If things had been different for John D. MacArthur — not that he didn’t have a prosperous, generous life — this neighborhood with the manicured lawns, super location and great family reputation might have been PGA National.
The PGA National — with famous golf tournaments and famous golfers and plenty of notoriety, worldwide.
That was kind of the plan.
MacArthur, the real estate magnate and philanthropist who in 1954 began buying land that would turn out to be Lake Park, North Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens, worked with the Professional Golfers Association of America officials to bring their headquarters to Palm Beach Gardens.
Sure, Palm Beach Gardens was a newly created town with no people in it. But MacArthur told the PGA folks he’d build them two, top-of-the-line golf courses. PGA officials agreed, and MacArthur built the courses.
Sooner rather than later, though, that business relationship soured, pitting MacArthur and the PGA against each other in a contentious tenant-or-owner court battle. Eventually, developer E. Llwyd Ecclestone developed PGA National, a little farther to the west past Florida’s Turnpike.
And for this, the residents of Garden Isles are extremely grateful.
“It’s like a hidden oasis,” says Nancy Smith, a local Realtor who bought here with her husband, Dave, in 1977. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
Originally planned as PGA National Golf Club Estates, Garden Isles today is 160 homes. There is no homeowner’s association — although residents do band together if developers encroach on their lifestyle — no pool, no clubhouse, no monthly fees. There’s not even a guard gate. But, oddly enough, Garden Isles looks like a neighborhood where green grass, pretty landscaping and newly painted homes are demanded by the neighborhood commandos.
“It’s very rare,” said Scott Smith, Nancy Smith’s son, who is also a Realtor. “I can’t think of another neighborhood that’s like this — where no one’s telling you your yard has to be cut, but everyone does it.
“There’s a real pride of ownership.”
Home construction started in the late 1960s and continued for decades, and no one builder did all the homes. “There’s nothing cookie cutter about it,” says Nancy Smith. Public schools are all A-rated by the state of Florida — Timber Trace Elementary, Watson B. Duncan Middle School and Palm Beach Gardens Community High school. Homes generally list around the $300,000 to $400,000 mark, making them a tad upscale but still attainable. And after the city approved PGA Commons — a strip of home-towny retail on the northern fringe of their neighborhood — Garden Isles folks now can walk to restaurants and shops, which they say they love.
However, collecting their initial concerns about PGA Commons was one of the times they banded together in a temporary HOA. And when BallenIsles Country Club was built next to them, residents worked hard to keep their pretty golf course views. (Those BallenIsles golf courses are the ones MacArthur built for the PGA folks.)
But there’s one other lovely, inexplicable thing about Garden Isles — besides the nice houses and wide streets and golf-course views. Kids who grew up here tend to come back.
Scott Smith, the Realtor who works with his mom, lives on the same street he grew up on. So does his brother, Robert. He loved his boyhood here, riding bikes and running in and out of neighbors’ homes and racing around the golf course at night — until security chased them off.
Oh, those were the good old days.
Scott Smith can rattle off at least three other families whose kids came back here to raise their kids. Tara Pressley, who moved in about 18 months ago, hung out here with her bestie as a kid — and that had great input on she and her husband’s decision to buy in Garden Isles, she said.
“Anyone you ask in this neighborhood, whether they’ve been here a year or 30 years, they say this is the best neighborhood,” Scott Smith said.
“It’s hard to find a reason why, but everything just clicks.”
BY THE NUMBERS
The real estate market at Garden Isles
Total number of homes
Homes listed for sale
Median home sales price over the past 7 months (in 2013)