Monday, March 24, 2014

The Old Port of the Isles Hotel ~ a.k.a. Remuda Ranch

A landmark from SW Florida's past.

In 1967, I turned thirteen, the year the original Port of the Isles Hotel was constructed.  Growing up in the Midwest seemed far removed from stories of innocent consumers buying Florida swampland.  The Gulf American Corporation (GAC), notorious developer of Cape Coral and Golden Gate, built the hotel in order to wine and dine potential buyers and investors, who were often flown down to experience the beauty and bounty of Southwest Florida. 

Now condemned, the hotel displays No Trespassing signs on every chained and padlocked door.  The predominant paint scheme reflects the pink and turquoise  hues of the 80’s, but in a sadly humorous attempt to update the exterior, someone has painted the front of the lobby and entrance wing a more fashionable yellow. 

The hotel was actually in operation last spring, when we had an opportunity to sketch the building and grounds, and meet the friendly and helpful managing-family-in-residence.  We were also allowed to see the interior and to use the restroom off of the defunct bar, which was a memorable experience.  I’m sorry to say that this once lovely building exuded mold and decay, fraught with broken and rusted fixtures, peeling paint, and weedy borders.  This year we returned in March, wondering if this trip would be our last chance to experience a piece of old Florida history and culture. 

The hotel was also known as Remuda Ranch, and its past includes drug smuggling, clandestine meetings, and a gathering place for concerts and parties.  In its more demure days, the ballroom hosted annual proms for nearby high schools. It’s sad to see it aging: the buildings deteriorating, the parking lot cracked and weedy, the pool drained and dry.  I can imagine the happy laughter, baking sun, splashing water, and the clinking of ice in highball glasses around that pool…

The Hotel lies 22 miles east of Naples off Tamiami Trail, to the north of a community called Port of the Isles, and nestles alongside Fakahatchee Preserve State Park.  I sketched a montage – the edge of the parking lot first, adding the hotel entry and butterflies flirting with the nearby weedy flowers.  I’m using a 6x9 inch Aquabee spiral-bound sketchbook, a sepia Micron Pigma, my small travel palette of Daniel Smith watercolors, and two sizes of Aquabrush.  I’m drawing directly with my pen, so you’ll see a lot of sketchy lines and draw-throughs.  We’ll just call those the charm of plein air sketching!

For more exploring about the history of this area:

A 1968 aerial photo of the hotel and surrounding land in the Marco News.

“Golden Gate Estates Nefarious History”  excerpts on To Twit, perchance to dream blog/forum.

“Paradise Crushed,” Broward-Palm Beach New Times article about the history of GAC and how it and the Fakahatchee affected one man’s life.