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Colorful, fragrant roses played a part in community’s past -- and continue to attract numerous visitors today

March 20, 2020
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

William Shakespeare probably didn't have Cape Coral in mind when he wrote "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," but a big part of the city's history is the sweet smell of roses - many roses.

As the city celebrates its 50th anniversary of incorporation this year, the Cape Coral Historical Society & Museum is treating visitors to exhibits that chronicle our past, including the history of roses growing magnificently inside a white picket fence in front of the museum on Cultural Park Boulevard.

These roses have quite a story to tell. They were a part of the famous Cape Coral Gardens that rose to brilliance as a famous tourist and community attraction in the 1960s. Located where Tarpon Point Marina is today, the gardens brought in stars from Hollywood, thousands of visitors and potential homebuyers to not only see the roses, but also the famous Waltzing Waters, porpoise and water skiing shows and plenty of other entertainment.

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The gardens, which opened in 1964, were 80 acres of beauty and fun. About 5 million cubic yards of earth were moved to create the hills, lagoons, pools and lakes as well as the "Garden of Roses," featuring over 40,000 rose bushes of many varieties and vibrant colors.

Reports indicate about 300,000 international visitors a year came to see the attractions, many for the roses and Waltzing Waters. The waters, a creation of German Otto Przystawik, were a complex system of 3,500 feet of pipe, 5,200 feet of electrical cable, extending 137 feet and pumping 7,000 gallons of water a minute, creating dramatic and colorful fountains of water often synchronized to music.

But the roses and all the other attractions inside Cape Coral Gardens fell on hard times in 1970, when the developers of Cape Coral, the Rosen brothers, closed the gardens after several failed attempts to sell the attraction to the state. Weeds and garbage took over and the roses no longer bloomed.

In 1981, Gulf American Corporation, created by the Rosens to sell Cape Coral, declared bankruptcy and reorganized as Avatar, which developed the homes, marina and resort at Tarpon Point where the gardens once were.

In 1971, Waltzing Waters found a home at the Waltzing Waters Aquarama, which later became the German American Club. The Iwo Jima Memorial, which was commissioned in 1964 to be part of the original Rose Garden, was relocated to Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve.

The roses also came back to life thanks to the resolve of Cape resident Lois Herbert, who wanted something to pay tribute to her late father, Russell Herbert. She approached the Historical Society about recreating the once famous rose gardens in front of the museum. Members and other volunteers went to work, and the garden was dedicated in 1991 in a Memorial Day ceremony sponsored by city's Parks and Recreation Department and the Historical Society.

The garden was completely redesigned in 2007, creating 12 raised octagonal shaped beds (similar to the design in the original garden) to showcase the flowers. Teams of seven to eight people from the Garden Club of Cape Coral visit the roses frequently to maintain them.

The roses' rebirth took another hit in 2017 because of Hurricane Irma. Several large cypress trees were uprooted in front of the museum, one falling and crushing four of the rose beds. The garden also flooded, and 90 percent of the topsoil was lost. The garden was rebuilt and roses re-staked or replaced. The Garden Club and the Historical Society and Museum continue to rely on donations from the public to keep the garden thriving.

Because of COVID-19, the museum is currently closed from now through March 31. After health risks have passed, we encourage you to visit the rose garden and the rest of the exhibits at the museum, 544 Cultural Park Blvd., either on your own or call to set up a guided tour. Museum hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The museum is closed on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays.

For more information, go to or call 239-772-7037.

Submitted by Tom Hayden, a Cape Coral Historical Society & Museum board member. As we celebrate 50 years of the city, much of our area's history at the museum will be featured twice a month in similar articles provided to the Cape Coral Daily Breeze.



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