February 22, 2019
Something we can all be proud of is The City of Boca Raton has established a rich history starting with its earliest settlers followed by architect Addison Mizner with the Boca Raton Hotel, and continuing with the city’s contribution in WWII with the development of radar. In the sixties came IBM with ten thousand jobs and what many would say, put Boca Raton “on the map”. Progress continued with well-planned communities inspired by the corporate namesake of Arthur Vining Davis, Arivda. Those communities include Broken Sound, Boca West, Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club plus the formerly named Arvida Park of Commerce. Those well-planned developments made Boca Raton a desirable location to ‘Live, Work, Play’. Beyond that, we have now established ourselves as an educational hub with several universities and colleges. We proudly tout our thriving and growing business community and have accomplished a growing reputation on the world stage.
Being an elected official in Boca Raton is a privilege and an honor and it comes with the responsibility to honor our history, to be a visionary and to make the appropriate decisions that guide Boca to a beneficial future for all. Sometimes difficult, I make it a practice to take in stride the decisions that my colleagues and I differ on. Often this involves lengthy public discussions on the dais where decisions have to be made and the majority prevails.
Recently, an issue came before the City Council that spoke to my heart as no other has. It was the result of an appeal of a decision rendered by the Community Appearance Board to not approve an identifying (wall) sign for a significant and well respected business in our city. The sign was to be placed on the Original IBM Building on the former IBM Campus, now branded as “Boca Raton Innovation Campus” (BRIC). I feel it is important to share the details as I perceived them.
The Community Appearance Board (CAB) is a board appointed by the City Council for their professional knowledge in the field of architecture, landscape, design and construction etc. The board is tasked to make decisions regarding the outward appearance of all signs, buildings and landscape proposals that come before them.
A recent submission to the CAB was a sign approval denied by the all-volunteer members in a 1-6 vote. Exercising their right, the petitioner then appealed the CAB decision to the City Council who granted the appeal on a 4-1 vote, of which I was the dissenting vote.
What was at stake? From my perspective it is sometimes just as important, if not more important, to preserve certain elements of our history as it is to build for our future. This was a case of preserving a building of historical significance in its original state and avoiding setting a precedent with potential negative ramifications.
This landmark building was designed in 1968 by Marcel Breuer one of the most well-known and iconic figures associated with the Bauhaus School. He was one of the early pioneers of the International Style and became known for his affinity for concrete which later made him a key figure in the emergence of an architecture style known as Brutalism. Breuer is an internationally famed furniture designer of the Wassily Chair and the Cesca Chair, both easily recognizable as classic, ever-lasting furniture designs. His architecture is seen globally in buildings such as UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France and the Whitney Museum in NYC. What an honor to have a Breuer building in Boca Raton!
Not only is this Boca building significant architecture by a respected architect, it is the landmark site of the invention of the PC, along with other groundbreaking technology such as Ctrl+Alt+Del, the Simon and much more that came out of this IBM/Boca building in the 1980’s. The building itself was hailed by numerous sources.
Among those was this from TheArtStory.com. “The project architects were Marcel Breuer and Robert Gatje (longtime partner at his firm). When Breuer received this commission he was at the height of his career. He was an established, respected, well known architect…”. And this comes from the Boca Raton Historical Society website under the title “IBM: Boca”: “The main complex was modeled after IBM’s research center located in LaGuade, France on a rugged slope…Marcel Breuer and Robert Gatje…adapted the design for Florida’s flat terrain and hot sun.”
So what was the disconnect between the City Council and the CAB that created a reversal in the CAB’s decision?
Again, from my perspective, it was city staff interpretation of the Code vs. CAB interpretation of the code and CAB’s efforts to preserve an iconic building of historical significance for our City. Believing the City Code was on their side, the CAB was protective of the exceptional importance and historical significance of the issue at hand – a request to mount a (wall) sign on an original Breuer building, a building we should not
deface but laud. One of the main arguments for denial was the permanent and irreparable damage to the building’s unique concrete structure.
Sadly, other than one local architect and several people from the CAB, the representation to preserve Boca’s history and this unique structure was lacking. We did not hear from other local architects, ex IBMers, (which are many in our community), nor our Historic Preservation Board or the Historical Society. My guess is they were probably not even aware this was happening.
When I (emotionally) spoke out at that meeting, pointing to the importance of the building’s history, the architecture, and preserving an inspirational structure that is a true symbol of our community, I was later criticized for being “anti-business”. Just as the CAB attempted, I offered to explore collaborative, alternative options for allowing a sign, without defacing Breuer’s architecture. I pleaded to preserve the very building that was the headquarters of the first ‘important’ business in Boca Raton. This was a company that brought jobs by the thousands to our community and helped build our economic prosperity. How ironic!
Which brings us to the main point – Who is preserving our historic legacy? And what do we truly value as a city?
I pose this question: Why must those who wish to create, and preserve a legacy with historical significance, face the callous name calling done by individuals that choose to falsely label anyone that dares stand in their way as “anti-growth” or “anti-business”, when those labels couldn’t be further from the truth? The name calling does not further the discussion. It destroys the discussion. Preserving Boca’s special qualities are the very thing that attract high-level businesses and headquarters to Boca Raton and to this very location of the original IBM campus. There’s a bigger picture here.
One can only hope in the future that discussions will be based on the merits of the topic rather than the chosen descriptive of the targeted person.
I welcome your feedback on this topic.
Andrea Levine O’Rourke
Boca Raton City Council Member – email@example.com
*cover photo-Architect Marcel Breuer