The Boca Raton: History Afoot benefits Historical Society

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The Boca Raton, Palm Court. 501 East Camino Real, Boca Raton. In 2006, legendary French designer Thierry Despont’s modernistic makeover of the resort was highlighted by his installation of Infanta Margarita, a bronze sculpture by Manolo Valdes, pictured above, adapted from Velazquez’s Las Meninas (1656). More recently, the New York-based Rockwell Group reimagined the Palm Court, linking architect Addison Mizner’s original Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn lobby, view left, with the central lobby of the Schultze & Weaver-designed Boca Raton Club (1930), view right. As well, the Rockwell Group’s aesthetic enlightened guest rooms and dining areas. [Photo Augustus Mayhew]

When Michael Dell’s MSD Partners LP rebranded the Boca Raton Resort & Club as The Boca Raton, it unveiled a more than $200 million renovation ensuring the platinum destination’s five-star status would outpace other name-only resorts that are privately owned, such as The Breakers and The Greenbrier. Even so, while White Sulphur Springs’ guests take to carriage rides and Palm Beach cliff dwellers dash about in their Bentley convertibles, The Boca Raton’s 200-acre enclave continues to attract a convergence of less visible Fortune 500 swells who prefer the purr of an Aston Martin and their Gulfstream G650 or Bombardier Challenger parked discreetly at Boca Raton’s nearby private airport.

First known as the Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn when it was designed and built by Addison Mizner, it became the Boca Raton Club following architect Schultze and Weaver’s 300-room addition for then owner Clarence Geist. An exclusive “Sportsman’s Paradise,” Geist operated it as a “No photos-No publicity” private club. Later reincarnations, as the Boca Raton Resort & Club, included an association with the Waldorf-Astoria group during the Blackstone Group’s stint that brought in designer Thierry Despont for an au courant makeover.

Guests on horseback on Camino Real with the Ritz-Carlton Cloister inn behind, c. 1920s.

Just as Mizner’s Old World design was described as “history passing through the ages,” architect-designer Thierry Despont believed an architect’s mission was to be “a guardian of memories.” Although Mizner’s plans for Boca Raton collapsed much too soon, a century later his legacy endures in Boca Raton, as it does at Palm Beach. While Despont’s recent death recalls his exceptional work at Palm Beach and the brilliance of his out-of-this-world renovations, whether at The Plaza’s Palm Court, The Ritz in Paris, Fifth Avenue’s Cartier Mansion, or Claridge’s Hotel in London’s Mayfair.

When Despont’s bold floor plans, swatches, and sketches were first revealed, they were perceived by some as a detraction rather than an enhancement. In addition to the lobby, Despont reformulated the area where the resort’s two principal buildings intersected into an ultramodern Palm Court, topped by a transparent ceiling supported by palm-shaped steel structures made of Texlon.

Sidney and Caroline Kimmel House. 1236 South Ocean Boulevard, Palm Beach. 1998. Thierry Despont, architect. In 2008, Despont’s state-of-the-art Palm Beach mansion set on five oceanfront acres went on the market for more than $80 million. [PBDN Archive/ Historical Society of Palm Beach County]

Now, two decades since Despont’s progressive intervention at the Boca Raton Resort & Club made for a fascinating architectural paradigm, sparing the landmark from being frozen in time, the Rockwell Group’s “rethink” of the public areas and guestrooms has added new dimensions “to create cohesion and luxury.”

“I Am the Greatest Resort in the World … I have Addison Mizner to make it so.” [Boca Raton Historical Society]

And what better way to explore a range of 20th-century design motifs beginning with Mizner’s adaptation of an 11th-century convent, along with additions by Marion Sims Wyeth and Treanor & Fatio, than by taking the local historical society’s walking tour of The Boca Raton. Along with an eclectic architectural history, the Boca Raton Historical Society’s guided ninety-minute walkabout tells of its illustrious past hoteliers, among them, Philadelphia utilities titan Clarence Geist, hotel and theatre magnate J. Myer Schine, and his wife Hildegarde Schine, one of Boca Raton’s earliest cultural philanthropists, Alcoa’s Arthur Vining Davis, Waste Management’s Wayne Huizenga, Chicago’s VMS Realty, and the Blackstone Group LP, Chairman Peter Peterson & CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who acquired Huizenga’s Boca Resorts packaged with several other resorts for $1.25 billion in 2004.

Groups of ten or more may schedule their own private tour at any time. Individual reservations will be available beginning in December for the 2nd & 4th Tuesday of each month at 2 p.m. from January-May 2024. Note: Tour spaces are limited and fill quickly. The tour includes climbing several staircases. The Boca Raton charges participants a reduced valet fee. The tour is not recommended for children under age 12.

Contact: The Boca Raton Tour at the Boca Raton Historical Society, 561-395-6766, ext. 107. E-mail:

Here are a few of my recent iPhone 14 impressions of The Boca Raton.

The Boca Raton, south elevation. 501 East Camino Real, Boca Raton. Façade, port cochere, entrance courtyard, and fountain, as conceived by the Schultze & Weaver firm in 1930 for the conversion of Mizner’s Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn into the Boca Raton Club. The fountain’s sculptural centerpiece was crafted by Italian sculptor Ettore Pellegatta, who first came to Florida to create artworks for James Deering’s Vizcaya. The entrance courtyard was the work of accomplished French landscape architect Jacques Greber, the green thumb known for the Stotesbury’s Whitemarsh Hall gardens.

Ground plan. The shaded area indicates the original Mizner-designed Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn, inspired by an 11th-century Spanish convent. The black-and-white, L-shaped outline depicts the Schultze & Weaver 1930 addition. [Boca Raton Historical Society]

“The Dream City of the Western World.” Although Addison Mizner’s tenure as City Planner for Boca Raton was brief, his legacy continues to inform the town’s developments. [Boca Raton Historical Society]

Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn, west elevation. Façade’s original arched Romanesque entrance and Gothic-style windows. Builder, Dwight P. Robinson Company, New York.

Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn, Entrance doors, hardware detail. Commission No. 548; Sheet 72. October 21, 1925. Addison Mizner, architect. [Boca Raton Historical Society]

Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn, Lobby. The original 40-foot square, two-story lobby with a pecky cypress balcony has undergone decades of alterations. The Mizner-designed staircase was preserved as part of the Rockwell Group’s recent renovation.

Guest Book, plate. February 1926. [Courtesy The Boca Raton]

Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn, original Mizner staircase and windows (below) on landing between the first and second floors.

Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn, original furnishings. Mizner Industries.

Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn, Lobby. Cast stone elaboration located above the front entrance doors. Mizner Industries.

Original architectural details. Cast stone, uncoated and painted. Carved coral keystone columns, port cochere addition, 1930. Mizner Industries.

Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn. Left, original door; Right, Savonarola chair. Mizner Industries.

Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn, Mizner Room. This meeting room was once the upper section of Mizner’s Dining Room, horizontally subdivided during the 1950s. Today, the room’s lower portion became part of the Palm Court.

Postcards, c. 1935. Boca Raton Club, “A Gentleman’s Club,” with the lakeside Cloister Inn. [Boca Raton Historical Society]

View from the Ritz-Carlton Cloister lobby toward the Palm Court and the Grand Staircase.

View from an upper-level balcony between the resort’s two sections looking down toward the Palm Court.

Palm Court. At the time, Thierry Despont described it as, “A return to casual life in an elegant setting.”

Palm Court, with the Grand Staircase, located to the left.

Palm Court, Grand Staircase.

On the left, a view of the Palm Court from the Grand Staircase. A sublime staircase finial adds visual panache. On the right, lobby capital and ceiling.

A gilded aura.

The Rockwell Group have redesigned the Palm Court as a gathering place with a distinctive barrel vault ceiling. To the far left, the doorway leads into the Cathedral Dining Room. View east, Lake Boca Raton.

Boca Raton Club, 2023. Lobby and ceiling view east toward the Palm Court.

Boca Raton Club, 1930. Lobby view, east toward the lakefront. For the clubhouse’s décor, Clarence Geist retained Palm Beach-New York antiquarian Omar Berberyan and Paul Chalfin, an interior decorator known for his work at Vizcaya as James Deering’s principal art advisor. Later, Chalfin became a Hollywood set designer. [Boca Raton Historical Society]

The Boca Raton, 2023. Lobby.

Original arched lakefront entrance to the Cloister Inn’s garden with the colonnade and tower, modeled on Sevilla’s Giralda Tower. Hovering to the right, the Schultze & Weaver addition.

Cloister, capital and elaboration. Mizner Industries. Sketch, Addison Mizner. [Boca Raton Historical Society]. Cast stone detail [Frederick Herpel Collection, Mizner Industries]

And then, to the left of the Cloister’s arched entrance, a view of …

Completed in December 1969,  the original pink, 27-story, 250-room, lakeside Grand Tower was designed by New York’s Warner, Burns, Toan, and Lunde (WBTL) architectural firm with Toro-Ferrer of Puerto Rico as consultant. Considered the tallest building between Miami and Jacksonville, Arvida topped the tower with a presidential suite, restaurant, and an illuminated beacon. Lower right, the original Mizner-designed Cloister walkway stretches along Lake Boca Raton, enclosing what was once described as a garden.

Cloister garden, 2023. View north toward the original loggia, the 1930s Schultze & Weaver addition, and the enclosed Palm Court. To the left, the original, three-story Cloister Inn. The cracked-tile fountain accented with solid-color Mizner tiles appears in 1930s photographs of the Boca Raton Club.

Cathedral Dining Room, view to the north with the lakefront to the right. A Schultze & Weaver original, intact.

Cathedral Dining Room, view to the south. Gothic-inspired entrance with linenfold doors bordered with quatrefoils. Schultze & Weaver, architect.

Cathedral Dining Room, ceiling detail. Schultze & Weaver, architect.

Main Lobby, 2023. Front desk, Bell Services. A dash of 21st Century verve.

Valencia Room, originally an indoor saltwater swimming pool. When Clarence Geist realized an indoor pool was not favored by guests, he retained Palm Beach’s Treanor & Fatio to convert it into a movie theater during the late 1930s, entered by a Busby Berkeley-styled double staircase.

Valencia Room. Today, the eclectic 2,900-square-foot room hosts conferences, meetings, films, and wedding receptions.

“A Magical Mirage …” [Boca Raton Historical Society]

iPhotography by Augustus Mayhew, editor of Addison Mizner: A Palm Beach Memoir 

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