My name is Charles Gray and I’m from really Orlando except that I was born in Leesburg, Florida. And I moved to Orlando in the fifth grade and I’ve been here ever since except in 1969 I bought a ranch in Volusia County called, we named it Gemini Springs. It has two springs and flows about seven million gallons into a tributary that goes into the St. Johns River and we had a cattle ranch there for about 25 years and I was in the cattle business for about 35 years and practiced law at the same time so I’ve been driving I-4 all those years to get to my office in downtown Orlando and back home.
(Text highlights are excerpts from audio recording.)
I moved to Orlando in the fifth grade and Orlando at the time that I moved here was a small, mainly citrus town and they had some winter visitors that came and they had homes here primarily in Winter Park. But they would come and stay the winter and go back when the weather was okay back home in New York or wherever they came from, Connecticut…
Delaney Paper Route
I sold papers. I sold “The Orlando Sentinel” and “The Orlando Sentinel Star”, there was a morning and evening paper. A man would come by in a truck and us guys would, young people, I was in the fifth, sixth grade, and the truck would take us out to the air base which now is where Baldwin Park is. And I would sell newspapers out there in the morning and I’d get back in time to go to school. And then I’d go out and sell the “Evening Star” in the afternoon and I made enough money to buy all my own clothes which made me very proud of myself, I guess. Later I had a paper route. I’d get up early and I’d go down to, I’d always circle by Federal Bakery. If you went by in the back alley and knocked on the door, they would let you in and they took pity on little paper boys and they’d give me some of the most wonderful donuts, glazed donuts, hot, warm. So I’d eat some donuts and then I’d go down to the newspaper where all the boys gathered and we’d roll our papers. And that was something we took pride in how fast we could roll our papers. And then we stuck them into the big basket on the front of our bikes. I had a bike and my route was down around Delaney in that area. And so I sold papers and made enough money to buy my own clothes. So that was early Orlando to me….
Strawberry Shortcakes at Montverde University
It was a nice place. Everybody knew everybody. My father died. He was in the war and he died after he got back. And my mother remarried, G. Wayne Gray, an attorney here in town, and he adopted me. My name was Stinson, Charles Stinson, and he adopted me and my name then changed to Gray. That was in about the seventh grade, I guess, maybe eighth. And I started school at Delaney Elementary School and then moved to Memorial Junior High. I also went to school at Montverde University out west of town. It was a boarding school. And I cleaned out chicken coops and then I graduated to the farm where I grew all kinds of things, but the thing I like to grow most was strawberries because I would get a strawberry every nine or ten strawberries I harvested I’d get one. But we would take the strawberries in and they would take them over to the girls side of Montverde. They had girls and boys. But we were separated very widely. And the girls ran the kitchen and they made strawberry shortcake you could taste. And I remember to this day the taste of those strawberry shortcakes and I was a great aficionado.
John Young History Maker Award
And then I came back to Orlando when I had a soccer injury of my knee and had to have my knee operation in the ninth grade. And then I went to Orlando Senior High School after Memorial and that’s where I met John Young. And that’s when later I decided that John Young needed to be memorialized. And Duke Crittenden and I formed the John Young History Maker Award process and its been going ever since…
Well, we always went to church, First Presbyterian Church. My grandfather was a Presbyterian minister and my uncle was a Presbyterian minister so naturally I was Presbyterian. And so we’d go to the Presbyterian Church and after that we had family gatherings. I had a sister younger than me… I guess I was 20 when she was born. She has been very dear to me all our lives now… But it was a typical Sunday with family. [Sunday School] at the First Presbyterian Church downtown and that’s where I was a member of the Boy Scouts Troop 24. And I still kick myself because I came within a couple merit badges of being an Eagle Scout. I was a Life Scout and other things became important and I didn’t finish and become an Eagle Scout. I’ve always regretted that because I have a great respect for scouting and Boy Scouts, particularly those that have become Eagle Scouts. And quite frankly if I see a resume and it’s a question of which kid to hire if one of them’s an Eagle Scout that’s where I’m going...
I went to the University of Florida. At that time any graduate, any high school graduate in the state was entitled to go to the University of Florida. My grades were not particularly good. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t really good. And so I really kind of found myself at the university. It kind of took me a while because I was very interested in social activities, we’ll call it that. And I got involved in the second two years of my four year stay there. I got involved in politics and that became a real interest to me… I ran for vice president of the student body and I won against Reubin Askew, who later became governor of the state. He claims he lost by one vote, but it was really eight votes. And Reubin and I became great friends and we’ve been friends all these many years. He died recently, very sadly. He was one of our great governors of the state.
Senator John F. Kennedy and Charles Gray at the University of Florida VIEW
Florida Turnpike Authority Chairman
Funny thing happened, I had been, 1964 I ran the governor’s campaign. The one who won, there were six candidates, and the one that I supported was least expected to win. But he had been the Mayor of Jacksonville. His name was Haydon Burns and nobody expected him to win, but he asked me to chair his campaign and we turned everything around and really established Central Florida as his strength of support. And he won! He appointed me chairman of the Florida Turnpike Authority. And that leads me to a little story. Whenever I finished my term as Turnpike Chairman, traditionally the Turnpike Chairman going out of office is given a gold lifetime pass. So you get to travel the turnpike for free for the rest of your life. Well, of course, Reubin, when he became governor there were no freebies. And so he sent anybody who had been in office and had gotten a freebie like that he sent a form letter that you had to turn it in. And on mine he put a little note on it. He wrote me and he said, “We’re even. – Reubin”. So he got even with me for winning that election. But it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve had a lot of fun in politics and I’ve been a little bit successful in that...
Charles Gray and Reubin Askew VIEW
“She was a crack water skier…”
I met my wife the winter of 1954 at a Christmas party. A good friend of mine, Red Carson, had a date with my wife to be, Saundra, and he was so proud of having a date with her that he took her around and introduced her to everybody. He made the mistake of introducing her to me. And I thought, boy, she was a pretty young lady and then I went up to school to finish my semester to graduate. And I’d almost forgotten about things and I was walking by the appliance store up in Gainesville and I looked, and there was a TV running, it was black and white. And they were interviewing my wife to be, Saundra. She was a skier and they were interviewing her because she was a crack water skier. And so I remembered that she was someone that I wanted to date…. Saundra and I started dating at the first of the summer and her parents said she had to be in by twelve, so I always took her in by twelve. And it was very helpful to me because I had a job with Florida Power Corporation and you had to get up real early to get on the job. And I would come back to the house after work about five o’clock and shower and get dressed and go get Saundra.
But what was a little bit of a burden was I was kind of a smart ass at the University of Florida. I was taking statistics my last semester and the professor said, “I want you to know all of you: I consider all of you ‘A’ students until you prove otherwise.” Well, I remembered that and then several weeks later… he says, “All my A students don’t have to come to class if you don’t want to.” So I never went to another class all semester I took the test I made an “A” on every test. But, you know, I studied for it, but I never went to class. So when the final grades came out, he gave me a failing grade. He gave me an “E” or an “F”. I forget what they called it. And I went and talked to him. I said, “Look, I know this course. I’ve taken every test and I’ve aced it. I can’t afford to have an ‘F’ because I need the points. I have all the honor points I need to graduate, but I’ve got to have the hours.” And he said, “Well, I’m sorry.” I explained to him what he said and everything and he said, “You’re a smart ass.” He said, “You got an ‘E’.”
So I had to take a correspondence course that summer to graduate. In a correspondence course they work you to death to make sure you understand the subject. So I would come home after taking Saundra home at twelve and I’d work til 2:00, 2:30 in the morning doing my correspondence course. And I get up at 4:30 or 5:00 to get to work. And that was my summer…. But we really had a lot of fun together that summer and as summer was coming to an end I pinned her with my fraternity pin and so she was my girl….Would she wait for me? Yes, she would wait for me. But, would I wait for her? Well, we finally decided we would elope… We went to Georgia… we got married by a little justice of the peace… and we came back and we told her big father and three big brothers…. And we’ve had just a wonderful life together. We’re coming up on 59 years this coming August and I think it might last….
Charles & Saundra Gray and Family VIEW.
Gray & Gray Law Firm
So when I graduated from the University Law School… I didn’t know, my dad didn’t tell me… He did not tell me that he was ill… I had admired the brains behind then Governor Ferris Bryant. His name was Max Brewer and he was recognized as probably the smartest guy in Florida at least in politics. He was a lawyer. And so I admired him so much that I went over and interviewed with his firm, Crofton, Wilson, and Brewer. And they hired me for $400.00 a month which was as much as any of my classmates got starting, and that office was in Titusville… And I came home and told my dad and he says, “You can’t do that. I haven’t practiced law. I haven’t been to the office in over a year. My secretary tried to hold things together. You’ve got to come here and try to bring things back together. I’ve lost a lot of clients,” he said. “And you’ve got to try to bring them back together.” So I had to tell them that I wasn’t going to Titusville. I came to Orlando. We found a firm, Gray & Gray. And every fee I brought in we split fifty-fifty until his death in 1965….
We had a city court and they had a city prosecutor. They called them a city solicitor. The city solicitor had resigned, his name was Bobby Roth and I didn’t know anything about criminal law, but I went to the city attorney, Judge John Baker, and asked him if I could have the job. I said, “I needed the job.” Paid $200.00 a month. It was part time. So he gave it to me. And I called Bobby Roth. I said, ” Bobby, I’d like to talk to you because I never, I don’t know anything about city court. I don’t know anything about criminal law.” He says, “Oh, it’s not a problem. You come down on Friday.” Friday was court day. “I’ll handle it and you watch.” I said, “Great!” So, I went down and Bobby didn’t show up… So I’m standing there and the first case comes up. It’s a DWI, Driving While Intoxicated. Now they call it DUI, Driving Under the Influence. And the first case came up and the police officer stood up so I went up by the police officer. And the defendant came up with his lawyer. So I turned to the police officer and I said, “What happened?” …. I lost the case.
Now the funny part of it is I have told that story now since 1960 to a number of people. There was someone else telling the story that I didn’t know was telling it and it was Randall James. Randall James was the officer and Randall became a great friend of mine. He was the chief of staff to the mayor and so forth. And so Randall’s been telling that story about the same thing, same way, and I’ve been telling that story and I never realized because I didn’t know Randall back when he was a police officer and he didn’t know who I was either.. I heard him tell the story at a function and I said, “Randall, I’ve got a surprise for you. I was the lawyer that prosecuted that case…” It’s funny how things come together. Anyway, that was my experience in criminal law. I never handled a DUI except one time after that. A friend of mine begged me to handle a case down in Ft. Pierce and by the time I got through I was really good at it. The entire town of Ft. Pierce it looked like had gathered in the courtroom to see everything. It was a jury trial. I really made them all look like monkeys because I knew much more about it then they did and I won the case…
Campaign Manager for Doyle Conner
In 1960 Orlando was a citrus town and a good friend of mine, Doyle Conner, who I knew from the University of Florida, he had run for the legislature. He had become the youngest Speaker of the House for the legislature. Well, he decided he wanted to run for the Commissioner of Agriculture. So he came to Orlando and he got in touch with me and a fellow named Bill Gunter. He said, “You’re the only people I know in Orlando and I want to run for Commissioner of Agriculture. Would you run my campaign, cochair it?” So we both shook his hand, looked him in the eye and said, “We will do it.”
Well, I turned my law office into his campaign headquarters. Really, we just really got under way against a local guy that was so well known. His name was Buster Hancock and he had every big gun in town in favor of him. The president of the Florida Bar was his campaign manager. The papers were all for him. The banks were all for him. We didn’t have anybody for us to begin with. But we started working. Things started looking a little better and Bill Gunter came into my office. He said, “Charlie, I need to talk to you.” I said, “Good, what?” He said, “Let’s go out in the back parking lot.” I knew something was up. He said, “Charlie, I’ve been asked to be the office manager for the state campaign headquarters for the next governor in the state of Florida.” And I said, “Wow, that’s great that you have that kind of offer. Let’s go back to work.” He said, “No. You don’t understand this is a great opportunity for me.” I said, “Bill, we’re young we’ll have plenty of great opportunities. We committed that we’re going to run this thing for Doyle.” He says, “No, I can’t. I’ve got to do this.” So he left me.
So I was alone to run the campaign. I got a good friend of mine who was in the citrus industry, Bob Kasseris, to come in and be cochairman. And it just so happened that Bob was handling the groves for Charlie Bradshaw, C.E. Bradshaw, who had thousands of acres of groves in this part, lots of groves. And so we introduced Doyle to Charlie Bradshaw and during the campaign, we ran a great campaign, Charlie Bradshaw financed Doyle’s campaign statewide. So that connection just really worked out and we won against all odds.
Campaign Manager for Haydon Burns for Florida Governor
So I got to feeling pretty good about politics and so when the governor’s race started in 1964 I saw this guy up on a bear stage just shuffling around talking about his philosophy of government. And the two things he thought were most important for Florida was education and transportation. And I agreed with him on that. So I decided I would go up to Jacksonville and talk to this guy. So I talked to a couple of my friends and they said, “Well, I’ll go with you.” I ended up asking all my friends to come. I chartered a bus. Put a little beer on the bus and we went up to Jacksonville and we met with Haydon Burns and his wife Mildred, who was really a wonderful, wonderful lady. Probably the better part of the duo. But he was a strong mayor and he asked me to chair his campaign in Central Florida. He was running for a two year term because they were just changing over to an off presidential election year and so they had a two year term and then they were going back to four year terms.
So during the campaign he asked me. We were flying back from Daytona. He wanted me to come to Daytona and talk to him about this press conference he was going to. And during the flight he said, “You know you did a really good job for Doyle Conner.” And I said, “Well, thank you. You know Doyle’s a wonderful friend of mine, but after the campaign you know I called Doyle and asked him if he might have some legal work that I might do because,” I said, “I’m still trying to get my toes in to make a living.” He said, “No, but if you come to Tallahassee I’ll give you a job.” And I said, “Doyle,’I loved Doyle, but if he ever asks me to help him again I don’t think I’d have time.” Well, he [Haydon Burns] processed that and realized he won the election because of the campaign in Central Florida and so at the end when the campaign was over and he won, he called me and said, “I want to come down and talk to you…”
“Charlie, what do you want?”
[Governor Haydon Burns said] “Charlie, What do you want?” “I want a university.” He says, “You got it. What else?” “I want an east west expressway.” He says, “You got it. What else?” “I want a racing commission for Martin Segal.” “You got it. What else?” “I want the longest term of Board Regents for Dr. Lou Murray.” “You got it. What else?” “State architect for Alan Arthur.” “You got it. What else?” “Industrial Development Commission for Sonny Bishop.” “You got it. What else?” And I kept naming them. “You got it.” I didn’t ask for anything for myself. Well, about three weeks later I saw in the paper where he had appointed a guy named Willard Peeples, State Road Board Member for the Fifth District. So I called him.
University of Central Florida
I said, “Haydon, I just read this. Who is this guy Willard Peeples and why did you do that? You promised it to Dick Fletcher.” He said, “Charlie, you said your first and most important priority was a new university and that is not easy to do. So I went to the most powerful man in the legislature – E.C. Rowell, Speaker of the House of Represenatives, and told him that I needed to have a new university in Orlando.” And he said, “I’ll get it for you under one condition. You appoint my best friend State Road Board Member.” So he said,”Charlie, I had to trade it.” I said, “Well, I understand and that was a good trade. So why don’t you make Dick Chairman of the Orange County Expressway Authority that’s just been found?” He said, “Okay, that’s what we’ll do.” So we did that and that’s how the university got formed. But the odd part about it was at the same time there was a young senator in Pensacola who wanted a University of West Florida. His name was Reubin Askew. And so Reubin held up the University of Central Florida until he got his University of West Florida. At the time I didn’t know that that thing was playing out. I found out later that we had to form two universities to get University of Central Florida.
Chairman of the Turnpike Authority
So anyway that was fun. The governor called me later. He says, “I want you to be Chairman of the Turnpike Authority.” I said, “Well, Governor, I didn’t ask for anything for myself. I don’t even know what that is.” He said, “Well, I want you to be chairman.” I said, “Well, what did I do?” He said, “Well, it pays $12,000 a year and it’s part-time and you can continue practicing law.” I said, “I’ll take it.” But it was the plushest job he could give anybody. You were a member of what everybody called, “a little cabinet”. And I had my own twin engine Aero Commander and hired my own pilot. I had the turnpike car and a lieutenant in the Highway Patrol who was assigned to me to drive me wherever he wanted to drive. He worried me to death because he’d sit in the office and wait for me to want to go somewhere and the last thing I needed was that. I told him I didn’t need a Highway Patrol and they said, “Well, this Highway Patrolman helped in the campaign so you’ve got him.” His name was Jack Maguire, nice guy. But he didn’t know but two speeds: dead stop and wide open. Anywhere we went it was a hundred miles an hour. But we survived. And so, that position really elevated me in many ways and relationships that were formed were really important.
Southeast National Bank of Orlando
I got to know a guy named John Roberts. John Roberts was the best. He was recognized as the top lobbyist in Tallahassee. And at that time he was lobbying for Minute Maid and Minute Maid was supporting Haydon Burns. So John and I became friends. So low and behold later in 1969 John called me and said, “Charlie, the Chairman of the Board of Southeast Bank,” which at that time was the largest bank in Florida. It was the bank that other bankers sent their young people to school to learn how to bank. And he said, “Hood Bassett, Chairman of the Board, wants to form a bank in Orlando, but he can’t. The only way he can form a new bank is in a county adjoining him in Miami and he wants to form one in Orlando. And he asked me, ‘Who could do that for him?’ And I told him that you could. So I want you to come down and meet Hood Bassett.” So I went down and met Chairman of the Board Hood Bassett and we struck it off really nice. I liked him and he liked me. So long story short, we formed the bank here in Orlando, Southeast National Bank of Orlando. And there are a lot of stories involved with that that are funny stories and everything, but I won’t go into it. But forming the bank and being general counsel to the bank really started to build a lot of clients. And that really helped me. And there’s a lot more to be told, but that’s enough for now.…
Forming a Law Firm
First of all, I formed a firm, found three young bright lawyers new in town who had just moved to Orlando from other places. They were in big firms and they were young, and they were well educated, and they were well trained in practicing law. So they were here in Orlando and I was taking clients and hiring lawyers that I really didn’t vet the lawyers. I just needed help. And I only had one good lawyer in the firm and that was Jake Stone who later became circuit judge. And he was an associate and all the rest of them were associates. And the others, they were not top flight lawyers by any means. So I met these young guys and I met them in litigation with one of them and we ended up settling the case and I asked him what he was doing and he said, “Well, I just settled a case with the only client we got.” And they had formed a new little firm here in Orlando. And I said, “I tell you, you got talent in your firm. I’ve got so many clients that I can’t serve. Would you guys like to talk?” “We’d love to.” So we we had dinner and everything so we decided we’d try to form a firm. And they said, “Well, look why don’t we take 50 percent and you take 50 percent. We’ll take 50 among us. I said, “No, if we’re going to have a firm we’re going to go four ways right off from the start. And I’m going to put in all my clients, all my equipment.” I had a complete law library my dad left me and all the equipment and furniture, everything I put it in for nothing. So that’s the way we started off. I said, “But one thing, I don’t want to have anything to do with administration number one. And number two I’ve just started acquiring a few cows and may spend some time on my ranch and I don’t want any argument.” I spent a lot of time on the ranch.
Orange County Convention Center
I bought a ranch called Gemini Springs in 1969 and and bought a ranch out in Osteen after that and ranched all of Disney and I got much bigger than I should have. That’s a whole ‘nother story the ranching business. But I kind of faded out of really full time here in Orlando until I read in the paper that the legislature had passed the resort tax. Orange County was going to be able to pass a resort tax locally and build a convention center. Well, I had friends that had been in the hotel business and one of them went bankrupt, Pete Hurt, because of the fluctuation. It was feast or famine. And I knew that the convention center would even things out. The hotel industry would not just be a yo-yo. So I knew that we needed a convention center, but I also knew that things were – we didn’t have the leadership in Orlando to build a convention center. They had built a stadium that swayed and had to be torn down. They built an incinerator that wouldn’t burn. And it was just like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. And so I made up my mind that I needed to be involved.
The stadium that swayed, there’s another story there. I found out from the contractor, he told me, his name was Bob Graham… he had a field day at his place … and he invited me up to his office. So we’re sitting there talking and I said, “Bob, I got a bone to pick with you.” He said, “What’s that?” I said, “You built that stadium that had to be torn down because it swayed.” I said, “That isn’t right.” He said, “Oh Charlie, I built it according to plans and specifications.” I said, “Well, it swayed and got torn down.” He said, “Charlie, a million dollars went under the table in that deal and I didn’t get it.”
Attorney for the Tourist Development Council
It just made me sick. I know who was the attorney then for the civic facilities authority, Dario Icardi. I don’t know that he did anything. I don’t know that anybody else did anything. It just made me sick that a lot of money went into that for nothing. And I can see the same type thing happening in Orange County building a convention center. So I got with my friend Larry Leckhart who had a restaurant here in town that everybody knows [Ronnie’s]. I said, “Larry, you’re on the Tourist Development Council, I want to be involved to be sure that all the money goes in the ground; that we build a convention center that is right and nobody’s doing things.” He said, “Well, I’ll do some lobbying and maybe we can hire you as attorney for the Tourist Development Council.” I said, “Good. I would like to be attorney for them.” So he did and they hired me.
Well, it wasn’t too long that I realized that although that was an advisory group the action was not going to be there. It was going to be at the county commission level. And at that time “The Sentinel” was represented by Bill Mateer and his firm and they also represented the county. And “The Sentinel” had just given Bill Mateer the word that the county had been so bad in everything they were doing they were going to take out after the county. They got to make a decision whether they want to represent the county or “The Sentinel” because they couldn’t represent both. So they chose “The Sentinel”. And I talked to Bill and I said, “Bill, what is this about?” He says, “Charlie, things are so screwed up at the county. They won’t pay but $5,000. dollars a month. There’s no way you can do what has to be done for $5,000. dollars a month. We try to make it up on bond issues.” And I thought to myself that’s no way to do it. I decided that I wanted to become county attorney. And I talked to a high school buddy, Allen Arthur, straight arrow, architect here in town, absolutely straight arrow. And I said, “Allen, how do I become county attorney?” He says, “Well, I’ll make the motion, but you got to get two more votes. Here’s the way I see it…” So I went and I lobbied and I got two votes and so I got elected as county attorney. So we built a convention center, that’s a whole ‘nother story that doesn’t pertain to this interview. But it was an education. We built the convention center not withstanding a lot of things that were going on or attempted to go on.
Governor’s Liaison for Disney
When Disney came I was Chairman of the Turnpike Authority. There was only one other lawyer in the governor’s administration. He did not like lawyers. The paper said he said, and I think he did say, “Lawyers are masters trained in deceit.” He didn’t like them. But he liked me and he liked this other lawyer, Joe, up in northwest Florida. So he called me in when Disney people first approached him. He called me into to his office and the Disney people were there and he said, “Charles, I want you to be my liaison for me in my office working for Disney. They’ve got things that have to be done and I want you to help them get it done.” And so that was my job when Disney first came was to make sure they got what they needed. As chairman of the Turnpike Authority I’d already started the interchange between the Turnpike and I-4. That’s another story. I helped them in all interfaces with the executive branch of government in Florida from getting interpretations from the Department of Revenue as to when and how films were going to be taxed, the whole host of things.
Mrs. Saundra Gray Welcomes Mr. Walt Disney to Florida with her husband Charles Gray and Governor Haydon Burns VIEW
The Fourth Quadrant
And funny thing after they finished acquiring all their property, I got a call from Paul Helliwell, who was a lawyer for, personal lawyer for Disney. And he said that Roy Hawkins and he want to have lunch with me. And Roy Hawkins was Disney’s personal real estate consultant. And so they said, “Come to the Howard Johnson’s down on Orange Blossom Trail.” Now that was before the Trail got a bad name. So I went down and had lunch with them and they said, “Charlie, we want to tell you how much we appreciate you keeping everything in confidence and so we want you to be the first to know where the entrance to Disney’s going to be.” And I’m wide eyed you know and they lay out this big map of 27,000 acres and they said, “The entrance to Disney’s going to be at the intersection of I-4 and State Road 530,” which later became U.S. 192. That’s where the entrance is going to be. We have bought three quadrants of that interchange. We think you ought to buy the fourth.”
So they gave me the opportunity to buy the fourth quadrant of the entrance to Disney. And I was young, 32 years old, I didn’t have any money. What am I going to do? I have this information. So I get a couple of buddies of mine to go to California to see what happened at Anaheim. And it was amazing what happened. But they only had 200 and some odd acres in Anaheim. So I come back and I look at 27,000 acres and I can’t figure what I can put outside that they can’t put inside. So I passed. And I’m so fortunate I did because it would have bankrupted me if I tried to do anything with it. The people who did buy it were well heeled, but it bankrupted them. Because that was 1965 and Disney announced in ’65. It didn’t open until ’71. And it took really a few more years. I know when I became county attorney in ’77 the impact was just really starting. So we had to reorganize Orange County to address the impacts. That was what we had to do with everything: fire, police, water, sewer. Everything had to be reorganized. But I’m glad I didn’t but that. But I appreciated very much them saying that.
The Metcalf Building
Another thing happened, I saw in the paper, a good friend, realtor here who owned Florida Ranch Lands, Nelson Boice, announced that they were putting Disney in their building which was the old Rutland’s building. Rutland’s used to have a men’s store there and they had bought it. I think that the men’s store was still there and they owned the building and had floors above. And I saw that in the paper and I called Don Tatum with Disney and I said, “Hey, I got a building. I own a building on the corner of Orange and Pine, it’s the Metcalf Building.” I owned it with two partners. I said, “We’d like to put Disney in that building.” They said, “Well, by golly, we’ll look at it and if it’s anywhere decent. We’ll go with your building. We want to go with your building.” So I showed them everything. We had remodeled one floor to show them what we could do and they went in our building. We had it about 20% occupied before they went in. Then it went to 100%. It was a good deal.
Disney Sign: GEMINI SPRINGS FARM PURE BRED SANTA GERTRUDIS CATTLE CALL…
But anyway, I’ve had really good relations with Disney for many, many years. They wanted to go into a cattle joint venture with me and I was raising pure bred Santa Gertrudis Cattle selling a lot of animals, prime animals to Latin American ranchers. They wanted to upgrade their herds. And in the purebred business you got to have good cattle, good quality, but also you need a little pizzazz… and being associated with a joint venture with Disney, you get that kind of pizzazz. So I said, well I would do the joint venture on one condition. Talking to the local folks here I said, “I want a sign on Disney saying: GEMINI SPRINGS FARM PURE BRED SANTA GERTRUDIS CATTLE.” “Oh, you can’t have a sign on Disney, not even Disney has signs.There are no signs on Disney ever.” And I said, “I don’t want to do the deal then.” “Well, we’re just not going to have any signs.” Then I got a call from California, Don Tatum. He says, “Charlie, what is this sign thing?” I said, “Well, I don’t want to do it unless I can advertise my cattle there.” He said, “What kind of a sign are you talking about?” I said, “You know, just a ranch sign. Two large poles and a pole across. The Pure Bred Santa Gertrudis Cattle…” He said, “Can you get cattle on there before the first of the year?” I said, “I can cover you up.” He says, “Well, I think I might do it.” I said, “Well, I want two signs.” “Two signs?” I said, “Yeah, two signs. And I want them at the entrance to Disney on either side of the entrance at 192 and the entrance to Disney.” He says, “You sure you can fill up?” I said, “Yeah, I’ll fill you up.” So I had trucks backed up and I ranched all of Disney except the theme park. I had my signs right up there at the entrance to Disney: GEMINI SPRINGS FARM PURE BRED SANTA GERTRUDIS CATTLE CALL… And we had a long relationship.
The Disney Cattle Sale
I had the only big cattle sale at Disney. They were worried as heck. That was right in Disney World, right by the theme park on the grounds where everybody is, all the people are there. They said, “We’re scared to death something’s going to get loose.” I said, “Nothing’s going to get loose. We won’t have any problem at all.” We had a giant cattle sale, and very successful sale, and no incidents at all and they were very happy afterwards.
$300.00 an Acre
And then we had to show them also that they needed to burn. Because when you have that much land you can’t just let it grow up or you have a forest fire so you need to burn. But, of course, you got to pick the right time of year and you got to pick the day with the wind and everything. So we used to burn and get the underbrush… I got tired of three ranches going, three big ranches, and I got another rancher to agree to take over my lease. They didn’t want to lose the lease because the value of the property by the property appraiser along 192 in Osceola County went from, I think, a $165,000 dollars an acre down to $300 dollars an acre. It went from a big number down to $300 dollars an acre and they took it. They took the lease. They wanted me to sign a lease, so they had something to take to the Supreme Court which is what they did and they won. Disney won… If you’re using it for agriculture and you can prove you’re using it for agriculture and they were grazing cattle then the value drops to an agriculture use which was $300 dollars an acre in Osceola County. So even though it might have been, that’s where Celebration is now and the other side is where the theme park is along 192, that value drops substantially…..
Orange County Planning and Zoning
Well, interestingly, when I was county attorney we got into a fight over planning, zoning. They hired a young planner to come in his name was Jim Sullen and Vera Carter got him hired and she was a great preservationist and environmentalist. And I wanted to have the entire county planned. I said, “You’re going to build out the entire county some day. Why not plan it now?” Let’s plan for the parks, let’s plan for the schools. Let’s plan for particularly parks… They were so interested in having an urban service area that you couldn’t build beyond. And my point was you are going to build beyond. It’s just a question of time. So you’re going to have concentric circles. People outside the urban service area are going to be building five acre, two and a half acre homes and in areas that really ought to be much more dense. In the future you’ll want it that way and if you plan it now that’s the way it’s going to be. But I lost that. We had an urban service area and now were building out in concentric circles and it’s working some. It’s accomplished its purpose in not letting sprawl occur. But there was another way to control sprawl and that is economically. And if you plan everything and you say you can build whatever you want to when. You can build whatever you want to, you got to build what’s planned and you can build it now if you want to, but you’ve got to pay for the infrastructure. It will cost you so much more that you will be much better off building in closer to where the infrastructure is or can be extended less expensive. And that was my theory that you control it economically. If they want to go out charge them an arm and a leg, Charge them so much that they’re not going to want to do it. But plan it.
So I lost the argument and so we’re right now with urban service lines that they’re working and not working. But that would have helped us preserve what we want to preserve and right now you’re arguing over, are you going to build in certain places. Well, if you’d planned it, you’re not going to have anything building in that area. It would be different. It didn’t work. But Orlando has managed to overcome anyway. It’s a beautiful city and things work. When I was county attorney there was so much, I was really a city boy. I lived in downtown Orlando for many years and it was only in 1969 whenever I found Gemini Springs that we moved out to Volusia County. But when I was a county attorney I was really oriented downtown. But I was the county attorney even though I lived in Volusia County. Nobody ever questioned that. It wasn’t a prerequisite. But we had a nice quiet town until things started really happening and things have happened very nicely.
One of the thing’s I’m proud of is that new people are invited into the community. We don’t have a closed community. We have a community where a person can move here and be president of the Chamber in two years if they’re really interested and want to get involved. So that’s very good, I think. And I’m real proud of our community for that. We have a great Chamber. We have a great Economic Development Commission. We’ve got a lot of good participation in our community by our citizens.
But back when I was county attorney there was such animosity between the county and city. It was just, it was incredible. It was hard to get anything done. I was the only person that could talk to both the city and the county because I was friends with both. I had good friends in the city. Frederick was a very good friend of mine and Lou Treadway was a good friend of mine and they hated each other. I mean they hated each other. But Bill came to me and asked me, he said, “Charlie, I want to build an arena and I need 50 million dollars from the county, tourist development money, and I can’t get it. There’s three to two against me. Is there anything you can do to help?” I said, “Well, I think I can.” So I went to Lou Treadway who was then chairman. I said, “Lou,” because I helped him get elected, I said, “Lou, I got a lot of chips.” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “I mean a lot of chips.” He said, “You’re right.” I said, “I want to cash them all in.” He said, “Well, what do you want?” I said, “Just say ‘yes’ when I ask you a question.” He said, “What’s the question?” I said, “I can’t tell you.” He says, “What’s the question?” I said, “I can’t tell you.” He says, “You can’t tell me?” I said, “No, I can’t tell you, Lou.” He said, “You want me just to say ‘yes’ whatever you ask me I’m going to do?” I said, “That’s right. I’ve got a lot of chips.” And he said, “Okay.” I said, “I want you to give Bill Frederick 50 million dollars for his arena.” He looked at me and almost turned white. He said, “You’d do that to me?” “Lou, I love you, but I just did it. We got to have an arena.” I said, “I want you over in my office tomorrow afternoon, three o’clock.” I called Bill Frederick I said, “Come to my office tomorrow afternoon at three o’clock.”
Bill Frederick and Lou Treadway
So he came over and I said, “Bill, what Lou wants to tell you is that he’s going to change his vote to give you the 50 million dollars to break the tie, to change the vote. So you get 50 million. You can get the arena to get basketball here.” I said, “Now I want you all to shake hands.” They shook hands.
Lou has mellowed since then, but that was really hard for him. But he was responsible for having the Orlando Magic. He made the vote. Bill has never really acknowledged that publicly and I wish that he would someday, to give Lou that kind of credit. Lou’s dead now. I guess it doesn’t matter. But what Bill did do is he gave me a construction hat for the arena. You can read it if you want to…
To Charlie Gray,
Without your friendship and support on several occasions this great arena would still be a dream and its site a blighted slum.
Where this hat with the knowledge that you made a difference in the history of our city.
With deepest gratitude,
August 26, 1988
It should have been given to Lou Treadway not me. But that’s how we got the Orlando Magic. A lot of history. But, you know, should we have saved the old arena? I don’t think it made that much difference. I mean, really. We move on.
I remember we had a department store downtown, it was an eye sore, Woolworth’s, I guess it was. There was some thoughts about keeping it. Now it wasn’t worth keeping. Now you go across the street to the Kress Building, that’s Art Deco and it’s a very strong building. It will be there for a long time. Yeah, you keep things like that. You keep the old First National Bank building. But that department store, people were upset when it went down. I talked to Buddy Dyer and told him that the second he gets approval from the city, blow the thing up…
There are things that you save and things that you don’t save. And we’ve got to know the difference. And that’s really important. So I learned that lesson in a commercial way when Hood Bassett [Harry Hood Bassett] asked me to form a new bank and I bought 17 different properties here including the hotel, all this property here, eight and a half acres. And one of the properties had the old Winn Dixie store on it that was facing Rosalind. And I told Hood as soon as we bought it, I said, “Tear it down.” He said, “We’re getting rent on it.” I said, “Tear it down.” He said, “Well, you know, I really hate to do that.” I said, “Okay, I’m telling you.” This is a commercial thing. You know you’re going to use that land. So you know there’s going to come a time when everybody’s going to rally because it was the only grocery store in town. And they did and he got a big black eye for tearing it down. If he’d done it immediately, he wouldn’t have had the black eye.
But that doesn’t go for preservation. You want to know what should be preserved. Maybe that should have been preserved, I don’t know. But I know this, that if something shouldn’t be preserved get rid of it as quick as you can before you have a big problem. And those things that should be preserved we ought to go ahead and designate them now for preservation and not be silly about trying to preserve something that doesn’t need to be preserved….
Seeds of Peace
We became introduced to this through Jim and Rachel Shipley. They’re a wonderful Jewish couple that we’ve known for quite some time. And we’ve had Shabbat at their house. We’ve met with her daughter and her husband when we were in Israel.. We had a Shabbat dinner with them in Israel and their daughter was involved in Seeds of Peace. And its a great organization. What they do is they bring kids from opposite ends of the political spectrum, from the Middle East, from Israel, from Palestine. They bring them together in play camps where they get to know each other and they find out they’re not demons. They really get to be friends. And I think its such a wonderful program because they pick the kind of kids that have futures in this world. And it was my thought that someday, somebody might not push the button.
But that all goes back to relationships. Relationships are so important. You build relationships and you make so much progress because people trust you and you learn to trust them. So it’s really important and that was just one organization that was building relationships… Whatever I’ve accomplished it’s been with the help of a lot of other people. Teamwork is really important. And the only way to get teamwork is to have relations. You know I didn’t go to Jacksonville and volunteer to be Haydon Burns’ campaign . I went with a whole bunch of my friends and he decided that I would be chairman. I didn’t decide. And my friends wanted me to be chairman.
Economic Development Commission
But you take the EDC, Economic Development Commission, really top flight people in Orlando who have built a relationship with each other, mutual respect and a common purpose. Jake Stuart [Jacob Stuart] has been so successful in building relationships and focusing on a central purpose. So you look around and the things that really get done are because people have relationships and they know that they can not do it all themselves, all alone. Very little is accomplished by a person alone. It’s usually teamwork.
The greatest example of it now today is John Hitt [President of University of Central Florida]. He’s a partnership guy. That’s the way he operates. And that’s been a great success out there that we’re all so proud of. Wonderful, wonderful institution. But, yeah, if I’m a consensus builder it’s because I respond to relationships. And we’ve got some things going on right now that may effect this community for hundreds of years that if they’re accomplished it will be through relationships.
The Future of Orlando
I think it’s bright. I think that the question is leadership. We must always try to have the very best leadership we can and we need leaders who are not self aggrandizing type people. Leaders who will listen. That’s one of the things I really liked about Jeb Bush. He would listen. When we first came up with the idea of a medical center, he was against it. He was flat out against it. But he would listen and we talked to him about it. He didn’t want to hear about producing doctors, but he did want to hear about economic development. And so it depends on how one looks at something, but he listened. So many things like that start out with somebody just absolutely against it.
Orange County School Blue Ribbon Panel
I’ve got a prime example of Jeb Bush listening. I was on the Blue Ribbon Panel for our school system some years back. And Bill Sublette was the chair and it was composed of about a third business people, about a third education, and about a third minorities. And so I tried to get the blue ribbon panel to vote for a countywide elected chairman. I came very close, but between the educators who said it’s never been done, it won’t work, and the minorities who said, “You’re just trying to get rid of the school principal.” That wasn’t it at all. The school principal was doing a good job, but the school principal was all alone with no leadership other than himself and he had to get four members of that school board to go with him on whatever he wanted to do. And it may not be the same four members. So he had to wiggle and worm and whatever he had to do which really took away from his time and doing what needs to be done. We had a lot of schools that needed to be constructed and remodeled and brought to current standards. And a lot of that was not getting done as fast and as well as it should be because he had three jobs. One was to satisfy at least four members of the school board. One was to educate the children. And the third one was to build these schools and that’s a big undertaking. And he was not elected and when he spoke he didn’t carry the voice of Orange County. He carried whatever voice he had and he was well respected, but it was not the voice of Orange County.
Countywide Elected School Board Chairman
So I got with Andy Gardner [Florida House of Represenatives ] and Andy agreed to put some legislation through. And he tried the first year, he couldn’t get it through. But the next year we were able to get through a bill that gave us a countywide elected school board chairman. In addition to the seven members and the only authority that he would have or she would have is that if there was a tie, a four to four vote, because this was the eighth member, that whatever side the chairman was on won. Just like our governor and the cabinet. You got an even number up there and if you got four votes and if you two are on one side, two are on the other side, whatever side the governor’s on wins. So it wasn’t an unheard of balance. But for relationships we’d have never gotten that done….
Then we had a hard time with The School Board because they said they were going to put it on the ballot right up until it was too late to do anything before the referendum. Just a week or so before they changed their mind and wouldn’t put it on the ballot. So we went out and did a petition and we had a lot of teamwork in that petition around the community, a lot of heroes working on that petition. We got the petitions done. They got validated by the Supervisor of Elections as valid and so we’d thought we’d get it on and when we went to get it on they said, no, they weren’t going to put it on. Well, by law they were supposed to. So we had to sue them. And my firm did the litigation pro bono against the school board that had a budget bigger than Orange County. And we actually just drove them down into them enough and finally got the judge to order them to put it on the ballot. And they refused to put it on the ballot. We had to have the judge tell them they were going to be in contempt and put them in jail…. So they finally put it on the ballot and it passed by 64%.
“We Can All Work Together for a Common Good for the School System”
And then even after that then we had to get a candidate to run for school board chairman. So they put us behind four years of getting something done. And I think it’s worked out really so well. Bill Sublette’s done a great job as chairman. We’ve got a great superintendent in Barbara [Barbara M. Jenkins] and I think things are really trucking now with our Orange County School System so much better than it was…. Anyways, we got her done. We got a countywide chairman. I thought that we needed the School Board that could speak with the authority of a countywide elected chairman. The same as a countywide elected mayor of Orange County. The same as a citywide elected mayor. And that person ought to be on an equal basis with the two of them so that we can all work together for a common good for the school system. And it’s growing, but there’s still some problems. I saw what happened with trying to locate a school in the paper this morning where it looks like they’re going to have to go to court. And I guess there are times where things get to a point where you just can’t get agreement. You should be able to get some agreement. And I’m just wondering if you really take it to court if the county zoning laws would hold up against the School Board decision. I would like to see that taken up to the ultimate court, Supreme Court, determine that a School Board can put a school wherever it’s needed. But we’ll what happens….
Hy and Harriett Lake
I think it was in the mid eighties that Hy walked into my office and he said, “Charlie, I want you to be my lawyer.” And I was very flattered that he would just come in and say that. So we represented him, Hy and Harriett ever since. And he told me about his humble beginnings and he also told me the story about, I think he was down in Miami in a small town when he wanted to run for office. And they had a charter that would not allow Jews to hold office in that town. And so, they sued. It was back in 1954 back when the Supreme Court was making their big determination on discrimination and he won. I mean he won the case and then he ran and won office and he was mayor. He became mayor of that city. [North Bay Village] It shows the guy’s determination. And it is also his sense of right and wrong and willing to fight for what’s right. So that just tells you a story about the guy.
A Community Guy
He was a wonderful business person, business man. And the whole time we were representing him, anytime a branch of government needed, and he owned a lot of land, needed an easement he gave it to them. He didn’t charge them. I mean today, anybody owns something, the government wants just a sliver, just something to even something out, they’re going to charge them. But he was a community guy. He believed in Orlando. He believed in the community. And he has given a lot of easements and he’s given a lot of money to the community in various ways. A lot of money to the Jewish organizations, a lot of money, and he was a very giving person. I mean he really was. And he was always helpful to the underdog. He liked the idea of helping people. And you know he was a smart businessman. And I don’t mean cutting corners sharp. I mean really intelligent and thoughtful about what he did.
He came to Orlando, he and Harriett, and he bought I think about two square miles of property down on the South Orange Blossom Trail, boonies. And he started building. He developed Sky Lake which was one of the first subdivisions in Orlando. And instead of building it on the road he stepped back 600 ft. and began the residential units back there. Keeping the front six hundred for future commercial. So when his residential built up, there was a demand for commercial and he wanted to be sure they had what they needed. And he told me about the black veteran who wanted to buy a house. And he didn’t have any hesitation at all to sell him a house in the subdivision. Now that was, nobody else would do that. That would kill the subdivision, people thought. But it didn’t. And Sky Lake became a very popular subdivision to move into. People from Martin Company, people from all walks of life. And it became a homogenous, fine real estate development. And he made money. So he was a very smart guy.
And, of course, Harriett, people think that Harriett didn’t do anything but just spend his money. But she was an equal partner. She worked with Hy. She ran the hotel. [The Travel Lodge] She was right there all the time. And she has really enjoyed spending his money, but it wasn’t his. It was theirs. And she is a wonderful philanthropist as Hy was. And she finds the right causes and she gives at a time when it’s really needed to do something, like the event center we’re building. I think it’s going to be great. I’m looking for it to open. I think it’s this fall it’s going to open, the Performing Arts Center… But Hy and Harriett are absolute treasures for our community. They have done so much for our community and everybody really appreciates and loves them. So I feel fortunate to have represented Hy, and our firm to continue to represent Harriett….
Orlando Philanthropist Harriett Lake
Charlie Gray Oral History Interview, Part II
Charlie Gray Oral History Interview, Part III
Charlie Gray Oral History Interview, Part IV
Charlie Gray Oral History Interview, Part V
Charlie Gray Oral History Interview, Part VI