on four seven days a week. In any event, we had problem with
pursuing the thing. That was free national publicity. Because
we never had any place to put the people. So, we decided to build a
facility for the jocks that were coming in here for the tennis tourna-
ments and the sailing tournaments or whatever was going on. So what we
built is, it's still oer here, called Parliament House. And we designed
this thing. And what we did was it was like a college dormitory. It was
a mixture of a college dormitory and a frat. house. It had a public area
in it and there was a pool and the rooms were three and four bunks with
a desk for each person. Bathrooms with each room. Private baths with
each room. And Leonard came over one day and we had run into a problem
with where the swiniing pool was going to go. And he didn't, he just
happened to be walking by and overheard the argument that was going on
about it. There were like three different sides to this argument. One
side wanted to put the pool here. One side said the hell with the pool,
we don't need a swimming pool. And the other side said no, we need to
do this. All we've got to do is just get the easient set aside. Because
in those days it was nothing to do that. And it mwuld have been the right
thing to do and it is what ve ultimately did., But, anyway, Leonard is
walking by and he hears this argument so he stops to find out what the
hell is going on. And Tom Weber was involved in this. Tom lEber was the
one who said, "Look, all we've got to do is go down to the county and
get the easement set aside." And I'll tell you right now. Anytime any-
thing sensible was done it was Tom that was responsible for it. That
guy had his head screwed on so tight it was unbelievable. So, Leonard
butts in. And he says, "What's this all about, Tom?" Tom tell him.
"Ileonard, we're building this dormitory for the boys, you know." "Well,
what is that?" So he had to explain the whole thing because he had ap-
proved it at some point in time but he doesn't know what the hll is
going on. So, Tom explains it all to him and Leonard says, this thing
will hold 100 people. So, Leonard says, "How many people are going to
get into this building?" Tom says 100. Leonard says, "That doesn't
sound right to me,. I don't think we ought to do that." EVerybody says
oh my God. Wee've got this building going up, now Leonard's going to
sy tear it down. lie says, "Who owns that property over there?" This
is on a street and the swimming pool was going to be in back of it and
there were vacant lots on this side and the other side. It was one of
those back to back lot situations. And Tom say, "Well, I don't know,
but I think that we do." Leonrdl said, "Well, find out. If we don't
own it, buy it back and build two of them. 100 is not going to be
D--So he was thinking bigger and bigger.,
R--All the time. They bought the airline, modern Air.. So, we had not
place to fly. I forget what they were. They could land over there, but
they couldn't fly the big airplanes because it wasn't long enough., 'Tle
county over there had a thing where they were just bringing in jets and
they were flying the prop jet. The work horse of the airlines. At that
time they were just starting to convert to jets. The county had a grant
from the federal governemtn to make a runway so they could land jets.
Now, the jet we are talking about is a 727. The short haul. But they
needed 1000 or more feet added. -They had to bring the runway up.to 5000
feet. So, the governemtn was going to pay for all of this, but the county
screwed it up and lost the money. So, now, the only airline servicing
Ft. Mvers at the time was National. And then there was a commuter airline.
Bukt that was it. And us, .Modern Air. We needed the runway extended so
we could start the international flights. We were going to bring big four
engine jets in. I don't remember which one it was, but the big, big four
engine jets. So, the county lost. Now, they bought Modern Air and bought
these four engine jets, with the belief that the county had this govern-
ment money and was going to extend the runway. So now, all of a sudden,
we built a terminal building out there.
D--Was that the terminal building which...?
R--ITo. It's back on the back side. At the time, it made the terminal
building....As a matter of fact, it was even better than the terminal
building that they've got now, It was more practical and workedd better.
It was better design. But in any event, all of a sudden, we've got this
building out there, we've got these flights all set up, and we can't
land because the county blew the money. Now, you know there was a gew
months down the road for the construction work to take place. 'That was
all in the planning. They were doing another thing at the same time,
by the way. Leonard had had is people set up with the federal govern-
ment to make it a port of entry. They blew that too. And they still
haven't got that straightened out. They just started an experiment
over there with the one gate bringing Canadian flights in. But Leonard
had the approval from immigration to put a customs station there. And
they blew that. But in any event, here we are now. vWe've got these
big airplanes., We've got all these grandiose plans to fly people in
from all over the world to sell them land in Cape Coral and Golden Gate
and what have you. And we can't land the airplanes. Well, they had
to go ahead with the plans. So what they did was they would land them
in Tarprxa or Iia'i and bus them over. But that's not what they want.
Taht interferes with sales. Because part of the sales is you are on
our airplane. We are going to land you at our airport, you are going
to ao through our terminal. We don't need anybody. It's all part of
the sales pitch. It worked. Except we couldn't land the big aircraft
at our airport. Paige Field. So, Leonard found out about this when he
went out to inspect the terminal building before we started using it.
Torn Vebler told him. Tmn had just found out about it. And you know,
Leonard, in his typical direct fashion said, "ell, ."
Boy, he let loose., !Qv, the reason I was there was that I had worked
on the design of the building doing the architecture and the interiors
and everything on it. Everybody's always there who's involved in the
project. And so they talked about it a few minutes and finally Leonard
looks at 'Ibm and goes, "Toma, how much money are we talking about?" mn
gave him the number. Fifty thousand dollars or something like that., ie
said, "well, hell, let's go ahead and schedule the flights, Tom. We'll
get you people together.., Get ahold of Connie and have him get down there
mnd talk to those people aid ve'll extend the Cr--- nrnway," And we did.
R--And that's, you know., If I stop to think, I could tell you story after
story of the snae general, the bridge, same type of thing going on.
)--Tell me about the bridge.
R--Well, nobody wanted the bridge., If you think the bridge fight going on
now itbad, you ought to have seen the bridge fight going on when that
bridge was trying to get built., People were assaulting one another, cut-
ting tires, knocking one another over with fire hoses. It was just um-
real what went on trying to get that bridge built. Ultimately, what
actually happened, Gulf American bought the land on the other side. Gulf
American guaranteed the bond issue to get it built. And that's no snall
potatoes to guarantee a bond issue for a bridge., But Leonard knew that
he had to have that bridge there, if he was going to continue to sell land.
You don't know how iad it was to try to get from here to Ft. *lyers before
we gOot that bridge.
T.--T hrnrd1 it t.nno nulmit a while.
fr--'Twonty-two mile drive. A lot went on in the process of getting the
bridge. Blut ultimately, the way it was finally resolved was Gulf
American guaranteed. And by the way, they talk about putting toll Lbck
on there, there is a contract that exists between Gulf American and the
citizens of Lee County and the Lee County Government that once that
bridge was paid for the tolls would be taken off of it and never to be
put back on again. And it was enforce once because when they paid it
off, they built a big new toll....
R--It's typical of what Leonard would do to get the job done,. Cape Coral
country club. I think I told you., You've got a facility out there.
Nobody in their right mind would ever go to a country club like that,
given the potential for any kind of return investment. And Leonard had
some problems with some of the major stockholders over on the Ixoard
there. I told you what his ultimate reply to their argument was.
D--Tell -me again.
R--They were giving him....They opened the Cape Coral Country Club with a
shareholders meeting there., And Leonard.... The reason that I know about
it is that Loonard called me over there to introduce me to those three
guys who were three of the major stocldholders and also merlebers of the
board. And they're giving Leonard fits about spending that kind ofmoney
without any potential at all of return investment in the situation.
And Leonard took it for a while and finally he said, "You know, what
you guys problems is, is that you think this is a country club. You're
looldng at it as a capital investment, That's not what it is. It's the
biggest G---- bulletin board in the wold United States. It's to sell
land." And it did sell land. The first thing you do is you pop those
folks in the bus and you take them out there and you say if you buy a
piece of property, you've got free member ship in the country club. And
man, they couldn't wait to sign on the bottom line. And he was right.
It was the birrlest C--- Dulletin board in the United State. And that's
-- :- 20
how he really thought of it. ITe never thought of it any other way from
day one. But the beauty of it is, Bob Granger sold that country clubto Woodmen of
a huge profit before they were open and leased it back. So the company
made money on it before they opened the doors on the thing. So, you know,
it all worked out perfectly. You could have your cake and eat it too. Woodmen of
the world still owns it. There's a lease, as I understand, it's like 99 years
with a five year buy back option. So, in other words, every five years,
the company or somebody has an option to buy it back at its current mar-
ket price. That's the way I understand the essence of the lease. But
they bought it at its retail value and we built it ourselves and there
was all in-house stuff in there. They bought it for considerably more
than it actually cost the company. Probably it was worth every penny they
paid for it. Obviously they bought it with independent appraisals and
everything. They weren't going to buy no pig in a poke. As a matter
fact, they bought it under the appraisal. It was still considerably more
than it actually cost the company to build. Now that's the country club,
all that parking area out there, hotel, the golf course, everything. The
D--Anything else that kind of told a little bit who Ieonard and Jack Rosen
were and what they were about.
R--Well, what they were about is making a lot of money and running like hell
and all of a sudden they woke up one day and found they had a tiger by
the tail and found out they didn't know how to let go. YOu have to un-
derstand their background. They started out pushing a pushcart. Their
father and they themselves pushed a pushcart through the streets of Balt-
imore selling pots and pans. From there they went to the vitamin busi-
ness where they'd go down and as I understand it, they'd buy a bottle
of 500 vitamins from the corner drugstore and they'd advertise them on
the radio and they'd take 100 of them and put them into another bottle,
.--- -.-^- 1,^-- -#, +i1, hne++1t nof Fi5 nnd sold five bottles for two
dollars a piece or whatever it was on the radio or mail order. From
there they went to, and by the way, when they were selling pots and
pans that was Leonard's first experience with the book because I've heard
him talk about that. They would go through and they would sell these
people a pot or a pan or whatever it was they were peddling in the push-
cart and it cost three dollars and they would give them fifty cents a
week and they paid for it. So that was probably Leonard's first ex-
perience with the book. Of course, it was a cigar box operation in
those days. And then from there they went to Charles Antel and I have
been told by people who were involved with them and Leonard, too that
what they would do is run these almost thirty minute spots that this
guy would carnival bark, who was with them by the way, unless he's dead,
with Leonard even when he was out in Las VEgas. And what they would do
is they would run these spots. They'd get all these moneies in the
mail and they made it in their bathroom and put it in the bottles and
mailed it out. That's how it all started. It was the Charles Antel
money that got them in the land business. Leonard came down here at
the invitation of Lee Ratner, the guy who started Lehigh Acres, and
Leonard saw what was going on and said, "I've got to get a piece of this."
And Jack wasn't involved in the project originally, lie didn't come un-
til some months or a year or so later. Jack was totally different from
leonard. Jack drank. lie was a hypochondriac, He had a guy, Jack had
a guy that followed him around with a briefcase full of medicine. Jack
was the kind of guy, you would walk in his office and you are sneezing
and you reach into your pocket to take a pill that your doctor prescribed
you and he would say, "What is that?" And you'd tell him. And he'd say
to this guy, "Do I have that? VWell, get me some of that." And you'd
find that in the briefcase. All these damn pills. Hle was a hypo-
chondriac. And he drank. HIe got over the drinking for a while. He
wncnl. nn addict or anything like that. lie just....
D--rore for security than anything else?
R--Sure. I guess that's what it was. Jack also had his own personal psy-
chiatrist. I think what happened is, everybody told Jack he was crazy
so many times that he started to believe it. EVery time Jack would open
his mouth he would come out with something so farfetched that it was
crazy. So, he believed it, so he got his own personal psychiatrist. Hls
name was Dr. Mandy. I don't remember what his first name was. And he
was crazy as a loon.
D--Well, what other jobs did you do with Gulf American beside you said you
were in design, you were also in the mortgage business, what else did
R--Well, as God is my judge, Milt Green and I started the fly and buy program.
Vhich was and is the most successful marketing operation that anybody
ever had. It happened by accident. In the housing division we had a
fly and buy program and what it was that the northern broker would screen
someone who might want to come down and he would call us and set it up and
we would call them and qualify them. And they would put up 300 dollars
or something like that and we would fly them down and tour them and give
three days and two nights down here and try to sell them a house. And if
they bought a house, they used the 300 bucks for a down payment and if they
didn't we would give it back to them. Obviously it cost us far more than
300 dollars to do this. Then what happened is, for a long time, we were
brining maybe three, four, or five of these people a week down and then
all of a sudden we were bringing so many of them down that they people
over in Miami likely crapped in their pants because.....Milt Green was in-
volved in it by this time. He was selling condominiums this way. Now
the land business was not involved in this at all by this time. But what
happened.... We had, this is true, when I tell people they say they know
that this can't be. National Airlines was the only airline that ser-
viced this lace at this time. We had all their airline tickets. We
scheduled the flights, Iooked the flights and issued the airline tickets.
We didn't have to go to National. We had our own National Airline tickets.
But what happened is that it got to be so big, that the people over in
Miami in the controllers office crapped it one day because the air-
line ticket bill for this program was 68,000 dollars one month. But we
did like nine million dollars worth of business off of it. Fly and buy
program close rate was never under 95 percent in the housing area and the
cancellation rate was zilch. So, you know, it was a healthy program.
But it was an expensive program. Because it was expensive because, you
see, the brokers, either the owned and operated office or the broker we
were dealing with up north got a pretty hefty commission--anywhere between
six and ten percent. And we had to pay ten percent to the salesmen down
here plus the cost of bringing them here and everything. And, in those
days we were selling houses with only about a twenty percent mark-up on
them. So, we were actually losing money. But that's immaterial. Because
remember why we were selling houses. Leonard didn't want to make money
on the houses.
D--Was it for mortgages?
1--It was to sell land and borrow money, well, so we could borrow money so
we could borrow big money, remember? We are back to that once again. That
proves that that was why they were doing a lot of it. Because they needed
to borrow a lot of operating money and they couldn't get it without adver-
tising the thing. And also, another thing that I didn't mention, by this
time the beginning of the problems with the land regulatory agency started.
And almost inevitably when these people would come down screaming and yell-
ing about something being dishonest, all you had to do was put them in a
car take them around, show them all the houses. We'd take them down to
the yacht and racket club and talk to some of the people and see if they
think they got cheated. That would shoot them right out of the sky. How
are they going to argue with them? How can they say, how they can Ie-
lieve somebody cheated them? Iow can they listen to somebloy tells them
they cheated them when we can bring them and show them, "Look, they are
living here and they are happy." Everyday there's forty more moving in.
So, you know, that's the other part of why it was so important. lqWhy
Leonard, you see, that's what Leonard understood. HIe knew how important
things like the restaurants and country clubs. You see, these things all
lost money. But leonard thought of it as part of the advertising for
part of his defense against the regulatory agency. And when G.A.C. bought
out they wanted to make money on all these things. ell, there's no way
you are going to make money and do the job for which they were intended
when they were originally put on line. They were never put on line, the
hotels and the restaurants and the country club and things like that, the
housing club, it was never put on line to make money. They were all put
on line for some other reason. Most obvious reason was to sell land.
Bu tthe housing thing was also so they could legitimitize the place as
part of the defense against the people who were complaining. You have
to understand that almost inevitably, a good percentage of problems had
nothing to do with someone with a legitimate claim. They had to do with
some politician who was less than, his integrity could be questioned.
That's a kind as I know how to say it. So, you know, you are shooting
the ground out from under them. So that's what a lot of this stuff is
all about. Now, one thing the housing department did do, and if you
get a chance to talk to the guy who was the controller up here, he could
tell you this. Sales, in the housing department, once they got rolling,
was nothing to have two or three hundred contracts a week which they got
a down payment on. But, most of these were through other programs than
the fly and buy program. And your burnout rate or delay rate in actually
getting the house on the ground was pretty high. But what you were doin
is generatinr- humaneous cash flow. Until it settled itself out. Because
you were dealing with getting money here, not with two or three years
down the line. So it was just sitting there to use.
D--Where did the Chalie Cavanaugh fit into the fly and buy and all that?
R--Te came into it much later. As I told you, it was originally for the
housing and then what happened after they started raising hell about us
spending so much money for airline tickets and they wanted us to cut it.
So, what we did, is we Charted .-airplanes. And we could not get enough
pliable housing units down here on a chartered airplane., Eventhough we
started in Cleveland and stop in three or four cities before it got down
here. To justly it. So, what Milt Green did, he was the guy who was
running it at this point. We would, what Milt did was went to the land
people and said, I've got these empty seats and if you've got some peo-
ple for a party that want to fly down here. Because by this time you
had the inspection privilege. You had to give them the right, over a
certain period of time to inspect the property and tocancel. Actually,
what it is, they had a right of cancellation but they had to do it with-
in a certain time frame. I don't remember the time frame. This was for
the land sales people. So, that gave the land people problem. So, waht
.ilt did, he went to these guys and said, "Look, why don't we get togeth-
er. You want to get these people down here. And I'-1l see what happens."
Once again, Gulf American took a lemon and turned it into an exotic bar
drink. Not just lemonade. I'll.get into that later., So, anyway, he
made a deal to use the unused seats. To have the land people use the
unused seats on the aircraft we were chartering. And, what happened is,
I think it's obvious how economics work. We only have forty percent of
the seats filled, instead of costing 300 hundred dollars to fly them down
and back, it's all of a sudden going to cost them 700 dollars to get down
here and back. So, that's the way it worked for about a month and a half
or two months. It was still a housing operation but the land people were
ron t1ie f io+ch A,,rl thr n thPv iiit. mid their shna-r of expenses of the
flight. 1Bat happened is, all of a sudden their cancellation rate, in-
stead of being fifty-two percent dropped down to about twenty percent.
All these people coming in on the flights. Iow, these boys are not stupid.
They Imow a good thing when they see it. They took over the fly and buy
operation. And I could take to you for hours about some of the crazy
things that went on with this. But, anyway, they took over the fly and
buy operation. Charlie Cavanaugh was the on property coordinator for the
fly and buy program when, after the land people took it over. In other
words, all the brokers up north would send all the information about
the people coming down to Charlie Cavanaugh's office and then lie would
coordinated the busses and things.
)D--low many people would be involved in a typical week?
R--Oh, good God. In just the fly and buy program? Well, there would be
three or four aircraft with 100 to 125 units that's minimum a day coming
here seven days a week. But, at one time, they were serving meals here
at the Cape Coral Country Club Pavillion, at the Cape Coral Country Club,
here at a tent,
at a building over at the yacht and racquet club, at a pavillion
at the yacht and racquet club, at the dining room over in the Del Prado
Inn, and one or two other places. I would conservatively estimate, they had
sixty some busses that moved people around here. Big GReyhound busses.
What they had is a warehousing operation. They are coming in here on fly
and buy, in here on the V.I.T. program. This is where you stop anywhere
in the state, up in Georgia. You get coupons. You come in here and you
get three nights lodging and a meal and whatever, gasoline, what have you.
The outposts operations throughout the state of Florida, they had people
stop you on the street and you hotel and talk to you about this, that and
the other. But, what Gulf American had done, they had bought a bunch of
attractions. They owned post of the Jungle, this jungle, that jungle.
Over in Mliami up off coast islands. They owned two art galleries. In the
hih cr.ns nlaces. they bouIxht art Ralleries. And they would use the art
gallery to get people to come down here and look at the property. St.
Ormond's Key, or whatever the hell it is, is one of the classiest places in
the world and they owned an art gallery there. If you go in that art gallery,
next thing you know your ass is going to be on a bus or in a limousine coming
down here to look at Cape Coral property. So people are coming from all these
places. Busloads from here, there and everywhere. So I would say, conservatively,
they were probably serving three to four thousand meals a day. Now you have
to understand that some of these people were only getting one meal, but a lot
of them were getting three meals. There were at least eight or nine places
they were serving meals. This went on constantly from about 8:00 in the
morning to about 8:00 at night. Every one of these places had somebody there
sitting at a chair, every meal. As fast as one group would get finished,
they would get them up, herd them into a bus, take them on a tour of the
property, down the outcourt. They would take them on a tour of the rose
garden and keep them out there for an hour and a half to two hours, whatever
it took to walk the rose gardens and see all the shows and everything, then put
them back on the bus, bring them into one of the sales areas, where they would
lock them up in a little room and do there number on them. There were sixty
some busses. Hell, you couldn't go anywhere in Cape Coral without being behind
a bus, all day long these damn big Greyhound busses. And then they had a guy
in there with a microphone and he's giving them the whole nine yards as they
go along on the bus. It never let up. You get out to the rose garden and had
two hours out there in the souvenir shop, walking through the gardens, watching
the porpoise show, watching the light show at night, or whatever. All the
speels in the porpoise show, the light show and everything else had subliminal
pitches. You know, what the hell you folks doing, going back up north when
you could live down here and have this all the time. The rose garden I'm
sorry I ramble, but I start something then I remember something. Jack went
to Europe. Here's how the rose garden started. Jack had been to Europe and
he saw this German that invented this fountain-light show Przystowik. He
met him over there and so he hired him and brought him over here. Now what
the hell are we going to do with him? In the meantime, Jack also when he
was over in Europe got somehow mixed up with roses. So Jack bought a boatload
of roses. And he comes back here and the next thing you know, we're at a
meeting and somebody is saying, "look there are ten semi's on there way down
here with the first shipment of the roses and it's going to be here next Monday."
We have a week. What the hell are we going to do with these roses? You can't
grow roses in Florida. Roses in Florida are a real serious problem. So here
we got all these damn roses on there way down here and we don't know what to do
with them. So they went down all these median strips and wherever there were
sidewalks and little grass areas all down Cape Coral Parkway and up through the
median strips and all the way down to the yacht club and everything, and they
dug up everything about a foot deep. They fumigated it, put plastic in there
and bought rose soil and put it in there so when these ten trucks showed up
Monday we had somewhere to put the roses. Everywhere you went around here
there was roses. The whole place was just solid roses from one end to the
other, because nobody knew what the hell to do with them. And then the next
shipment came in and we still didn't know what to do with them. So whenever
anyone walked in the place, they would hand you a rose bush! But they still
had these millions of roses coming over here, and that's how the rose garden
was born. That's exactly how is was born. It was an act of sheer unmitigated
desperation as to what the hell to do with all these roses. We started out
with a rose garden and next thing you know we had a whole botanical garden
with all different kinds of species. You had to see it. It was absolutely
D--I saw it when I was about ten years old and I remember it was pretty spectacular.
R--Well, if you saw it, you know what I'm talking about. In the context of time
and place, when these guys did something, they didn't do it halfway, they went
first class. Leonard, as I have shown, was not afraid to spend money. Even
if he didn't have it he spent it, which he did quite often. But anyway, that's
how the rose garden got started. That's all it was going to be and then some-
body said, "Why don't we get some of the native flora and this, that and the
other thing and put that in here too, to make it a botanical garden." So it
expanded to a botanical garden. Then Jack said, "I got this guy I'm bringing
over and he's due next year. Then somebody said, "Why don't we put this guy
Jack's got coming over here, that we don't know what to do with, with his
fountains and stuff, down there.too?" So now we have a lake and someplace
for him. And then somebody said, "Since we have the water there, why don't
we get some porpoises and have a porpoise pool?" So now we have a porpoise
pool. Then somebody else said, "You know, we could have a sculpture garden,
and we'll have all kinds of gardens." We have a flower garden, a tree garden,
and a vine garden. Now we need a sculpture garden. So they went out and
commissioned people to do copies of original sculptures, or bought some original
sculptures. So all of the sudden, low and behold, there the thing was, and all
because Jack went to Europe, got one of his crazy ideas, and bought all these
g------ roses. Then he came back here and said, "Hey, guys, roses are coming,
so do something with then!" You wouldn't believe the scrambling that was
going on around this place trying to figure out what the hell to do with them.
D--I remember seeing all the roses when we drove through here.
R--Well they were here.
D--Nothing but white sand.
R--White sand and roses. It was the damnedest thing you ever saw in your life.
You know, there are people that tell you we sat down and planned this, and
this is bullshit. It was just sheerdesperation and what the hell to do with
all these roses Jack bought. That's the rose garden.
D--What other jobs did you have with Gulf American?
R--Well, I had that working with the fly and buy program up until the time the
land company took it over. I worked on the mortgage thing. I did the design
work. I did the residential design. And I did a lot of the institutional
design work. I worked with the architectural people on that not only here in
Cape Coral, but in Golden Gate, River Ranch, Rmuda Ranch, and Rio Rico. And
I don't know, I must have done some other things and just don't remember.
D--So your job description was changing all the time?
R--Oh yeah, you never knew when you came to work what you were going to do that day.
That's why I was so fascinated with it. I wouldn't trade that time for anything
in the world. You'd walk into work and you'd never have the slightest idea
what you were going to be doing.
D--And you stayed with Gulf American up until the Rosen's sold to GAC?
R--Yes, and then they fired me.
D--GAC fired you? Any particular reason or did they just want to clean house?
R--I really don't know. You have to understand that I was notorious for my temper-
ment. I've been known to stand out on a street corner with Leonard Rosen and
cuss him out, raise hell, and yell as loud as he does, and stomping and
snorting and carrying on. We'd be out there just almost coming to blows.
It's my personal opinion that the only way you could live with Leonard and
Jack was to stand up to them. I think they respected that. I know in my
situation, many times with both men, I would do things so outrageous and so
outlandish that they should have put me in jail and fired me, but it never
seemed to bother our relationship. And I was just a punky employee doing
menial work so to speak. You know, I never had any grandiose ideas about
what I was doing for the company. I knew what I did. What I did, I did well.
I was very, very good at what I did, whatever it was. So I earned my keep, and
I was always underpaid, but hell they didn't know.it. I should have told
Leonard before he died. g------ I wish I would have told him. Because he
always though it was neat that he wasn't paying me enough money. This would
come out when he would ask me how I was doing. He'd say, "I don't pay you
enough to keep a squirrel alive. It's ridiculous." He told me one day,
he said, "Ray, if you look like a bum, like you do, and you act like a bum,
like you do, and you talk to people the way you do, you are going to be treated
like a bum. You're never going to make any money." And I should have told him.
I though about it but I never did. I would have paid him to stay here. I would
have paid him! You cannot believe how much fun it was. I could tell you stories
all day long. It was so outrageous. One time we took a vice-president's office
and moved everything he had out right down to the carpet. Draperies off the wall
and everything. And he's over in Leonard's office because we won't give him
his furniture back. And finally Leonard says to him, "Well if that's the case,
Jim, then I must have the wrong guy for vice-president." Leonard said, "Well
what the hell are you bothering me with this for? Just make them give it back
to you." and Jim said, "But I can't make them give it back to me!" This is
the kind of thing that went on. It sounds so totally outrageous it's un-
believable. But it's the truth. It's the God's honest truth.
D--There was a lot of fun going on.
R--Oh God, unreal, just unreal. We took a swamp buggy. This same vice-president
(this had to do with the condominium people and the things that would go on.
Some things, bad.) We had a set of models up here and we blocked up the street
on both ends and made a lake out of it. The models were aroung the lake. It
was gorgeous land. And then you had to go through the sales office to get in
and out of the place. I could tell you three very funny stories about this
one place. Four really. The one is with the swamp buggy. No, it was the
airboat. We didn't bring the swamp buggy, we bought the airboat up. This
guy, the vice-president, was really doing some bad things to the condominium
division. The condominium models were up there too.
D--Where is this located at?
R--Up about where this dual park is and the one church on Coronado. They were
having this battle between the condominium people and the vice-president.
This was Byron's idea. So we got Byron's airboat and put it in this lake.
So the doors open up and low and behold here's this damned airboat in the lake.
That's the worst thing you can do to Gulf American because one of the things
everybody is always knocking them for is that their land's under water. But
what happened is, there was a gal from Paul Venzi Associates, Bernice Freiberg.
Bernice Freiberghad the biggest pair of balls of anybody that worked for Gulf
American and everybody that worked for Gulf American knew it. Bernice was in
town and we didn't know it the day we put the airboat in. She came in and
liked to had a tizzy. Here's this vice-president, and Bernice is out there and
she's just furious about this because she brought a bunch of people in and here
we are out there with that airboat, and the implied thing is, everything's
And Jim Raskin
underwater.n wasndut there saying, "See Bernice, see Bernice, I tell you
these guys are absolutely crazy. They're crazy Bernice. Come out here and put
them away."- But anyway, this bunch of people Bernice had brought in said
"What is that thing?" Well that's an airboat. You go down in the swamps and
everything and this is how you do it. "Well, how's it work?" So we're taking
these people around, and pretty soon the customers are coming in and we're
giving everybody airboat rides. They had the biggest day they ever had in
sales that day. Everybody loved the airboat. The airboat stayed until Byron
decided to take it out. It became part of the sales tour. We put this lake
in there. It was beautiful, really beautiful. What the hell, we had a little
waterfall on one end that you walked up and over and which recirculated in
the water into the lake. We pulled some out of an adjacent canal every now
and then just to keep it fresh. Byron came to me one day and said, "We're
really not marketing this thing right." Well what do you want to do? "Well.
let's go out and get some mullet." So Byron and I went out .with a seine in these
canals and we got a whole bunch of mullet and dumped them into the lake. And
then Byron went and got about ten snook, because snook feed on mullet, and
dumped the snook in. So here come the people in the morning, and there were
fish all over the place. The snook were chasing the mullet to eat them, and
the mullet have to jump to get air out of their body or something. So you
walk in this place and these dead fish are jumping all over the place. So
we had to keep the place stocked with mullet and snook from then on. The
people would walk up and say, "Oh, did you see that fish!" But that's the
kind of thing that used to go on. It was just unreal. Then the salesman
would go around saying, "Oh yes, you can go to any canal and it's.just full of
fish like that. You want fish for dinner? Just go out back." People try to
go out a fishing pole and try to catch a mullet well, you're going to have a
hard time catching a mullet with a fishing pole, because he's a vegetarian.
D--In your opinion who were the people, besides Leonard and Jack, who were the
most important people as far as success of Cape Coral went?
R--In the Company?
R--Probably Kenny Schwartz would be number one. And people like Bernice Freiberg,
Kenny on the property, and Bernice because she was instrumental in the front
end of the thing in getting the people here. I think there were a lot of
people who were not involved in the Company who were instrumental in it too.
People like Dr. Tate and the preachers that would come over here.
D--Tell me a little bit about, you mentioned before, why Cape Coral was
R--It just suddenly dawned on me after I talked to you. I got to thinking about
the humongous amount of developments that were every bit as grandiose in
concept as Cape Coral was when they started out. Ninety percent of them got
no where. They just disappeared. So why was Cape Coral? Well, obviously
there marketing techniques and promotional techniques had a great deal to do
with it. But that still doesn't explain how they got the people to come down
here. After all, this was a terrible place. The first time I ever came to
Cape Coral, I'd seen all the vip's, they weren't vip's, it was something
else in the program where you come in and they'll give you a tank full of gas
and a meal if you stop by. I was on my way from Tampa to Miami with my family
so we decided to stop and see what this was all about. By the time I got from
78 down to downtown here, at that time there was only an eleven room hotel and
the lobby period. There was a building on the corner of what is now Coronado
and Cape Coral Parkway some triplex or quadroplex built down there. That was
the sales office then. By the time I got from 78 to the intersection of Cape
Coral Parkway and Delprado I couldn't see through my windshield because of
the dead mosquitos on it. We couldn't get out of the car. We turned.around
and left because we started to get out of the car and the damned car filled
up with mosquitos. That's what it was like. So now you have.people you get
to move here. How in the world can you explain why those people would move
here considering what you had? Delprado was a dirt road. You had to drive
22 miles to the nearest civilization. The people in Ft. Myers, all you had to
do is intimate you were from Cape Coral and they would want to tar and feather
D--Why was that?
R--Don't ask me. I can only tell you the story. When we finally moved over here,
you always wind up needing some pots and pans and linens and this,.that and the
other, so we went over to J.C. Penney over there. It was downtown. The damned
thing was only about twice as big as this room. We go into Penney's and we
buy about $350.00 worth of towels and this, that and the other, that you have
to have in the house, and everything is fine up until the woman asked us where
we lived. We told her Cape Coral. The salesperson just took the salesbook
and closed it and said, "I'm not going to wait on you trash from Cape Coral."
I thought what the hell's going on. So I asked to see the manager. He comes
out and says, "You're from Cape coral? We don't do business with people in
Cape Coral. We don't want you trash down here." Well, what he said is, (quote)
"There's 28,000 people in Ft. Myers and we don't need any more trash." God's
honor, that's a true story. So why would anybody want to move here when you
consider the total desolation that's out here,.and consider also that the
people that are moving here are accustomed to being in densly populated areas.
So they're not people who want to be alone. They're not hermits. So there
had to be some reason why Cape Coral succeeded in getting these people here
that the other people didn't. When you stop and think about the projects that
you hear about, or you may have seen in the peripheral, back in those days,
we were constantly going around looking at what everybody else was doing. And
even the ones that failed. The things that were here that weren't there is we
had a doctor here. We had the churches, places or worship here. We had the
yacht and racquet club, a place of assembly here and so on, and so on. I think
that these things had a great deal to do with it. I didn't realize until I
read that paper this morning that quoted Leonard as saying he knew he couldn't
get any Jewish people here unless he had a rabbi. Leonard was smart. He
knew he wouldn't be able to get any Catholics here either without a Catholic
church, or Lutherans without a Lutheran church, or older people if you don't
have a doctor here that can take care of them. Leonard was smart. He knew
exactly what he had to do to get people here, and he did it. He did what had
to be done to provide these things that people need if they're going to move.
I think these people, people like Pastor Bunck,who was the original Lutheran
minister, and Bob Tate, I think they contributed damned near as much if not
more to the success of this place just by being here than all the promotion
and nonsense that went on with everything. I don't think a lot of those
people would have moved here. It was the feeling of knowing there was a
doctor, and that they could go worship. The supermarket, Publix, it's
unbelievable what they went through to get that supermarket. Supermarket
chains have guidelines as to where they go depending on population, density,
and market demographics and so on. That damned supermarket was built at least
five years before it met the criteria of Publix. There's only one explanation for
that. Leonard bank rolled it.I'm convinced that the person that has these
kinds of ideas was Leonard, not Jack. Jack had the rose garden type of
ideas. Leonard had the pragmatic, practical ideas. I'm convinced that all
of this had just as much to do with the success of the place as anything.
Leonard also did something else that I've never heard of before until I came
here. If you were a waitress in the restaurant, all companies that are sales
oriented are always having awards dinners and things, and Leonard, every year,
would have an awards dinner for the waitresses, the bus boys, and the guard
person. He would have a dinner for them, and he would give the ones that did
something outstanding, watches or some other gift, or a trip to Hawaii or
something, depending on what they did. As a result, you couldn't come on
this property and get anybody on this property to say a bad word. People
are shrewd. They think, I'll ask a bus boy to tell me the real story. So
they'd ask this black bus boy, "What do you think of this place?" The bus
boy would look at them and say, "Why this is the greatest place that ever was."
He'd go right into a damned sales pitch. It's the God's honest truth. And
why? Because Leonard let them know what he expected of them, number one.
And number two, he let them know that if they did that they would get some
recognition. In the meantime, they're only paying them minimum wage and
treating them like dirt, some of the supervisors. But Leonard was giving them
the one thing everybody craves recognition. So he's a sharp man. And it's
the truth. The busdriver, the busboys, the gardener, even if you walked into
one of the models down here and started up a conversation with the maid, if
you're not really sharp, you wouldn't realize you're getting the biggest sales
pitch you ever had in your life. You would never hear a bad word. You'd
never get anything but a smile. No matter how bad the day was, you would
never get anything but a pleasant smile. Because if they did it once, they
weren't here. Everybody here.sold.
D--It said that Leonard and Jack and the Company basically made sure that the
people that moved in here first were really happy.
R--Not just the first people, everybody. Even after the day I left, if you had
a legitimate complaint, it was taken care of, and it was taken care of well.
One of the things I did, was at one point I was doing compliance inspections.
You build a house and you're ready to close it, and the compliance inspection
is to take the customers through the house and note any discrepancies
and document them so that you can go ahead and close the house with the
stipulation that these things will be taken care of in a reasonable time
which is specified. We would pull a compliance inspection a week before
the scheduled inspection with the owner, at which time we would go through
the house with the superintendent, who had the final responsibility with the
house. We would get everything taken care of. Originally we got everything
taken care of, then we started running into problems. So we learned what we
should do is always leave one or two little things for the customer to find.
We would have houses where we would actually have to screw something up because
nothing could be found. One of the things we would do when we went through
on this final compliance inspection, would be carry two cans of lubricant,
one for aluminum and one for other things and we would lubricate every one of
the door hinges as we walked through, tradcs on the sliding doors and so on.
So you could go through there and touch a bi-fold door and that door would
just snap shut. We learned not to do everything. Always leave one or two
minor things for them to find. And then it became a big production because
a woman would find this little thing that didn't amount to a hill of beans,
you'd write it down and tell her, this will be taken care of tomorrow, as a
matter of fact, just a minute I'll call it in on the truck radio right now.
Then you could say, "Get somebody over here. What do you mean having me
deliver a house with this mess in it?" Just make a big deal out of it. It
makes people happier than hell. They had a list we would give them to put in
their kitchen cabinet door. It was touch up paint for every bit of paint used
in the house. All their warranties were put together for them. They had a
thing where they could write things down that were minor. There was a 30 day,
60 day, 6 month, and a one year inspection where we would come and inspect
again and take care of these minor things. Anything serious in between, they
could call somebody and they would be out there within ten or twenty
minutes. If a toilet backed up or something, they would be out there. That
was up until the day I left.
D--Art Rutenber g as the company that did most of the building of the homes for
a short period of time.
R--Yes, for a short period of time. For the greatest period of time, and
particularly inthe big growth period, it was company owned and operated.
It was Cape Coral Construction Company. It was a company owned subsidiary.
D--Was that the only company building houses in the Cape?
R--For many, many years.
R--I don't know. The first other one that moved in during this period would
have been Michigan Homes. But the Company built, I would say, 98% of the
homes that were built for many years. Of course, today, every real estate
office here has its own building operation. There are more damned builders
here than there are fleas. God knows there's a lot of fleas in Cape Coral.
You have to understand that the Company controlled the prospect. You weren't
building houses here for somebody that just wandered in and wanted to buy a
house. You were building houses here to build equity in a piece of land.
D--Let me ask you a question that's a little bit unrelated. Were you ever
involved in any of the other operations besides Cape Coral?
R--Yes. I was involved in every one of them.
D--O.K. Tell me a little about some of the other operations like Golden Gate
or whatever. It seems like a lot of those operations got Gulf in a lot of
R--Well, that's not really true. Only one got Gulf in a lot of trouble. That
was Remuda Ranch. It had to be political because ...you have laws you have
to comply with. One of the laws when you're in the installment land business
that the State of Florida had was that you had to give people a prospectus.
Right in the prospectus that they gave people for Remuda Ranch, it said
that it was probable that this land will be under four to five feet of water
at least four to six months out of the year. It said it right in there. The
thing that they had against them, and they worked on them on that was, the
land would be under water. It would possibly be under water not would be,
but possibly. But they told the people it possibly would be. There was this
cat that Leonard had that was involved in Rocket City..
R--Milt Mendelsohn. Leonard described Milt Mendelsohn, they were having a meeting
in Miami one day and I happened to be at this meeting, and we were going
around and around with some problems having to do with Golden Gate, and
Leonard with a straight face turned to someone and said, "Here." He took the
keys out of his pocket and said, "Take this and go into my office and open up
the closet and let Milt out and bring him down here. Now hang onto his belt
so he doesn't get away." The guy left. Leonard looked at everybody... there
were people there like architects and finance people and people that were not
part of the regular Gulf American organization, and Leonard said, "I suppose
I should explain this to you. Milt Mendelsohn is a genious." This is not
like Leonard at all. He's saying this with a straight face. "Whenever you
have a problem all you have to do is ask Milt and he'll give you the answer.
The only thing is, you have to keep him locked in a closet. Because if you
didn't he'd own the company and you'd be out of a job." Milt Mendelsohn
was indicted and was convicted of land fraud or something, down in Rocket
City, I believe. But he worked with Leonard even out in Vegas. He was
on Cape Coral Construction payroll even when the law was looking for him.
He was out west.
D--Were the other projects
R--No, what I wanted to tell you about Mendelsohn was...if you read the law,
Milt found a loop hole in the installment land sales law. Basically what it
was was if you don't plat the land but sell it on metes and bounds, the law
doesn't cover you. I think that's what really pissed them off to begin with.
So they had to rewrite the law to cover it. Because they were marketing the
product for quite a long time before they figured out how they were getting
diddled up there in Tallahassee. They all of the sudden woke up one day and
realized all this was going on down here and they can't do a damned thing
about it because Milt Mendelsohn found a holl in the law. Milt Mendelsohn
is the guy, by the way, who invented the timeshare. Nobody knows this, but
it's a fact. He came up with the idea. It had never been done. We had a
team doing exploratory work on it for two years before anybody ever did any
timesharing. But Gulf American dropped it. So I guess the guy really was a
genius. Have you heard of Charlie Finkelstein yet?
R--Charlie Finkelstein was a broker opener. He's the guy that would go around and
get brokers to handle Gulf American property. He was also the guy that would
lease property all over the United States for owned and operated off the broker
operations. What people would say about Charlie Finkelstein is, he would come
in and sit down with you and discuss renting your building, and when he left
you owed him $200 a month. But Charlie Finkelstein has another claim to fame
and that is you'd walk in your office and see this little Jewish guy, real
little shrunken Jewish guy, and he'd be sitting there and your waste basket
would be tipped over, and he'd be there reading everything in your waste basket.
D--Never a dull moment. The other projects like Golden Gate ... was the concept
completely different there, in other words were they selling...
R--Oh yes. There's two things in Golden Gate. Basically Golden Gate you were
selling lots/building sites. In Golden Gate you had Golden Gates Estates,
which would be substantially the same as Cape Coral, but it was very, very
samll compared to Cape Coral. It isn't even 10% of the land area involved
in Cape Coral. Although Golden Gate itself is considerably larger. But it
was sold in sections huge chunks of property. You didn't go down and buy
and 80 x 120ft. home site in Golden Gate, you bought a quarter acre or a half
acre or two acres or whatever. The only roads in Golden Gate were on the
section lines. That caused part of the problem. There's nothing wrong with
when you stop and think about it, except they felt it was fraudulent. You go
down there and you can see houses all over Golden Gate in these areas now.
Part of the problem, I think, personally, is you have to understand what was
really going on there. What was going on is that no matter how outrageous the
laws were, or how bad the things they were doing were, it was always going to
be all right in the end because they needed to sell another 100 people something.
So they'd clean up their act as they went along, because they used Cape Coral
to sell Golden Gate. And they used Cape Coral to sell Rio Rico and Remuda,
River Ranch or whatever. The same things that happened here would have happened
there when they went on to sell the next one. Just by the way the machine was
running. It would have turned out all right if the damned State would have
left them alone. There was some political things there. If someone ever
investigated, I think you could put some people in jail. It had nothing to
do with Gulf American other than what they did to Gulf American. There's
some very questionable things like these two guys from the cabinet that wound
up working for GAC within months after the purchase. The best policing that
would have existed for this type of an operation was this operations need to
be able to show people viable, profitable well-run communities that had went
before. Without that, the whole thing would have dropped in its tracks.
There's no way, given the people who were involved in Gulf American and the
Rosens, on down, that it would not have continued. Because if the Rosen's
died there were the Kenny Schwartzs. That's my opinion. It didn't make any
difference what the guys were running on the thin edge did. Ultimately, the
system, because of the need to perpetuate itself, would have resolved the
problem to the best interest of everybody. I guarantee you that you're going
to have a hard time trying to find someone that can show you that they were
really cheated by Gulf American. A very hard time. That includes down there.
D--So when they got into Remuda, Golden Gate and River Ranch they were basically
trying to put together a different type of development.
R--It wasn't a development. You know what they were doing? They were dealing
with the biggest syndication operation in the world.. They were syndicating
land down in Remuda and the Golden Gate. From the very way it's structured,
you can see that they had no intention of developing Golden Gate and Remuda
as a community because it's not laid out that way. It's not structured to
do that. It was a land syndication deal where people would invest in land
and just hold it longer than you would have to hold Cape Coral or Golden Gate
Estates before you would realize a return on your investment. They just wait
for the growth to come there. The bottom line is that somebody is going to
make a fortune on the land at Golden Gate, Remuda Ranch and those places as
the growth moves in that direction. It just may take 50 or 100 years instead
of 10 years. The whole thing was structured as a gigantic syndication of
land. What we think of when we talk about syndicated is you, me,,Dr. Tate, and
six other people get together and buy 20 acres over here, and we sit there and
wait until 1-75 comes through and we sell it and get rich. But what Gulf
American was doing was selling 2,000 acres or whatever, 200, 500, 800 square
miles of land to 400,000 people. That's what they were really doing. Because
if you look at how the whole thing was structured, how it was sold and every-
thing about it, it's obvious that anybody with a brain in their head knows
they'renot selling a lot to build on. Theyfre selling land for someone to sit
and, primarily because of the length of time it's going to take, really it's
an estate. It may be two generations before it realizes it's potential. And
consider what they were selling it for too. They were giving the damn land
D--It sounds like those types of operations were more geared to turning land
around quick and seeing a profit from it.
D--Yes, for them. They had no investment in the land like they did at Cape Coral.
Consider that also. You have horrendous development costs in a project like
Cape Coral. The roads, water, sewer...
D--They wanted cash to help pay for those developments?
R--Well, just to get the cash flow. To go on and get the next one, to go on and
get the next one. There was...you don't have to be a genius to figure out that
you weren't buying a home site down there. You were buying land for investment.
The only thing wrong with it is, that they didn't make it a point to tell them,
look, it's going to be thirty years before it's really going to be worth any-
thing. Or forty years. But they did tell people that they weren't going to
guarantee this land is going to be worth anything. We have no way of knowing.
We can just point out to you what's happened throughout the country in the past.
And you're dealing with a growth there.
D--Did they sell most of the land at Golden Gate and Remuda or was most of it
R--A good deal of it was sold in Golden Gate, but by far, very little was sold
in Remuda. The Golden Gate land is not all that bad. The Remuda land does
D--Did you have anything to do with the building of the place down at Remuda?
R--Oh yeah. Had everything to do with it.
D--Tell me about that.
R--It's there, what can I tell you.. There were two separate things down there,
one of them was a ranch thing and one of them was the marina thing. The marina
side was to ultimately become a community. The ranch side was ultimately to
be a branch I suppose. It was sold on the same basis as Golden Gate where
you buy a quarter acre or acre or whatever. The facilities were substantially
the same. There were some minor differences in them. They each had a very
large clubhouse, lobby,healthclub, the whole nine yards, sauna, exercise
equipment, restaurants, banquet halls, 100 to 120 hotel rooms, and dormitories
for all the personnel working in the area. The ranch side had horses, and
the things that are on a ranch. The marina had the things for water activities.
They were all there and all in place. It was a completed project in terms of
the facilities. In other words, it wasn't a fly by night thing. What they
said was there. If they told you you could come down and tour the thousand
islands or take a horse and go out in the outbacks or something, it was all
there. The guides were there the people to help you do it were all there.
It was fully functional and working. All first class. Because it was all
done in Spanish (because of the name), the hotel rooms were all done in
spanish. For example, the hotel rooms had king size beds and the headboards
were hand-carved. The headboards had one panel in them that was a hand-
painted figure of a spanish flower that was real gold leaf, to give you an
idea of the quality. But it was Remuda ranch that caused the trouble.
Until then they were able to handle anything that came up, but they weren't
able to handle that. And I still, personally, think it waspolitical. It
would be nice if somebody would find out about these guys that were involved
in it. Claude Kirk, by the way was governor at the time, and Claude Kirk
wounded up working for GAC, on a retainer for them or something. Right
after the sale and he left office. There's enough there that makes you think
D--So you think that GAC was fishing...
R--No, I don't think that. Yes, GAC was fishing and they got people in the
government. But there's no way they could have bought it without the troubles.
That would be like walking up to somebody and telling them, "I'm going to
buy your goose that lays golden eggs." They'd laugh at you. Remember that
at the point in time that the sale was made, the interest income alone on
their book was a million dollars a day. Over a million dollars a day. Nobody
is going to sell something like that. But the Rosens had their reasons.
D--Why do you think GAC ended up going bankrupt?
R--Why? Because the first thing they did was they got rid of all the scruffy
people like me and the ones that knew how to sell, and brought in all the
Wharton School graduates and the phi beta kappa's from Harvard MBA's.
They got rid of the airline. They got rid of the rose gardens. They got
rid of the restaurants. They got rid of the tour busses. I think that's
the sole reason for it. If you look at what happened, it's simply a matter
of sales that disappeared. Then you were dealing with...you have to understand
when GAC bought Gulf AMerican it was the largest company in the state of
Florida in terms of revenues, employees, and any criteria you wanted to apply
to it. It had surpassed, I think it was, FPL, which up to that time had been
the largest. So what you're talking about is a company with a hell of a cash
outflow. So the sales drop off it doesn't take long for you to get into
trouble. I personally, because of what I did, was privy to a lot of things.
Like, I'm one of the few people outside the sales organization that could walk
into a facility and say, "I'm up here to work on this and one of the things I
need to do is sit down and listen to some of the pitches." That's something
else. They monitored everything. I'm not too sure about the purity of their
reasons for wanting to do it. iMaybe they wanted to do it to make sure the
salesman was selling. But in the process, they knew when somebody was lying-
and they could stop them. And in many, many--most cases they did. They did.
There came a point when they realized they didn't have to lie anymore. It
wasn't going to help them and it wasn't going to hurt them. They don't know
when you're listening. My reason for doing it was I'd be sent out to redesign
an office area/sales office area. So I had to know...there was a certain
amount of continuity from area to area of how they did things. But there
was individuality from area to area. The planning was so careful in Gulf
American that we actually designed the building or facilities or office to
be an extension of, or a platform for an individual'sales operation. What
the people felt when they walked in the room, depending on how they were
marketing how they were pushing this particular product. It would be all
part of the visual environment. How you'd feel when you went into one of
these things. Depending upon how they wanted you to feel. We would design
them like that.
D--So the design was actually part of the sales pitch too.
R--Yes, it was part of the sales pitch. Absolutely.
D--When you were sitting in one of the sales rooms did you realize your
conversations could be monitored?
R--You wouldn't. I did because I knew.
D--But the customer wouldn't?
R--The customer wouldn't, which is one of the things they got a bad hit for.
And justifyably so. But I can tell you a story. We had a fellow here whose
pitch was...incidentally, even though there was continuity about how things
were done, and they had what was in effect an outline of the pitch, there was
a great deal of individuality of how the individual salesman would operate.
We had one fellow his stick was the preacher. He looked like a preacher.
He had a bible on his desk. And this is what he did. He had this one couple
in there one day and he's pitching them and he's getting no where with them.
When he got to the end, the husband looks at the wife and says, "Well, Mary,
what do you think?" and Mary says, "Well, John, I think that we should go
out and back to the hotel and pray to the Lord, and he'll tell us whether we
should buy this land or not." This went back and forth...see what they'd do
is they'd t.o. people to the guys that did the kind of thing...
D--Explain what a t.o. is.
R--You have forty salesman. A salesman gets somebody and it's John and Mary
who are obviously religious freaks. He would'nt keep them. He would t.o.
them to the guy who did the religious pitch. That's how refined the sales
operation was. In many cases they would know who to send them to from the
very beginning. So they would go to the person who would be able to do the
best job because of what they know about the people from preliminary information
they got from them on the bus when they brought them over, or on the plane,
etcetera. But anyway, John and Mary were talking back and forth and they
would'nt do anything. So this salesman tried the Bible thing. with them
and couldn't get anywhere. So he said, "Just a minute. Excuse me. Why don't
I leave the room, and while I'm gone, John, you and Mary can kneel at my desk
and talk to the good Lord about what I've told you. Ask him if I've been
honest with you and if you should buy this piece of property for your children
and your grandchildren. And you can come down and meet Rev. so-and-so (because
it was their denomination). So just let me leave and you do that in privacy."
So he gets up and walks out, closes the door, and goes into the monitor room
because you can also talk into these things. John and Mary were in there
talking and praying to the Lord, and this guy gets on the microphone and says,
"Buy the land." He went back inland they signed the contract, and away they
,go. That's an absolutely g------- story. True. Absolutely true.
D--You said before that after a while the salesmen didn't have to do any lying
because the property sold itself.
R--Sure. Absolutely. But you still had salesmen that would lie. We had one guy
here and they fired him when they caught him. What he would do is he would
turn the map upside down when he was showing you where your property was.
So by doing this he was able to give you the impression that your property was
within a block or two of the yacht club, when really it was 25 miles away.
And they caught him and fired him. They fired him as soon as they found out
what he was doing. They found it out themselves. They found it out by
listening in on the thing that he was doing.
D--What would happen if the corporation, say a month later, someone came back,
a customer, and said, "It was discovered the salesman had lied." What would
the company do in a situation like that.
R--You want me to tell you what the probable outcome was? We had a thing called
HomesiteOwners Center. This is where property owners would come. They would
come there for this inspection thing we talked about before and they would
also come if they had a complaint or thought they had been taken or ripped
off. Ninety percent of the people who walked into the Homeside Owners to
complain or wanted their money back, left owning three more pieces of property.
So if you want to know what happened, that's what happened. They sold you
two more pieces of property. And you walked out happy. The rest of them got
their money back.
D--So they did refund...
R--I'll tell you another story. This.was at River Ranch. I was standing at the
desk when this happened. A guy came in ranting and raving at the reception
desk wanting his money back, yelling, "You're a bunch of liars and cheats."
He was cussing and carrying on. The fellow at the desk was on the phone
before the guy walked up, talking to one of the other salesmen about whether
they were going to town for lunch or eat on the property that day. The guy
starts talking to him and said, "Just a minute sir. Calm down. Don't worry
about it. Let me see your slip, showing where the property is." And he looked,
while he was on the phone to the guy he was going to go to lunch with, and
said, "Well it's no problem sir, we'll give you your money back. It'll take
me just a minute because I'll have to go to the other place and get somebody
to cut a check for you, but we'll take care of it." And he said into the
phone, "I got it." He said, "We'll give you your money back, just let me
finish my phone conversation. Here sir, if you'll just fill in your name and
address here, and sign this form for me, then I'll have one of the girls take
you over and get your money back." And he turned around and whispered into
the phone, "...tell him not to worry about it." The guy said, "Hey, what are
you talking about?" Because all he could hear was "I got it." "We got it."
That's all he could hear, and he raised his voice when he said that. The guy
said, "What are you talking about?" The guy said, "Oh, I'm just-talking to my
friend about whether we're going into town for lunch or if we'll eat here
on the property today. Just sign the papers sir, it's all right. We'll
have your money for you in ten minutes. The girl will take you in the station
wagon over to the office and they'll get your check for you if you don't want
to wait here for her to get back. I'm taking care of it, so don't worry
about it." So the guy said, "Wait a minute. I changed my mind, I want to
keep the property." The guy said, "Well, you're going to have to sign this
form." So the guy signed it and took off out the door. His wife was standing
there and had'nt said a word while all this was going on. And he was
saying:, "I told you they were a bunch of g-------- thieves. They were trying
to cheat me out of my property."
D--How did you keep a straight face?
R--You learn. You have to keep a straight face. Because you'd have blown the
whole damn thing on the guy.
D--What happened out at Rio Rico...out...was it in Arizona? or New Mexico?
D--Did that ever fully develop out there?
R--I don't think it did. There were some technical problems that came up out
there that I think slowed that one down. Having to do with drainage and things
like that. I really don't know because you see that was just coming into...
we had just finished the sales office when they sold out and I was gone. So
I really don't know what happened to it.
D--Did you help do some design work out there?
R--Yes I did.
D--And also at River Ranch?
R--Yes I did River Ranch. I was involved in every one of them.
D--Do you know if there were any plans at the time, towards the late sixties, to
move on to other pieces of property?
R--Oh, absolutely. I don't know where they were. I've heard of several other
large pieces of property being bought...or that they had options on. But my
feeling is that those options went down the drain with GAC's takeover. They
just dropped them and didn't do anything with them. There was one very large
piece here in Florida as a matter of fact, bigger than Cape Coral, that they
had options on. There was no doubt...your question really was were they
pulling in their horns or sticking out there horns. There was no doubt they
were continuing to look for viable places to continue their operations. No
doubt about it at all. There are people somewhere that could probably tell
you more about this...probably the guy that could tell you more about this
is Tom Weber. They never even look at a piece of property that Tom Weber
wasn't one of the first one's to see it. There's no doubt in my mind at all
because I had been alerted to...what they had done is starting with River Ranch,
they started themeing. This was themed, really, but not as strongly as going
into River Ranch and Rio Rico and the rest of them. I had been alerted about
certain characteristics to start thinking about ways to develop themes. There
were at least four or five projects that they told me were down the road, and
to be thinking about. Actually, what they were doing is, they were well on
their way to creating a whole series of Disney Worlds without the amusement
park. If you look at the progression from Cape Coral to Golden Gate to River
Ranch to Remuda to Rio Rico...the progression of the visual identity of the
theme became stronger and stronger as each one of these things came about. The
way they were talking to me was they wanted it even stronger on the future
projects. They wanted to have properties that were oriented to an activity,
or a theme, or an idea, that would totally, from the vegetation to the structures,
to everything about them, were totally consistent with that theme or idea.
There had already been discussions about how to accomplish this. How far you
wanted to go and how much additional it would cost to go that far, etcetera.
There had even been some very preliminary conversations about a theme park
to build around. But that was very nebulus. It never really got off the gound.
D--If the receivables were over a million a day, and the company was basically
in pretty good financial shape, why did the Rosen's end up selling?
R--Because they had to.
D--They were forced to?
R--Yes. It was either close down or sell. That was what the State did to them.
That's why there is evidence of hanky panky. There has never been anything
like that in the history of the land business. My understanding of it is, the
only thing they had...the then in place Installment Land Board, or whatever
the hell it was called (that thing changed every year)...had on them of any
significance at all, was Remuda. What it boiled down to was they were told
they were going to shut...well they did shut them down as a matter of fact.
They were shut down. We were shut down for about three days,. Even Cape Coral.
D--I know they shut it down for thirty days.
R--Is that what it was, thirty days? I know we were shut down for a while.
R--That's why they sold. The deal was they could open up if the Rosen's would sell
out. So that tell's you something right there. They didn't give a damn about
violations of the code, they.were after the Rosens.
R--Whoever the hell it was. I don't know. I think that if you found out who
it was that somehow or another ended up on the payroll of GAC though, you'd
have a pretty good starting point to figure out who "they" was. It don't
take a genius to figure that out. Just stop and explore that subject a
minute. You've got a good education. You have some understanding of economics
and things like that. What government agency in its right mind would shut
down the largest employer in the State, for what is a correctable violation of
a statute? Think about it. It just doesn't make sense unless there is something
greatly political invovled. I do know one thing political was involved. The
governor was ticked off at the Rosens because they heavily backed his opponent.
Any government that had the best interest of the State at heart would have found
a way to keep it operating and get rid of the violations, not do what they did.
Think about it. You were talking about putting a pretty healthy percentage of
employees out of...plus think of the tax revenue you're talking about. That's
tax revenue on a considerable chunk of property in this state when you figure up
everything that was involved. And if it goes bankrupt, you aren't going to get
any tax money. Somebody, somewhere, wasn't acting in good faith and good
conscience. There's nothing about it that was reasonable. The next thing
was, why, within days of when they shut them down, did GAC appeared on the
scene with the offer to buy. There's no evidence anywhere that there had been
any negotiations or any tenures prior to that. Next questions. If you were
GAC's management, and you had an MBA, would you buy a company that had the
problems Gulf American had? Just cold, without some kind of an understanding
with somebody somewhere. There's just so many things that don't make sense.
No rational CEO, or Board of Directors would have touched Gulf American at that
point in time with a ten foot pole under the circumstances, without knowing
something that nobody else knew-having to do with the problems. Because the
problems don't stop just because you change owners. They are still there.
If the new ownership could straighten out the problems, why couldn't Leonard
and Jack Rosen? For damn sure, they're not going to give their kid away if
somebody gave them an option to keep their kid. Their not fools. Everything
they had done indicated they were anything but fools. You may think they cut
corners, and they did. But who doesn't. Look at what General Motors:. did.
They put Chevrolet Motors in Cadillac cars and charged you for them. Yet
they have total respectability. That's far worse than anything Gulf American
ever did. The point is that none of it makes sense. Why would this company
buy a company that was in this kind of trouble GAC was in? Why would the Rosens
even consider selling it considering the amount of cash flow that was invovled
and that it was profitable. Why are their some people who wound up on GAC's
payroll after the sale was made? Why did GAC appear out of nowhere after the
shutdown? All you had was something that probably goes on in business in this
country in any given six month time period. The only thing that went wrong is
the people that came in didn't know how to handle it. They could have cleaned
it up without doing what they did. A peculiar thing happened...it gives you
an idea of what people really though about Gulf American. Life Magazine did
a story on Gulf American. They wrote the story in terms of this reporter who
came in and met Joe Gilch, the salesman, and what Joe said to him.
D--About when was that article.
R--I don't remember. It was maybe a year before serious problems occurred. When
that story broke, everybody was worried about what was going to happen. The
only thing I can tell you is, a week after that article appeared in Life
Magazine, sixty percent of the sales staff was named Joe Gilch. Everybody and
their brother was driving in here wanting to meet Joe. They knew Joe wasn't
going to talk them into something they didn't want to do. That's the God's
honest truth. We had people...more damned people than we could possibly bring
in this place. All they wanted to do was come down here and butt heads with
S Joe, and prove that Joe couldn't sell them something. Ninety percent of them
, 2 walked out of here buying something. They bought. The close rate was better
(3' during that period than it is normally. The burn rate was lower. You asked
what does Gulf American do if somebody buys something and they don't like it.
The burn rate.(burn being a signed contract that you cancel and refund their
money)...what would you think the burn rate was?
D--Thirty to forty percent.
R--Forty five to fifty five percent. Does that answer your question about when
someone came in and was unhappy? You weren't counted as a burn unless you got
your money back. For every two people that bought property, one wound up
getting his money back. That's in all operations within the Homeside Owners
Center. When I told you you'd walk out with two new pieces of property and
not burn the one you had, that's true. The burn rate there was only about
twelve to fifteen percent. The rest of them walked out (say 90%) with an
extra piece of property, and the other ten percent just kept the property.
The cream of the crop sales organization worked there. The very best. I
don't know why anybody could say they got cheated. If you bought a piece of
property down at Remuda, and you walked in and said, "The damned land's under
water. I want my money back," they'd give you your money back if they didn't
talk you into buying two more pieces. I consider myself to be a fairly
moral person. But I can't see where anyone can blame someone else if they
walk in and say, "you're cheating me," and then allow that person to talk them
into cheating them twice more. Who's fault is that? I'm not too sure anybody
really got cheated. I'm really not. The story isn't going to be over with
until time runs its course on all of these things. A lot of people down there
that supposedly got cheated, land was either bordering or on the Fakahatchee
Strand. Then the government wound up buying from them, so they still made
money. That's happened in several instances where the land was not tenable...
because it was environmentally sensitive, the government bought it as part...
to preserve it. So they didn't lose a damned penny, if they happened to have
a deed to it. I suppose there are people who lost money. Then again if they
were buying the land for investment, it's no different than buying stock.
You've got to expect a certain percentage to lose on. If they lost, they lost
only because they couldn't wait for the land to appreciate to the point where
they'd make some money. The history is, there is no such thing as a piece of
land that, at some point in time, didn't sell for more than it was bought for.
Some people get impatient. Some people felt they...they were caught up in all
the excitement of all this. They're still doing this out at Lehigh Acres.
If you want to go out there and buy a piece of Lehigh" Acres for the same
program Gulf American operated, you are looking at $12,000 $15,000 for a home
site. There's people out there that have had deeded property for twenty some
years and they're lucky to even get $3,000 for it. But everyday they sell some
for $15,000. It's not even developed. It's sitting out there raw. Here's a
guy sitting over here that owns a piece of it that has water, sewer, a road,
street signs, and he can't even get $3,000 for his.
D--Was there competition from the other big land development companies.
D--What was the feeling? We have the best product here?
R--No. They were all selling the same thing. Consequently, the more the merrier,
I think. They were all selling to the same person, basically. You really
weren'tselling land, you were selling ideas...selling a way of life. They
were selling the same way of life. As long as it was a Florida land company,
you wouldn't consider it to be a competitor. Many, many of the people who
owned property in Cape Coral also owned property in Lehigh or GDC, or one
of those others, and vice versa. You'll find, if you did a survey, that at least
40% of the people who owned a piece of property in one of these large develop-
ments, owned a piece in two or more.
D--But there was never any cooperation between big companies?
R--No. No collusion either. There was competition in that sense because they
were competing for the same unit. But not the kind of competition you would
have between two guys that own a vcRi shop next door to one another. Do you
understand what I'm saying? The difference I'm trying to make? Let me put
this in perspective. That's not true. I didn't answer you properly. Very
often we would be loaned to another company to help them out with a problem.
I was loaned out several times.
R--Different companies. Rotunda was one of them. Marco Development was one of
them. Very often when we had a problem, I was front again to deal with the
person at Rotunda...not Rotunda but Marco in the one case. I went up to sit
with their person and they showed me what they were doing to help us solve our
problem. There was a certain amount of...I think the...
D--What type of problems would it be?
R--They could be anything. From what happens when a country club...in one case
we were having a problem with a golfing facility, the carpet, and we knew from
out pro and the pro down at Marco had found a carpet that didn't have this
R--Right. So I went down and...in another case it had to do with a restaurant,
as to how you handle the units that are coming in when you start developing an
outside business, without screwing everything all up. You want to get the
outside business, but you don't want to screw sales up. In this case it was a
Mackle operation that had worked out a plan to do this that worked. I went
and sat with them and they told me how they did it. It had to do with the
layout of the tables and the services and things like that. There was a great
deal of cooperation. On at least one occasion, I was part of the team that
Leonard loaned to someone that was in serious trouble, and I helped them get
their problems straightened out. And we did. That wasn't a development
though, it was a hotel.
D--Did you spend most of your time in Cape Coral or was most of your time in Miami?
R--Cape Coral. I would just travel. One of the things you have to understand
about Gulf American, with the Rosens running it, was that you had no problem
getting anywhere you needed to be. If they didn't have a twin engine aircraft,
or a small aircraft to get you there, you had the airline. All you had to do
was call them and say, "I need a seat going there." That was it. I want to
tell you one other thing about the Rosens.that nobody ever seems to want to
talk about. There are several instances that I am personally aware of having
to do with someone either being ill, burned, or in a serious accident, where
they needed to be taken to Texas, or to a burn center, or a child in one case
where he had to be taken somewhere out west to a hospital that specialized in
his particular problem...I know of several instances personally of these things.
When Leonard found out about it...in one case he had one of the four-engine
jets to fly the child. I know several instances like this. There's nothing
ever been said about it. Nobody knows about it. It's for damned sure Leonard
would never tell anyone about it. There was a lot more than people give him
credit for. I worked for big businesses most of my life, actually half my
life now, but I worked for some big companies and I never worked for anybody
that did anything but say, "Screw you Mack. That's your problem." Even if it
was your employee. In these cases I know about...one of the cases was an
employee's child. The other cases were just people who either lived in Cape
Coral or Lee County, or Miami, that they had heard about. It's not just a
matter of...I don't know what the hell it cost them to take that jet out there
with that kid on it, but it had to be a big bundle. In some cases they paid
doctors bills and hospital bills for people they didn't even know. They just
heard about it and did it. They never to my knowledge once...has anybody
ever said...I'm talking about Leonard or the people who were responsible for
doing it...ever say anything to anybody that they did this. Even when they
were in the midst of being accused of being all kinds of a hard ass, no good,
dirty son of a bitch. They weren't really as bad as...as a matter of fact
they were very...Leonard and Jack were both very humane men. I'll tell you
something else about them. They had wives (Jack particularly) that were the
greatest damned people that you would ever meet, deep involved in charity,
and social type work.where they had to give of their time and their husband's
D--I understand Leonard was quite involved in different Jewish charities.
R--Yes. Leonard confined himself to Jewish charities, but he contributed a
great deal to non-Jewish charities. None of these cases that I know of, where
it was a one-on-one type charitable act, was the person Jewish. And as I said,
only one case was it an employee, or even anybody they even knew, or had any
kind of contact with. It was just somebody they heard about. The need was
there. They did something about it.
D--Was there any evidences of anti-semitism against the Rosens?
R--I don't know. I never saw any of it. I'm sure it was there though. I'm sure.
I'm Catholic. I had gotten in one of my infamous battles with this vice-
president I was telling you about, so he fired me. I just went on home.
Leonard called me and asked me what was going on. I told him I got fired. I
was just on my way out to go find something else. He said, "now don't do that.
Just take a leave of absence. Take a week off to calm down." But I didn't
want to come back. I'd had enough of it. I grew this beard during this week
I was off. I was sitting over in the lounge at Surfside. Eddie Pacelli
and a few other guys were there talking. He said, "when are you coming back
to work?" I said I was supposed to come back Monday. He said, "Well you
better shave that beard off. Raskin is going to fire you if you walk in with
that beard." I said, "Come on. He won't fire me because I have a beard."
"Yeah, he is. He's told everybody he's going to fire you. He's going to do
it. You ase going to be right back where you started from." I said, "Well,
there's no sense in my coming back, is there?" After I though about it I
really got hot under the collar...Who is this guy cocking around with this
nonsense. I called Leonard Rosen and said, "Mr. Rosen, I have a problem. You
gave me this week off to cool down. I got all calmed down. But Mr. Rosen,
my father died. We've been to services, we're sitting sayter every night,
and I've been growing this beard, like I should. Pacelli told me that if I
come back...you know it has only been three,days, and I'm going back to work
Monday. Pacelli told me if I go back with this beard that Raskin is going
to fire me." "He's going to what?! I'll take care of that no good son of a
bitch." So he called Jim Raskin and told him, "why you...don't you say a
word to Ray Meyer about that beard. Who the hell do you think you are. I'll
have you out of here so fast..." I never told Leonard I was Jewish. I just
told him I had a beard. That's their custom. When somebody dies, you don't
shave if you're orthodox.
D--You said you were sitting in what? What was that word?
R--Sayter. It's a week of...what you do is you have...they get a group together
and they do a prayer a memory thing. The more you lean toward orthodox, the
more you do these things, like you don't shave if it's a close member of the
family. Raskin didn't know what the hell...I only told you that because it
shows you how Leonard would react. He didn't fire Raskin over this. I just
wanted to tell you how Leonard would react to something he would feel was
antisemitic. When he found out I wasn't Jewish, which he did, he just looked
at me and smiled and said, "You son of a bitch." I've had the beard ever since.
But he was going to fire me if I came back with it. That was none of his
business. I'm sure that basically...let defense take their course...Leonard
would have t T had to shave it off. But because I did what I did, I think
Leonard got su k out of it that that was the end of it. But I'm sure
they ran into it\ ad to, particularly over here. This area had a Ku
Klux Klan when I fil 1 here. So you can bet there was anti-semitism
D--Tell me a little bit about 'e of people. I just have a few different
people and though maybe you\ 1.1 me in a little bit about some of them.
Tell me about Charlie Hepner.
R--Charlie Hepner was Jack's man. Hi his I don't know a great
deal about him, he worked in Baltimore most of the time. He was involved in
all of the sales operations and everything...you understand by now, I sure,
that there were two separate sales organizations in existence. The Baltimore
operation and the Miami operation. Charlie was the one...he was Jack's
for a while. That's about all I know about him.
D--What about Bob Carroll?
R--Bob Carroll I know but I really don't know what he did.
D--Did you !know Leonard Rich?
?--Never heard of him.
D--One other person Eileen Bernard. Did you know her?
R--Oh yeah. I knew Eileen well.
D--What was her job with the company?
R--She worked with the p.r. people in the p.r. department. The on-site p.r. -
there were several p.r. operations in Gulf American. They published a news-
paper here that she was involved with. She dealt with the various dignitaries
from time to time that would come into the property. And there were many, many
of them over the years. She was involved with people when they shot a movie
here. Nice lady. And she wrote a book.
D--Yeah, I've read it.
R--And I have to be nice to her because I'm in it. Eileen is a super nice person.
D--I think I've pretty much ran out of questions. Let me ask you a couple of
quick clarifications and then we'll be done. Your full name is...
R--Raymond J. Meyer.
D--What year were you born?
D--Where did you get your education?
R--In the army.
R--No, I went .to college but got my education in the army.
D--Where did you go to college?
R--The University of Kentucky.
D--You mentioned a guy named Mahari?
D--Was it Finkelstein?
R--F-i-n-k-e-l-s-t-e-i-n I believe. Charlie. He's long gone I'm sure.
D--Granger is spelled G-r-a-n-g-e-r?
D--That covers most of my questions. Anything else that you would like to tell
R--There's just so much. They did so many things. Like we took a flyi at
modular housing, which was a very interesting experience. We built the houses
here and transported them up to River Ranch.
D--Any other innovations?
R--At that time, that was innovative. Nobody was, doing anything like that.
Not then the way we did it. It wasn't trailers. It was true modulars.
This was before anybody...the only ones doing anything like it would have been
the Russians. They were building boxes stacked on top of one another. We
used a lot of what would have then been coined as the edge of technology -
like fiberglass on the roofs, and foam panels for the outside walls that
type of thing. A lot of new things in it that still aren't being used today
and there's no reason why it shouldn't be. They were perfectly acceptable
applications. There are so many things. You forget so much of it until you
start talking to somebody or you meet somebody that was involved with it.
The kind of guys...I haven't seen any of them in years. Like the guy that ran
the bus operation. And the guy that ran the airline. They also owned a hotel
D--The Congress Inn?
R--Yes. You forget all that until you start talking about it. But a guy running
a fleet of sixty some busses...that's a big operation.
D--Do you remember what his name was?
R--No but I'll tell you who could tell you is Charlie Cavanaugh. He dealt with him
on a day to day basis. There were just so many people here that were just so
good at what they did. For every salesman that Gulf American had, and God
knows they had a multitude of salesmen, there were a couple hundred people
that were supporting them in one way or another. Like the landscape people,
construction people (heavy construction people), bus people, airline people,
and the people who operated the motels. There's a gal you might want to talk
to Nel Jenkins.
R--Nel Jenkins. She's over here at the Delprado Inn. They had a whole group
of people here who job was to hostess. Nel was involved in that in the
hotel end of it. She knows a lot of what went on in those areas. Her husband
operated one of the vip stations, so he knows a lot about the sales end of it.
I don't know if he's still around or not. I know Nel's still around.
D--At any one time do you have an idea of how many people worked for Gulf
American here at Cape Coral?
R--Here at Cape Coral? No. I know that at one time there were over 4,000
employees in the state. That's when they were the largest employer in the
state. But the exact number I don't know. If you find Eddie Pacelli...
D--I talked to Eddie Pacelli...
R--Eddie was up to his eyeballs in it too. He knows a lot.
D--I think that probably takes care of it.
R--I don't know how you would find some of the people that operated in the other
areas. The guy who ran River Ranch and Remuda Ranch is a fellow by the name of
John McDonald. He lived in Deland after he left the company. Also a super
guy and an unbelievably competent individual. I don't know if he's still
around. He was a young man so he should still be around. He would know about
how those operations ran as far as the properties were concerned.
D--Well good, thanks.