Boca Raton 1960s: Those Were the Days, My Friend
1960 the farm/ resort town of Boca Raton boasted a population of almost 7000 people (up from 1000 in 1950). By the end of the decade it had grown to 28,500. What caused the growth? Many factors, to be sure. Firstly South Florida was undergoing a post war boom as many former servicemen - unable to face another northern winter - returned to warm and sunny Florida with their new families in tow. In addition, DDT and other methods helped tame the mosquitoes and pests which are part of life in the tropics, and air conditioning became easily available, making full time residency much more appealing here.
Three key factors also played a role in Boca Raton’s growth. Firstly, Boca Raton Hotel owner Arthur Vining Davis’s great development company, Arvida, brought suburban living to the area with its many new residential communities and condos. Secondly, the state’s newest university, Florida Atlantic, opened its doors on former lands of the Boca Raton Army Air Field in 1964. Thirdly, International Business Machines, IBM, established a manufacturing plant in the scrubland of west Boca Raton in 1967, the beginning of Boca Raton’s association with "high tech" industries.
Today we view photographs and artifacts from the era and reflect on how undeveloped little Boca Raton was in the Decade of Change. But much of the economic, educational, and cultural institutions we take for granted today had their origins in this vibrant era. In this exhibit we salute Boca Raton in the 1960s.
By 1960, Boca Raton’s city hall (Town Hall, Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum headquarters) had become overcrowded and ill equipped to house the growing governmental offices. Finally “new” city hall was constructed at its current site, the former location of the city’s water plant. This photo of “new City Hall” at 201 West Palmetto Park Road shows the mid century modern building designed by modernist architect Victor A. Rigaumont shortly after it opened in 1964. Today the “mid century modern” style building still exists—in part. The decorative angular portico is long gone, but the block shaped structure was incorporated into the major city hall renovation of the early 1980s. When you enter from the north parking lot, you are actually in the 1964 city hall.
City Hall politics were very lively in the 1960s. It was an era of unprecedented growth and development, fraught with controversy and accusation. Former Mayor Courtney Boone (1960-1961) commissioned this political cartoon showing former Mayor Joe DeLong (1959-1960, 1963-1964) manipulating candidates for city commission (now City Council) in the 1962 election. In those days the mayor was simply the candidate with the most votes. John Brandt was elected mayor on February 6, 1962.
The poster labeled “City Hall” dates from ca. 1962 and actually is documenting overcrowded conditions at what is now known as Town Hall (home of the Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum) and other municipal venues of the time. Please note the vault, which is now one of our collections storage areas, being used as employee lounge. Also-- the “janitor’s closet” hasn’t really changed too much overtime. This poster was part of a campaign to encourage voters to pass a bond to construct a new municipal center—finally completed in 1964.
The Boca Raton Community Center designed by city hall architect Victor Rigaumont opened just north of city hall in 1964. Since that time it has served as the heart and soul of Boca Raton’s recreational activities, meetings, and performances. In the 1960s it was also a “happening” venue accommodating national and international artists like the Turtles and Tommy James and the Shondells.
By the early 1960s, the Boca Raton Hotel’s fishing fleet had moved to a spot just north of the hotel, currently the site of the “Yacht Club” and Mizner Grand Condo. In this view two tourists pose with their day’s catch ca 1960-1965.
Fiesta de Boca Raton and Boca Raton Community Hospital
In 1962, young Debbie and Randall Drummond, children of Gloria and Bob, died in a tragic poisoning incident; at the time the nearest hospital was far away in Boynton Beach. As a result, the Debbie Rand Memorial League was formed, with the mission to build a hospital right here in Boca Raton. To raise money, the entire community banded together to host the Fiesta de Boca Raton, held from 1964 through 1967 in various venues throughout town. The fiesta played on Boca Raton’s Spanish name and (apocryphal) “Spanish” heritage. It included a parade, a boat parade, fancy dress ball at the Boca Raton Hotel, carnival, surf, golf, and polo contests and was supported by almost all the local merchants and organizations.
Crown of the Queen of the Fiesta de Boca Raton, donated by Carol Hutchens, 1967 queen.
Beautiful Gloria Drummond was the motivating force behind the Debbie Rand Memorial League and the creation of a community hospital. Here she shows off her costume for the Fiesta de Boca Raton ball.
On July 17, 1967, the Boca Raton Community Hospital admitted its first patient at its new building on Meadows Road.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Boca Raton was home to two public schools: the Boca Raton School for white children and the Boca Raton Negro School for African American children. In the 1950s, the latter was renamed Roadman School in honor of a local white businessman who had been a strong supporter of the little school. Considered a “pocket school,” with an enrollment of about 150 students, the little wooden structure was closed in the mid-1960s due to desegregation and its small size. This view of students flying out the door shows the joyful and sad last day of school for little Roadman School, June 3, 1965.
This 1960s era reader was passed down to many white students before it was relegated to the students at Roadman School. African American students and schools typically made do with hand me down furnishings and supplies in the days before desegregation. This book was rescued by pioneer Irene Demery Carswell and donated to the BRHS&M to document this phenomenon of the “olden days.”
Schoolbook from the Roadman School
During the 1960s, three major storms struck South Florida: Hurricane Donna (1960); Hurricane Cleo (1964), and Hurricane Betsy (1965). The small messy storm Cleo snuck up on South Florida leaving widespread destruction (a la Hurricane Wilma in 2005); it hit the day Florida Atlantic University was due to open. The photo shows damage to the Boca Raton Hotel from Cleo.
Hurricane Betsy struck South Florida in September of 1965. Its broad path impacted not only Florida but Louisiana as well; it turned out to be one of the most destructive hurricanes in American history. Although the storm came ashore south of Miami, Boca Raton suffered high tides, battering waves, and beach erosion. In this photograph, locals view the power of the storm at the Palmetto Park Pavilion, 1965.
During the 1960s, Boca Raton’s reputation as a sporting capital grew. Golf courses sprung up in new developments and the Royal Palm Polo Club earned Boca Raton a reputation as a “rich man’s paradise.” The Boca Raton Hotel and Club (now the Boca Raton Resort & Club) became a tennis mecca and home to national tournaments. The city’s recreation facilities were also on the grow as new parks and facilities were established throughout town.
In this view Cheryl Cole tees off at the Rec Department’s Golf tournament held at Hidden Valley Golf Club on July 27, 1961.
This illustration from a Camino Gardens sales brochure shows the lure of the “Boca” lifestyle in the 1960s.
Spanish River Park
In the 1960s, it appeared to many citizens that Boca Raton’s once wide open beachfront was to become a concrete wall like that which lines Miami Beach. Development of Sabal Point and proposed development of the beaches north of the inlet spawned an impressive community response. A total of six different bond issues passed between 1966 and 1974 included funds for land purchase. The first area purchased was the 46 acre Spanish River Park, with beach and Intracoastal access, lagoon, overlook tower, boat docks etc; the park opened its first phase in 1969. This aerial view shows the new park site looking east from the Intracoastal in 1967.
Boca Raton’s then-small African American population was pulled into national events in 1965. Students at nearby Marymount College (now Lynn University) initiated a “celebration march” in sympathy with the arrival in Montgomery, Alabama, of the march led from Selma by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Boca march drew students and civil rights workers from South Florida and ended with a rally at Ebenezer Baptist Church on March 25, 1965.
A High School for Boca Raton
It is hard to believe, but for many years Boca Raton teenagers had to attend high school in Delray Beach (or even Deerfield). Boca High finally opened “way out west” in the spring of 1963. It cost $700,000.
This image shows a rendering of the new school dubbed “New Junior Senior High School Q.”
Below, seniors from the school’s first graduating class gather at the Community Center for a Baccalaureate ceremony, June of 1966.
Glenna Strickland’s cheerleading letter, class of ’66.
Boca Bobcats pennant, class of ’66.
Baseball signed by the Boca Raton High School baseball team, winner of the 1965 state championship.
Finally…a shopping center!
Locals were pleased to welcome the swanky Royal Palm Plaza with its Mediterranean Revival style buildings in 1963. Located on South Federal Highway, the plaza was the brainchild of W. K. Archer Sr. and Jr. and designed by local architect Howard McCall. It also has grown greatly from those early days - initially the Kwik Check grocery store at the northern end was as much a draw as any of the other stores. Today Royal Palm Plaza is known as Royal Palm Place.
Rendering of Howard McCall’s design for Royal Palm Plaza.
IBM Comes to Town
In December 1966, International Business Machines, IBM, announced the purchase of 550 acres west of what is now I-95, south of Yamato Road and east of Military in what was then “western scrubland.” The purpose was to open a large scale manufacturing plant to produce the IBM System/360 Model 20 mainframe computer. The “main complex” building, constructed in 1969-1970, was designed by famed architects Marcel Breuer and Robert Gatje, based on IBM’s research center in La Gaude, France. It is an outstanding example of what is known as Brutalist style. The complex became both a research facility and manufacturing plant. The photo below is an aerial view showing the IBM main complex building under construction ca. 1969-1970. The view is looking south—that’s Yamato Road in the center ground and the curved road at upper left is State Road 9 (the future I-95). Today this building still stands, the keystone of the Boca Raton Innovation Campus.
It was in Boca Raton that the first IBM PC personal computer was built and introduced to the world, the ancestor of all “pc” computers, in 1981. IBM’s presence here grew to as many as 10,000 employees in the mid-1980s; the impact on Boca Raton’s economy, education, and culture over the years was phenomenal. By the mid-1990s many of the employees were relocated to North Carolina and Texas, but IBM still maintains a presence here.
IBM System/ 360 Model 20 construction in Boca Raton, 1969.
As the small town of Boca Raton grew from about 7000 souls in 1960 to 28,500 in 1970, there was a clear need for more housing. Thousands of new homes and co-ops and condos sprung up, most built in a typically 1960s “Florida modern” style (concrete block construction required).
The first homes in Royal Oak Hills were constructed about 1960 on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Fifth Street north of Camino Real. The name “Royal” came from the developers “Royal Boca Developers,” a Haft-Gaines Company. The “Oak” came from the many old oaks that were so prevalent there. The “Hills,” well, you have to use your imagination! The first residents moved in ca. 1962.
Camino Gardens arose on the site of a former Africa theme park, Africa U.S.A. The park closed in 1961 and by 1962 the new development was underway featuring houses designed by local architect Howard McCall.
In addition to housing subdivisions, co-op and condominium apartments arose throughout the city. The low-rise Boca Verde opened on Northeast Twentieth Street west of Federal Highway in 1966.
Page from a Boca Verde East brochure showing the pleasures of retirement in Boca Raton.
In the mid-1950s, the handful of teenagers in Boca Raton attended high school in faraway Delray Beach. There were few recreational opportunities for them in the still tiny town of Boca Raton. A group of teens approached city council with the idea of opening a Teen Age Center, and “Teen Town” was born in one of the old war time public housing project buildings located south of Palmetto Park Road opposite today’s city hall. From the 1950s until the 1970s Teen Town provided a space for ping pong and pool, movies and dances, and parties and fundraisers for local youths. Teen Town was regularly recognized for the public service and philanthropic efforts of its members. It also featured the crowning of an annual “Teen Town Queen,” and had its own special section of the hometown newspaper, the Boca Raton News. The opening of Boca Raton High School and other local entertainments resulted in the eventual demise of Teen Town.
Crown of Miss Teen Town, 1966, Lynn Krautwald.
Miss Teen Town for 1962, Diane Jacobs.
Glenna Villars and Mike Minnehan enjoy the Halloween Dance at Teen Town, 1961.
By 1957, the Sunshine State Parkway was completed providing a new express transport route through South Florida (I-95 was years away). However, the small town of Boca Raton did not warrant its own interchange. So the great developer of Boca Raton, ARVIDA, the brainchild of Boca Raton Hotel owner Arthur Vining Davis, actually paid for Boca Raton’s very own interchange, dedicated in 1961. The exit, at Glades Road, was carefully planned to be near Arvida’s future developments Boca West and University Park.
Boca West was originally a golf course constructed by Arvida to serve as the Boca Raton Hotel’s remote country club in the late 1960s. It was later that the development became independent from the hotel and not until 1974 the first condos opened there. This aerial view shows the golf courses (the turnpike is at left) ca. 1968-1969.
This view of Glades Road looking east from the turnpike was taken ca. 1966. At left is the entrance to the turnpike, at right beyond the canal is a sign for Sunstream Groves (later the Boca Grove development). In the distance is a billboard for the University Inn (located on Federal Highway).
The postcard shows guests at what was then the Boca Raton Hotel’s “country club” course at Boca West, late 1960s.
Boca Raton Inlet Bridge
This idyllic photo shows the “old” bridge over the Boca Raton inlet. This was actually the second span over the inlet, constructed in 1930. It replaced the original ca. 1920 fixed bridge. In point of fact the “old” bridge lasted about 33 years; the “new” bridge is almost 60 years old!
This photo was taken by photographer Dick Kitchen just before the bridge was replaced with the current span in 1963. Note the (nonnative) Australian pines and lack of development surrounding the bridge. This was to change completely and irrevocably when the “new” bridge opened and Arvida’s development of Sabal Point and the shores of Lake Boca Raton proceeded rapidly in the mid to late 1960s.
The aerial view below shows the ca. 1930 bridge in contrast with the current span, which runs southwest – northeast rather than due east and west. The image was taken ca. 1963 when the new bridge was under construction.
A New State University
On July 15, 1961, legislation passed to build a new university in Boca Raton on a portion of the former Boca Raton Army Air Field. The opening, slated for September 1964, was delayed by the arrival of the destructive Hurricane Cleo. In October 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson was present for the dedication of the school. Florida Atlantic University, FAU, was the first public university in southeast Florida and the first in America designed for upper division students only. Upon opening, less than 2,000 students had registered for classes. Now, 50 years later, the university serves more than 30,000 freshmen, transfers and graduate students at sites in Jupiter, Port St. Lucie, Dania Beach, Davie and downtown Fort Lauderdale in addition to the main campus in Boca Raton.
Left to right: Dante Fascell, Governor Farris Bryant, Tom Fleming, President Johnson, Haydon Burns, and Claude Pepper at the FAU dedication 1964.
This shovel was used at the groundbreaking of FAU in 1962 by Boca Raton Mayor John Brandt.
Aerial view of FAU under construction 1964. The former runways of the Boca Raton Army Air Field are still clearly visible in the background. The view is looking northeast.
Food for the Soul
As the population of Boca Raton grew, the city saw a rapid rise in the number of churches serving the community as well as the growth of older established congregations. Many built brand new sanctuaries in what is now known as mid-century modern style so typical of the era.
In 1967, Boca Raton’s small number of Jewish residents met to form what is today Temple Beth El, the largest reform synagogue in the southeastern U.S. (Today Jewish residents make up 49% of the local population.)
A 1967 newspaper advertisement features many - but not all - of the local churches.
The Boca Raton News church notes for June 27, 1967, include an announcement for a meeting of Boca Raton Hebrew Congregation, today known as Temple Beth El.
Condos on the Beach
The 1960s marked a new era for Boca Raton as “high rises” sprung up along Boca Raton’s coastline. Arthur Vining Davis’s company Arvida, owner of the Boca Raton Hotel and Club, was responsible for much of the development—particularly along the shores of Lake Boca Raton. Projects like the Boca Inlet Condo, near the Intracoastal bridge, and the sister towers of Sabal Point, just north of the inlet, created quite a stir in the local community as citizens saw long undeveloped tracts turn into concrete and steel high rises before their eyes. Today, high rise condominiums line Boca Raton’s beach south and north of the inlet. They would have filled the beach completely had the city of Boca Raton not taken up the gauntlet to fight for public spaces on the beach.
One of the best marketed beach projects was San Remo, an extensive multi building development located south of Spanish River Park on the west side of A1A. Construction began on the first “villa” in May of 1966. San Remo, inspired by the Italian city of the same name, boasted a “Mediterranean Flavor,” and featured classical columns, statuary, and fountains on the grounds. The beach was just across the street. The original models cost as little as $14,000 and up.
Agnes Albers, Liz Matthews, Bert Gavigan, and Mary Walker pose for a promotional photograph on the beach near San Remo in 1968.
The Rogers House at 850 NE Spanish River Boulevard, was constructed ca. 1963.
The Boca Capri at 2501 South Ocean Boulevard was built ca. 1964. Both still stand.
This aerial view shows the beginning of the development of Sabal Point, 1968. The Sabal Ridge and Sabal Point Apartments are shown at right. Note the “new” inlet bridge constructed in ca. 1963, over the inlet. Lake Boca Raton is at center and the tower of the Boca Raton Hotel and Club is under construction at the southwest corner of the lake. The modern photograph shows the same view in 2012, photo courtesy Courtenay Gilbert and Peter Lorber.
Boca Raton Hotel and Club
One of the key economic engines of the town of Boca Raton since its opening in 1926 was the Boca Raton Hotel and Club, now the Boca Raton Resort & Club. By the 1960s, hotel owner and developer Arvida oversaw the morphing of the hostelry from a social hotel to a year-round convention friendly establishment. This brochure from the mid-1960s features an aerial view shortly before the hotel tower was constructed.
To accommodate more guests, Arvida demolished the southeast corner of Mizner’s original “Cloister Inn” and constructed the “tower,” beginning in 1967. The 26-story tower was dubbed “Neo-Mizner” and was briefly the tallest inhabited building between Jacksonville and Miami. This view shows tower construction January 31, 1969.
The aerial view was taken by Smith Aerial in 1968. The Boca Raton Hotel and Club golf course is visible in the background and Federal Highway is in the foreground.
Wall mounted faux water fountain or “lavabo” from the Cabana Club, the hotel’s beachside access, 1960s.
Souvenir tile trivet from a 1965 hotel convention.
Souvenir hotel money clip and manicure kit, 1960s.
Remember when smoking indoors was legal? Collection of 1960s Boca Raton Hotel ashtrays.
Souvenir bread plate from the Court of the Four Lions restaurant at the Boca Raton Hotel which opened in 1969.
Models frolic at the Cabana Club, the Boca Raton Hotel and Club’s beach access, in the early 1960s. The Cabana Club was located south of the Boca Inlet at Via Cabana and is today the site of the Addison condo.
Although introduced in 1946, the fashionable and revealing “bikini” was still not too common on American beaches when pop singer Brian Hyland released the novelty song Itsy Bitsy Teeny Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini in 1960. At right is just such a bikini, 1960s. Courtesy Patsy West collection.
Boca Raton Art Guild
The Boca Raton Art Guild, predecessor of today’s Museum of Art, originated in the 1950s, the product of a community effort to bring culture to the small town of Boca Raton. In 1962, the guild opened “The Studio,” a mid century modern designed structure nestled amidst a pine covered lot on the southern edge of the Old Floresta neighborhood. The building was later enlarged and the Guild became the Center of the Arts and eventually the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Today the art museum has a home in Mizner Park and the old studio (with additions) is home to the Museum of Art’s School.