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History of Ocean Harbor Condominiums

Construction worker John Dinnan walking on an 8 inch beam on the 14th floor of one of the Ocean Harbor buildings. Photo taken by Paul Cote for the Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Friday, July 12, 1991

Ocean Harbor Condominium was developed beginning in 1990, with the first blueprint published in February 1989. It was developed by a group of four German investors. The project was marketed to the many Germans who wanted to spend winter months in warm southwest Florida. The architect was Edward Hillstrom who studied at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. Hillstrom specialized in seascape projects including 3 projects on Bonita Beach; Bay Harbor Club, Sea Isles Condominiums, and 25810 Hickory Boulevard.

Ocean Harbor is a gated waterfront condominium development located on the mid-island of Fort Myers Beach. The development features twin high-rise buildings with both Gulf of Mexico and Estero Bay views. Ocean Harbor is situated on nine Acres directly on 650 feet of Estero Bay and across Estero Boulevard from the beach and the Newton Cottage.

The 16 story twin towers of Ocean Harbor each at 195 feet tall are the second tallest buildings on Fort Myers Beach. The tallest is Diamond Heat at 220 feet with 18 stories. Each Ocean Harbor building has 75 condominium units ranging in size from 1,723 square feet to 2,457 square feet in three different floor plans. The complex features a junior Olympic swimming pool, four championship tennis courts / pickleball courts, two Jacuzzi hot tubs, and the clubhouse. There are three docks with a total of 34 boat slips along Ocean Harbor's seawall on Estero Bay which are owned and maintained by the Ocean Harbor Yacht Club.

According to several long-time Fort Myers Beach residents who were well acquainted with the Ocean Harbor project, Ocean Harbor was advertised, erroneously, as being on the Gulf. Sales to Germans were brisk until it was generally learned that Ocean Harbor was on Estero Bay, not the Gulf. When this error became widely known, sales fell off sharply and the four German investors declared bankruptcy. The condominium project was then sold to an American firm which continued the development.

The American firm completed the project in two phases. Building A, whose official name is Ocean Harbor Ambassador, was completed in 1991. A grand opening celebration was conducted in the Ocean Harbor Clubhouse. A year later, Building B, whose official name is Ocean Harbor Barron, was completed. The developers retained control of Ocean Harbor Association until 1995 at which time control of the association was turned over to the owners and the first Board of Directors was elected.

Estero Island, the main part of the town of Fort Myers Beach, is a barrier island across Estero Bay from the City of Estero. It was formed twelve thousand years ago.

The first human inhabitants, the Calusa, settled on Estero Island two thousand years ago. They were the predominant Native American tribe in southwest Florida. In addition to Estero Island, they had settlements along the southwest Florida coast, notably on Pine Island. Their high-protein diet was rich in shell meat, so much so that they were tall compared to other Native Americans and especially tall compared to the Europeans who would one day encounter them.

For hundreds of years the Calusa collected the sea shells from their diet of shell meat to create a large mound upon which the ruling chiefs dwelled. Years later the Calusa moved to Mound Key to the south in Estero Bay. Their settlement  on Mound Key afforded them a direct view of the Gulf of Mexico and of any attacking force.

Spaniards arrived in the early 1500's under the command of Ponce de León. Several skirmishes occurred. The first was at Matanzas Pass, the site of the Matanzas Bridge. Matanzas means massacre in Spanish, but it is not clear whether it was the Calusa or the Spaniards who were massacred. Several years later de León returned and had another skirmish with the Calusa. In this skirmish he was wounded, then carried back to his ship by his men. He succumbed to his wounds in Cuba several days later.

After these encounters with the Spaniards the Calusa moved away to parts unknown. Estero Island remained uninhabited for hundreds of years, except for the occasional Cuban fishermen who set up temporary fishing camps on the island. Farmers arrived in the late nineteenth century. Then, around the turn of the century, settlers such as McGregor filed for homestead rights. Another was Robert Gilbert who built a home on the large Calusa mound at the end of what is now Connecticut Street. Dan McNab, a Scotsman, was awarded a 35 acre parcel on Estero Bay in 1907 which includes the current site of Ocean Harbor. The Koreshans, who lived in a communal society in what is now Estero, built and operated a saw mill at the southern end of Estero Island.

Estero Island, by then called Crescent Beach, would have remained a quiet, sleepy place. Then, in the twenties, Florida became known nationwide as a wonderful vacation destination. A swing bridge was constructed to connect Crescent Beach to the mainland. Casinos and hotels followed. The resulting boom ended shortly thereafter when southern Florida was severely battered by several hurricanes and southern Florida lost its appeal to vacationers.

In the 1950s, pink shrimp, colloquially known as "Pink Gold" were discovered off the coast of Crescent Beach. Fort Myers Beach, as Estero Island or Crescent Beach was called, became the "Home of the Shrimp Fleet," and its resurgence began and continues to this day. Churches, schools, a library, a pier, newspapers, and a Coast Guard station appeared. Jim Newton, a friend of Edison, Ford, Firestone, and Lindbergh, entertained them at the cottage he built in 1953 at mid-island across from what is now Ocean Harbor. After several failed attempts to become a self-governing town, Fort Myers Beach finally was granted its incorporation in December 1995.

If you want to learn more about Fort Myers Beach, visit the Fort Myers Beach library which has a very nice section about Fort Myers Beach. One book there, History of Fort Myers Beach, Florida by Rolfe F. Schell and published by Island Press in 1980, includes a section on homesteaders, cited above. You can learn about the Calusa Native Americans at Mound House. You can see early photographs of Fort Myers Beach at the Fort Myers Beach Historical Society.

History of Fort Myers Beach

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