General Information

The Boca Raton Historical Society and Historic Preservation

Since its founding the Boca Raton Historical Society has been the city’s principle agency for historic preservation. In 1974, as a result of a campaign spearheaded by the BRHS, the city of Boca Raton passed an historic preservation ordinance which created the Boca Raton Historic Preservation Board. In 1979, the BRHS initiated a series of preservation projects with the restoration of the ca. 1914 house, Singing Pines, which was moved and opened as Boca’s first children’s museum. This was followed by the relocation of the ca. 1930 portico of the Cabana Club porte-cochere to South Inlet Park, in 1981. In 1984, the BRHS completed the restoration of the 1927 Town Hall, opening it to the public as a museum. In 1988, the Society celebrated the opening of the restored 1930 FEC Railway Depot and, in 2004, completed the interior restoration of two 1947 Silver Meteor streamline rail cars.

The Boca Raton Historic Preservation Board

The Boca Raton Historic Preservation Board (BRHPB) is a quasi-judicial city advisory board, which recommends historic site designations and certificates of appropriateness for alterations to previously designated properties to the Boca Raton City Council for approval. The Boca Raton Historical Society is by code permitted one representative on this board; beyond this the Historical Society itself has no powers with regards to historic designations or administration of the code, other than advocacy and support.

Historic Designation within the City of Boca Raton

To be considered eligible for historic designation, sites and structures should generally meet the criteria for listing on the National Register of Historic Places OR be eligible for the Florida Master Site File. Usually, a minimum of fifty years is considered “historic” status. Eligibility for historic designation by the city of Boca Raton for archaeological or historic sites within city limits only is determined by the BRHPB using the following guidelines:

Districts and sites of national, state, or local importance are of historic significance if they possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association and:

  1. are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history;
  2. are associated with the lives of persons significant in history;
  3. embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or represent the work of a master, or possess artistic values, or represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
  4. have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history, including information of archaeological significance.

Designation of Specimen or Historic Trees

Historic and specimen trees are covered by a separate part of the city code and are not under auspices of the BRHPB in the city of Boca Raton.

The development services director may recommend from time to time the designation of certain trees located within the city as specimen or historic trees. The city manager shall review such recommendations and add thereto his own comments and recommendations, and the matter shall be presented to the city council for its determination. The city council shall consider the report of the development services department and the recommendation of the city manager and shall either accept, modify or deny the recommendation and may designate by ordinance those trees it deems appropriate as specimen or historic trees.

What Historic Designation Means

Historic designation is simply an additional layer of protection for historic properties beyond the usual city building and land use codes. The purpose is to not to control the use of the owner’s property or his or her ability to realize property values. Owners of designated buildings, sites, and buildings within historic districts within the city of Boca Raton must seek a certificate of appropriateness for external changes only before proceeding with remodeling and other improvements. Improvements should be in conformance with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, which are incorporated into the city’s code of ordinances. The Secretary of Interior’s standards hold that any alterations or restoration to a structure should be made with the purpose to retain the historic character of the structure and features and to mitigate changes when possible. Alterations and additions should be made only with consideration of the preservation of the portions of the site which represent its historical, architectural, or cultural value. In other words, an arched doorway should not be replaced with a rectangular one and awning windows are not an appropriate substitute for casement style. Historic designation does not affect the interior of a building. According to the city code:

After the designation of a historic site or district, no exterior portion of any building or other structure including walls, fences, light fixtures, steps and pavement, vegetation, or any other appurtenant features, or aboveground utility structure or any type of outdoor advertising sign shall be erected, altered, restored, moved, or demolished within such district until after an application for a certificate of appropriateness as to exterior features has been submitted to and approved by the historic preservation board. Such certificate of appropriateness shall be issued only upon a determination by the board that; (i) the action for which approval is sought in the application for a certificate of appropriateness would be in compliance with the standards and guidelines set forth in the United States Secretary of Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings, 1990 Edition, as may be amended from time to time ("the Secretary of Interior's Standards"), and: (ii) no audible, visible or atmospheric element is out of character with the site. The Secretary of Interior's Standards are hereby incorporated into the Code of Ordinances as is fully set forth herein.

Why designate?

In the rapidly changing world which is South Florida today, our very heritage is at stake as historic structures and sites—the few tangible reminders of our historic and sometimes hard-scrabble past—are fast disappearing. In addition to residences, historic properties can provide an attractive and unique setting for office space, retail establishments and eateries, and entertainment venues. It is incumbent upon the citizens of the present to preserve these reminders for future generations—not only the elegant mansions and public places; but the humble frame vernacular cottages and ordinary storefronts that once filled the small town of Boca Raton. And our community’s shared history is not just for the pioneer, the “old-timer,” but the newcomers as well, as they, too, are now a part of the history of Boca Raton.

Historic preservation also has economic advantages. Preservation gives back to the community; in Florida preservation activities has a $4.2 billion dollar a year impact, stimulating the local economy through the creation of jobs and heritage tourism activities. A study by the state of Florida revealed that in an examination of the assessed values of mainly residential property in 18 historic districts and 25 comparable non-historic districts throughout the state, there was no case where historic district designation depressed the property values. In at least 15 cases, property in historic districts appreciated greater than the non-historic districts. Although private residential owners are generally not eligible for grant funding, once the city of Boca Raton enables a local ordinance now in place in Palm Beach County, owners will be eligible for a tax abatement program for qualifying restoration improvements on designated properties for a period of up to ten years. Income producing historic properties may currently be eligible for federal tax credits on restorations conducted under the Secretary of Interior’s guidelines. Homeowner’s insurance has also been made easier for the owners of designated properties as well, with the creation of new services such as that offered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Remember that only designation at the local level - in this case the city of Boca Raton - carries real economic advantages for the average private owner. The National Register of Historic Places, while a great honor and important for those seeking federal tax credits or grant programs, has no particular status at the municipal level unless recognized by code. There is no state level historic “designation.” The Florida Master Site File is simply a listing of properties generated through local survey projects or independent contribution; it does not indicate any state level “protection.”

Steps to historic designation

For properties within the city of Boca Raton, contact the liaison to the Historic Preservation Board, City Planner John Lindgren at 561.393.7734 or regarding specific requirements. Applicants will be required to complete an SC (Special Case) form, accompanied by copies of a site plan and sealed surveys as well as photos and other collateral material. To research your property, consult the building permit records at the One Stop Shop on the first floor of City Hall and contact the Collections Department at the Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum to see what other historical resources might be available about your site.

What will be the legal consequence of designation?

Designated sites are required to submit a COA (Certificate of Appropriateness) to the city’s Historic Preservation Board for review in addition to any other appropriate procedures, before beginning restoration, repair, alteration, or demolition of exterior features. Contact the city's staff liaison for detailed information on this procedure and to get on the agenda.

Properties within existing historic districts

Properties within a city historic district are subject generally to the same rules and regulations as other individually designated properties. In addition, “design guidelines” are being adapted to guide owners in district-appropriate restorations, additions and alterations. A COA and approval of the BRHPB is also required for historic district properties. Consult the city’s staff liaison John Lindgren at 561.393.7734 or for more information and procedures.

Additional resources:

For information on properties outside the city limits, the National Register of Historic Places, grant opportunities, and other preservation information, contact the Florida Division of Historical Resources: 1.800.847.7278