By Jane Bartnett
Siesta Key was a very different place in 1948. In September of that year, three years after the end of World War II, the now 87-year-old Siesta Key resident Cope Garrett and his family left their comfortable life in Philadelphia behind and made the Key their home.
As the 15-year-old Cope, along with his brother, mother, father and two dogs settled into their new life, his physician father established a successful medical practice and became the first board certified doctor in Sarasota County. Dr. Garrett’s patients included Marie Selby, whose name now graces the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, as well as Ralph and Ellen Caples. “The Caples were railroad people,” Cope Garrett told the Siesta Sand. Caples was also an early real estate developer, who convinced the Ringling brothers to come to Sarasota.
In the late 1940‘s, there were about 300 people living on Siesta Key and in 1950, National Geographic Magazine named Siesta beach as one of the four most beautiful beaches in the world.
“The mosquitos were terrible, and planes would drop EDT, but,” Garrett said, “it was a tropical paradise and I loved every square inch of it.”
Enrolling at Sarasota High School proved to be another drastic but wonderful change for the young Cope Garrett. It was a far cry from the private Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia where John B. Kelly, the brother of former movie star Grace Kelly who became Princess Grace of Monaco, was a classmate. At 6’ 1”, and 168 lbs., Garrett was a star on the high school basketball court as well as the gridiron. Named MVP in his senior year, he won a football scholarship to Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee, but college quickly lost its appeal. After joining the Coast Guard and serving in ports around the world for three years, Garrett enrolled at Haverford College in Haverford, PA, but longed to return to Florida. In 1958, at the age of 25, he became a student at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. The “G.I. Bill” (that provides educational funds for veterans), made it possible for him to pay his tuition and in 1961, he completed his bachelor’s degree at the age of 28.
Siesta Key kept calling him home and after a brief stint as an admissions officer at Rollins, Garrett was hired as New College’s (State University of Florida) first admissions counselor. Now married with children, and aware of the Key’s potential for growth, Garrett left higher education to begin a career in commercial real estate. “I opened a sole proprietor office in Siesta Key Village,” Garrett recalled. He hired sales people and began working with Palmer Bank on financing properties. Things began to take off when “I got a beat on a property south of the Crescent Club,” he told the Siesta Sand. “It was owned by Honore Palmer’s estate through the Palmer Bank.”
Garrett decided that it was “premature” to venture into the condominium market but with a $25,000 dollar loan from his parents, he and a partner purchased the land that is now Southbridge Mall on Midnight Pass Road. John Davidson, he said, bought property to the south and “we worked in concert.”
Other ventures followed. Garrett recalled owning a gas station at Stickney Point Road and Peacock. “During the gas shortage, I had my own personal gas station,” he said. The development of Palmer Ranch communities was a missed opportunity. “What a commission that could have been,” he joked. When asked to reflect on current real estate developments on the Key, Garrett was critical of the proposed Benderson Development at Stickney Point Road and also voiced his displeasure at the possibility of new hotels.
During his real estate career, Garrett served on the Siesta Key Board of Utilities, the Library, and the Gulf Coast National Bank. He remains an active member of St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Siesta Key. He and his wife Anne have been active supporters of the Sarasota Ballet, the Sarasota Orchestra, the Sarasota Museum of Art, and Sarasota Memorial Hospital. The father of three children, Cope Garrett has been married three times. “ I’m lucky enough to have nine step-grandchildren,” he said with great pride.
Garrett stepped back from his full-time work in the real estate market years ago. Standing near the dock behind his home and looking at the Gulf, he said, “I can imagine that its almost the same as when I came here. I’ve had a hodgepodge of a life,” he said. “Life was like a razor’s edge for me. The difference between being a success and being unsuccessful was very close at times, but, life is far richer than just business.”