The History of Gulf Harbors

As Julie Andrews says:

"Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start."

Since many of us are not the original homeowners, I thought maybe some of you would like to learn of our beginnings, before Gulf Harbors was born and how it materialized.  I preface all this with a disclaimer because what I write is based on readings of historical data and I am going to try to put it into some type of timeline.  It really is quite interesting and written for those who enjoy history.

Let’s go back in time to the middle 1800’s.  There were about 2000 acres of rocky jungle, bayous, hammocks located between two points:  Bailey’s Bluff and Green Key.  All you boaters know them well.  The settlers named this place “Devils Woodyard”.  These settlers were pioneers, coming by horseback and wagons.  Who occupied these acres?  Indians, wild boar, panthers, black bears – this was their home.

It is believed that besides the Indians, the first settler to venture into this jungle was a surveyor who hacked his way through these wild woods and with the help of his two men established the first Gulf Coast ‘meander line’ in 1848.  Astonishingly, he was very accurate working with the instruments that were available at this time.

Earlier, the Dixie highway was built and young families began to settle, the first town of our area being Elfers.  Young men would venture into this wildland to cut firewood, fish, and hunt.

The area was ‘open range’ for many cattlemen and domestic hog farmers.  The settlers knew and respected this.  Leave them alone.  Even a family from Tampa imported Brahma cattle from India to graze in Devils Woodyard.

This area soon became famous for big Sea Trout, Redfish, Snook, and Tarpon.  Duck hunting was also one of the best.  Another natural treasure was the abundance of beautiful trees and shrubs being Magnolias, Palms, Cedars, Oak, Pines, and Laurel.  The jungle vines and plants were cactus, palmetto, Spanish bayonet and other native plants.  The vegetation became and are the magnificent accents used then and still today to create our beautiful landscaping.

Around the time the surveyor is doing his work, many other important things are happening that will shape our young nation and our state.

James Polk was the 11th President of the U.S.  He led the nation to war with Mexico, the Mexican-American War, winning and purchasing vast territories adding about one third to the size of the U.S.  This included Texas, and land to the Pacific (California) and more territory in the Southwest.  This resulted in rounding out the continental U.S.  The Rio Grande became our southern border.

Shortly after Mexico sells us all this land, gold is discovered in California creating the Gold Rush.

Florida becomes the 27th state, land grants are bringing more and more people to our state.  Town are growing, mostly along the coastlines.  Ranches, cattlemen, farmers, orange groves, all are flourishing.

Soon there is the Civil War and Florida secedes from the U.S.

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While all these major historical events are happening, our Gulf Harbors land continues to lay idle.  A couple of miles away, New Port Richey is developing and in the 1920’s, it experiences its first land boom.  A railroad runs through the town.  The beautiful Hacienda is built and many silent movie stars build homes along the banks of the Cottee River.

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Some famous people bought land and some visited.  Hollywood’s leading man Thomas Meighan, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson and Raymond Hitchcock came to town.  It was going to be the Hollywood of the East.  New Port Richey is on the map and becoming a destination.  Gloria Swanson was very petite so the Hacienda actually built a lower arch in their ballroom for her grand entrances to disguise her small stature.  Mansions were built along the Cottee.  While this is all happening in our neighborhood, Al Capone is a frequent guest at the ‘pink hotel’, the Don Cesar.

Another famous person was Gene Sarazen, a pro golfer.  Gene Sarazen was an American professional golfer, one of the world’s top players in the 1920s and 1930s, and the winner of seven major championships.  He is one of five players (along with Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods) to win each of the four majors at least once, now known as the Career Grand Slam.  He built his home along the river, smaller, less grandiose, but worth seeing because the outside architecture was so Deco.  The interior still had its crooked floors and narrow passages.  Several years ago, it went up for sale and many inquisitive Floridians made sure they got to see it during the open house.

What means a lot to all golfers, Gene invented the ‘sand’ wedge.  I doubt if anyone who plays golf, does not have this beauty in their bag.

BUT…the stock market crashed, the roaring twenties came to a standstill.  We all know what followed-the Great Depression and World War II.

Our future Gulf Harbors land still stays untouched. 

TRIPLE STRIKES AND YOU’RE OUT

That may be in baseball, but not in America.

From 1929 to 1945 our nation experienced its own triple strikes.  Three devastating events came one right after the other-- the Crash of 29, the Great Depression, and the Big One, WWII.  Few, in any, came away unscarred.

Loss of savings, poverty, hunger, bread and soup lines, unemployment but the permanent hardship was when someone’s son, father, or husband would never be coming home.   These 3 collisions brought the good times from the roaring 20’s to a screeching halt.  It was 15 long sad years until it was finally 1945.  So when did the war end?   Was it May 8, 1945, August 14, 1945, May 5, 1955 or September 8, 1951?  The consequences of this war had a profound effect on many countries, including ours.    Would you be surprised that all four of these answers could be correct?    The first one was VE Day when Germany surrendered (Victory over Europe), the second one was VJ Day when Japan surrendered (Victory over Japan), the third one was the formal surrender of Germany and the last date was the formal surrender of Japan.     Although the fighting was stopped, wars are not officially over until a treaty of some kind is signed.  I didn’t know that!

For years Germany invaded and conquered many countries and after surrendering, our Allies, including Russia, had to deal with the aftermath.   The Soviet Union, once our ally, was fast becoming our adversary.

The ideal resolution would be to free all the countries but negotiations broke down.  The settlement was the Eastern Bloc that fell under Soviet influence instilling communism and their economic system.   The Western Bloc meant the countries would be free.   Democracy vs. communism.   Churchill coined this divisive line the Iron Curtain.   On a side note, my Steelers held that title too.  Just sayin.  Major friction rested again with the country Germany.   No ally was ready to trust them.  Finally, a compromise, Germany was split, becoming West Germany (France, England, and the U.S.) and East Germany (Soviet Union).   Berlin, although sitting in the middle of East Germany was split between us.   As expected, the Soviets did not play by the rules and the relation’s temperatures went from chilly to ice, creating the Cold War.

It was evident the USA and the Soviet Union were now two superpowers and not good friends.    Since we both had nuclear capabilities other means surfaced, spying, espionage, arms race, etc.  Well, what does this have to do with Gulf Harbors?    Nothing really because Devil’s Woodyard sleeps through it all.

Harry Truman, had inherited the Presidency by only a few months but he led our nation’s conversion from war to peace. 

In 1945, here are some statistics:  average salary was $1300, average teacher’s salary was $1441.    The National Debt was 43 Billion and minimum wage was  $.43.    55% of U.S. homes now had indoor plumbing.  

The United States leaped to the forefront and made a tremendous comeback, wasting no time.   The wringer washer, the 3-way party line, the outhouses began to fade away, soon to become extinct.    Inventions and more inventions were unrestrained.    The little black and white TV became color, washers, dryers, microwaves, credit cards, air travel and on and on.   The nucleus to many new technologies was the microchip. 

There was inflation and some stats for 1950 displayed the pace America was going.   The average house was $8500, a gallon of gas was $.18, a new car was $1500 and the average income almost tripled in 5 years to $3200.

Our country became obsessed with the latest models coming out of Detroit.   The automobile industry was thriving and kept top secret their next year’s model.  People sat around the TV waiting for the unveiling, waiting for that large cover to be removed.   There were tailfins, fender skirts, continentals and bright shiny paint.   The best was the automatic along with power steering.

These years brought more changes, we added Alaska and Hawaii, NASA, and the polio vaccine.  The music evolved from the swing to the crooners to Rock n Roll.   Popular were Elvis Presley, I Love Lucy, Jimmy Dean, Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle and the Mickey Mouse Club, naming just a few.  A most significant change was desegregation which began around 1955.

What about our state?  Florida was on top of the trends and fashions.    Two major improvements altered our West coast.   The first was Route 19.  19 connected northerners to the Sun Coast.   The second was air conditioning.   It became popular and affordable and made the hot muggy climate not only tolerable but inviting.    Neighbors envied the guys next door that had those bulky contraptions sticking out their windows and before long they had one too.

Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and the quiet waters of the Gulf of Mexico made the Suncoast not only a vacationing destination but also a place to live.  People were arriving in droves.

Sometimes the good comes with some bad.   This happened to New Port Richey.      Route 19 changed over three times before it is where it is today.   But with the change, the road no longer ran through its town and their economy suffered greatly.   The stores and businesses now wanted to be along Route 19.  Travelers had no reason to go off their travel course to visit and spend.    What once was on a roll to becoming one of the most affluent cities now became one of the least expensive places to live.   To survive, it began marketing itself as a great retirement community.

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Meanwhile, Clearwater and St. Pete exploded; hotels restaurants, shops and the developers loved it.   But, as always, eventually their work was completed and the developers had to look for new places.  Devil’s Woodyard!    Perfect!   Discovered!  Purchased!  What better place could you find that has only two miles between the serene Gulf of Mexico and the major highway of Route 19?    Forever nothing had happened but quickly this landscape will be transformed.

The year is 1957.

One of the nation’s largest, 100 year old construction company, the Sumner Sollit Company invested millions.   Mr. Sumner Sollit and Howard Burkland, the founder, together created a 500 Million Dollar dream with a great master plan.  Designs, drawings, more designs.    Gulf Harbors is going to be the avant-garde of communities.    The first phase of Gulf Harbors will be named Flor-A-Mar, the flower of the sea.   Flor-A-Mar, that’s us.  Huge developments are just around the corner.

“NOTHING  LIKE IT IN FLORIDA”
Burkland, founder of Gulf Harbors

A Real Rocky Start

 

During 1929 to 1957 developments along the Suncoast kept expanding, St. Pete, Clearwater, Tampa, and then stopped because there was no Skyway Bridge.   So, builders had to go North.

 

Finding a large parcel of land was no easy task.    It took some of the best research minds to find this spot in Florida that met certain measures the investors were looking for.   They had rigid stipulations and criteria.

 

  1. Close to Florida’s most active growth areas.

  2. Convenience to shopping and transportation yet far enough away from congestions of heavily populated towns and neighbors.

  3. The Gulf of Mexico with clean water for excellent fishing, unlimited beaches, water sports and boating.

 

Devil’s Woodyard was discovered and purchased.  This new acquisition would be named “Gulf Harbors”.   It was evident in Burkland and Sollit’s thinking that their new neighborhood would become the next Gulf Beach City.  Their vision was impressive and ambitious.

 

The first phase, Flor A Mar, was born but only the beginning of their dream.   New ideas, new designs—but were they too far ahead of the times?

 

Unknown to these professionals, whose experience was with sandy soil canals, was rock.   Devil’s Woodyard was not sand, it was a solid strata of rock.

 

Flor-A-Mar was costing more than their five other developments combined.   It did not stop them, it was being transformed into a picturesque place to live.   The name, flower of the sea, creates an image in your mind, a place of sheer beauty and harmony.  The goal still remained to build a small city for 50,000 people.

 

Not to be deterred, within a couple of years, advertising went into print and a campaign to entice home buyers was in full swing.   It was 1961.   Much had been accomplished.

 

The North Chanel, over 2 miles long, had seawalls and a turning basin.   Water systems, sewage systems, gas and electric lines were in.  

 

An 18-hole golf course was ready to play.  All home purchases with waterfront came complete with seawalls and all homes included landscaping and sodding.

 

“Waterfronts”, in real estate, was the seduction to many home buyers.   There are many kinds of waterfront; lakes, bays, rivers, etc.   However, the platinum waterfront in Florida was owning property on the warm, serene Gulf of Mexico.  That was the lure.

 

Flor-A-Mar was offering lots for almost one half the cost of St. Pete and Clearwater.   Appreciation was bound to happen.  The first phase divided Flor-A-Mar’s master plan into four areas and by 1961 two of them were available.  The first area was closest to Rt.19 and was named ‘Waterfront Estates’.   The price started at $10,950.  The second was named ‘Country Club’ that included all homes along Top Sail and the portion of Floramar until it intersects with Top Sail.  Many of these faced the golf course and started at $17,450.  The third area was not available but would be restricted to houses in the $18,000 to $50,000.   This began at Galleon and was known as Gulf Isles.  Would we all agree that appreciation did happen?  What area do you live in?  The fourth area was reserved for hi-rise apartments, hotels and beaches.

 

Already built was the Clubhouse with meeting, banquet, party space for socializing.   It included shuffleboard courts and a putting green.  The golf course club house was targeted for completion in 1962.

 

Mr. Sollit, a known yachtsman, was personally interested in developing yacht clubs in the future.   Plans also included a small airport.

 

Everything had sounded wonderful but the timing could not be worse.   For several years from 1957 there was a downturn in home buying along with astronomical unexpected overruns.   In spite of all these amenities and low prices, Burkland was pouring his own money into the project to keep it afloat.  By 1963 the money ran out and it went into foreclosure.   Fortunately for all of us who have the pleasure of living here, his dream was not bankrupt.

FLOR-A-MAR FORECLOSES-------NOW  WHAT!

How unfortunate for Mr. Burkland and his investors to have to face failure.   They accomplished so much in such a short period.   As in all development the upfront costs are extensive.

 

Infrastructure - the basic physical and organizational structure needed in order to function.    Included in this is the concept drawings, architecture, attorneys, engineers, government agencies, permits, codes, blueprints, electricity, water, sewage, paved roads, and added to this particular development, seawalls and canals. Money, money, money.

 

Overruns can be destructive and ruinous.   These capital expenditures are seldom seen by the general public and sometimes misunderstood and not taken into account.  The cash that is needed to accomplish these necessities can defeat many well laid plans.   We have all seen it.   You may have seen a vast land with a beautiful entrance, maybe a gate, and a road that led to nowhere.   Nothing seemed to be happening.   This is the misfortune of many, the project was just plain broke.

 

The threat of foreclosure was imminent.   This was sad because they were so close to being able to see some return and the major expenses were behind them.   However in 1963, only two houses were sold.  That did it.

 

It was over.  Now What?  It’s been said that when one door closes, another one opens.   And that door opened wide in 1964.    Any residents from Chicago or Illinois, will know this name.   It is the Henry Crown family.  Robert Crown, the oldest son of Henry, took over the foreclosure under the name of Empire Properties, Inc.  (at this period of purchase they owned the Empire State Building).  Empire was only one of many owned and operated companies by the family of Henry, the industrialist and philanthropist.   The Crowns were and are one of the wealthiest and generous families in America.

 

Because of the stigma of foreclosure attached to Flor-A-Mar, one of Robert’s first order of business was to change the name.   Our neighborhood became ‘the Gulf Harbors’.

 

Mr. Crown brought the necessary capital to accomplish and finish what was started. I would hope that this may have brought some solace to Burkland knowing that all his labor and efforts (and money) were not in vain.  The concept remained the same, he kept the exclusive builder, Watsworth, and their sale team at the beginning of his acquisition.  Progress continued in developing the lots but home sales were weak.   In 1964, only 7 homes were sold.

 

At the beginning of 1965 Robert Crown created a new entity, the Lindrick Corp which was formed to take over the continuing development of Gulf Harbors.  He named it after his two children, Lindsey and Rickie.  (Note: the Lindrick Service Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lindrick Corporation maintained the water and sewage through an agreement with the city of New Port Richey.   This was separately owned and sold.)

 

Crown brings in John H. Evans to serve as President and Roland McCreary as Public Relations.  Experienced and professional, they saw the need to change.

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Watch the growth of single family home sales:

1963: 2

1964: 7

1966: 66

1968: 157

1969: 292 (almost doubled from year before)

 

In May of 1967, modifying their marketing and home construction strategy, Gulf Harbors opened their doors for the first time to all reputable realtors and home builders.   Why?   Public demand.  Not one builder alone could satisfy this accelerated growth.  Buyers could now hire their own architects and choose any builder approved by the GH Improvement Board.   Watsworth continued on as one of the major builders.  With this new corporation devoting their full attentions to GH, sales increased dramatically.

 

Sadly in 1969, Robert Crown dies unexpectantly at the age of 48.   That did not deter his family and his company from completing the second and third phase, the Country Club and Gulf Isle residential areas.   The last tagged area was going to be hi rise apartments and hotels but in the early 1970’s, Lindrick announced there would be no building along the beach and it would become the exclusive private beach of the residents and invited guests.

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Once Lindrick Corporation announced there would be no hotels, etc., facing the gulf, Lindrick and New Port Richey considered annexing Gulf Harbors. However, New Port Richey officials wanted to include in the agreement opening the white sanded beach to the public. President Evans stated that if the city insists there will not be a deal, “the beach has and will remain private property, we definitely plan to protect our residents in Gulf Harbors.” So, a good guess is the annexation never happened.

There were lots of changes taking place in the area. The Holiday Inn construction was beginning, the Pappas Brothers bought the land adjacent and Southgate Shopping Center was in its early stages. And...of course, McDonalds.

Lindrick’s President Evans was concerned, at this time, about Pasco County’s haphazard zoning. The need for planning and zoning and codes to adhere to were badly needed.  Inexpensive homes were springing up all around New Port Richey because the land was cheap and there was an absence of building codes. The average sale price of all houses in our area was $11,000.... but Gulf Harbors average was $26,000.

Gulf Harbors was hustling and running full steam ahead in 1969. If you were house hunting, driving through the different areas, many homes were still being built in all three areas discussed previously, especially the newest area known as Gulf Isles.

Heading due west towards the beach, you would have observed huge mechanical monsters gouging and piling the earth into a network of new boat channels, new roads, a new system of all underground utilities, creating more of the finest waterfront homesites. The canals would be 150 to 300 feet wide.

If you had the foresight to purchase two years earlier, your property value appreciated as much as 40% or more. In fact, several owners who had purchased the smaller homes sold theirs and bought a larger home.

WHAT ABOUT THE AMBASSADOR?

At this time period, there were plans to construct a high-rise condominium at the entrance to Gulf Harbors. Many residents protested sighting traffic problems and claimed it was out of character for family residents. However, that did not stop it and construction began in 1973 and it would be called the Ambassador. Again, unexpected costs shut it down. In 1975, new owners changed the name to Sea Castle. They felt it tells people it is a tall building on the water. One-bedroom units on the first 3 floors sold from $18,500 and up and the higher you went it was over $46,000 for a 3-bedroom. Once it was built, the residents accepted it and it was the highest building in Pasco at the time, maybe it still is.

PUERTO DE PASCO

The area east of the lake was in the early stage of development. This area was named Puerto de Pasco, signifying how the Pasco County harbors and inlets constituted a familiar port-of-call for coastal yachtsman and fishing all over. This area originally was reserved for high rises, hotels and restaurants. It will take many years to get this area ready for construction.

All gulf harbors channels had a minimum width of 100 feet and the minimum depth of 5 feet mean low water. (5.8 feet mean sea level) This was in preparation for large yachts. (Smart thinking because there sure are many) It took several years to accomplish all this. 1976 was the first time lots right on the gulf, adjoining the private beach, were available for purchase. Some lots flanked the beach while others adjoined the Gulf. The introductory prices for a lot here began at $30K and up. Actual home construction was not available until 1977.

GULF HARBORS EXPLODES IN VALUE

Lots in Gulf Harbors continued to soar in value and availability was shrinking. The booming areas were the North and South channels. How much was the appreciation? If you bought a lot in 1977 on South Shore for $40K and by 1985 it was worth $125K. South Chanel views were $95,000 and North Channel views were $90,000.

Lindrick gifted the club house and the surrounding areas to the Civic Association in 1975. He announced he would no longer be responsible for the expenses in the neighborhood. Evans urged all property owners to join and participate for the continued success of the neighborhood. There is a direct correlation between resident participation and the success of a neighborhood.

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By 1983, Lindrick sold his last 25 acres along the Gulf to Garcia of Wysocki Enterprises for $2.4 million. This area is the west side of the lake, West Shore, and is known as South Beach. Here introductory offer for Lots there were selling for $77K to $115K.

Even though plans were to create additional canals and lots over by Rudder Way, their dredging had not begun before certain conservation laws, no permit was obtained.

FORTUNATE AND GENEROUS

To be able to live here, we have a loaf of bread under each arm and 3 chickens in every pot.

Here is a tidbit from 1970 called Helping Hands. One of our member’s major projects was helping Head Start children locally. The Hobby Club, contributed so much to this worthwhile program that a new room for 3-year olds was named the Gulf Harbors Room at the Head Start School in Elfers. Our residents, men and women alike, furnished the classroom, and volunteered their time to the children in reading stories, acting as a substitute mother or grandfather or to just simply sit and love some lonely child. This was over 50 years ago but it is timely.

In 2018, the Gulf Harbors Civic Association spearheaded and met a financial goal of $85,000 for the Harbor House.  It was Habitat for Humanity’s first home constructed as part of the Leisure Lane Revitalization Project which will consist of approximately 35 homes.  Many of you have donated money, your time, your talents and skills to build the “Harbor House,” providing a new home to a worthy vet.  We have so much, and some have so little. There comes a time to take a break from the exertions of swimming, fishing, boating. This gives us all a chance to spend some time helping others, but we end up the winners because it enriches our lives.

This is how Gulf Harbors began and where it is today.  Because of the expertise of Evans and McCreary, Gulf Harbors was going to be completed in a manner that would bring contentment to the original investors, and of course, to us, the beneficiaries. Let’s all take pride not only for ourselves but for each other.   Let’s work towards keeping our properties in excellent condition and to take time out to enjoy the beauty of nature and the peace that surrounds us.

COMPROMISE AND FOUR LONG YEARS

It took four long years. Lindrick was not only developing West Shore, they were dealing with over 37 governmental and conservation agencies with a lot of compromising. In 1973, the final permit was issued and marks the first time a Pasco developer had obtained a dredge and fill for coastal land since state agencies began tightening requirements. Now Gulf Harbors Woodlands was able to begin.

In the 70’s, the first Conservation Laws were ratified and prohibited any canals being built. If you had not started the dredging, you were out of luck.

The project for the original second phase (the Woodlands) had a 115 Million dollar price on it.

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WHAT WERE THE COMPROMISES?

The plans for 13,000 feet of channels were reduced to 8,000 feet. To gain this permit Lindrick had to give away over half of his land and the project was reduced to 450 acres, not the original 900 acres intended. 390 acres were dedicated under the Federal Wilderness Area act. It would protect the Gulf’s ravages and this acreage was dedicated to Robert, and became known as the Robert Crown Wilderness Refuge. Another 20 were dedicated to the Boy Scouts and it too was named the Robert Crown Scout Camp. These were commemorated in memory of Henry Crown’s son, who was a principal in Lindrick until his early death. The family also gifted another acre of land to become the Gulf Harbors Yacht Club.  Another 80 acres went to the state as conservation preserves.

In the past, development was to raze, bulldoze. This project was a challenge which Evans took on heartily. “It is my conviction that land development, properly pursued and executed, is a form of art. We insist that the new community conform and blend with the wilderness.” A lover of nature and extensive experience, this wooded area was abundant with cedars, palms, cypress. Everything had to be done with the end result preserving nature’s wonders. The waterways followed the contour of the land and “rip-rap” (natural stone) would be used instead of the traditional concrete seawalls. All roads were to follow existing natural paths which wind through the neighborhood. Trees were preserved, not removed. Deed restrictions were extensive to protect the home buyers and to ensure aestheticism.

With the combination of Gulf Harbors and the Woodlands there were wide choices for future buyers depending on the lifestyle that met their needs. The Woodlands was a forerunner of future developments that recognized the ecological demands of preserving our environment.  The finished product proves the objectives were met.

Special thanks for the information in these articles which came from our local West Pasco Historical Society and the issues of Gulf Harbor Light, which was published for the residents by the Lindrick Company. That’s all folks. Hope you enjoyed it!  Toni Vossler