Listed on early maps as "Boca Ratones," many people assume the name is simply translated to "Rat's Mouth". The Spanish word boca (or mouth) was often used to describe an inlet, while ratón (literally mouse) was used by Spanish sailors to describe rocks that gnawed at a ship's cable, or as a term for a cowardly thief. The name Boca Ratones originally appeared on eighteenth century maps associated with an inlet in the Biscayne Bay area 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 Lake Boca Raton, whose inlet was closed at the time.
The city's early history was as the site of Addison Mizner's Boca Raton Hotel. The "pink hotel" today is visible from miles away as a towering building on the Intracoastal Waterway. The Pearl City neighborhood of Boca Raton was originally established to house the service personnel for the hotel. 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. There was also a radar school and research facility there. Much of the airbase was later donated to become the grounds of Florida Atlantic University, many of whose parking lots are former runways of the airbase, while part of the airbase is now used as Boca Raton Airport. 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.
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 the 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. 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. Route 1 near Yamato Road.
In the late 1960s, Boca Raton became the southern home to the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). In 1965, well before the extension of I-95 into Southern Florida, IBM purchased several hundred acres of real estate just west of the CSX rail line, just northwest of Florida Atlantic University. Construction of IBM's main complex began in earnest in 1967, and the mammoth manufacturing and office complex was dedicated in March 1970. The campus was designed with self-sufficiency in mind, and to that end sported its own electrical substation, water pumping station, and rail-spur. Among other very noteworthy IT accomplishments, such as the mass manufacture of the System/360 and development of the Series/1 mainframe computers, IBM's main complex was the birthplace of the IBM PC, which later evolved into the IBM Personal System/2. In 1987, IBM relocated their manufacturing for what became the IBM PC Company to Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, North Carolina, and converted the cavernous manufacturing facilities into offices and laboratories, later producing ground-breaking products such as the OS/2 operating system and VoiceType Dictation, known today as ViaVoice voice-recognition software.
IBM maintained its facilities at Boca Raton until 1996, when the facility was closed and was sold to Blue Lake Real Estate, who in turn sold it to the T-REX Management Consortium. Today, T-REX has revitalized the facility and its surrounding real estate into a highly-successful and landscaped business/research park. What used to be IBM's Building 051, an annex separated from the former main IBM campus by Spanish River Boulevard was donated to the Palm Beach County School District and converted into Don Estridge High Tech Middle School. It is named for Don Estridge, whose team was responsible for developing the IBM PC. IBM later returned in 2001 opening the current software development laboratory off Congress Avenue in July of that year.
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 area. 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 in a western area in 1979.
In 1991, the new downtown outdoor shopping center, Mizner Park, was completed over the site of the older Boca Raton Mall. It has since become a cultural center for the city. 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.
Mizner Park has significantly aided downtown revitalization. Many new 8-10 story mixed-use buildings have been constructed, are 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 6 years, the museum closed in 2002 and the space has been empty since. The Museum has since relocated to its original home in New York City. The building is currently undergoing renovations for public uses, including the local public TV station, and private uses, such as locally-owned and operated bookstore.
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, Simon Property Group bought Town Center at Boca Raton and renovated and expanded it. Nordstrom is the anchor department store of a 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 car dealerships are allowed in the city limits, according to the city zoning code. Additionally, no billboards are permitted in the city. The only billboard was grandfathered in during 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 been reduced. Many buildings in the Boca Raton 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.
City & Partner Links:
The Shops at Boca Center
The City of Boca Raton
Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce