Published On: Fri, Jan 1st, 2021

Boca Historical Society uses pandemic downtime for $3.9M upgrade

By: Dale King

Like many other organizations, the Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum has been shut down for quite a few months.

But unlike many other organizations, the BRHS&M didn’t shut its doors to prevent an incursion by COVID-19. It kept the public at more than arm’s length while it conducts “a total, top-to-bottom, $3.9-million reimagination, redesign and renovation,” said Mary Csar, executive director of the Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum. 

“The official reopening date will be announced in early 2021,” she added.

She recently told the media that she “is ready for a bigger, brighter 2021 to arrive.  Bigger and brighter applies not only to the new year, but to the brand-new museum that BRHS&M has become.”

The Historical Society is in the Old Town Hall at 71 N. Federal Highway, a historic building and eye-opening place, if only for the old-time signage on the doors, telling visitors where various offices – including the mayor’s chamber — were located. The building housed municipal offices as well as the Boca Fire Department.

“The historic Town Hall has been our home since the mid-1980s,” said Csar. “But, due to space limitations, our exhibitions have been temporary and largely two-dimensional.”

Not any longer. Said Csar: “The dynamic redesign of the new Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum will allow for both permanent and changing exhibitions that will appeal to families, students and research buffs of all ages—all under the concept of ‘History Alive!’”  

“Expert exhibit designers Creative Art Unlimited of Pinellas Park was engaged to design the space layout and create new interactive exhibits for the museum,” she added. “The new exhibits will be immersive experiences that document the growth and development of Boca Raton from a small farming town to the sophisticated, internationally known city it is today. It will incorporate many more artifacts and memorabilia, plus other valuable information.”

The new permanent galleries will include:

  • Historic Timeline, starting with the earliest Pre-Columbian inhabitants up to the 21st century.
  • Pioneer Days focused on the local heritage of a small farming community.
  • Architect and Boca pioneer Addison Mizner, featuring the museum’s critical collection of Mizner Industries and architectural drawings and images of the great designer’s plans, which put the tiny town of Boca Raton on the map in the 1920s.
  • World War II, when the Boca Raton Army Airfield served as the Air Corps’ top secret radar training facility.
  • IBM, featuring a major collection of functioning vintage IBM PCs. The company owned a remarkable number of acres in the Blue Lake area between Yamato Road and Spanish River Boulevard. While the firm moved out of Boca decades ago, the unique design of its buildings remains alive in the Boca Raton Innovation Campus (BRIC) and the Don Estridge High Tech Middle School, whose core is an old IBM building. It was named after a former IBM executive.

In addition, the City Council Chamber will feature display areas and cabinetry for changing exhibits and will also function as the museum’s lecture hall. The redesigned Research Library will house the society’s extensive archival collections and provide workstations for research patrons.

Csar said the Boca Historical Society & Museum is still raising funds for this ambitious renovation, and naming opportunities are still available. Anyone interested in helping to preserve and promote Boca Raton’s history can do so by contacting Csar directly at 561-395-6766 or [email protected].

The mission and purpose of the Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum, said Csar, is to collect, preserve and present information and artifacts relevant to the past and evolving history of Boca Raton and to maintain a visible role in the education and the advocacy of historic preservation in the community, particularly through its ongoing project, History Alive! 

Although currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, BRHS&M “is using this time to completely reimagine and renovate the museum, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022,” Csar added.

Appealing to local historians, tourists and residents, the museum’s Fire Bay Gift Shop will, when it reopens, feature elegant and educational gifts for all ages, including crafts by local artisans, historic photographs, unusual Boca-based gifts and souvenirs, books by local authors, and The History of Boca Raton DVD—as well as the annual holiday ornaments.

For more information, call 561.395.6766 or visit www.BocaHistory.org.

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