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Community theater, Yacht Club key elements

August 26, 2010

Recreational facilities throughout Cape Coral have a rich history of their own.

Even though the city wasn't incorporated until 1970, many of the facilities used today already existed and were just as popular as they are today. The Cultural Park Theatre, the longest running community theater in Southwest Florida, was founded in 1962 by 20 local residents.

"Back then they used to perform in the schools and various store fronts across town," said Michael Moran, theater creative director.

In the '60s, the Cape Coral Community Players were a collection of people without a home theater. Over the years, the number of members and performers increased and in 1991 the 186-seat Cultural Park Theatre was built with the help of a grant from the city. The theater is part of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation.

Moran said there are 238 members today, and more than 500 actors, directors, students and teachers who utilize the theater on a regular basis. They put on 23 shows each year, he said, as well as educational programs for children and adults, a summer camp for children, and volunteer work for retired seniors.

Now the Cultural Park Theatre helps other community players or performers who don't have their own a base, like other venues in Southwest Florida helped the Cape Coral Community Players over 40 years ago. Although Moran said the theater is proud to have been in the city for 48 years, it probably won't be celebrating until its 50th anniversary.

A year after the community theater was founded, on June 9, 1962, the Cape Coral Yacht and Racquet Club opened. The complex included an Olympic-size swimming pool, shuffleboard and tennis courts, a strip of sandy beach and boat basin. The club was used to attract new residents and developers to the community. And sometimes it was even used for church services.

"The people who built Cape Coral the Rosen brothers and Gulf American Land Corporation they used it as their sales center," said Barbara Dickinson, yacht club manager. "This is where they brought people when they came to Cape Coral looking for land, that was the original purpose."

The club facility alone was a 10,000-square-foot building that cost over $750,000 to build, and hosted banquets with as many as 500 people. The club today looks nearly identical to its first version opened in 1962.

Some amenities were added over the years, said Dickinson, such as the fishing pier, additional tennis courts and the marina. KC's Riverstop Cafe, a restaurant owned and operated independently from the city, was also constructed near the fishing pier.

Dickinson said the Yacht Club has become synonymous with the city.

"We are one of the original landmarks of the city," she said. "When everybody thinks of Cape Coral they think of the Yacht Club area."

Today, the facility is rented for weddings, club meetings and private parties. It also hosts classes all year round for children and adults, as well as other special events and programs. Each month the club hosts a Sunset Celebration on the Pier with live music along with arts and crafts vendors. Seniors and other residents also participate in events at the Tony Rotino Senior Center.

"We do a wide variety of programming," said Dickinson. "Classes are everything from fitness and ballroom dancing to football or baseball trips by bus to Miami or Tampa. There is something for just about everybody."

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