BOCA RATON, FLORIDA. Dreamers, risk-takers, moguls, and millionaires
all contributed to the creation of Florida's Boca Raton and the stellar
Boca Raton Resort & Club.
|Boca's Capital Improvement Plans|
|About Boca Raton, the City|
|The Resort's Marketing to Locals, International guests and Families|
Legend boasts that Ponce de Leon sailed along the shore of Boca Raton when he discovered Florida in 1513. Tales of Spanish conquistadors, pirates and Indians enrich the mystique of the tropical paradise that grew from a tiny farm settlement to one of the world's most beautiful resorts.
Although Indians hunted the hammocks for game and the Barefoot Mailman no doubt trod its beaches, not until 1895 when Henry M. Flagler extended his railroad from West Palm Beach to Miami, did the first settlers begin to arrive. A few hearty farmers who had been frozen out in north Florida pulled up stakes and moved to Boca Raton to raise citrus, pineapples and vegetables for the winter market.
But the new prosperity following World War I, the advent of the automobile and the proliferation of railroad travel proved to be the catalyst for Southeast Florida (and Boca Raton 's) growth. The tourist industry was unknown then, but "hauling sick Yankees" as it was known locally) became fashionable as Northerners flocked to Florida seeking better health. It was precisely for this reason that Addison Mizner, self-taught architect, eccentric and magnet for the High Society of the day, came south in 1918. The flare up of an old injury and the urging of his friend Paris Singer, heir to the sewing machine fortune, prompted Mizner's move from New York to Palm Beach.
As Mizner recuperated, he and Singer began planning a convalescent facility
for wounded officers returning from the War. With Singer's money and Mizner's
architectural skills, they built the swank Everglades Club in Palm Beach.
This led to commissions from the Palm Beach elite for Mizner to design
their great mansions. Frank Lloyd Wright once said that many architects
had imagination but only Mizner had the courage to let it out of the cage.
As his health improved, Mizner ventured south of Palm Beach to discover Boca Raton and there he decided his future lay. By then the Florida Land Boom was in full swing with mangrove swamps and scrub land giving rise to whole towns. Real estate developers, land speculators and, yes hustlers and con-men flocked to Florida hoping to become millionaires overnight by selling pieces of paradise to snowbound Northerners. Addison and his brother, Wilson (sometime playwright, full-time man-about-town), formed the Mizner Development Corporation. The company acquired 17,500 acres of Boca Raton property and proceeded to create "the greatest resort in the world", a happy combination of Venice and Heaven, Florence and Toledo, with a little Greco-Roman glory and grandeur thrown in.
The Cloister Inn opened its doors in 1926 at a cost of $1.25 million, the most expensive 100-room hotel ever built at the time. Mizner designed an elegant structure in an imaginative pseudo Spanish style with courtyards, and furnished it with his private collection of rare antiques from old churches and universities in Spain and Central America. The Cloister's luxury and ambiance quickly attracted royalty, Wall Street wealth, movie stars and the ranking hierarchy of the international social set, including General T. Coleman du Pont, Harold Vanderbilt, George Whitney, Florenz Ziegfeld, Al Jolson, Elizabeth Arden and Marie Dressler.
The Cloister's guests seemed attracted rather than put off by Addison Mizner's unconventional behavior. His previous trips to China gave him a fondness for silk pajamas, which he decided were perfectly proper for street wear. He also delighted in parading around with his pets and was reportedly seen on more than one occasion promenading with two chows, a small monkey on one shoulder, a macaw on the other and leading two large monkeys.
However, the glory of The Cloister Inn lasted just one season. By the time it opened in February of 1926, Florida's land boom was already faltering. The Depression was looming on the horizon, a railroad embargo impeded the delivery of construction materials, and investors were becoming skeptical of fraudulent developers. Mizner's investors became apprehensive, began to withdraw their support, and demanded the reorganization of Mizner Development Corporation. In July, management of the company was taken over by the Chicago-based Central Equities Corporation run by Rufus Dawes and his brother, U. S. Vice President Charles Dawes.
The Dawes brothers were unable to rescue the company from bankruptcy and the Mizner Development Corporation succumbed to the final blow to Mizner's dream of making Boca Raton the "greatest resort in the world," a deadly hurricane in September 1926 which killed nearly 400 people and destroyed many of the "boomtime buildings."
Even though Mizner's plans for Boca Raton were curtailed, his impact was seen in jobs, buildings, permanent residents and national attention. He set the stage for future development and his grand vision for the "Golden City of the Florida East Coast" eventually became a reality. In 1928, Clarence Geist, a one-time railway brakeman from Indiana who made a fortune in utilities and one of the original investors in the Mizner Development Corporation, successfully bid on the assets of the failed corporation. His plan was to carry on the Mizner development, though in an adjusted form. Geist hired golf course architects, Toomey and Flynn, to reconstruct the hotel's two courses and proceeded to greatly expand the Cloister Inn. Two years and $8 million later, it opened as the Boca Raton Club, one of the world's finest "gentlemen's clubs."
Although never fiscally profitable, an exclusive membership kept the Club flourishing. Private railroad cars and yachts brought in such notables as Herbert Hoover, several du Ponts, Jacob Raskob and many other celebrities. Geist subsidized the perennial Club deficit throughout the Depression and even after his death, by which time the property had grown to four times its original size.
A World War II service roster replaced the guest book, the ornate pillars and carved plaster pieces were padded and the elaborate furnishings were stored away to make room for G.I. bunks when the government commandeered the Boca Raton Club in 1942. The few hundred Army Air Corps officers housed there were from the radar training school built at the Boca Raton Air Field. They referred to their quarters as "the most elegant barracks in history."
After the war, hotel, theater and real estate magnate, J. Myer Schine, bought the resort for a paltry $3 million. Completely refurbished and modernized, the club reopened in 1945 as the Boca Raton Hotel and Club and became extremely popular. An article in an 1947 Saturday Evening Post said: "If you were looking for the prodigal public spot on the globe, there is little argument that you need go no further than the Boca Raton Hotel and Club."
The resort's promising future was secured when Arthur Vining Davis, one of the founders of Alcoa, bought the property from Schine in 1956 for $22.5 million. At the time, it was the biggest real estate deal in Florida history. Davis' plans for the legendary hotel were to "preserve the atmosphere of quiet luxury for the group whose accomplishments enable them to enjoy the finest the Boca will be second to none."
Arvida Corporation owned the resort until 1983, when it was purchased by VMS Realty Partners and the Boca Raton Hotel and Club Limited Partnership. In January 1993, Boca Raton Management Company (BRMC) replaced VMS as the general partner for the Resort and Club. Over the past decade, extensive renovations have taken place at the world-class property.
Guest rooms, meeting facilities, golf courses, tennis courts, marina, restaurants, lounges, gardens and pools are constantly being upgraded, repaired and refurbished at an investment of approximately $4-5 million a year. This "renovations never rests" philosophy is at the heart of the Resort and Club's capital improvement program with the goal of providing the most luxurious surroundings for the most selective people in the world.
The Boca Raton Resort & Club retains its share of guests who remember a long gone era, and boasts many newcomers, business travelers, couples and families who come to enjoy the resort's unparalleled setting, luxurious accommodations and amenities and rich traditions. Heads of state and celebrities such as George Bush, Robert Redford, Bill Cosby, Bette Midler, Jerry Lewis, William Hurt, Tom Selleck and Oprah Winfrey have been seen recently at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
Located in the heart of Florida's Gold Coast in Palm Beach County, the Boca Raton Resort & Club is one of the country's premier resort destinations and private club facilities. Set within a backdrop of casual elegance, Boca's amenities include two eighteen-hole championship golf courses, 30 tennis courts, several pools, state-of-the-art fitness centers, a half-mile stretch of private beach, a full-service marina and a variety of watersports. In addition, the Resort and Club features an outstanding selection of dining options and a full range of activities including a comprehensive children's program.
For information and reservations call the Boca Raton Resort & Club at (800) 327-0101 or (561) 447-3000, or contact your travel professional.