“I am the rendezvous of the rich. … I am the dream of a genius, the materialization of a magical mirage. I am the sun porch of America. I am Boca Raton in 1927.”
Addison Mizner used this self-aggrandizing advertisement to spur the development of Boca Raton. While much has changed since this city of 200,000 began as a small farming village in 1903, Mizner’s prophetic poster rings true today for the city many refer to as “the Beverly Hills of South Florida.”
Halfway between Deerfield Beach to the north and Delray Beach to the south, Boca, as the locals call it, owes much of its existence to Mizner, a California transplant who became the epitome of a society architect when he began building Palm Beach resort homes. By the height of the land boom in 1925, he and his partners had purchased nearly 1,600 acres of land in Boca Raton. His significant influence remains noticeable in the Mediterranean Revival style of architecture throughout the city. Susan Gilles, curator at the Boca Raton Historical Society, says, “Mizner’s dreams really changed the shape of the community. It was our glamour era, and he put her on the map.”
Scratching the Surface
“There’s a casualness about Boca that surprises people,” admits Michele Bellisari, a realtor who moved here from Canada with her parents in 1978. “It’s not as snobby as people think. At the end of the day, we’re all working here, raising our families just like everyone else.”
Many of those families — and half of Boca’s residents — live in West Boca. “There’s more middle class, more families,” says Zev Freidus, broker and president of Boca Executive Realty. The construction out there is newer, but there is also more conformity. It’s very middle of the road — not too cheap, but not too expensive.” A 2,500-square-foot three-bedroom town home in Boca Grove, a West Boca country club community that sits just east of the Florida Turnpike, will cost you $275,000, just below the average home price in West Boca of $300,000. Jackie Lomonte, a New York transplant who arrived in South Florida in 1992, calls West Boca home. “My husband always wanted to retire here, and we had some friends in the neighborhood, so it made sense to move here,” she says.
Gated communities and country clubs are truly de rigueur in Boca. According to Forbes magazine, the metropolis claims three of the 10 most expensive gated communities in the United States. Boca’s Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club comes in at number one; the Sanctuary and Le Lac rank number six and eight, respectively. Thankfully, Boca’s crime statistics don’t necessitate the gates, but Freidus explains the lure: “The streets are quieter. Kids can play ball outside since the only people on the road are those who live there.” While West Boca isn’t served by the Boca Raton City Police, the area is included in the city’s mailing address and provides access to the community’s excellent school system, which boasts 16 private schools.
East Boca is home to retirees, second-home owners and DINKS (“dual-income-no-kids,” a growing segment of the population that encompasses married couples with no children, who make up 53 percent of Boca’s population). “The higher-end homes are ofen bought by second-home owners from the Northeast, Europe or South America. A lot of times, they’re looking for yacht dockage,” explains Freidus.
Nature lovers opt for a small neighborhood called Old Floresta in southern Boca. Here, Mizner planned 29 Mediterranean-style homes, but he went bankrupt in 1927, leaving many unfinished. Streets here have names like Hibiscus and Azalea. While only a handful of homes are true “Mizners,” most were built in his style, with barrel-tiled roofs, stucco walls and wrought-iron balconies. The lushly landscaped seven-squareblock community is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The range of demographics within the city’s 29 square miles is just one reason why Ashley Litowich, a native South Floridian and new resident (she relocated from Deerflield Beach just eight months ago), chose the city as the location for her new, family-owned-and-operated 4th Generation organic market. “There are many other independent businesses in the area, which is a real plus,” notes Litowich of the eclectic area known as downtown Boca. “When I need a little retail therapy, I head over to La Ti Da Boutique. If I want coffee, I’ll stop into Saquella Caffe. The shops give the neighborhood a bit of a small-town vibe. I even live right around the corner. Sometimes I walk to work.” Much of that coziness comes courtesy of Boca’s strict city ordinances that limit the size and type of commercial buildings, signs and advertisements. What’s more, no car dealerships or billboards are allowed within city limits.
Thanks to the construction in 1967 of IBM’s main complex — where the company would later develop the personal computer — Boca Raton is also a corporate destination. On any given day, there are roughly 350,000 folks within city limits, almost doubling its residential population. “There’s more employment in Boca than the surrounding areas,” Freidus notes.
The Boca Raton Resort & Club is one of Mizner’s masterpieces and remains an integral — and elite — part of the community. Since its 1926 debut, there have been numerous additions to the property, originally named the Cloister Inn, including the pink tower visible from miles away as it seems to rise out of the Intracoastal Waterway. “the Cloister Inn was extremely signiflcant to the development of the city,” says Gilles. “It provided an infrastructure that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. During World War II, the property was used as military barracks for the thousands of servicemen who were based in South Florida, many of whom remained in the area after the war ended, helping grow and transform the community.”
Boca’s next claim to fame has got to be its shopping options. Town Center at Boca Raton in the center of the city is the largest indoor mall in Palm Beach County. Just down the road is Mizner Park, an outdoor destination surrounded by two wide streets with stores on either side, lushly landscaped green space in the middle and the Centre for the Arts at the end, which includes an amphitheater, concert hall and the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Says Lomonte, “The city is full of places that provide residents the ability, convenience and pleasure of living their lives outside.”
Mizner Park was the first major city efort to revitalize downtown. Since its opening in 1991, a number of eight- to 10-story, mixed-use buildings have been erected, and condos such as Mizner on the Green and Palmetto Place — where a 700-square-foot one-bedroom starts at $200,000 — are luring residents to the city center. While most residents admit the revitalization efforts never took off in the way they were envisioned, progress continues with the City Council acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency. Discussion about transforming the area into a more pedestrianfriendly neighborhood has once again picked up at town-hall meetings.
While a number of questions remain over the direction of the downtown redevelopment project, one thing is certain. “Boca’s going green,” says Bellisari, who also serves as the chairwoman of the Down- town Advisory Committee. A steadfast focus on the environment is nothing new for the city, which includes pristine beaches, 44 lush parks, more than 20 golf courses and centuries-old hammocks.
Litowich frequently takes advantage of these surroundings, hitting the pavement for a run or relaxing on the beach. “The beaches are incredible — there’s a huge boating community,” she says. “The city itself is just very clean and green.” palmbeachfl.com