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Boca Raton Historical Society and Museum

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Boca Raton Town Hall
1927, Addison Mizner. 71 N. Federal Hwy.

Addison Mizner’s great architectural successes in Florida began with private commissions in Palm Beach during World War I and essentially ended with public work in Boca Raton at the onset of the Florida land bust in 1926. Boca Raton was incorporated in June 1925 and city officials almost immediately hired Mizner as its urban planner. Mizner’s vision for Boca Raton, located just 25 miles south of Palm Beach, was to harness the design vision he had developed in that city along the shopping corridor of Worth Avenue (beginning with the Everglades Club in 1918–1919) together with the construction, furniture, and architectural detailing capacities he had established in Mizner Industries, to create a city of consistent beauty and quality founded upon enormous social and economic success.

The Boca Raton Town Hall embodied the shift in Mizner’s thinking from merely chasing the dreams of individual clients to building a greater civic identity. Mizner was selected as the architect of the new city hall and in January of 1926, on the cusp of what would be a personally and professionally devastating economic collapse, a sketch of his vision for the building appeared in The Miami Herald. The text emphasizes the “co-operative action” that would make Boca Raton a great city and suggests that Mizner’s selection to design the “magnificent” city hall was a “fitting commentary upon his work of developing Florida’s finest playground,” as Boca Raton was known at the time. The Mediterranean Revival, two-story design featured rustication, a loggia, metal window grates, and pitched barrel tile roofs. Materials for many of these features were provided by Mizner’s Las Manos Pottery and Antique Shops. Following a model established with the Everglades Club, the street facade seemed to be broken into four distinct structures set at various distances from the street.

The foundations were constructed according to Mizner’s plans, but the signs of the crisis were coming in fast and the tax base needed to complete the project soon disappeared. By May 1926, Mizner had redesigned the project to reduce building expenses but construction stopped completely in December. For reasons not entirely clear, local architect William E. Alsmeyer was hired in early 1927 to modify the plans, which apparently included simplifying the interior layout, reconfiguring the southern wing to accommodate the volunteer fire department, and adding columns and a cupola to mark the entrance.

The building’s construction parallels the development of Mizner’s Boca Raton, and the exterior modifications speak volumes about Mizner’s success as an architect in the public realm. With the grand gestures added to highlight the entrance on the main facade, Mizner’s original design might be considered too complex for a public building. Mizner built a business of creating private fantasies for the rich, who viewed Mizner’s structures, like the Everglades Club, as exotic experiences that captivated and titillated them. His city hall design exuded many of those same qualities, which perhaps says more about the wealth and sophistication Mizner envisioned for the citizens of his Boca Raton than anything else.

By 1963, the city government offices had moved out of the building, at which point the structure housed various organizations such as the Woman’s Club Library and the police and fire departments. Now occupied by the Boca Raton Historical Society, the building is home to a welcome center and a museum, with the gift shop located in the former fire department wing.

References

“Boca Raton’s New City Hall.” The Miami Herald, January 31, 1926.

Curl, Donald W. Mizner’s Florida: American Resort Architecture.Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984.

Queen, Rolla L. “Boca Raton Old City Hall,” Palm Beach County, Florida. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1980. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

Writing Credits

Author: 
John Stuart
Coordinator: 
David Rifkind
John Stuart
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Data

Timeline

  • 1926

    Built

Citation

John Stuart, "Boca Raton Historical Society and Museum", [Boca Raton, Florida], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/FL-01-099-0002.

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