Fly over Punta Gorda and what stands out are the 57.5 miles of canals that were carved out of the mangrove swamps. Al Johns, Bud Cole, and Sam Burchers purchased 550 Acres at Punta Gorda Point in 1957. Johns and Coles laid out 55 miles of canals 100 feet wide and 17 feet deep. Dredged sand was piled up on the flats to raise the level of land four feet. This provided dry home sites with access to the harbor and gulf. Home owners were able to keep their boats in their back yards. PGI lots originally sold for $5,000, and homes for $32,000.
On the company's tenth anniversary, in 1968, Bud Cole wrote a short history of PGI titled "How It All Started." One can not get closer to the facts:
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"For myself, Punta Gorda Isles is not a thing, but an experience --- the bare beginning of which, I suppose, stretches back to a day in the summer of 1950. It was hot, and I was flying as a passenger in a "gooney bird" that was just setting down on a little island in sight of the China coast.
We taxied to a stop on the dirt runway, and I alighted to be greeted by a cloud of red dust. The center of this red tornado, it soon appeared, was occupied by an extremely disreputable jeep driven by an even more disreputable, mustached, native Chinese pirate.
I piled into the jeep and discovered on the ride to our quarters that under the layers of grime, behind the wild eyes, and past the inscrutable countenance, an ugly American was lurking. His name, it turned out, was Al Johns.
Al and I assisted the Government in various unlikely projects for three years or so before returning to the States. A few months after my arrival in the Far East, Sam Burchers (another ex-CIA agent) appeared on the scene, and the three of us became close friends. The mid-50's found me, Al, and Bob Barbee, a schoolmate and friend of Al's, in Fort Lauderdale learning to be "land development businessmen" from, perhaps, the most successful developer of prime waterfront property in the country --- James Stone Hunt of Coral Ridge properties.
We experimented with this newly won knowledge on a small sub- division in Fort Lauderdale and then a larger one in North Miami Beach. By 1957, we were involved in waterfront development of 300 lots on Biscayne Bay in Coral Gables. Sam Burchers had come back from directing a motion picture in Mexico and joined us. We were four happy bachelors in the big city. At a conference with James Buchanan, then board chairman of General Development Corporation, the plans for Port Charlotte were unrolled. This was the first mention of the city of Punta Gorda. I had never heard of it, while Al risked the statement that it meant "something big" in Spanish.
What with big things brewing on the west coast of Florida, Bob and Al took a sight-seeing trip by plane and promptly fell in love with the Punta Gorda "point."
The idea of the second largest harbor on the entire Gulf of Mexico, a county with more shore line than any other in the state, and a 100-square-mile public hunting preserve was awful strong medicine. The clincher was an unrivaled location --- protected, secluded, and yet immediately available to the outside world.
Bud was dragged over by car and shown the view of the point from the bridge. He was told that "you can't exactly get there from here; but it sure is pretty and we better buy it." Bud and Sam agreed. With considerable help and understanding from the owners, Gerald Moody of Greenfuel Gas Company of Fort Myers; and George Sanders, owner of Edison Mall; title of the first 550 acres passed to Punta Gorda Isles, Inc., on the last day of the year 1957.
One local wag, when he heard that the mangrove swamp with its millions of fiddler crabs was to become a beautiful subdivision with canals throughout made a sage observation, "They must be out of their minds." Several others thought so as well. Fortunately W.T. Price, of Price Dredging Corporation and also president of Coconut Grove Bank, had faith that the young corporation could make the subdivision go. He backed up his belief with credit in the form of earth moving and road building.
At about this point, unmistakable Italian gentleman came chugging down the pike in a 1934 Plymouth automobile minus two hub caps, from the big, cold city, looking for sunshine and clean air. John Matarese had no previous experience in anything related to the land development business. He knew what he wanted and was not afraid of hard work.
He stated from the first day that he would have a house, boat and family in Punta Gorda Isles one day. Though it seemed unlikely at the time, John made it happen and contributed to the success of the venture in so doing. The first four homes were constructed on the west shore of what is the basin behind the office (now the Isles Yacht Club). These were Scholtz package homes. A temporary sales offices --- which is now the maintenance building located on another site --- served as company headquarters. In early '58, an office had been built on U.S. 41 in Charlotte Harbor, on the north side of the bridge. Prospective buyers were taken by boat to view, from the water, the future Punta Gorda Isles. the building was soon sold, however, and is now occupied by the Sea Horse Marina.
The first three homes to be occupied in Punta Gorda Isles were the Wilder house adjacent to the tennis courts, the Ettenger home and the Cole residence on Donna Court.
The understanding of the local people, in public life and out, made the project possible.
The building of the Isles has been a stimulating experience shared by many; and, I truly believe, the best is yet to come...."