He Named His Vision Ocean Reef
In 1942, the property that would become Ocean Reef Club was known as the Dispatch Creek Fishing Camp boasting four ramshackle cabins, several docks and a small harbor. The site was only accessible via the water or a dirt road (now County Road 905) that led from US 1 in Key Largo to the fishing camp. There would have been nothing glamorous about this fishing camp, nothing to presage its future as an upscale private club. “Ocean Reef began because my father (Morris Baker) wanted a fishing camp in the Keys,” Roger Baker explained. “He heard from Uncle Allen, who lived in Homestead, that the Key Largo Anglers Club was on the market, but he thought the price was too high so they kept looking until they heard about a fishing camp over on the ocean side. That year, 1945, they made an offer and sight unseen acquired something less than 40 acres.” The owners of the 7 ½-acre fishing camp within those 40 acres were a group of Miami businessmen including brothers John and James Knight whose family owned the Miami Herald.
In a 1960 interview, Alice E. Baker, Morris Baker’s widow, shared her first impressions of Ocean Reef when she drove down with her husband from Minneapolis in 1946. “We drove 11 miles from the main highway over a narrow, rutty road with trees touching above in many places. Raccoons and night birds were everywhere, we thought it was the end of the world.” It was on that drive, according to Mary Baker Philbin, Roger Baker’s daughter, that her grandfather’s plans changed. Morris Baker was stunned and intrigued by the primitive beauty of the site and instead of a fishing camp, Mrs. Philbin said, “He saw the crocodiles, the mangroves and the coral rock and had this vision of building something that would last forever.” He named his vision Ocean Reef.
Above is an excerpt from “On the Reef, The Legendary Ocean Reef Club and the People Who Made it Great,” written by Shirley Shipley and the late Dick Farmer.
By 1948, Ocean Reef consisted of an inn, some small yachtels, a coffee shop, a gas station, a few rental boats, and the water tower. In 1969 when the Baker family sold Ocean Reef to a real estate investment group led by Harper Sibley, Jr. and Morris Burk, Ocean Reef had added a beach and swim lagoon, dining room and lounge, golf, tennis, an airstrip and terminal, and even a pair of dolphins. At that time, the $8 million transaction was the largest real estate purchase in the history of the Florida Keys.