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HISTORY OF BOCA RATON
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Today Boca Raton is the product of a rich and fascinating history, a study in utter defeat and extraordinary success; of Japanese farmers, captains of industry, Hollywood stars - remarkable individuals with courage and vision. And the story is far from over.

The Boca story begins with its first residents, the Calusa Indians, for whom the Everglades and Boca Raton represented a bounty of natural resources. The name Boca Raton, although first associated with a Biscayne Bay inlet, was attached to the present site by 1838. In 1895, in stark contrast to the prized real estate that was to come later, the first house was built by civil engineer Thomas Moore Rickards. With the completion of Henry Morrison Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway in 1896, families arrived from Georgia and South Carolina, and the fledgling settlement was born.

Life for these early pioneers was hard work. The small community, which included several ethnic groups recruited by railroad magnate Flagler, tackled the backbreaking work of growing crops of Florida oranges, pineapples and vegetables to ship to Northern market.

With daily train deliveries, a grocery store in nearby Delray Beach, a general store opened by Rickards, and a bit of trading with their Seminole neighbors, the first settlers had no shortage of basic food supplies. They lived on deer, rabbit and fish, as well as the fruits of the native palmetto, guava, cocoplum and sea grape trees. Although in many ways the location was idyllic, 10 years of hurricanes, crop failures, freezes and infestation eventually sent Rickards and his family to North Carolina.

Before Rickards left, however, he served as a mentor to a group of settlers from Japan. Flagler knew the railroad would not be profitable unless there was something more than passenger service; freight and produce was needed. When Jo Sakai, a Japanese businessman with a degree from New York University's School of Finance, got a glimpse of Boca Raton's potential, he sent word to his countrymen. Sakai named the budding Japanese settlement Yamato - "large, peaceful country."

The colony was not particularly successful. There were disagreements between Sakai and the younger members of the colony, and a pineapple blight destroyed their crop. One Japanese truck farmer, George Morikami, spent his money buying up land. After becoming a U.S. citizen at age 82, Morikami presented the community with 150 acres just north and west of the city - today the site of Delray Beach's Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens.

It was in the 1920s that the sleepy town of Boca Raton began to change, marked by three important developments: the incorporation of the town; the purchase of oceanfront property by a group of Palm Beach and Northern investors headed by society architect Addison Mizner; and the announcement of plans to build a giant, beachfront hotel complex, Mizner-style. (These plans were soon scrapped in favor of the Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn.)

Mizner had already built 40 homes in the Palm Beach area and established the Mizner Development Corporation. At one time its stockholders included such high-rollers as Paris Singer, Irving Berlin, Elizabeth Arden, W.K. Vanderbilt II and T. Coleman du Pont. Film star Marie Dressler, the unofficial hostess of Boca Raton, actually sold real estate for Mizner.

Fresh from turning Palm Beach into a playground for the rich and famous, Mizner set out to transform Boca Raton into his dream city. The result: Twenty-nine homes in Floresta, now an historic area adjacent to the Boca Raton Museum of Art; and at least 12 smaller ones in Spanish Village, north of Singing Pines and the Children's Museum and west of Second Avenue. The 100-room, Spanish-style Cloister Inn opened its doors in early 1926. Now the Boca Raton Resort & Club, the development's distinctive Mediter-ranean Revival style set the standard for local architecture.

Although the land boom went bust and Mizner and company went bankrupt even as the inn's first guests were unpacking their bags, by the end of the decade, Boca Raton had become one of Florida's best-known cities.

Then came World War II. Boca Raton set aside 5,000 acres of facilities for 20,000 army personnel at what is now Florida Atlantic University. Because of the German submarine threat and fear of invasion, residents volunteered for four-hour shifts of spotter duty in a 30-foot-high wooden observation tower on the beach.

After the war years, Boca Raton's subtropical locale and beckoning business climate attracted the prestigious International Business Machines (IBM) and Florida Atlantic University; both set-up shop here in the mid-'60s. Other businesses with an eye to the future soon followed suit. Between 1965 and 1980, newcomers in pursuit of the good life tripled Boca Raton's population. Today, Greater Boca Raton's population is more than 180,000. For More information, visit:

History of Boca Raton - Click Here!

Anyone who has been to Boca Raton will recognize the name Addison Mizner. Mizner Park is a significant part of the Boca landscape, as is Addison restaurant, which resides in one of his original buildings on Camino Real. The phone books yields Mizner Printing, Mizner Storall, and Mizner Nutrition, among others. The association between Mizner and Boca is unmistakable.

But who was Addison Mizner? Mizner was an architect, born in California, who came to Florida in the 1920's via New York. He was a well-known socialite in Palm Beach, and designed and built numerous properties in Palm Beach County, including many opulent beachfront residences. In 1925 he formed the Mizner Development Corporation and constructed the Cloister Inn hotel, the original hotel building on the property that is now the Boca Raton Resort and Club. Mizner had a vision to transform Boca Raton from an agricultural town into a thriving resort community, planned in every aspect.

Mizner is known for his Spanish influenced structures, a style which remains popular today. Many of his original homes still stand in Boca, alongside newer homes, which imitate his architecture. One can imagine him coming back today; proud to see that nearly eighty years later his legacy lives on, his immortality preserved in all of his former properties and namesakes.

But perhaps the least known fact about Mizner is that he died broke. In 1926, the speculative Florida land boom was giving way to a real estate recession throughout the state. Investors were pulling money out of Florida real estate in fear that returns would not be realized. Banks were failing. To make matters worse, in September a major hurricane swept up the southeast Florida coast, doing extensive damage from Miami to Palm Beach. Mizner never completed his vision of Boca Raton, and in 1927 the Mizner Development Corporation collapsed. Addison continued to work as an architect, but never recovered financially. Addison Mizner died of heart failure in 1933. Although he left no financial legacy, his architectural influence lives on through the eyes of residents and visitors to Boca Raton.

*some of this information was taken from the book Boca Rococo, by Caroline Seebohm.


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