I was on a crew from Jones Shutter Products putting up hurricane shutters over the large ground floor windows on this building in the wind and rain in the fall of 1965 when I worked there part-time while attending Miami-Dade Jr. College. They had a contract with the Jones Shutter to have those windows shuttered before a hurricane. This building was later used by the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service for many years and the large ground floor windows were either replaced with concrete walls or boarded over for security purposes.
The Gulf American Land Corporation was founded in 1957 by Leonard and Julius "Jack" Rosen from Baltimore. Their developments on the Gulf coast of Florida involved buying huge tracts of land, often under water, and selling lots to folks up north via boiler room sales calls, TV ads, colorful sales brochures, free steak dinners to hear the sales pitch, and aggressive salesmen to cinch deals when folks flew down on free trips to Florida. They bought their own travel agency and a charter airline with 15 aircraft to fly potential customers to their developments at lower cost than regular airlines.
Gulf American's peak year was in 1967 and they were Florida's 4th largest publicly traded company with more than 500,000 acres of land for sale in Florida and other states. Their developments included Cape Coral where they developed a small functioning city and the huge Golden Gate Estates project in Collier County adjacent to the Everglades where they dug canals, built roads and destroyed thousands of acres of old Oaks, Pines and Cypress trees that were burned instead of using the wood for building purposes.
Gulf American was bought by the General Acceptance Corporation in February 1969 because they were suffering a blitz of bad publicity for selling swamp land at highly inflated prices to unsuspecting buyers.
A great article from New Times, "Paradise Crushed", is about Gulf American and General Acceptance Corporation being environmental nightmares by destroying thousands of acres of oaks and pines and draining large areas can be read at:
http://www.browardpalmbeach.com/2003-07-31/news/paradise-crushed/1 . It is unbelievable that the State of Florida and Collier County let them destroy so much old growth environment less than 40 years ago.
More detailed information about Gulf American can be read at:
The State of Florida is attempting to undo the damage caused by the development's miles of canals and paved road and restore the sheet flow of water. See http://www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/news/2004/may/0525_hardy.htm for more information.
Here is a 2003 article from the Naples News regarding restoration efforts thanks to Ray who posted the link in the comments:
Everglades projects erase decades-old development, pollution
JILL BARTON, Associated Press, 12:00 a.m., Thursday, November 27, 2003
PICAYUNE STRAND STATE FOREST -- In the heart of this soggy tangle of cypress trees and scrubby palms, two brothers schemed in the 1960s to build the world's largest development in a sleepy section of southwest Florida.
Leonard and Julius Rosen and their Gulf American Land Corp. carved up the northwestern corner of the Everglades by draining the swamp into 48 miles of canals and adding 290 miles of roads.
High-pressure salesmen flew potential buyers over the uninhabitable swampland during the dry season, eventually selling plots to 17,000 people with dreams of sunny retirements and affordable vacations. The inevitable flooding soon led the company to bankruptcy and the promised restaurants and shopping malls that would have completed the Florida paradise never materialized.
The failed real estate venture became known as Florida's worst land scam and an environmental disaster that irreversibly harmed the fragile Everglades ecosystem.
Decades later, state officials are starting to undo some of the damage with the first project in an $8.4 billion environmental restoration, the most expensive in the nation's history. Workers are pushing the shell-rock roads back into the canals to revive the leisurely flow of the river of grass, which once stretched without interruption from a chain of lakes near Orlando south to Florida Bay.
"These are roads to nowhere. The whole thing was essentially undevelopable. And now we're going to turn it back to nature," said Ernie Barnett, director of ecosystem projects for Florida's Department of Environmental Protection.
The Rosens were not the first to try to develop the Everglades. Settlers in the late 1800s tried to tame the wet wilderness by digging primitive canals to help control flooding. More roads and canals followed, eventually swallowing 2 million acres -- half of the original wetlands.
The canals protect nearby homes and farms from flooding but send freshwater needed by the ecosystem to the ocean too quickly. About 1.7 billion gallons of water are lost each day, disrupting feeding and breeding patterns for the most diverse array of plants and animals in North America. Nearly 70 plant and animal species have become threatened or endangered; and the wading bird population has plunged by more than 90 percent.
The restoration aims to capture fresh water flowing to the sea and return it to the Everglades and the many birds, fish, seagrasses and other plants that depend on it. Much of the project will focus on improving the quality of the polluted waters -- both for the ecosystem and the booming South Florida population, which could double to nearly 15 million people by 2050.
The project could take three decades or longer and has already been mired in political struggles for nearly as long. In 1988, the federal government sued Florida for failing to protect the dying ecosystem.
U. S. District Judge William M. Hoeveler was appointed to oversee a cleanup agreement that came out of the lawsuit, and he juggled the competing interests of governments, the sugar and citrus industries, environmentalists and the Miccosukee Indians who live in the Everglades.
But Hoeveler was kicked off the case in September after sugar growers complained he favored environmental groups. Four months earlier, Hoeveler had publicly criticized Gov. Jeb Bush over a new law that puts off the cleanup of phosphorus pollution -- which kills the algae at the base of the Everglades food chain.
Members of Congress and environmental groups joined the judge in lambasting the 10-year delay, pushed largely by sugar lobbyists. Sugar growers, who are widely blamed for much of the pollution in the Everglades, argued that meeting the original deadline would take longer than they previously believed.
Bush has dismissed criticism about the delay and said the cleanup will be more than 95 percent complete by the original deadline of 2006. At a ceremony marking the start of the Picayune Forest project, he touted the project "as the largest environmental restoration in the history of the world."
He also was quick to praise the state's partnership with the federal government, which will pay for half the project, and the help of his brother, President George W. Bush, who faces re-election next year.
Environmentalists say any setbacks over the past year have been tempered by what many said they thought would never happen -- construction crews at work erasing the damage of decades-old development.
"We had a very difficult year for the Everglades and we've been anxious to see the restoration start," said April Gromnicki, the Everglades policy director for the Florida Audubon Society. "Steps like this to move the restoration forward are only going to help ease skepticism."
The project at the abandoned Southern Golden Gate Estates development also could help the state and federal taxpayers footing the bill understand what is considered the most complicated restoration in the world.
"This isn't rocket science. They dug a canal and they're going to fill it back in," Gromnicki said.
While the beginning phase of the project has met mostly praise, state officials will have to contend with Miccosukee Indians, who live in the Everglades, as it moves forward.
The tribe refuses to give up a piece of land it owns in the Picayune Forest area because it is their only land with the habitat needed to make some herbal medicines and native thatched dwellings called "chickees," said Dione Carroll, general counsel for the Miccosukee Tribe.
As a compromise, the tribe has offered the land to the federal government to be held in a trust, where the tribe would still have access to it.
Carroll said the tribe is skeptical of the state's plan because, as many critics have contended, it can sacrifice one area of the Everglades for another. She said state officials had recently sent too much water to one area, flooding tree islands needed by deer.
"The tribe has long been a defender of the Everglades and we'll continue to support legitimate restoration projects," Carroll said. "But it's clear that everything that's called a restoration effort is not a restoration effort."
In Golden Gate Estates, the network of roads and canals has pushed the water table down by as much as 4 feet, allowing foreign Brazilian pepper trees and other exotic plants to invade the Cypress-dotted plains.
The changes have caused an increase in wildfires, shot damaging loads of fresh water into coastal estuaries and threatened nearby drinking-water wellfields for Collier County with saltwater.
Once rehabilitated, the area will join Picayune Strand State Forest and link four valuable reserves that surround it: the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge, the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Collier Seminole State Park.
"People have been reading about Everglades Restoration for years and they don't see the design and the engineering and the land acquisition," said Florida Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs. "This is the first opportunity people can see meaningful benefits in their lifetime in their particular communities."