When dining with multiple friends, I prefer a round table. It’s more congenial because everyone can see and talk easily with everyone else. For similar reasons, Joe Klein’s vision for Rotonda was that, unlike traditional square or block communities, his would be round.
As I write in my book, “Rotonda: The Vision and the Reality.” “If Rotonda had been square, perhaps fewer would have come. A round community is romantic. It conjures up visions of wagon trains secure in their comfort circles. Round is soft, like Paris. No hard edges, like square New York.”
Klein, of course, was CEO of Cavanagh Leasing Corporation of Miami. It was Klein who flew over Cape Haze in 1969, looking for a site for Rotonda West to replace his sagging Rotonda East, which straddled Martin and Palm Beach counties where Klein was finding the authorities less than friendly.
Klein spotted the Vanderbilt ranch on that flight, realized it perfectly suited his circular vision, and acquired it for $19.5 million. (The Vanderbilt’s had been seeking $10 million, but spirited bidding raised the ante, and Klein was determined. But that’s another story.)
The circular vision was actually said to originate with one Charles Prynne Martin. Martin reputedly had no land planning or architectural credentials, but seemed able to convince Klein a circular or radial concept like much of Paris or Washington D.C. made sense, more so than straight blocks.
The circle became Klein’s driving vision—a community with a central hub, canals reaching out like spokes in a wheel, draining into a river that encircled the entire community, the river draining into creeks and tributaries leading to the Gulf. It was inspired engineering and it has worked for most residents for 40 years, the trauma of Rotonda’s birth now just a memory.
Editor’s Note: These and other historical facts about Rotonda’s early years are outlined in Jack Alexander’s book, ‘Rotonda: The Vision & The Reality,’ and is available for $6.00 at the Rotonda West Community Center, 3754 Cape Haze Drive, Rotonda West 33947, (941) 697-6788.