The island of St. John is not the tropical paradise it once was when villas could be left unlocked without fear of intrusion.
This is the place where Laurance Rockefeller left his mark, realizing that over development would ruin this gem of an island and therefore he bought up two-thirds, more than 7,000 acres as well as 13,000 acres of submerged land, and donated it to the United States Government for park land.
The move in itself in the 50s inhibited growth for a time, of this lush island dotted with white sandy beaches and turquoise waters.
Outside of the park land, the mountain tops are adorned with posh villas, some owned by celebrities such as the country western singer Kenny Chesney. And at times Hollywood starlets like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt squirrel away here with their entourage.
It was also once the retreat of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the Atom Bomb, who had a small cottage on a white sandy beach here when villas could be left unlocked. I guess if I would have been part of the development of the A-Bomb, I too would have sought out the solitude of St. John. But today he might find Alamogordo, New Mexico and the testing of the A-bomb there more serene than St. John.
Today the solitude of the past in Cruz Bay town, the port of entry to St. John, has been replaced with jackhammers pounding granite, compressors, the sawing of corrugated steel and the singing, and yelling of the workers.
As I write this column from the deck of my condo in Cruz Bay, I listen to the banging, sawing and pounding of rock coming from the next door construction of a 49 to 69 — the number is not clear by design — unit Grande Bay Resort, which has been under construction for the past three years and it looks as though it will take another year to finish the project, if they don’t run out of money.
The developers are from Sarasota, Florida, and according to newspaper accounts seem to have little concern for their neighbors, the environment, or the pre-existing architectural style of the community.
At least three suits have been filed against the developers, one for blocking the view of a villa, another for encroachment of a neighboring piece of land and a third by the majority of potential owners, who have deposits on units, due to attempts by the developers to modify contracts.
One modification would be to charge the condo owners $175,000 per year for valet parking.
Meanwhile on a hill overlooking Cruz Bay there is another 48-unit condominium development called Sirenusa which has also undergone controversial construction problems and lobbying adjustments with local politicians.
Here, developers seem to ignore existing laws and those that the government tries to enforce seem to somehow slip through the political wheels of injustice.
The reason for this growth on St. John, even at a time when the real estate market is depressed, is that there doesn’t seem to be an off season on the island anymore, according to the local weekly, St. John Tradewinds.
They report that, “the lazy days of summer can no longer be found in Love City.”
Occupancy rates for June, July and August are running between 80 and 90 percent this year.
I have been coming to St. John now for some 30 years. I couldn’t quite get used to not having a key to my room when I first stayed at Caneel Bay. There was no TV, no air conditioning, no children and no telephone. But we had donkeys, seven pristine beaches and fine food.
Caneel was originally a Rockefeller development, and continues to be one of the finest resorts in the world, understated in its elegance, and today has air conditioning, keys to the rooms, telephones and children.
However, times have changed in the islands.
The crime rate has gone up. We even had two murders here in the past few years — one this summer.
The murder of 21-year-old James Cockayne has not only not been solved, but took place within a half-block of the police station and a half-block from an EMS station while the victim bled to death from multiple stab wounds, one to the femoral artery.
St. Johnians created a wonderful slogan for their piece of paradise, “Love City.” It is still the best of the best in the Caribbean; and every effort should be made by the locals and we who visit and treasure this piece of paradise to make it as loveable as it once was. And, that’s the bottom line.