The Way We Were

thewaywewere.jpg

Travel back in time for a glimpse at the Boca of yesteryear — through the eyes of residents who’ve seen their city grow by leaps and bounds.

It’s hard to imagine Boca Raton back then, when Glades Road divided Butts bean farm and Military Trail was the far western frontier of what was then a sleepy resort town. But long before IBM and Mizner Park and Town Center mall and Broken Sound, Boca was little more than a blip on the South Florida radar. In 1958, the best that the chamber could come up with as a marketing slogan was, “Boca Raton: The Different Florida Community.”

One of the only things, in those days, that made us different was the then-Boca Raton Hotel & Club (now the Resort & Club), a crown jewel amid otherwise undeveloped Florida scrubland, miles of farms and a dormant city airport that, after its heyday as an Army Air Force training base during World War II, shut down in 1957.

Still, enough people saw potential in Boca, including Northerners interested in seasonal escapes to the Sunshine State, to put the city on a slow road to expansion. The arrival of IBM in 1967—and, more specifically, the launch of the PC here in 1981—would kick that into overdrive.

But what about the decades leading up to Boca’s turn in the tech spotlight—what about the 1950s, the ’60s and the ’70s? What was life like in Boca? Where did people shop? What did they do for fun?

We asked longtime residents of the community to share their recollections of Boca—before it became Boca.

KEN RONAN

Boca wasn’t exactly the Wild West during the 1960s of Ken’s youth. But nearly every kid in town did own a gun—a BB gun, that is. “What parent in his right mind would get their kid a BB gun,” he asks with a hint of faux outrage. Such pellet guns, of course, were as much a part of life for Boca kids in that era as bicycling to school or congregating at the popular Teen Town. Now a partner at a Boca-based law firm that bears his name (Lavalle Brown & Ronan), Ken shares a few memories from his childhood.

‘‘I’m originally from Philly. My grandfather had a winter home in Hollywood, and he was doing some developing here in Boca. My dad moved us here in 1964 to do that. I was 7. Our car was jammed with four kids and a cocker spaniel, and [when we arrived in Boca] I thought it was magical. Bridges that went up in the air. Boats. Beautiful weather.

“My fondest memory from that early time was the old [Royal Palm] polo grounds, which is where Chipotle and Houston’s are now. It was owned by the Oxley family. It was well attended on Sundays because I don’t think there was much else to do in town. I worked there shoveling the stalls and walking the polo ponies.

“There used to be an old cable car that would go across Hillsboro Canal. We used to [ride our bikes] to 12th Avenue, then through this scrub brush to these dirt paths, probably where Military Trail is now. That’s how we got to the cable car; we’d ride it across and jump into the canal.

“You know what’s really different now? The sea life. I used to be able to put on a mask, fins and snorkel and go out to the first reef and get all the lobster I wanted. You could spear all kinds of fish. There was a time of year when conch would march down the coast, and you’d just be littered with it. I don’t see conch out there anymore. I think it’s been fished out, for the most part.

“I miss the small-town atmosphere [of Boca]. There’s a freedom in not having to lock doors that doesn’t exist anymore.”