Random excerpts from various websites:
Exacerbating the biological problem is the ever-present human intrusion. The list of affronts to the landscape grows with numbing regularity in south Florida. First the swamp was logged for its cypress; its land was cleared for pasture; its snails and orchids were pirated by collectors. Then came the real estate agents, along with canals and levees and the fly-by-night land sales that have become a standard Florida joke.
The worst of these, according to Levin, was “Golden Gate Estates, the world’s largest subdivision. A projected community of four hundred thousand, Golden Gate Estates
became one of Florida’s most nefarious real estate scams. Spurious salespeople sold twenty-nine thousand lots over the telephone to out-of-state buyers who had no idea that by late June, despite 180 miles of recently dug drainage canals, they would need boats to reach their land.”
In the 1970s Golden Gate Estates’ abandoned roads, particularly Everglades Boulevard, were used as landing strips for DC-3s landed with South American drugs.
Golden Gate Estates(112,000 acres, 880 miles of roads, and 183 miles of canals);
Gulf American Land Corporation
(founded by Leonard and Julius “Jack” Rosen of Baltimore via Miami) which was formed in 1957. [. . .] Gulf American’s subsequent “developments” were land promotion schemes subdividing land, selling lots, and not much else using the technology of the day including the autotype machine, WATS line (and resulting boiler room sales promotion tactics), black & white television advertisements, national newspaper advertising, slick colorful sales brochures, the free steak dinner (to hear the sales pitch), and the “free” trips to Florida, and aggressive salesmen to close the deal. Gulf American purchased a travel agency and a charter airline with 15 planes to fly prospects to its developments at lower cost. By 1967 when Gulf Americans land sales activity peaked, it was Florida’s fourth largest publicly traded corporation with more than 500,000 acres of land for sale in Florida and across the
The mother of them all
Just south of Cape Coral, deep in the marsh country of Collier County and adjacent to Everglades National Park, lies the mother of all antiquated subdivisions: the 175-square-mile Golden Gate Estates. Lonely canals and little-used roads criss-cross this cypress swamp turned subdivision, which was originally platted in the early 1960s by the Gulf America Corporation. The company dug canals to drain the wetlands and carved the property into 1.25-acre lots. It then promoted Golden Gate worldwide as a vacation and retirement community. Most of the lots were sold by 1965, but unsuspecting buyers still get suckered into paying over $15,000 for a lot worth about $3,000.
In 1974, when the area was less than 10 percent developed, it became apparent to county officials that the project, with limestone roads and no centralized water and sewer system, could not support the number of platted lots. The county downzoned the property that year and required a minimum of 2.25 acres to build a house.
“The county recognized that it would have real problems if the entire area developed as originally platted,” says transportation director George Archibald. The county also took over road maintenance after the developer filed for bankruptcy in 1978. The property was sold to Avatar Holdings of Coral Gables soon after.
Today, three-fourths of Golden Gate Estates remains unoccupied. In 1985, the state targeted 42,000 acres in the southern part for purchase under its Conservation and Recreational Lands Program. Acquisition has proceeded slowly, hampered by the administrative burden of contacting over 17,000 far-flung lot owners. Thus far, the state has bought about 18,000 acres.
Golden Gates Estates was spread out over 114,000 acres of land in southwest Florida in Collier County, encompassing part of what is ominously called the Big Cypress Swamp. A small residential community called Golden Gate just three acres in size was to be surrounded by 113,397 acres of land sold in 1.25 acre tracts. All Gulf American would build was drain ditches and roads. The land sold at $800 an acre with the tag line “Buy it by the acre and sell it by the lot.” Prospective buyers were shown films of Cape Coral, a real successful community with churches, golf courses, and schools, and assumed the Rosens would duplicate their success at Golden Gates. They had no such intention. Leonard Rosen could have not been more clear. He said:
“We’re promising nothing, absolutely nothing. We’re offering what we believe to be an excellent investment at a low cost and with the company’s good name behind it. It will be a place where the unsophisticated investor can take pleasure in his property.”
The Rosens quickly began selling another offering, a 63,000 acre development in central Florida near Lake Wales they called River Ranch Acres with the same rules. No actual construction, just raw land to whomever wants to buy it.
Land which the Leonard and Julius purchased for less than $100 per acre was now being sold for $800 per acre on very soft terms such as $30 down, $30 per month at 6.5% interest. But unlike Golden Gates Estates which is just raw land, their new project was REALLY BAD raw land. Large sections of River Ranch Acres was literally underwater and much of the land that wasn’t submerged was near a U.S. Air Force practice bombing range! To boot, most of the buyers were denied mineral rights to their land since the Rosens believed there might be oil in the area!
Glossy brochures on Golden Gates Estates proclaimed these lots as “the first step to financial security.” Another screamed “It would be difficult to envision a commodity with a greater universal appeal than the type of land which Gulf American makes available to men and women of average means everywhere.” One of their full-color, SIXTEEN PAGE, advertisements appeared in every major U.S. Sunday newspaper simultaneously in 1967. The Rosens were soon spending more money promoting the virtues of life in Florida than the State of Florida’s tourist office itself.
The Golden Gate Area is located in Collier County; it is not incorporated. The development was another project of the Rosen Brothers and their Gulf American Corporation (now Avatar Holdings, Inc.). Originally, Golden Gate was divided into three sections: Golden Gate City, North Golden Gate and Golden Gate Estates. Golden Gate Estates was intended to comprise five acre tracts, with little or no infrastructure built into the community plan. Golden Gate City and North Golden Gate had smaller lots, with some infrastructure planned. While some neighborhoods of these areas are almost fully
built-out, that is the rare case. Most of the lots in these areas are individually owned.
There are so many lots in Golden Gate, that should the area ever experience rapid development, the need for services and infrastructure likely would be overwhelming. In 1995, as part of its Evaluation and Appraisal Report, the Collier County Planning Department presented the following projections regarding infrastructure needs for the Golden Gate Area, using Charlotte County’s methodology. Staff used an average
household size for Collier County of 2.49 persons and applied that to the 23,966 lots in the area. Staff then projected a buildout population of 59,675 people with the following
• 10,640,830 gallons of potable water per day
• 6,959,678 gallons of wastewater treated per day
• 74 acres of community parks
• 169 acres of regional parks
• $10,295,722 for recreational facilities
• 18,981 square feet of library space with 77,649 volumes
• 138 jail beds plus 50 staff
• 7 new schools for K-12 public education
• 148,397 square feet of government office space
Considering that Golden Gate Area is only one of many such subdivisions, the service costs and infrastructure needs could be overwhelming. However, southwest Florida has
made limited strides in dealing with its platted lands. Lots in Golden Gate Estates South are being purchased by the state under the Save Our Everglades Conservation and
Recreation Land Project. This purchase is a critical component in protecting important hydrological connections among Big Cypress National Preserve, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve and the Everglades National Park.