Two words that conjure up images of lavish beach houses and bay front mansions, Trump-worthy yachts, black-tie galas and the beautiful people living beautiful lives in a fastidiously managed and manicured wonderland that can leave first-time visitors gawking. But, say some people who were witness to the beginning of Port Royal
, that image is not necessarily what the developer of the community, John Glen Sample, a retired advertising executive from Chicago, intended.
After finding Palm Beach "too flashy," Sample came to Naples in 1938 at the age of 46 on the recommendation of a friend, says his son Joe Sample, who winters in Port Royal
and summers in Billings, Montana. Here Sample found the relaxed atmosphere he longed for. A place where he and his wife could fish, garden, moor their boat and escape from their stressful lives in Chicago. Within days he bought property in the south end of Naples what was then mostly swamp and mangroves-and a beachfront lot for his own home.
Between 1938 and 1950, Sample acquired small parcels of land that eventually totaled up to about two square miles. That property is said to have cost him about $54,000. He named the property Port Royal
, after a legendary Jamaican city of carousing pirates, which is some clue to his spirited personality and set out to create a community designed his way and populated by people he liked.
According to several people interviewed, Sample had a penchant for bluntness and an intolerance of anyone who did not think as he did. But his dedication to his vision, and his trust in his own gut, proved to be prophetic. Port Royal
turned out just the way he wanted it to-at least for a while.
By the time Glen Sample started marketing Port Royal
in 1948, he had become quite successful in the advertising business. His wife, Helen, came from a monied background. Developing Port Royal
, says son Joe, provided his father a way of life that he thoroughly enjoyed. "He invested $3.5 million in Port Royal
," says Joe, "and that was almost all the money he received from selling his advertising agency." And as many Realtors who tried to work with him soon found out, Glen Sample was perfectly willing to wait for success to come to his community. Long-time Naples Realtor
Earl Frye, president of Downing-Frye & Associates, did business with Sample during the 1960's and was a resident of the community for nearly 20 years.
During the early 1950's, lots in Port Royal
had sold for between $7,500 and $12,000, and Samples's spec homes for between $22,000 and $25,000. By the 1960's says Frye, Port Royal lots
had jumped to $15,000 to $30,000 and Port Royal homes
to $55,000 to $60,000.
Comparatively, he says, at that time you could buy a waterfront lot in Aqualane
, down the street from Port Royal
, for $6,000, and in Royal Harbor
, across Naples Bay, for $5,000 to $8,000.
But selling homes in Port Royal
meant more than just qualifying a buyer, says Frye. Individuals first had to pass Sample's litmus test.
"If he didn't like you, or if he wasn't impressed with you, he would turn you down," Frye says.
Sample's son Joe recalls that his father would diligently call references in prospective buyers' hometowns.
When the Port Royal Club
opened as an amenity for Port Royal
residents in 1959, eligibility to buy in Port Royal
hung on being accepted for membership in the club and for years, Sample and his wife were the only people on the membership committee.
Later, the club required that "you had to have names of three or five people that lived in Port Royal
and you had to have letters of recommendation from them," Frye says.
It was not uncommon, Fry says, for membership applications to be turned down. To save face, Frye says he forewarned customers of this stipulation. "I had two or three that he called me on the phone about and said, ‘I just don’t want them in Port Royal.
’ And of course, that was it. He would not change his mind.”
The policy continued at the club, even after Sample’s death in 1971, until a prospective buyer was turned down for membership in 1973 and sued the club. The courts ruled in his favor-although the bruised plaintiff never actually took residence in the community, says Joe Sample-and Sample’s policy was discontinued.
Those that were accepted into the club during Sample’s reign included several elite of American business, says long-time Port Royal
resident Holland Salley, a Naples resident since 1953 and the president of the local interior design firm that bares his name. The CEOs and entrepreneurs of such companies as Briggs & Stratton Engines, Kodak Film, Pittsburgh Plate Glass and other industry giants all had Port Royal homes
in those early days. Salley and his stag decorated many of them.
But according to Joe Sample, at that time most of the industry giants of the day still gravitated toward Palm Beach and Hobe sound. “Port Royal
,” he says, “had a broad mixture of people, including lawyers, doctors, retired military and business people who were successful but usually retired at the vice-presidential level. The vast majority were not the elite of American business.”
In the early days of marketing Port Royal
, sales were slow, says Frye, partly because of a falling out that Sample had with the real estate brokerage community. According to Frye, it happened this way:
“A Realtor sold a lot and I guess the buyer ran into Glen Sample at the club, or something, and Glen convinced him that he should get a better lot. The guy went along with Glen. Then the broker came back and tried to demand a commission on the upgraded lot. Glen just said, ‘Well, if that’s the way you guys want to work, I won’t work with any of you.’”
This was not Sample’s only run-in with members of the community. His efforts at fundraising to establish Naples Community Hospital also caused him some ire.
“My dad could be quite direct,” says Joe Sample. “When he was raising money for the hospital, some fellow from Detroit said that he had already given money to the hospital in Detroit. My father wrote him back and said, “Look, if you die in Naples, Florida, you’ll be just as dead as if you died in Detroit.’ My dad never could figure out why he didn’t immediately give money to the Naples Hospital as a result of that letter.”
Joe Sample says his father also clashed with Henry B. Watkins Sr., owner of the Naples Beach Hotel. The feud started when Sample made it clear to Watkins that he felt the hotel’s level of donation to the hospital was not satisfactory.
This feud spurred the creation of Port Royal’s second community amenity, Hole in the Wall golf club.
One thing my dad found out very early was people who wanted to buy property down here also want to play golf and the only golf course at the time was at the Beach Club Hotel,” says Joe Sample. “To put it mildly, he did not have a good relationship with Mr. Watkins. Watkins didn’t want anybody from Port Royal
playing golf on the Naples Beach Hotel course and closed it off. So dad worked to get The Hole in the Wall established, and that did help sales certainly.’
As the community grew, the desire for membership at the Port Royal
Club grew as well.
“A lot of people would buy the non-waterfront lots just to have a membership at the club. We used to call them “dinner lots,’” says Frye.
At the time, there were not many restaurants in town. “ Percentage-wise, the town would swell with population in season, and if you didn’t belong to some private club, you’d’ have to wait to get in for dinner,” Frye says. “These dinner lots turned out to be great investments. They probably went up by several hundred percent over the years.’
Although Sample owned some two square miles of property, it was not in one solid piece. In some spots, Port Royal
was a patchwork of land that could skip over a lot or two, leaving several lots in the vicinity of Port Royal that were privately held. Over the years, sweetheart deals were made with Sample and his associate, Thad Moss, to gain membership in the Port Royal
residents Jack Briggs first came to Naples with his parents in the 1930’s (in the 1942 Naples phone book, the Briggs’ family phone number was “4”). During the 1970s, his mother had a garden that separated the Lantern Lake section of Port Royal
from the Kingstown Drive section. Thad Moss negotiated the purchase of this land for the Port Royal
Trust-to, which Glen Sample had granted, all interest in Port Royal
after his death in ’71. The area was developed by Moss and Glen’s son Joe and was named Half Moon Lake. In return says Jack Briggs, “my mom and dad got two memberships in Port Royal
and a bunch of money.”
Sample was always thinking of ways to make Port Royal more attractive to prospective buyers. He raised money for the hospital because people had objected to having to travel to Fort Myers for medical care and he commissioned the building of a church in Port Royal
to suit church-going buyers.;
Briggs says Sample recruited his mother, Beatrice Branch Briggs, to raise money for the church, because “she was a Christian that he knew.” Since Beatrice Briggs was an Episcopalian, the church she created, Trinity-by-the Cove, was of that denomination.
Briggs says Sample was a founding member of the Naples Yacht Club, as well as a generous contributor to the fund for the local water works, because clean water was essential to his development and all other developments in Naples. Jack’s father, Stephen Briggs, was also a founder of the Naples Yacht Club and was its first commodore.
Lavern Aynor’s family, who had made their fortune with Texaco and owned The Keewaydin Club and most of Keywaydin (Key Island”, moved to Naples in 1945, In 1968, Gaynor and her husband purchased a Port Royal lot from Sample that looked across the waterway to Keywaydin- “he was very nice,” she says-and in 1976-1977, built the house in which she and her husband still live today. In those early years, says Gaynor the Port Royal
pace of life was quite slow.
Of course, overseas they had a much later dinnertime. So when we first came here, we were invited to dinners, and they would be at 6:30 p.m. I’ll never forget the first diner we went to. It was a very nice dinner, lovely food; it started at 6 or 6:30 p.m.,” Gaynor remembers.
“Everyone had one or two drinks, then we had diner, and then, at a little after 8, everybody got up and left. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘Why are they all going? Didn’t they like the dinner?’ Then I realized that was par for the course with these retired people-and now I’m part of that group myself” They all got up early in the morning, so at 8 or 8:30 p.m., they went home. That was probably one of my greatest shocks.”
A few years later, at another dinner party, Gaynor found out something else about her Port Royal
neighbors. “Over dinner, the people who at one time had owned a lot and a half next to us said that they had sold because they were sure that we had bought our lot so we could put a bridge over to Key Island,” Gaynor says, still incredulous. “I couldn’t believe that these supposedly intelligent people could believe such a thing. First of all, it’s a federal waterway. You can’t put a bridge over a federal waterway and how in the world could you get enough runway to go up high enough to get over there? It was so illogical, I couldn’t believe it, but they sold because of that. They thought they were going to be sitting next door to a bridge.”
When Gaynor first came to Naples in ’45, there were few modern conveniences. “Until air conditioning and mosquito spraying came in, it wasn’t very enticing to stay here in the summer time,’ she says. “The mosquitoes were terrible. You ran as fast as you could, swatting all the time.”
Holland Salley, who decorated many of the Port Royal homes
in “The Naples color scheme: of bright-green and yellow fabric spread over white wicker furniture, offered a service that closed up houses for the summer and did weekly inspections.
We used a material called DIGAS, in little cloth bags, that you’d hang all over the house to keep any mildew from forming,” says Salley. “Instead of opening the doors to air out the house, we didn’t air them out because that was the worst thing you could do. The mildew would get into your mattresses and upholstery.”
When it came to the look of a home’s exterior, Sample had precise deed restriction. A handful of Palm Beach architects were authorized to design homes there, and their designs reflected his conservative taste: no flat roofs, not tin roofs, no modern architecture.
Sample was also particular about the landscaping of the community and used planting material from his own grove, called ”Buccaneer’s Roost,” which was located on Goodlette Road where the Commons and the First National Bank of Naples are today. According to his son Joe, he wanted Port Royal to be “a showplace of casual elegance”-and the houses were to be “small jewels” about 3,000 square feet in size. In fact, Sample was concerned that “someone might build too small a house.” He never intended that Port Royal
become populated by mansions, as it is today.
He had no idea that people were going to do what they’ve done,” Joe Sample says. “You have these huge houses…and everybody is playing “my house is bigger than your house’. Not everybody, but enough people are…He’d have a fit if he were alive today.”
“I remember Glen Sample telling me how fortunate he though he was. He had created what he though was an ideal community,” says Lavern Gaynor. “He said he was fortunate in that he could afford to sit back, keep it the way he wanted and wait…for decades without much going on…. I though that was very interesting.”
Clearly, Glen Sample loved Port Royal
. He delighted in showing it to prospective buyers from the seat of his Rolls Royce-or from the bow of the 70-foot Port Royal Club yacht. (His first boat was 27 feet long; the 70-foot version was number four in a line of boats he called Privateer.) Most of all, though, Glen Sample loved to tour through the community and admire what he had created-something many people still do today.