Carrollwood developer Matt Jetton looks back on 50 years of community

CARROLLWOOD

Matt Jetton recently stood in his driveway chatting about his youth — flying B-17s in World War II, joining the same University of Florida fraternity as former Gov. Lawton Chiles. Then he paused to think out loud.

Fifty years, he said.

He smiled and shook his head in wonder. That's a long time.

Jetton, 84, was still a young man in 1959 when he began building houses in the middle of nowhere, just north of Busch Boulevard and east of N Dale Mabry Highway, a two-lane road back then.

To the west was Lake Carroll, so it seemed fitting to call his subdivision Carrollwood.

Now known as Original Carrollwood, the neighborhood marks its 50th anniversary this year.

And on March 30, Jetton will be an honored guest at a Carrollwood Cultural Center social marking the milestone.

In that half-century, a lot has happened around Original Carrollwood.

Jetton went to the west side of Dale Mabry to build the larger Carrollwood Village. Meanwhile, others latched onto the Carrollwood name — a potent brand unto itself — for their own subdivisions and businesses.

Today greater Carrollwood, broadly defined, stretches for miles through northwestern Hillsborough, encompassing nearly 110,000 residents and about 2,500 businesses.

But Jetton's first 925-home neighborhood remains much as he envisioned it: centered on the lake, a stable place for families, with a private beach and other amenities that set it apart.

Its first homeowners created traditions — an annual pirate dance, Easter egg hunt and Fourth of July parade and cookout — that have kept the community close-knit.

"The only thing a builder can do is build the homes," said Jetton, who lives in Carrollwood Village with Mary, his wife of 59 years. "The personality of the community comes from the people who live there."

Peacocks, plywood

Jetton was born and grew up in South Tampa, where Jetton Avenue is named for his grandfather, an early builder and lumberman.

As a boy, he used to ride up to Lake Carroll on his bike, some 10 or 12 miles, to go swimming.

Later, after the war, after college and after building subdivisions farther south in Tampa, Jetton learned that 200-plus acres of the J.M. Ingram Fruit Corp. groves were for sale.

His company, SunState Builders, combined that with about a dozen other parcels, some of them just a house or two, to create a new subdivision of more than 300 acres.

But Jetton wasn't sure Tampa residents would even consider moving there.

At the time, there wasn't much on Dale Mabry north of Hillsborough Avenue beyond a hardware store and the Tennessean restaurant, he said.

"When you looked at it you knew it was a beautiful place," Jetton said. "The only problem was, it was a long way from Tampa."

Naming the community fell to Jetton's award-winning home designer, Betty O'Neal, then Betty Wild.

She liked the name Carrollwood, but the company's advertising agency said, no — too many double letters. It favored a two-word name, maybe with "Park" or "Estates" in it.

She insisted. Carrollwood it was.

Then, with just 15 minutes' notice, she had to name all the streets, too.

"They came in my office in a hurry," O'Neal said. "They had to have it for the post office."

Peacock Lane was a natural because grower James Ingram once turned some peacocks loose in his groves so their calls would alert him whenever anyone came on the property.

For others, "I couldn't think of anything except names of plywood," O'Neal said.

That's why Original Carrollwood has streets — Samara, Nakora and Korina — named for varieties of plywood popular in the early 1960s.

Homes in Original Carrollwood sold for $16,000 to $60,000 initially.

Early on, "it was real tough," Jetton said. "If someone walked in that door, you were elated."

Fortunately, the state decided to create the University of South Florida a few miles away.

USF's first president, John Allen, bought a house. So did 80 to 100 other faculty members and administrators.

Similarly, the opening of the first field office of the FBI in Tampa brought newcomers.

"If it hadn't been for USF, I'm not sure it would have ever gone," Jetton said.

Stretched out

In the decades that followed, greater Carrollwood came to include an area much larger than Original Carrollwood.

Hillsborough County's proposed community plan for greater Carrollwood covers an area from Van Dyke Road to Linebaugh Avenue and from the Veterans Expressway to Interstate 275.

Those boundaries could change, but they hint of Carrollwood's reach.

And the area's business community has grown as much as its population.

"When I moved here, you couldn't get a hamburger past 8:30 at night," said chiropractor Barry Shapiro of Carrollwood Family Medical and Rehabilitation Center.

Tired of cold winters in his home state of New York, Shapiro moved to Florida in the 1970s. He settled on Carrollwood after looking at an area from Port Richey to Naples.

One weeknight, he counted 86 cars on Dale Mabry in five minutes.

"It was an incredible number of cars for a street that had no lights," said Shapiro, who opened his practice in Carrollwood 30 years ago. "I didn't know where they were going or what was going on up here, but this is where I wanted to be."

He wasn't alone.

In 1986, the Carrollwood Area Business Association was created to give businesses a voice in local affairs and a chance to network with one another.

Today CABA has 425 members, and it recently held a networking event at a bank on Boy Scout Boulevard.

"Carrollwood itself has grown in density and in business opportunities," said accountant and past CABA president John Baumann. "But beyond that it has definitely stretched out."

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.

Carrollwood

by the numbers

Population: 109,690

Owner-occupied homes: 69.3 percent

Renter-occupied homes: 30.7 percent

Median home price, fourth quarter 2008, greater Carrollwood east of Dale Mabry: $170,000

Median home price, fourth quarter 2008, greater Carrollwood west of Dale Mabry: $194,900

More Carrollwood numbers: Page 6

If you go

What: Free social celebrating Carrollwood's 50th anniversary.

Where: Carrollwood Cultural Center, 4537 Lowell Road.

When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. March 30.

Admission: Free. Call (813) 269-1310.

AT A GLANCE

Carrollwood

timeline

1957 — Developer Matt Jetton's company acquires the 200-acre Ingram orange grove near Lake Carroll.

1959 — First homes sold in what is now known as Original Carrollwood.

1961 — Original Carrollwood named U.S. Subdivision of the Year by the National Association of Home Builders.

1962 — Original Carrollwood receives Best Homes for Families with Children Award from Parents magazine.

1966 — A line of tornadoes that kills 10 people statewide destroys or damages 75 homes in Original Carrollwood, throwing cars into and on top of houses and flipping a school bus with 30 Leto High School students. None was seriously injured.

1969 — Special taxing district created for Original Carrollwood to support community amenities such as parks, the recreation center and White Sands Beach.

1971 — County zoning approved for Carrollwood Village.

1972 — First 27 holes of golf open at Carrollwood Village.

1981 — Carrollwood Civic Association files a complaint with the Florida Department of Professional Regulation that real estate agents are falsely claiming homes are in Carrollwood to boost sales.

1986 — Carrollwood Area Business Association founded.

Carrollwood by the numbers

Businesses: 2,500 *

Median age

Carrollwood: 35.9

Unincorporated Hillsborough County: 34.8

Mean household income

Carrollwood: $63,084

Unincorporated Hillsborough County: $55,965

Percentage living below poverty

Carrollwood: 6.8

Unincorporated Hillsborough County: 10

Percentage of residents 25 and older with at least a bachelor's degree

Carrollwood: 34 percent

Unincorporated Hillsborough County: 24.7 percent

* Includes the 33618 and 33624 ZIP codes.

Sources: Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission, Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office, Carrollwood Area Business Association.

Carrollwood developer Matt Jetton looks back on 50 years of community 03/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 19, 2009 4:30am]

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