The literal translation of “Boca Raton” is “Mouth of The Rat” (“rat” in Spanish is “ratón”), the Spanish word boca meaning inlet and ratón being a Spanish nautical term describing rocks that gnawed at a ship’s cable. Another explanation is that it refers metaphorically to a pirate’s cove. The name Boca Ratones originally appeared on eighteenth century maps associated with an inlet in the Biscayne Bayarea of Miami. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the term was mistakenly moved north to its current location on most maps and applied to the inland waterway from the closed inlet north for 8.5 miles (13.7 km), which was called the “Boca Ratones Lagoon”.
The first settler was T. M. Rickards in 1895 who resided in a house made of driftwood on the east side of the East Coast Canal south of what is now the Palmetto Park Road bridge. He surveyed and sold land from the canal to beyond the railroad north of what is now Palmetto Park Road.
During the city’s early history during the Florida land boom of the 1920s, Addison Mizner’s Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn was built in 1926,later renamed the Boca Raton Resort & Club. It is today often referred to as the “pink hotel” and a 1969 addition is visible from miles away as a towering building on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Japanese farmers of the Yamato Colony converted the land west of the city into pineapple plantations beginning in 1904. During World War II, much of their land was confiscated and used as the site of the Boca Raton Army Air Force Base, a major training facility for B-29 bomber crews and radar operators. Much of the airbase was later donated to Palm Beach County and later become the grounds of Florida Atlantic University, many of whose parking lots are former runways of the airbase; when viewed from above, the site’s layout for its previous use as an airfield is plainly evident. Boca Raton Airport’s runway 5/23 was once part of the original airbase, and is still active to this day.
The Japanese heritage of the Yamato Colony survives in the name of Yamato Road (NW 51st Street) just north of the airport and at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens northwest of the city. The headquarters building of the Army Air Forces Base has survived as the office building for the Cynthia Gardens apartment complex on Northwest 4th Avenue.
In the late 1960s, the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) announced their intentions to open a manufacturing plant in the area. In 1965, well before the extension of I-95into Southern Florida, IBM, working in secret with the Arvida corporation, quietly purchased several-hundred acres of real estate just west of the CSX rail line and northwest of Florida Atlantic University in University Park. Originally situated in unincorporated Palm Beach County, the site was controversially annexed into Boca Raton almost a year following its dedication in 1970.
In the 1980s, because of an explosion of development to the west of the historical center of the city, some eastern areas began to decay, including the downtown corridor. For instance, the old Boca Raton Mall, a shopping mall in the downtown area was beginning to experience higher vacancy, and occupancy by marginal tenants, due to the opening of Town Center at Boca Raton west of the city in 1980.
Mizner Park is a downtown attraction in Boca Raton’s financial district. It is the furthest north part of Boca’s downtown area, and home to ‘Mizner Park Amphitheater’.
In 1991, the new downtown outdoor shopping and dining center, Mizner Park, was completed over the site of the old Boca Raton Mall. It has since become a cultural center for the southern Palm Beach County. Featuring a landscaped central park between the two main roads (collectively called Plaza Real) with stores only on the outside of the roads, Mizner Park resembles a Mediterranean suburban “town center” with a more contemporary look. It features many restaurants and is home to the Boca Raton Museum of Art which moved to the new facility in 2001.”Boca Raton Museum of Art” In 2002, a new amphitheater was built replacing a smaller one, providing a large-capacity outdoor venue where concerts and other performances are held.
Mizner Park has significantly aided downtown revitalization. Many new eight to ten story mixed-use buildings have been constructed, are currently under construction or are proposed for the downtown area. The surrounding areas to the downtown have benefited from the downtown redevelopment.
The National Cartoon Museum (formally the International Museum of Cartoon Art) built a 25,000-square-foot (2,300 m2) facility on the southwest edge of Mizner Park in 1996. Open for six years, the museum relocated to its original home in New York City in 2002. Building renovations for public uses, including the local public TV station, and private uses, such as a locally-owned and operated bookstore were completed in 2008. In addition to the Mizner Park Cultural Arts Association’s theater and space, the building is home to the Schmidt Family Foundation.
As development continued to focus to the west of the city in the 1980s and 1990s, the mall area, Town Center at Boca Raton, became the geographic center of what is referred to as Boca Raton, though this mall was not actually annexed into the city until 2004. The area referred to as Boca Raton, including the unincorporated area west of the city (and discussed below), is now almost entirely built out.
In 1999, the Simon Property Group bought Town Center at Boca Raton and redeveloped it. Nordstrom was added as the anchor department store for the new wing. Neiman Marcus is the newest department store tenant as of 2006. In-late 2006, Simon began the construction stage of an outdoor lifestyle center near the new wing. Town Center Mall has become a tourist attraction and the largest indoor mall in Palm Beach County.
Boca Raton has a strict development code, including the size and types of commercial buildings, building signs and advertisements which may be erected within the city limits. No outdoor car dealerships are allowed in the municipality, according to the city zoning code. Additionally, no billboards are permitted in the city. The only billboard was grandfathered in during a recent annexation. Corporations such as McDonald’s have subdued their Golden Arches due to the code. The unincorporated areas still contain restaurants with the classic arches, but the heights of the signs have also been reduced. Many buildings in the area have Mediterranean and Spanish architectural themes, initially inspired in the area by Addison Mizner. The strict development code has resulted in several major thoroughfares without large signs or advertisements in the traveler’s view; significant landscaping is in its place.
Culture and attractions
Boca Raton is known for its affluent social community and high income demographic. Boca Raton was the site of two now vanished amusement parks, Africa U.S.A. (1953–1961) and Ancient America (1953–1959). Africa U.S.A. was a wild animal park in which tourists rode a “Jeep Safari Train” through the park. There were no fences separating the animals from the tourists on the “Jeep Safari Train”. It is now the Camino Gardens subdivision one mile (1.6 km) west of the Boca Raton Hotel. A red wooden bridge from Africa USA can still be seen at the entrance to Camino Gardens. In the 1970s, peacocks could still be found in the subdivision, having escaped from the attraction. Ancient America was built surrounding a real Indian burial mound. Today, the mound is still visible within the Boca Marina & Yacht Club neighborhood on U.S. 1 near Yamato Road.
Boca Raton is home to the Caldwell Theatre Company, the longest-running professional theater in South Florida, celebrating its 34th season in the recently inaugurated Count de Hoernle Theatre on South Federal Highway.
Boca Raton has beaches along its eastern shore, notably Red Reef Park, where snorkeling from the shore can bring a visitor to a living reef without the expense of renting a boat. Also in the 20-acre (81,000 m2) park is Gumbo Limbo, an Environmental Education Center. A small fee is charged to enter the park.
Notable Residents, Past and Present
- Reed Alexander, actor
- Jozy Altidore, soccer player
- Carling Bassett-Seguso with husband Robert Seguso, both tennis players
- Derek Bell, motor racing driver
- Marc Bell, entrepreneur
- Yuniesky Betancourt, baseball player
- Jeanne Bice, founder of Quaker Factory
- Ian Bishop, former English soccer player
- Ryland Blackinton, musician/guitarist for Cobra Starship
- Jon Bon Jovi, singer & musician
- Jason Bonham, rock and roll drummer & son of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham
- Ernest Borgnine, actor
- Don Brewer, drummer for Grand Funk Railroad
- Keith Byars, former football player
- Jennifer Capriati, tennis player
- Chris Carrabba, lead singer & guitarist of Dashboard Confessional
- Cris Carter, All-Pro football player
- Elena Dementieva, Russian tennis player
- Dion DiMucci, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member
- Chris Evert, tennis player
- Dr. Frank Field, TV Personality, and NYC Meteorologist for 5 Decades
- Jeff Gordon, NASCAR racer
- Ariana Grande, actress, model and singer
- Taurean Green, basketball player
- John Grogan, author of Marley & Me
- Sébastien Grosjean, French tennis player
- Megan Hauserman, model & reality television actress
- John W. Henry, one of the owners of the Boston Red Sox
- Scott Hirsch, boxing manager & former e-mail spammer
- Ryan Hunter-Reay, IndyCar Series driver
- Žydrūnas Ilgauskas, basketball player
- Khori Ivy, former football player
- Dennis Kozlowski, former CEO of Tyco International
- Bernhard Langer, golfer
- Jesse Levine, tennis player
- Scott Levine, computer criminal
- Rush Limbaugh, Conservative radio talk show host
- Marilyn Manson, shock rocker
- Leonard Marshall, football player
- Tucker Max, writer
- Nicko McBrain, Iron Maiden drummer
- Vince McMahon, professional wrestler & promoter
- Scott Mersereau, professional football player for the New York Jets
- Corina Morariu, tennis player
- Jaclyn Nesheiwat, beauty queen, fashion model
- Paul Newman, entrepreneur
- Greg Norman, golfer
- Terrence Pegula, billionaire natural gas tycoon and owner of the Buffalo Sabres
- Sabby Piscitelli, football player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Maury Povich and wife, Connie Chung, Tabloid and News Media Personalities
- Morgan Pressel, golfer
- Mark Richt, head football coach of the University of Georgia
- Andy Roddick, tennis player
- Pete Rose, baseball player
- Frank Rosenthal, ex-Las Vegas casino owner & handicapper
- Marion Ryan, 1950s British singer
- Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
- Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, psychotherapist and author
- Ryan Shore, contemporary film composer
- Vince Spadea, tennis player
- Scott Stapp, lead singer for the rock band Creed
- Howard Stelzer, avant-garde composer & founder of Intransitive Recordings
- Horia Tecău, tennis player
- Sahaj Ticotin, lead singer for the rock band Ra
- Donald Trump, billionaire real estate mogul, has a second residence in Boca Raton
- Danny Valencia, baseball player
- Anna Tatishvili, tennis player
- Brian Voss, bowler
- Ernie Wise, UK comedian & half of the double act Morecambe and Wise had a holiday home here, where he spent much of his time after Morecambe’s death in 1984.
Greater Boca Raton
A majority of postal Boca Raton lies outside of the actual city limits. This large unincorporated area to the west of the city limits is included in the Boca Raton mailing address and local telephone calling area. There are many large planned developments in the area, including gated communities, and a number of golf courses. This is a result in the later start of development in these areas, and the availability of large tracts of land. Many of these affluent communities are large enough to be designated as census-designated places, including Boca Del Mar and Boca Pointe, geographically in Central Boca Raton, and Avalon at Boca Raton, Boca Falls, Boca Winds, Cimarron, Hamptons at Boca Raton, Mission Bay, Loggers’ Run, The Polo Club Boca Raton, Sandalfoot Cove, and Whisper Walk as West Boca Raton.
Boca Raton in popular Culture
Boca has been mentioned in many movies, including All the President’s Men, Back to the Future, Bewitched, Cats & Dogs, Marley and Me, The Mexican, Mr. 3000, Music and Lyrics, A Perfect Murder, Wag the Dog, and Wonderland, and in many TV shows, such as American Dad!, American Dragon: Jake Long, Code Name: The Cleaner, Dexter, Lizzie McGuire, Nip/Tuck, The Golden Girls, Histeria!, Mad Men, MADtv, My Name Is Earl, The Nanny, Phil of the Future, Robot Chicken, The Sopranos, SpongeBob SquarePants, Two and a Half Men, The Venture Bros., Weeds, and Wipeout. These references usually have something to do with Florida’s reputation for its resorts, or high concentration of condominiums, or alternatively, especially in the case of Seinfeld, numerous references to Boca Raton as “God’s waiting room”.
Boca Raton is almost idiomatically used for indicating retirement. For example, Fran Drescher’s character in The Nanny is always pushing her parents to move to Boca, and Chelsea Handler frequently uses the city in reference to the elderly on her talk show, Chelsea Lately.
Development of Boca Raton features prominently in the 2008 Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical, Road Show, which centers on the lives of Addison Mizner and his brother Wilson Mizner.
Boca Raton has also been the stage and background for many movies filmed on location in Boca Raton, including Paper Lion (1968), Paper Moon (1973), Caddyshack (1980),Caddyshack II (1984), Where the Boys Are ’84 (1984), Stella (1990), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) and Sex Drive (2008).
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