How a Tiny Texas Community With Pop. 26 Became a SpaceX Launch Site

The story of Kopernik Shores, Texas, is a spotted one. Although the community was slated for a promising development and marketed as a place of a higher standard of living, it fizzled under business problems mixed with Gulf Coast weather. What happened to bring what started out as Kennedy Shores in 1967 to its final population of 26 residents as Kopernik Shores in 2000? You may better recognize the community now under the name of Boca Chica Village, near a launch site for SpaceX.

Located on State Highway 4, just 22 miles east of Brownsville, the town of Kopernik Shores was developed as Kennedy Shores (named for John F. Kennedy) by John Caputa in the late ’60s. Caputa was a radio personality-turned-land developer who had relocated to the Lone Star State from Chicago, Illinois. He partnered in real estate with Harold Caldwell, who owned the tract along the Texas Gulf Coast, consisting of 3,250 acres.

How a Tiny Texas Community With Pop. 26 Became a SpaceX Launch Site

Photo: @MrArron via Twenty20

For sales in Kennedy Shores, Caputa made his pitch to Polish immigrants of the working-class looking for a better lifestyle. Through his work in radio, he had the ability to reach a broader audience. He would show films of retirees along the Gulf Coast and would follow that up with train tours of the actual community development for prospective buyers. Lots that were unstaked were sold for $1,200, while houses sold for $12,500, and many of these sales were done in cash. Caputa had 30 homes constructed, in addition to a hotel and a restaurant. Electricity and sewer services were developed and a sand filter water treatment plant was built for the Kennedy Shores community. However, tragedy struck in the form of Hurricane Beulah in 1967.

Flooding the area and even washing away some of the land the development was built on, Hurricane Beulah was the actual ruin of Kennedy Shores, although financial problems also loomed in the background. The restaurant was destroyed and likewise, the electrical system. The latter was restored, but the restaurant was never rebuilt, and in 1968, the corporate empire that Caputa and Caldwell partnered in began to suffer financial difficulties. That same year, Caputa purchased 1,000 acres of land and made an attempt to break free of his partners. He partitioned that property into 5,000 lots which were listed at $5,000 each. He also went to the extent of investing in a shopping center as well as a church for this Gulf Coast development. In the meantime, those who resided at Kennedy Shores hauled their water from nearby Brownsville.

How a Tiny Texas Community With Pop. 26 Became a SpaceX Launch Site

Photo: envato elements

In the mid-‘70s, it was proposed that Kennedy Shores become incorporated. The proposal was made by an 80-year-old resident named Stanley Piotrowicz, who became its first mayor. Piotrowicz is also the one who renamed the development Kopernik Shores, after astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. Two years later, in 1977, the incorporation was abolished by Judge Darrell Hester of Brownsville. At that time, the population of the development was in the mid-20s. Caputa, the original partnering developer of Kopernik-nee-Kennedy Shores passed away in a car accident, resulting from a heart attack in 1979. Following his death, it was determined that much of the development’s residents never held clear title to their property. Even more sadly, by 1982 many of the residents at Kopernik Shores were still without potable water. At the last population count in 2000, there were 26 residents in this town that was once touted as a step-up in lifestyle on the Texas Gulf Coast.

In 2012, the SpaceX corporation identified that Kopernik Shores, now recognized as Boca Chica Village, would be the site of their private commercial launch facility. Elon Musk’s corporation selected the area as its launchpad for private rockets. The homes were close enough to the site that it was thought some residents might have been in potential danger from any broken windows due to possible shock-waves from test anomalies. To avoid this problem, in September of 2019, SpaceX offered to buy the homes in Boca Chica Village. Many homeowners chose to sell for three times what they paid for their property. By March, 220, many of the residents of Boca Chica Village have moved away, concluding the story of this Texas town’s rise and fall and its final rise as a launch site for SpaceX.

Written by Spring Sault