A very interesting series of recollections of the history of Palm River has been created by Bob Forsythe.
About the Author, Bob Forsythe
Bob Forsythe is the person who best knows the history of Palm River. An architect by education, he was associated with the group that formed in Ohio to develop this community. Bob and his family moved here in 1969. Theirs was the first house built in Unit 3. He and his wife, Patty, moved away from Palm River to The Villages in 2005. It is interesting to note that before moving to Florida, Bob, as a partner in Cox and Forsythe in Canton, Ohio, designed the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. He continued as an architect in Naples under the company name Robert E. Forsythe, Architect and was called back to Canton to design several additions to the Hall of Fame, the most recent in 1995.
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Actually it was very exciting when I was asked to tell my memories of Palm River Estates and the trials and tribulations that we encountered.
In late spring 1968, a small group of business men from the Canton, Ohio area had a chance to buy the Palm River Estates and Golf Course project. It had been started about 1960 by a group of members of the Pine Ridge Country Club in Willoughby, Ohio. However, they were having problems and the money they had borrowed from a Union had to be repaid. Therefore the project was for sale.
Dick Locker, one of the group, was an avid golfer and semi retired as president of his deceased father’s moving business. He was chosen to come to Naples to run the golf course and handle real estate sales. I was asked to travel to Naples as needed to handle business with the County and proceed with further planning. Although I had been making frequent trips to Naples for about one year, it was in July 1969 that I had my first full day working out of my office in Palm River.
Naples and all of Collier County had a population of about twenty eight thousand residents, a lot of snakes and alligators and five golf courses. There were two Banks and one Savings and Loan, one High School and one Grade School.
I became acquainted with a retired Judge by the name of Dick Stanley who told me, when he graduated from the University of Florida and became a lawyer, he came to Naples, but found they already had three lawyers and didn’t need any more. So he went to Immokalee and became its first lawyer. At that time Immokalee was really wild, particularly on Saturday night. The County seat was in Everglade City. So if they arrested anyone for fighting or murder, they would just handcuff him to a tree or telephone pole until they had a car load. Then they would take them to the jail in Everglades City.
By fall of 1970 my family and I had settled in Naples. One of our sons became a freshman and the other a sophomore at Naples High School. It was so crowded, even at that time, that the junior and senior classes were from seven in the morning until noon and the freshmen and sophomore classes were from twelve thirty until five. Frequently there were not enough books for everyone and often not enough desks to go around so some of the students sat on the floor. Also, there was no time for study periods. As a result of all this, kids had a rough adjustment if they went to college.
Our boys were on the wrestling team. The team only had one set of uniforms so after the junior varsity matches were over, the team went to the locker room, took off their uniforms and the Varsity players put them on and go out for their matches, Our daughter, who was in the seventh grade, went to the old building which is now part of
Gulfview Middle School. There were about ten kids in Palm River at that time and they caught the school bus where the La Playa office is now at the corner of Palm River Boulevard and Viking Way. Incidentally, at that time that was the Clubhouse and Pro shop for the golf course. The bus traveled east on Immokalee Road then south on narrow Airport Road. They had only two stops before they got to Pine Ridge Road. At those stops they picked up the young Indians who lived in the two Indian villages along the road. They lived in regular Indian huts with thatched roofs and their parents worked in the tomato fields. One year while our kids were in school, one of the Indian girls by the name of Osceola who lived in one of those Villages was the head drum majorette for the high school band.
Although passenger trains had stopped running to Naples, the freight trains continued to run. The train tracks crossed the Immokalee road just west of where Goodlette Road is today. Where Goodlette Road is today there was a little dirt road that ran south I remember that it had a sign pointing south that said, “County Dump”. While the freight trains were still running, several people were killed at that crossing because there were no flashing lights or crossing gates. Of course there were no buildings on either side of Immokalee Road between Palm River to US 41. As you might imagine, the Immokalee road was narrow all the way to Immokalee and there were a many bad accidents along it. Developers were selling land all over the area and Golden Gates Estates was being developed at that time with sales offices in Golden Gate City. There were only two ways to get there from the Naples area. The closest way for us was to go east on the Immokalee Road to 951 and travel south. The other way was to stay on Route 41 through Naples to 951 and north to Golden Gate City. It was also possible to get there by driving over an air strip that I think later became Logan Boulevard.
The sales people would bring in potential customers in an old DC 3 plane, land on that street and take them around to see all of the sections of Golden Gate. Of course, there was no electric power along the many streets and no sewer or water systems either. Sometimes they would take the bus loads of potential customers to Cape Coral to see that project. We affectionately referred to those busses as “Sucker Busses”.
If you happened to be southeast of Naples on US 41 and wanted to go to Marco Island, other than by boat, you kept on going east on US 41 toward Miami until you saw a sign pointing toward Goodland. You took that road until you reached the bridge at the southeast part of Marco Island. It was a swing bridge and the bridge keeper had to crank it by hand for either cars or boats to pass. Someone later decided they needed a better bridge to Marco.
That’s about enough of Naples and Collier County at that time so we will move along for the early days of Palm River. Giving you an overview of this area seemed appropriate as a way to begin this story.
When the Group of business men from the Canton, Ohio area bought the 640 acre Palm River Estates in late spring of 1968, a Board of Directors was elected with Dick Locker to be president and I was to be vice-president. Dick was the logical one for this position because he was an avid golfer and was semi-retired from his deceased lather’s moving van business. It was an obvious and unanimous choice for him to come south to run the golf course operation and handle real estate sales.
I had no experience with golf courses except to play in a Friday evening league. So my responsibilities were to work with planners to look ahead toward future development of the property and pursue rezoning and address other County requirements. While Dick had been on site running and improving the golf course, I had spent the year traveling back and forth to Canton to pursue my responsibilities. On each of my visits, I spent as much time as possible with Dick to establish what the priorities were to move ahead. By the time I started full time in the summer of 1969 I had made the following observations and impressions. First, Palm River was way out in the country with no obvious ties with Naples. When you traveled north from Naples you passed a lot of nothing north of Pine Ridge Road and the first sign of Palm River was a bill board at the north east corner of US 41 and the Immokalee Road which pointed east. It really wasn’t very impressive!
The first sign of civilization after leaving US 41 was the Fairways Motel. It was kind of a relief to see, and for that time, it looked pretty good. After crossing the only bridge into Palm River at the Fairway Motel and heading north into Palm River, the road was divided and the center had very little grass with five or six unhealthy looking Palm trees. It did not make a good first impression.
At that time, other than the golf course, there were three zoned and developed residential areas, namely Units One, Two and Three as we know them today. They had a total of 331 single family lots as I recall. After a little research I found that there was a total of 41 houses already built along with the golf course Pro Shop/Clubhouse. It was on the corner of Viking Way and Palm River Boulevard and was built on a lot zoned residential which made the County very unhappy. It is the building used as the office for the La Playa today.
At that time, I believe but am not sure that about one hundred per cent of the houses constructed were built by members of the Pine Ridge Country Club near Willoughby, Ohio. It was the members of that Club who were the originators of Palm River Estates. Actually some of their members also developed Willoughby Estates. When they started selling lots in the early 1 960s, golf course lots sold for twenty five hundred dollars and non golf course lots sold for twelve hundred dollars and with the purchase of any lot you received a lifetime golf membership. At the time we took over this project there were seventy nine lifetime members. Within the next year or two, Dick Locker tried to contact lot owners and most, but not all, realized that a lifetime golf membership was not reasonable and many did surrender their membership and did pay to play. Actually an annual family golf membership at that time cost three hundred and twenty five dollars When I arrived, I soon found out that the residents were very unhappy people because of the run down condition of about everything. One of the first things I did was contact each of the forty one residents and asked if I could stop by and see them. This appeared to help a lot because I told them we were a new group and had enough money to improve many of the problems that existed.
Patty and I had not sold our house in Canton and we had three kids in school so I was here by myself for one whole year and this really was a blessing because most of the lots were empty and we had no one cutting the grass. I would normally be in my office by seven o’clock in the morning and then at three o’clock when the golf course maintenance crew went home, I would get a good sized tractor and a large mower and cut grass until dark. Believe it or not, I really enjoyed it. Right away the whole place started to look better and the residents became friendly.
The next thing was that the street signs were in bad shape and most were hard to read, so I got permission from my Board to buy new ones. Municipal Sign Company in Naples was making signs for all over the state. (I think they still are making signs in Naples). I gave them a list of all the street names we needed and soon we had our new signs, but we had to replace the old ones. I found I could rent an electric posthole digger and within weeks we had new street signs.
We had no city water and people were having a lot of trouble with their wells so I stuck my neck out again and got permission to see where the closest water was to Palm River. Much to my disappointment, I found the only water anywhere near was on US 41. I knew I wasn’t authorized to spend that kind of money so I went to the County Court House and got a list of all the people who owned property on the south side of Immokalee Road. I was surprised to find that most of that property was in five or ten acre parcels. Next I found that the water came from the City, not the county so I drew a crude map of that area showing a six inch water line running along the south side of the Immokalee road from the US 41 to across from the motel. I knew a six inch line would eventually be too small for Palm River but six inch would work for a good while.
Then with the help of our Engineers we got an estimate of the cost for this project. Next, I figured what I thought would be a fair share of the cost for each property owner on the south side of the road all the way to US 41 and contacted them and tried to convince them that water would make their property a lot more valuable. I was really surprised when about eighty per cent agreed to go along with me. The biggest hurdle came next and that was to get the City of Naples to allow us to tap in their water line on US 41. So I went to the City and made an application and in a few weeks they put me on their agenda. I was very apprehensive because at that time I didn’t know anyone connected to the City But I went and after what seemed to be an hour with my knees shaking all the time. I was surprised that they gave me an affirmative vote. Property owners on the south side of the road were very happy because they didn’t think the City would allow us to tap in their line. With the guidance of our Engineers, we received bids and awarded a contract to have the work done. It moved along according to schedule and when we approached a point opposite the motel, again with the help of our Engineers, we hired a company from the east coast who specialized in running pipe lines under existing roads.
Now we had water to the Motel. Our Engineers had already prepared plans to run water throughout all of Units One, Two and Three and now of course we even had fire hydrants. When the lines were in, each property owner paid to have the Water run into their house, but certainly there were no complaints about this.
At this time I want you to know that as far as I can tell, my recollection of the many events seem to still be pretty clear in my mind; however, dates and years are not as clear but I will try to keep my stories pretty accurate timewise, though there may be some sequences that are not in proper order.
One date I do remember was when I was able to bring my family permanently to Naples from Canton, Ohio. That date was August 1, 1970. I mentioned earlier that because our house in Canton had not sold, I came to Naples alone on August 1, 1969. By early spring of 1970 our house had sold in Canton and we were looking forward to moving into our new house in Palm River, but as is the usual case when we arrived our new house was not quite ready so we lived in one of the larger rooms in the Fairways Motel. It was actually a very good place to stay but we were anxious to get in our new house. It only took three weeks and our house was ready.
At that time there were no houses north of the golf course, so we were the very first house in Unit Three on the west end of Cypress Way East. Our kids wondered why we had to build so far out in the country. There was only one way to get back there and that was straight north on Palm River Boulevard north to Cypress Way East then go west (Palm River Boulevard went straight across the golf course at that time). Drainage at that intersection had long been a problem so every time we had a hard rain; we had to drive across the corner of the golf course to get home.
As noted, my family arrived in August 1970 and less than two months later, around the first of October, word got to us that an eighty year old lady had evidently walked away from her home in Willoughby Acres and had been missing over night. They were asking anyone with a four wheel drive vehicle to join in the search for her. We had an old army jeep, so my two sons and I jumped in the jeep and headed for Willoughby. They seemed to think she had wondered off to the north so most of the hunt vehicles had gathered on the northernmost street.
The four wheel drive vehicles ventured into the brushy area as far as they could go. When we could go no further, Scott, Mark and I jumped out of the jeep and headed north on foot. Not more than perhaps fifty yards had passed until Mark called out that he had been bitten by something. We carried him back to the jeep and could see two fang marks on his ankle, so Scott held him while I drove back to the first street where we found a Sheriff’s car that was just coming in. He got us into his car and headed for the sixteen mile ride to Naples hospital. It seemed like he was driving a hundred miles an hour passing everything on the road. The only problem was that his siren didn’t work and we were scared to death. Thank goodness there were not many cars on the highway so we got there alright and after an overnight stay, they determined that Mark had been bitten by a pigmy rattle snake and evidently the bite had not penetrated the skin.See other side
Incidentally, the lost woman was found the next day about a half mile further in the brush to the north and she didn’t have a scratch on her! Our two teen age boys decided that it would be fun to hunt snakes and they had a ball killing and skinning rattle snakes and cotton mouths. Our garage was full of boards standing up with snake skins drying. We learned quickly that rattle snakes were generally not aggressive; however, cotton mouths were, so the boys kept their distance from them and generally killed them with a shot gun.
One morning several months later, Dick Locker, Bill Piper, who previously owned this property (I’ll tell you a lot more bout Bill Piper later) and I were at the intersection of Palm River Boulevard and Cypress Way East at the very north of Palm River, trying to figure a way to fix the drainage problem there. Immediately to the north of that intersection, where the big lake is now, was a big cypress swamp. Bill Piper suggested that we walk over into the swamp so he could show us something. Having been in Collier County for a very short time I was really scared of snakes, so I was wearing a brand new pair of knee high snake boots I had just purchased.
Snake boots were leather, covered with a layer of steel mesh and then another layer of good thick leather. Quickly I asked Bill if my snake boots were high enough and he said sure and we started to walk into the swamp and within a short distance, I realized we were walking in water waist deep. I was sure there was a snake under every leaf or ripple as far as we could see.
Bill asked us if we knew what had happened in that swamp about ten years earlier and, of course, we didn’t know so he went on to tell us. This was the site for the battle scene of a famous movie at that time called “Distant Drums” starring Gary Cooper. Bill told us the soldiers were fighting the Indians right in the middle of the swamp and to make it more realistic they wanted some alligators so Bill was paid to bring a couple big gators in large crates. When the signal was given, Bill and his helpers would give the gators an electrical shock and they would go charging out of their crates into the swamp as if they were charging the soldiers and Indians. Bill said no one got hurt and as a matter of fact he said the gators were more scared than the actors were.
To top off this story, Bill told us that Gary Cooper and the other actors slept in tents for several weeks in the spot where our house was built at 524 Cypress Way East and still is today. Eventually that swamp was dug out to get the sand and that beautiful lake is the result.
More stories of that intersection will come up later.
For the first two or three years after I arrived, Dick Locker was kept busy making improvements to the golf course and selling a few lots. As was mentioned earlier, the golf course was one of the first five courses in our area.
Courses were built then by digging lakes and using the dirt to create the greens and tees. Most of the courses then were pretty flat with the only raised areas created by the greens and tees. In those days the course had to be manually watered. There was a water line down the center of each fairway with anywhere from two to four sprinkler positions, then generally three or four sprinklers around each green. The problem was that someone had to go to each outlet and manually screw in a sprinkler every night. Each section of six or eight would run for a designated time then they had to be removed and placed in another section of the course. This procedure took and average of about six hours per night.
Before Dick Locker resigned he had the people who worked to maintain the course very well established. So after he left, I retained most of the same people. I mention this because we had a fine young man doing the night watering. That young man, believe it or not, was Guy Carlton, your County Tax Collector. To this day I still consider him as a very close friend and I believe him, from what I hear, to be one of the top Tax Collectors in the whole State of Florida.
He generally started watering about dusk and one night he came to our house about nine o’clock holding a big rattlesnake. He always carried a flashlight and as he was about to place the sprinkler head in one of the outlets on the east side of the course, he looked down and this big rattler was wrapped around his connection.
On another dark and rainy night, he was headed north on one of the fairways, when all of a sudden he found himself in the middle of several cows which had wandered down from Bill Piper’s pasture. At that time the cow pasture was where Imperial Golf Course is today. He finally left us for another job and some years later, he called me and said he was considering running for the Tax Collector’s job and wondered if I thought he could make it and I told him to go for it. I promised him I would help him in any way I could. The rest is history and I believe good history.
I mentioned Bill Piper. Dick Locker and I became very good friends of Bill Piper. According to Bill, during prohibition, he and his brother, Les, who ran Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs then had been rum runners primarily between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario. He said they had made a lot of money but after getting shot at several times, they gathered up their money, grabbed a couple girls (so he said) and moved to Bonita Springs. They bought thousands of acres of land including where Palm River is today and all the land north to Bonita Springs. He told us they paid $18 per acre for all the land they bought. They also owned eight Sections (5,120 acres, eight square miles) at the N.E. corner of the Immokalee Road and Route 951.
Bill, who reminded us of Abraham Lincoln, frequently stopped by the old Clubhouse in the morning for a cup of coffee on his way to his hobby which was clearing of that five thousand acres. He always drove a pickup truck with his horse standing in the back waiting for him. Over the next couple of years, he would stop and insist that I go out to see what he was doing. Actually with his trimming and cutting the grass it looked like a park and he was really proud of it.
Three or four times a week after everyone had left the Clubhouse, he would stop by to talk and we always made sure he always got a beer. One evening as he was leaving, he said that he hated to tell us but there was a bad odor in the Clubhouse. We all looked around and he finally said he had found the problem. You see anytime he would find some small animal, he would take it home to feed the snakes he kept in garage. The snakes would be replacements for the Wonder Gardens. This time he found a dead mouse in his shirt pocket that had been in there for two or three days. He told us that rattle snakes didn’t live long in captivity so anytime he would see one, he would take it to his garage and then to the Gardens when they needed a new one.
After Dick Locker left he would frequently get some kind of a legal notice from the County so he would always call me to review it with him. We would meet in his garage and there were always five or six rattle snakes in cardboard boxes and then other boxes of live rabbits or small animals he would keep to feed the snakes. It was really spooky to walk in that garage and hear all the snakes, especially if you got close to them.
In a previous Chapter I mentioned my first impression of Palm River Estates was when I crossed the bridge by the Fairways Motel and drove north toward the second bridge. The street or perhaps I should say the boulevard was really very unimpressive. There was very little grass, no curbs and three or four scraggly Palm trees.
After a year or two, I was able to convince my bosses that something really needed to be done to make that area more impressive for those coming into Palm River for the first time. A plan was developed showing the existing trees being removed and several new ones that would replace them. Next, several small areas were developed with blooming plants and shrubbery and then the curbs were to be added.
We found it desirable to have a cut through in this area so people could turn around to get back to the motel. To keep the landscaping healthy, it was necessary to have a sprinkling system the entire length of this project. This was long before we had any hope of getting City water so the next thing we had to do was have wells drilled, one in the south section and one in the north part. To make them work we needed to get electric power for the needed pumps to make the sprinkler system work. Arrangements were made to have the electrical power provided. Next we needed to have two wells drilled. Now this is where the story becomes interesting.
There was an old well driller named Chiz Rivers who lived with his two or three sons in a house that set back from the Immokalee Road about a hundred feet east of where the Sam’s Club is today. They had drilled quite a few wells in Palm River so we were very familiar with them. Chiz was very famous in Collier County and later in this story I will relate some of the things that made him so well known, but first I will tell you about the two wells in question.
About eight o’clock on a Monday morning I called Chiz and told him exactly what and where we needed two wells drilled and asked him if he could drill them for us. He said, “Yea, but I can’t get to them right a way because I am busy up in Bonita Springs, but I’ll get to them as quick as I can”. I told him that was alright but asked him not to forget us. As I said that was about eight o’clock on Monday morning. Three hours later around eleven o’clock, Chiz came into my office and handed me a bill for the cost for drilling two wells.
I was surprised and told him we generally didn’t pay bills until the work was done. He said, “I know, but you have always paid as soon as I had my work done and a lot of people don’t pay so good so we went ahead and drilled them for you”. Of course you don’t have to drill very deep to get water in Naples so that is the reason he was able to drill the wells so quickly. It was a favor for me. He had them drilled long before I knew he was even on the property.
Now for the rest of the story. Soon after I first arrived in Palm River, I started to hear stories about some of the most famous or perhaps more infamous people in the County. Two names I heard right away were Bill Piper and Chiz Rivers. Remember, Collier County had a very small population at that time and most of the “old timers” knew everything that was going on in the County.
This story I had heard more than once, but I really didn’t believe it so one day, later after I felt I knew Chiz as a friend, I asked him it was true. He laughed and said, “Hell yes it’s true.” As a matter of fact, I think he was proud of it, so he went on and told me his version of the story which was almost exactly as the stories I had heard. The part of the story he didn’t tell and the part I really got a kick out of was how this all came about.
It seems that every year a carnival traveled through south Florida and there was always something special that the men could bet on. Through the years it got so that there developed a big competition between the men from Ft. Myers and the men in Collier County.
One year the carnival had a big gorilla and a boxing ring and they would pay a prize to anyone who could stay in the ring with that gorilla for a certain period of time. Well, the men from Ft. Myers got together and bet the men in Collier County that they couldn’t come up with a man who could stay the allotted time required to win a prize. As the story goes there was a lot of money being bet. So the men from Collier County had to find a man to represent them.
It didn’t take them long to choose Chiz Rivers because he had the reputation as being the County’s most notorious drunk who had lost count of how many time he had been arrested, so the story goes. As a matter of fact, he once ran for County Sheriff and his platform was you should elect him because he had been arrested for everything in the book so he knew all the laws because he had broken all of them The funny part of this was that they made sure he didn’t know anything about this carnival or the gorilla and the day of this big event they got him so drunk he didn’t know what was going on. They took him to the carnival and when the time came everyone had made their bets and surrounded the ring. To win the prize, I am told, you had to stay in the ring, I believe it was three minutes.
Anyhow they got Chiz into the ring and almost immediately the gorilla knocked him down. He really didn’t know what was going on but the gorilla made him mad so he bit it on the leg and it jumped out of the ring. The story ended with Chiz being a hero in Collier County for quite a while!
I didn’t know Chiz and his boys to be the kind of guys described in that story. They had always been respectful to me as well as dependable and efficient. After we got City water, I lost track of them, but to me they had always been “good guys”.
To complete this landscaping project, we needed a new sign to greet those entering our project. To get one done by a professional, the cost was beyond our budget, so we decided to make it ourselves. I went to the drawing hoard and after several sketches we decided on one, but now we had to get it built. A resident of Palm River who was a close friend of mine, Roger Burkey, who I had known as the Research Vice President in Julius Fejes’s Ohio Industrial Plant in Orville, Ohio, was also handy with tools.
We got together and decided it should be constructed out of cypress because of its durability. Next we found there was a family who had a saw mill and who lived down Route 951 just east of Lely Estates, so off we went and found the old wooden bridge that led into their house at the edge of the Everglades. We found their house and went to the door and they invited us in. Their house was all cypress including the outside, the floors inside, walls and ceiling. They also had a pet monkey living with them. We were impressed!
The County had just passed a law that made it necessary to get a permit to cut any cypress trees. But they said that they didn’t get permits, so we asked them what they would do if someone from the County tried to stop them. They quickly said, “We’d shoot them”!
Well, in about a week, to our surprise, they delivered our cypress. We cut the lumber to the size we needed, laid it on the ground and sketched the lettering on ft then Roger took his router and soon had the letters all cut out. Soon it was stained and the letters were painted and we had our sign. This was in the early 1970’s and it stood until it was replaced just a few years ago.
Water! Everyone was extremely happy when we finally got Naples City water in Palm River which meant no more wells and no more water that tasted like sulfur.
We thought great strides had been made when we got City water and we had, but our sights were on rezoning the large piece of land that made up the south east section of our project. We wanted to get it rezoned mostly MF (Multi-Family) with a small part Commercial so that more than just Single-Family housing could be built. But another major project had to be considered before we could even think about asking the County for the proper rezoning.
Nothing could be done with Multi-Family or Commercial zoning if we didn’t have a sewer system and that was not a small challenge. The County saw no reason to even be thinking about running a sewer system way out in the country where we were. So we visited several other outlying developments on the west coast of Florida and the conclusion was to try to get State and County approval to build a small sewage treatment plant of our own before we could even go for the rezoning.
This meant, if we were to build our own plant, we would have to be ready to maintain it ourselves and hire a State licensed inspector to check it every day of the week, and that was expensive. We found there was a company at Plant City, Florida who built small sewage plants who could build and install one for us. They gave us a good price so we contacted Tri-County Engineers and with them decided a layout for the roads involved and then had Tri-County do the design work and get the costs before we would even consider going ahead. After due process, The County gave us the rezoning we wanted. With our own sewer system and our rezoning complete and our Board’s approval, we were able to move ahead.
It didn’t make sense unless we had Tri-County design a system that included all of existing Palm River. When everything was worked out, we let contracts and the work began. Several months later we had our Multi-Family and Commercial areas with streets and sewers. The existing house owners all paid to get sewers and destroyed their old septic tanks.
One thing that we didn’t have at that time was the second bridge to the Immokalee Road. Sometime later the County insisted we build that bridge, but that is another story. Finally, we turned the new Multi-family and Commercial areas over to the Realtors. Those who were most involved with Palm River sales were Jim Topping, Ellwood Witt and Don Elferdink. These three were responsible for more sales than anyone else and did much to help Palm River grow. As a matter of fact they seemed like family. Jim Topping and Ellwood Witt were with original group who started Palm River.
After the sewer system was in operation there would frequently be problems and during the week, I could call someone to come and make repairs. But more than once the red light would go on at a lift station warning of trouble on a Holiday or weekend when I could find no one to repair it. So having watched the professionals make minor repairs, much to my regret, I could somehow make such repairs.
The worst time was a call I got at home about seven thirty on a Thanksgiving morning. This was the biggest challenge I had. I could see that the pump was clogged and the only thing I could do was to pull it to the surface and pull the sewage out with my bare hands. Thankfully it worked, but my wife wouldn’t let me in the house until I scrubbed myself with the garden hose from head to foot. To this day she reminds me of that day. When I looked at my contract, I couldn’t find where I was supposed to do anything like that. And no one ever thanked me!
As we turned the new Multi-family and Commercial areas, known as Unit Four, over to the Realtors we continued to address another major problem that had continued to exist. We mentioned earlier that when my family’s house was being built, it was the first house north of the golf course and there was a major drainage problem at the north end of Palm River Boulevard where it ended at Cypress Way East. By the time we were working on the Multi-family and Commercial areas, there were several houses near us on the north side of the golf course but the drainage problem had never been corrected.
After each bad storm, the residents could only drive to about a hundred feet from that corner. So we had it set up that they would leave their cars when they got to the water and I or one of my two sons, Scott or Mark who were both high school students would “volunteer” to meet them with a large front end loader we had. We would tilt the bucket down to where it was level. Then the passengers would sit in the bucket and one of us would take them across the water, but they would have to walk the rest of the way to their house. In the morning with the boys in school, I would generally be the one to meet the residents and take them back to their cars. During the summer, we got to know our neighbors a lot better.
The water problem was caused because Bill Piper’s cow pasture drained directly into that intersection, but the problem was also caused because that intersection had been built too low to allow the water to drain out. That problem was resolved later when the road was rebuilt.
The next couple of articles should be interesting because I hope to write of ongoing planning for major changes on the golf course -- plans by a new well known golf course Architect who had moved to Palm River. He and his wife had lived in England where he had designed many golf courses all over the United Kingdom as well as some as far away as Venezuela. His life makes a very interesting story.
Next will be an equally interesting story about how The Naples Dinner Theater’s came to Naples, which includes the man who was behind it and the help given by a real life Hollywood Director. You will be surprised how interesting these stories are. I look forward to writing each one of these very unusual stories and about the people involved.
As you may recall, Palm River Estates was conceived as a Golf Course community and was originally planned and built around nineteen sixty by a group of members mainly from the Pine Ridge Country Club in Willoughby, Ohio. Laury Perola was the Golf Professional there and was also the one who designed the Palm River golf course. It was built like most golf courses in South Florida at that time by simply finding a flat piece of land that was not under water. After you had a design, you would simply dig lakes to get the sand to use to build greens and tees and the rest of the course would still be flat. Actually, it was a good layout and created a challenging Championship course which provided a lot of good golf for the good and not so good golfers for several years.
However, by the time we got involved about ten years later, new golf courses were being built in the area. They were more modern and more up to date and were attracting many golfers away from Palm River, so something needed to be done. Dick Locker was still running the golf course operation. It was before Dean Fejes had graduated from Marguette University, so he had not yet arrived at Palm River.
But we did have two new residents namely Ernie and Maggie Smith. Ernie was an internationally known golf course Architect. In earlier Chapters I mentioned his name and indicated once that he came from England and once that he was from Scotland. I’m still not sure which is correct; although, I remember for sure that he was a true Scottish gentleman and Maggie was a very good golfer!
He had designed many golf courses in the British Isles, and one time he received a lot of notoriety when he and another gentleman played eighteen holes of golf in four countries in the British Isles in twenty four hours. He described this adventure where they started at four o’clock one morning with the aid of automobile head lights. When they finished the first course, there was a small plane waiting for them, and they flew to a nearby country where they played another course followed by another plane ride and so on until they accomplished their goal. Four courses, four countries in twenty four hours! Wow!
At least that was his story and he claimed they were big heroes for a short time. Next, we were fascinated when Ernie told us he had designed nine golf courses in Venezuela. He said that most, if not all, the courses were built entirely with nothing but sand and they had no grass on them. We were a little skeptical but he convinced us that that is true. We believed it was true because he was such a quality gentleman. While he was working with us, he did some design work on the golf course out on the end of Captiva Island on the north end of Sanibel. As a matter of fact, he took Dick Locker and me up to play it with him when it was completed.
In studying the Palm River’s course, he soon pointed out areas of wasted space as well as other problems that needed attention. When it was finished, we had a much better course. Something we could be proud of. To begin with, we had a huge driving range that lay on the right side of Palm River Boulevard running east and west just north east of the original Clubhouse. You probably know that is the building on the corner of Palm River Boulevard and Viking Way that is now being used, as far as I know, as an office for the La Playa.
With the redesign of the course, Palm River Boulevard would have to be stopped north of Viking Way and continued on the north side of the remodeled area. With Ernie’s plans several of the old holes on the golf course were abandoned and relocated to conform to the new layout. Along with these changes most of the other tees and greens were rebuilt with detail given to drainage and contouring. This work along with reshaping the fairways soon caused our course to become an updated and more challenging facility. This was applauded by all who had the chance to play the “New Palm River”!
Making these major changes also meant that the golf course Maintenance Building would have to be relocated. That building originally was just east of the lake after you cross the second bridge past the Motel on Palm River Boulevard. The strip of land that was once the road to the Maintenance Building still exists along the river.
That lake was larger at that time and on the east end near the Maintenance Building there was and still is a little building which houses the pump for the golf course watering system. Yes, that lake provides the water that keeps the golf course green, but early on we had a real problem. During the dry season in those days the Palm River would dry up then the lake would dry up, too, which meant no water for the golf course. But when the river dried up we noticed that just a few feet from the Maintenance Building there was an artesian well that kept bubbling up in the river bed from underground. Then it dawned on us that if we could capture that water, so to speak, perhaps the river would not dry up and maybe the lake would also hold more water.
We got permission from our Board and then the Water Management Board to build a little dam (they called it a weir) about seventy five yards west of the bridge over Palm River and believe it or not our problem was solved.
Incidentally, within the last ten or fifteen years, the County was trying to locate all of the artesian wells in the County and someone told them they thought there is one in Palm River and if anyone would know, it would probably be me. They called me and I was happy to tell them where I thought it was, and sure enough they found it!
Relocating the Maintenance Building presented a real problem so we called Elwood Witt who was a longtime resident of Palm River and also had developed Willoughby Acres, to see if he still had land in Willoughby Acres adjacent to Cypress Way East. To our surprise he had two five acre tracts.
To shorten this story we bought both tracts and built the Maintenance building on the north five acres and eventually built our sewer treatment plant on the one to the south. When the sewer treatment plant was built it served all of Palm River until the County brought their sewer lines to the Immokalee Road many years later, then Palm River connected into the County system.
After Ernie Smith’s plans were completed Palm River was again being accepted as a good golf course and one we could all be proud of. That is the way it continued until it was purchased in recent years by the La Playa and completely rebuilt. At the time we did our rebuilding of the course, I would guess that about seventy percent of the Palm River residents belonged to The Palm River Golf Course, but the last I heard, there were only a few residents who were able to become members of La Playa. Seems a shame. There is no question but that it is a beautiful golf course and we wish them well.
Chapter Eight (the Naples Dinner Theater)
After we arrived in Naples in 1969, people would often ask us where we lived and we would say, “Out in Palm River Estates”. About ninety per cent of the time they would ask, “Where in the world is that”? You may remember me telling you that in 1969, we were way out in the country and very few people had even heard of Palm River! A few years later, the Naples Dinner Theater was built and until last year when it was torn down, when we were asked where Palm River Estates is, we would ask, “Do you know where the Naples Dinner Theater is”? And most would say, “Yes” and we would say, “Well, that’s where Palm River is”.
Now for my part in the Dinner Theater. I mentioned before that one of the conditions in my coming to Naples was that while working at Palm River, I would be allowed to also start an Architectural practice in Naples and because of that, I was able to become involved with the Dinner Theater.
The Naples North Rotary Club had been started in late 1969 or early 1970 and Dick Locker, my cohort in Palm River, was a founding member. After it had been established for about six months, he suggested I joined the Club. It was a great Club with many wonderful members and numerous interesting speakers.
Sometime later, one of the guest speakers was Chuck Tiseo, a senior pilot with TWA. He really impressed me as he stood up in front in his full Captain’s uniform telling of his many interesting experiences. I was particularly interested in the fact that he was still flying around the world once a month at that time. Having had a love affair with airplanes all my life and having flown in bombers in World War II and the Korean War, I just knew that I had to get to know him. So after the meeting I introduced myself and we immediately struck up a friendship that lasted for many years.
I mentioned that he was still flying around the world once a month at that time, but that only took eleven days and the rest of the month he sold real estate in Naples. After we had our Palm River Unit Four rezoned Multi Family and Commercial, he came to me and told me he would like to buy the parcel of land at the corner of Piper Boulevard and Cypress Way East. Also, he said he wanted to build a Dinner Theater and wondered if I would be the Architect for it.
I quickly said yes, but I told him that I really knew very little about designing a Dinner Theater. He said for me not to worry because he had a good friend who owned the Golden Apple Dinner Theater in Sarasota. He had been a director in Hollywood but had relocated to Sarasota and built and directed the theater there and he was anxious to help us. He said this is what we would do. “I belong to a local flying club and when I get back from my trips around the world, we will fly to Sarasota and talk with my friend.” So, for several months, when Chuck returned, we would leave Naples about five o’clock in the evening and fly to Sarasota in time to observe how the theater worked and what the construction requirements were.
The gentleman who owned the Golden Apple and his staff were always very friendly and informative. For instance, on one trip we would discuss seating, which included spacing, type of furniture, sight lines and above all we were not to have more than three hundred and forty two seats. That was important because Union rules dictated that if we had even one more seat, the actors and actresses would get into a higher pay bracket. One of the next trips, we studied the kitchen, which included equipment and layout. We found out that when they had a matinee, they had to wash about seven thousand dishes and pieces of silver ware each day. To accommodate that it required good dish washing equipment and a plenty of storage. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but on other trips we studied dressing rooms, wardrobe storage and maintenance, but two of the other very important items involved were the necessity for good acoustics and special lighting. One of the most interesting concerns was related to the area where and how the buffet food service fit into the scheme of things. If you were ever there for a performance you will remember that the area where the food was served had to be cleared out before the performance could begin. Then the stage curtain would open and out would roll the stage.
The stage was twenty four feet by twenty four feet, was two feet high and was constructed with steel joists but had no wheels under it. Actually there were six large steel plates which were placed one at each corner and two in the middle. Then there were air hoses connected to an air compressor attached to the rear of the stage. When it was time to move the stage, the compressor was turned on and the air raised the stage about two inches off the floor. There was a groove in the floor with a rod that was attached to the stage and rod in that grove to keep it in the right position. At that point the stage could easily be pushed out into position even with stage settings and sometimes even people and it could be moved silently by one person. That was fun to see it work. When the time came for our grand opening we had a very successful play called “Yankee Doodle Dandy” written by George Gershwin about the fourth of July. We thought it was really great and so did the audience. For many years there were many great performances of other plays.
In the early days, the ladies would always dress up and some even wore long evening gowns and the men were required to wear jackets, but if they had not worn one, the Dinner Thater always had one they could borrow.
After a relatively short time, Chuck Tiseo sold his interest to Julius Fiske who ran the operations for many years until he died. My wife, Patty, and I kept in rather close touch with the Fiskes and one day many years later, we saw in the Repository that Mrs. Julius Fiske (I’m sorry that I don’t remember her first name), had died and there was going to be a memorial service for her that evening at six o’clock at the Dinner Theater. So we hurried home from work, changed our clothes and went down for the service. When we got there, there were people standing in line at the ticket windows buying tickets. When we got to the window, we told them we were there for the Memorial service for Mrs. Fiske. Much to our surprise, we were told that there had been a mistake and she was in the back office with Mr. Fiske.
When we told them who we were, they went to the office and soon came back and told us that Mr. and Mrs. Fiske would like us to come to their office. When we got there, they were furious because evidently a disgruntled employee who had been laid off had her obituary put in the paper. It was embarrassing to them plus they had to call florists in Naples and as far away as Sarasota to stop flowers which had been ordered. Many other local people as well as some from Sarasota were on their way for the service, as were we.
The bottom line was, they asked us if we had seen the current play, which we had not, so they handed us tickets for the show and we enjoyed a good dinner and saw the play and, as Paul Harvey would say, “And that’s the rest of the story”!
This time I’m going to write about the Imperial Golf Course. Wow! You must be wondering why in the world I am writing about the Imperial Golf Course. Well, it all happened this way. You see, Julius Fejes, Dean Fejes’s father, was the principal stockholder of the Palm River Estates Corporation and when Julius asked me to do something I simply said, “Yes sir”.
I was aware that Julius had been investing in some properties with a Realtor named Lloyd Shaheen. Lloyd had been in Real Estate in Naples long before we knew Naples existed. Julius was always looking for new investments, and I was aware that he and Lloyd had purchased the land immediately to the north of Palm River but had no idea what they planned to do with it..
Julius called me one day and asked if I knew a Jim Murphy. I told him that I did not so he asked me if I would be available to meet with Mr. Murphy at ten o’clock the next morning and I told him that I would make myself available. He then told me that Jim needed some help and I should try to work out something with him, if possible. I can’t remember the exact year, but it would probably have been in the late 70’s.
The next morning Julius, Lloyd and Jim Murphy met with me in the Palm River office. The fact was that Jim Murphy had made an offer to Julius and Lloyd whereby if they would give him enough of their land north of Palm River to build a golf course, they would end up with enough extra land to lay out a golf course community which would put them in a position to, sell a lot of golf course lots at a very good price.
This was all very interesting, but I still couldn’t figure out where I fit in the picture. All of a sudden I found out! There was no road to get to that property where they wanted to build the golf course and they wanted to know if I thought it would be possible for the construction equipment to come through Palm River while the course was being built. My first thought was “I don’t think so”!
But after we talked for a while, and I knew I only had one correct answer, I agreed that it could be done. We discussed what the rules would be, including keeping the streets clean and trying to keep the noise controlled as much as possible. Jim agreed that he would cooperate fully and if anything was not right, he would have it corrected. I must say, he kept his word throughout the entire construction period.
It so happened that at one time there was a dirt road that crossed a ditch which separated the two properties, and there were still two old drainage pipes that would provide a clear way to the northern property. It was determined that all equipment would enter Palm River across the bridge by the motel. Then after crossing the pext bridge, it would turn left on Viking Way and go west. Then turn north onto the street just west of Cypress Way West which was old Tamiami Trail and then cross onto the property where the new course would be built.
Only one slight misunderstanding occurred during the entire construction period and that was because eventually the heavy equipment had crushed the old drainage pipes and Jim Murphy asked me if they could replace them. I assured him that they could. The day they were doing that, I was standing by watching the progress when one of Jim’s men came to me and suggested that we should pay half the cost for replacing the pipes. My quick answer to him was that we had absolutely no reason to ever enter that property again so I suggested that all work be stopped immediately and leave the old pipes as they were. He evidently told Jim Murphy what I said and Jim couldn’t get to me fast enough to apologize!
Although I never went to the site during the construction period, I kept hearing things were going well. Then all of a sudden, the roof caved in. Julius called me one day and said that he and Lloyd needed to see me right away. Now remember, this was early June. They came to my office and told me the agreement they had with Jim Murphy was that they would have a new road from Route 41 to the golf course by day the golf course was scheduled to open and that was, I think, the fifteenth of November, and that was only five and a half months away. At that point, Julius and Lloyd had not contacted anyone to even consider building a road.
They looked at me and said there was a penalty clause that said they would have to pay daily big money for any delays and they were looking to me to get the road built for them. Another Wow! I finally told them I didn’t think it could be done, but I would certainly try. The only saving grace was that the County was pretty easy to work with at that time. The first thing I did was to get an aerial survey map which was readily available. Thankfully it showed where the property came out on U.S. Forty One. Next I called a man who had a bull dozer and who we had been working with me at Palm River. He and I met at the highway forty one and with the aerial map and me sitting on the dozer beside him, we headed east knocking down trees and bushes along the way. According to the aerial map, there was a big Cypress head between us and the golf course so we watched for it and when we got close, we jogged far enough north to miss it then headed east again to the edge of the golf course.
At this point, I contacted our Engineers and took them to the site and told them I would like for them to design a road along the path we had made with the bull dozer and do it as quickly as possible. Then I told them of the problem that existed and asked them to really try to get it done. And by the way, it needs to be done by November fifteenth, and they, also, promptly said it couldn’t be done. All I could ask of them was to do their very best.
Believe it or not they designed the road, we hired a contractor and at ten o’clock in the evening of the fourteenth of November, it was completed. Jim Murphy had his golf course and a good road to get to it!
And now you know the rest of the story and you know why I included this story about the Imperial Golf Course in my Palm River experiences!
Perhaps you might remember that in one of my earlier stories, I talked about my first impression of Palm River Boulevard as you passed the Fairways Motel and traveled north, and it was not a good impression. Fortunately, I had that as one of my first challenges when I arrived in Naples.
In this issue, I would like to write briefly about first impressions that I got from other investors in our group from the Canton Ohio area. Let me be quick to say that there were twelve of those people who quickly became my bosses and without any hesitation each of them fell into the category as being among the finest group of gentlemen that I have ever met.
Of these twelve, most were members of long established and beautiful first rate Country Clubs in the Canton area, so it was no real surprise to me that I was hearing that Palm River’s golf course was not the greatest and the Clubhouse was a “dingy” little place. I had never played much golf, and for sure I had never belonged to a Country Club, so it was obvious that I saw things a little differently. First, to my eyes, I saw a golf course that was not built on beautiful tree covered roiling hiills with a little stream running through it. But you know what, I didn’t think it was all that bad and through the years I found there were a lot of people who felt the same way.
Now the Clubhouse (at the corner of Palm River Boulevard and Viking Way) was a different story and frankly it was not that impressive, but it was a friendly little place and for several years it served us well. For sure I have a lot of good memories of that building. Perhaps you may remember from previous Chapters the stories about Dick Locker and me and our frequent visits in the Clubhouse with Bill Piper (his brother had the Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita) and the time he hesitated but finally told us that there was a bad odor in the Clubhouse. You may remember that Bill stopped by for a beer after spending his days clearing the wooded area on some land they called the “bull pens” out east on the Immokalee road.
Bill would catch small animals primarily rattlesnakes and turtles and keep them in his garage as replacements for the Everglades Wonder Gardens which he and his brother owned in Bonita. He would also catch small animals to feed those creatures in his garage. So after we all searched to find the odor in the Clubhouse, with little success, Bill decided it was time for him to go home. Suddenly he turned to say he was sorry, but he had found the problem. He had put a dead mouse in his shirt pocket a couple of days before and had forgotten to feed it to the animals in his garage!
But it was a “good” Clubhouse for our blue collar members and of the few who are still living, I’m sure they would agree. To begin with, there was a small screened in porch on the north side of the building and that was where most of our golfers would stop for a beer or lunch after golf. We also had frequent parties there for the members and you know what, we had really good food.
The bar was in the larger air conditioned room as you entered from Viking Way and I must say it was a very popular place and served its purpose well. The kitchen was on the west side and we had a great cook named Alice. She was part Indian and made the best soup and the best hamburgers that anyone could ever want. A lady by the name of Marion was in charge of the food service and she was assisted by another lady by the name of Gretchen. Together they put out some mighty good lunches, dinners and parties.
Bartenders were another story. One time while I was working by myself, Mr. Fejes invited me to go on a hunting trip with him up in northern Canada. My wife, Patty, was aware of the problem we were having with the bartender so I asked her to keep her eye on him. One day she caught him stealing so she fired him on the spot! Then she went to the Clubhouse daily to help where she could.
At that time the kitchen opened at twelve noon but the bar opened at eleven. Patt, who doesn’t drink much, like me knew practically nothing about bartending. She was there one morning and shortly after eleven a man came in and went up to the bar, so Patty went over and asked if she could help him. He said, “Yea, I’d like to have a beefeater” and she promptly said, “I’m sorry the kitchen doesn’t open until noon”. Marion and Gretchen soon heard about this
and found another job for her to do. Patty called me in Canada and and told me what had happened so I flew back as quickly as I could find a flight. Palm River was still way out in the country and we had alligators, snakes and rats everywhere. One day we had a man who did about everything for us go up in the attic for something. Very quickly he was back down. As soon as he got up in there, he found a big black snake staring at him. I don’t know what happened then, but we were never aware of another snake in the attic.
On the other end of the screened in porch was the Pro Shop. During my early years Jim Parker was the head Pro. Jim was and is a fine gentleman and had been Captain of the University of Florida golf team. Sometime later he left to go into the business of leasing golf carts for big events and tournaments. The last I heard, he had over six thousand golf carts in his business. Did I fail to mention? He was a good businessman, too.
When Jim left, he was replaced by another fine gentleman by the name of Sam. I’m terribly embarrassed, because as well as I knew Sam and thought so highly of him, at this moment I can’t remember his last name. I almost forgot to mention. We had an old cat that hung around the Clubhouse and was everybody’s friend. She prided herself by bringing back rats or snakes that she had caught and evidently wanted us all to see. Jim Parker would frequently leave her in the Pro Shop at night and more than once I would get a call from the Sheriff’s office telling me the burglar alarm had gone off in our Pro Shop. It seems Jim would have a golf bag or something else leaning against the screened window and the cat would accidentally knock it down and set off the alarm.
We had some good golfers come to play Palm River. One of them who came every year was, I’m not sure, but I think his name was Cooper. Anyhow, he had won the the Canadian Open. He and his wife would come and play, and before he would come into our small Clubhouse, he would always be wearing a tie and dress jacket Another well know golfer who came every year was Bobby Nichols. At that time he was still head Pro at Akron’s Firestone Country Club. After he retired, he moved to Naples and I believe he became Pro at Lely and later moved up to Estero, I think. He, too, was and is a fine gentleman.
During this time, my friend, Dick Locker had left to go into the Real Estate business and I handled all phases of Palm River by myself until Julius Fejes’s son, Dean, graduated from Marquette and came to work with me full time.
It was while I was handling Palm River by myself that we had a very sad thing happen. One of our families who had been a part of the original group who started Palm River lived three or four houses west of the Clubhouse. They had a forty six year old son who frequently had seizures. Because of that, he could not get a job. So, with the cooperation of our kitchen group, we asked him if he would like to wash dishes and earn a little money. He was delighted and did a great job.
He and his family were also pleased and they asked if we could find something else for him to do. So I talked it over with the greens superintendent and we agreed that there were jobs on the golf course, but he would have to work closely with another person at all times. We put him with a man who kept the rest rooms clean and used small push mowers to trim around things on the course. Richard was never happier!
We had an active women’s group at Palm River and one day they were having a golf tournament with women from all over Florida. About mid morning, the greens superintendent came rushing into my office and practically yelled, “Richard is missing”! I had someone go tell his parents and headed for the area where he was last seen. By the time I got there, the sheriff’s men were already there, and one of the deputies was wading in a small lake next to the golf course. It was only about thirty inches deep and the handle of a lawn mower was sticking out of the water. A deputy came to me and told me the other deputy had reached down and felt Richard’s leg. I took another member who came out and went to Richard’s father and told him the news was not good and suggested he go home, which he did.
As we checked out just what had happened, we found that he had been trimming grass along the edge of the lake and was working with one our most trusted men. This man was less than a hundred feet away and walked over to check the rest room. He checked on Richard and and everything was alright. He then went inside for less than five minutes and when he came out Richard was no place to be seen. All of Palm River was saddened by this tragic event, but Richard died happy.
Up until this time, my office, the Palm River office was in the house just north of the Fairways Motel and I had just moved to the old Clubhouse. Later, after we built the new Palm River Clubhouse, Dean and I both had our offices in the old Clubhouse. Later as I started to devote full time to my Architectural business, Dean took on all the responsibilities connected with Palm River and continued until it was sold.
The New Palm River Clubhouse
In Chapter Ten, I wrote about my wonderful memories of the "Old Clubhouse". It was small. The area where we served most of the meals was on a screened-in porch which wasn't even air conditioned. But those were good times. When I first started to work at Palm River, that's where I really got to know the people who were there before I was. They were wonderful people and as Palm River grew, I got to know the new-comers and enjoyed them.
The food was really good and for a dingy little clubhouse, we had some great times there, but we were soon out-growing it. Also, the members were getting tired of our old cat proudly bringing back snakes and rats it had caught. And then, workers were finding snakes in the attic. It was time to do something! Plus, in the late seventies or early nineteen eighties, the number of people in Palm River at that time was growing at a fast rate. It was obvious that we needed a new clubhouse, so the Board of Directors said, "Bob, you are an Architect, design us a new clubhouse".
By that time, I had been involved with additions to the Royal Poinciana Golf Club, the Wilderness Golf Club and new Clubhouses at Windstar and Quail Creek and several others. I had to design what they wanted, but this time I was able to do what we wanted!
Our old Clubhouse was really small and when we were finished with the new one, we had a five thousand foot Clubhouse. Now that is not big by today's standards, but to us it was like the Taj Mahal. To describe it a little, we could seat two hundred and fifty in our dining room. The locker rooms were fine, especially the ladies’, because it had a beautiful lounge.
Our Pro Shop suited our needs nicely. We had a wonderful Pro by the name of Jim Parker. He was at Palm River when I got there and stayed for several years after the new clubhouse was built. He had been Captain of the University of Florida Golf Team. He was succeeded by another fine Pro by the name of Sam Zieders and he stayed until the golf course was sold.
Two of our members were brothers who had owned the best restaurant in Canton, Ohio and were very gracious in helping me design a very efficient kitchen. I really didn't know much about designing a kitchen for a clubhouse at that time! When it was finished, we had the most wonderful grand opening anyone could ever want and our members were as proud of it as we were. At that time, Dean Fejes had been aboard for several months, and he and I worked well together to make this all happen. To us the Dining Room was beautiful. While I was still in Canton, I had worked with a very special Interior Designer from Akron, by the name of John Mazzolla. So I convinced the Board to allow me to hire him. After he and I had shared many thoughts on what to do, I made arrangements for all of our Board members who lived in the Canton area and their wives to meet with John in his Akron office. (While I was writing this, I was reminded by my wife, Patty, that she didn't get to go to Akron. When all was said and done, she really liked what she saw!)
The dishes and silverware were especially beautiful. Several months later, Dean realized that some of the silverware was missing and after watching the man and wife who did the night cleaning, he discovered that from time to time they were taking silver ware home. He figured they had taken six or eight settings. I don't remember how he handled it. All I remember is that I never saw them again!
Several thnes I have mentioned our Board of Directors and I think I should give their names at this time. They mostly lived in and around Orville and Wooster, Ohio, and most of them had places in Naples and many friends here. They were Julius Fejes, Chairman of the Board, Mike Smith, Hank Miller, Peggy Martin, Roger Berkley and Jack Basquin. A great board for me to work with!
John Mazzolla had recommended a beautiful carpet for the dining room. He chose white chairs with Florida-like flowery material on the seats and backs and beautiful drapes for the windows. It was beautiful! The Grille Room had a back drop behind the bar of monkeys swinging on trees painted on the back of clear plastic. There were also two long narrow vertical windows in that room that gave light and privacy and they were fitted with facetted stained glass that depicted Palm Trees. The double doors at the main entrance were especially made for us at a factory in New Mexico and the door pulls (handles) were designed and cast in aluminum by a young gentleman in Akron by the name of Don Drum. He also had done work for John and me up north. The pulls were about four inches wide and about twelve inches high. One was a stylized "P" and the other was a stylized "R" for Palm River. By the night of the grand opening, Dean had recruited several young men and women from the neighborhood to bus dishes, park cars and anything else we needed them to do.
So after everyone had gathered for the grand opening, we had several hours of happy members, good food, dancing and laughter and many new good memories! Roger Berkey, one of my Board members, had built the portable dance floor, which was used during the grand opening and for many years to come.
As some were thinking about going home, one of the first to leave was a very wealthy widow whose husband had worked for General Motors. Several minutes after she had left the building, she came back and said she couldn't find her car. Promptly, Jimmie Allen and our son Mark were dispatched to help her find the car. After what we thought was a long time, they came back and said they had checked every car in the parking lot but could not find it. While they went back out to look again, she came back in and was very disturbed. Finally she reached in her purse to get something and found her keys. Then she remembered that she had driven one of her other cars. She left very happy but also very embarrassed! To the best of my recollection that was the only flaw of the whole evening.
For a lot of years many more good memories came out of that building. There was, oh, so much good food, dances, many birthday parties, wedding receptions, anniversary celebrations and even weddings outside on the north side next to the golf course! As I mentioned earlier, it was not the largest, nor the most exclusive Clubhouse in Collier County, but I doubt that many others had better food, created more true friendships or will be remembered longer than our "New Clubhouse"! No one was more proud to have been a part of the early days of Palm River nor was more disappointed than I was when I learned the Palm River golf course and our new Clubhouse was to be no more! I thank God for allowing me the opportunity to face the many great challenges and experiences I had at Palm River and especially the many wonderful friendships Patty and I made there!
Some key events and milestones that helped to shape our community.
"The Palm River Homeowners and Civic Association (PRHCA) has been functioning since about 1974 and has been an important part of keeping Palm River a great place to live. It’s rather unusual for an unstructured community this size to maintain such an organization. Over the years, with the support of the residents, the PRHCA has accomplished a lot."
Shortly after its formation the PRHCA took over the care of the Palm River Boulevard (PRB) median and made it what it is today. Without the support of our members we would depend on the county to mow it, probably nothing more -- certainly not the attractive shrubbery you see you there now.
About 2002 the PRHCA board, again with the support of its members, worked diligently to avoid a cluster home community with a single, gated entrance in what is now the attractive Horse Creek Estates.
We redesigned and repainted the Palm River Blvd entrance bridge adding the palm tree plaques that signify our community.
In 2006 your association carefully monitored the transformation of the Naples Dinner Theater property into the Lock Up storage facility and prevented the inclusion of approval for a strip mall and possibly a tavern at that busy intersection.
Thank you to Lock Up Storage! This kind business donates a small storage locker for all our Christmas decorations and important files. Thanks for being part of the community !
That same year, by appealing to the Board of County Commissioners we were able to save the Cypress Way East (CWE) Bridge which the county was on the verge of removing. Without that bridge exit, traffic congestion at the intersections of Piper Blvd with Cypress Way East and with Airport Road would have been real problems. Fortunately, after restudy, the county agreed with us.
In 2008, working together, we avoided a gate from Eastwood drive into Imperial Golf Estates which would have greatly increased traffic on our narrow CWE roadway. More recently, we’ve placed new entryway signs on Palm River Boulevard and Cypress Way, East and beautified the bridge over the Palm River on Cypress Way East at Ibis Way via landscaping and a park bench,
During the past year, again with the support of the members, we initiated and worked with the county and the former property owners to create the new Palm River Park on Piper Blvd. This new park is expected to be completed early this year.