What Life Is Like in Naples, Florida

    Ever feel the need to change your environment? I did. I was born in Pittsburgh, which I love, grew up there, earned an education, and worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 40 years.

    The newspaper has changed a lot since I retired in July 1999. According to the New York Times, more than a thousand American newspapers have died in recent years and journalism is now created, and available, on computers.

    Seeking change, I concentrated my attention on vacation trips to the west coast of Florida. My late wife, Bette, and I learned it is often six to nine degrees warmer in Naples on a winter’s day than on Long Boat Key, a resort island linked by bridge to Sarasota, about three hours north of Naples.

    We enjoyed several winter visits to Long Boat Key but tired of walking in winter in its bright sunshine while enduring cold winds. This led us to visit some friends—former Pittsburghers—who lived in Naples, the last major city on Florida’s west coast.

    Naples is one of the most affluent and healthiest places in the United States. It has miles of excellent white-sand beaches, fine hospitals, a Northern rather than Southern ambience, and two seasons. It is also run by city and county governments that are totally Republican.

    The city is beautiful and well protected by 400 policemen who are quick to assist but not as quick to tag; one reason is a large part of a fine goes to the state government. Plus Naples primarily is a resort city and very welcoming—offering many amenities as well as beautification rules requiring restrained signage on buildings. Since it has a seasonal nature, many homeowners are here mostly when it is cold up north so they can escape here to better weather.

    The warm, dry winter is called “The Season.” It begins in November and runs to just after Easter. The rest of the year is dominated by the hot, rainy season, from May through November, a period of possible hurricanes. You learn to live with these day-long storms and their potential dangers. They have the power to kill people, raise the tide inland for city blocks, tear off tile roofs, and demolish hundreds of mature trees. You learn to cope with such conditions every so often if you live here. It can mean vacating your residence.

    While Pittsburgh fortunately is spared
    hurricanes, I have experienced two hurricanes here: Wilma in October 2005, with 70-mile-an-hour winds, in the house we bought in 2001; and Irma, Naples’s last major hurricane three Septembers ago. We experienced the last in the hospital; Bette had pneumonia at the time. The twister did $3,000 in damage to our roof. Other houses on our street fared worse, with many roofs and lanais torn off. Hurricane Dorian, two Septembers ago, brought just light winds to Southwest Florida but did much damage farther north.

    But Naples has 250 days of sunshine a year, a profound treat for anyone tired of gloomy skies. Rain slackens and temperatures fall from the mid-to-high 80s in mid-September. It never snows here and cold winters are brief and rarely below 40 degrees. Yet, living here would be almost impossible without air-conditioning and air-born dusting of mosquitoes in spring and summer.

    Like many cities in Florida, Naples is dominated by gated communities. If you buy or rent a house in one, which is very popular, it often is located in a country club, where admission to your home or apartment is allowed through manned, or electric, entry gates. In such arrangements, the owner pays an annual membership fee, which costs thousands of dollars, granting one the amenities of the club, including a large dining room and bar, and sometimes an activities building, swimming pools, and an exercise facility.

    My neighborhood, Glen Eagle Golf and Country Club in East Naples, consists of 320 acres of gated land, enclosed by shrubbery and fencing. This plan contains 1,324 living units—streets of houses as well as areas of townhouses and several low-rise apartment buildings plus several neighborhood swimming pools.

    The many streets pass along palm trees, ponds, and medial plantings amid several different neighborhoods. My house stands one mile from the front entrance, but is just 1.2 miles from the nearest grocery store, a large Publix. There is a beautiful 18-hole golf course, which charges for each game. After 25 years, the course was rebuilt three years ago for more than $1 million.

    It is said that Naples is the golf capital of America, with almost 100 courses, all private, located in Collier County. The county is named for Barron Collier, a New York advertising executive of the early 20th century. He masterminded the difficult and extensive excavation through the Everglades that created the Tamiami Trail (State Route 41), linking Tampa to Miami, in 1928.

    Golf is Naples’s chief sport, with power boating—offering access to the Gulf of Mexico—also very popular, as is pickle ball with its leagues. Several attempts have failed to make Naples a baseball center. County leaders and others have not found funding for such a venture although attempts have been made in the recent past.

    Sports fans visit sports centers in Fort Myers, 25 miles to the north, or watch games on television networks, broadcasting only from Fort Myers. But for anyone not interested in sports, Naples offers relief from obsessive attention to major athletics.

    This city has an active art scene with many private galleries, an art center for exhibitions and classes in winter season, and a district where local and other artists exhibit and sell their work.

    The complex of Artis-Naples, in the Pelican Bay area of North Naples, hosts the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, which is excellent. It presents a full winter season of fine classical music, plus a full roster of stage shows and stars on tour, many more than visit Pittsburgh.

    A rendering of the renovated Baker Art Museum.

    A rendering of the renovated Baker Art Museum.

    Artis-Naples also consists of the three-story Baker Art Museum, offering an extensive collection of contemporary masters as well as a collection of important Mexican art. It was founded 28 years ago but closed in 2017 for two seasons when Hurricane Irma sent moisture into the second floor but did not damage the art.

    The museum’s board pledged $62 million for refurbishment, resulting in an extensive rebuilding program that will debut in 2020. The founder and former director of this complex is Myra Janco Daniels, 94. In retirement, she donated $3 million to WGCU, the educational television station that serves Southwestern Florida, to promote the arts. It resembles WQED. As in Pittsburgh, good things exist here.

    There are a few national restaurant chains here, such as the popular Bonefish. Among fine French restaurants are Bistro La Baguette and at least four others. For true Italian food there’s Alberto’s in the first block of Fifth Avenue South, the city’s main street. The owner comes from Turin, Italy, and prices are moderate. There are Mexican restaurants too, but not as many as in Pittsburgh. Naples has three department stores—Macy’s, Dillard’s, and Nordstrom—plus a large Dick’s Sporting Goods.

    Other city areas of interest are Third Street South, Mercato in North Naples, and Waterside Shops—home of the third highest grossing Barnes and Noble bookstore in the country, a new and very popular Apple Store with many computer “geniuses,” as well as fine dining and alluring shops of many kinds.

    Lots of former Pittsburghers live here. One of them is my friend, artist Joan Sonnenberg, 89, winner of many prizes here and in Pittsburgh. In February she exhibited, in a private gallery here, some of her life’s output of 700 paintings.

    Pittsburgh National Bank has a branch here and the general tone of business has a good Pittsburgh flavor. Condo and apartment living is extremely active as is country club living and house building. Land is still available. I expect to make about a $100,000 profit on the sale of my three-bedroom house here after 20 years. I have moved into an assisted living apartment at The Arlington of Naples, a five-acre establishment owned and run for all by the Lutheran Church, and offering fine amenities.

    To return to a subject close to my own background, the Naples Daily News, a Gannett paper, is still printed daily but it does not have as many writers as it did before it was bought by Gannett about five years ago. And the paper will soon be published from Sarasota, despite having a fine modern printing plant here. We blame these changes on the present “Age of Computers” and on online communication.

    Donald Miller, 85, retired as art critic emeritus of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1991. Author of seven books, he is now writing (two years after a stroke) a reminiscence of Pittsburghers, including Harry Schwalb, Richard and Cordelia Scaife, Leon A. Arkus, and Andy Warhol and brothers Paul and John Warhola. Reach him at Millerwriter88@gmail.com.