Around Town: Vintage car put into service for Boynton police

Wilmer Rodriguez with his restored 1953 Buick Special. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Thom Smith

For Wilmer Rodriguez, the “black and white” 1953 Buick now parked in front of the Boynton Beach police headquarters gets a big “10-4.” Rodriguez, a detective and hobbyist mechanic, took up the cause of restoring the 64-year-old chrome-laden clunker. He couldn’t be more pleased with the result, especially considering its history.
    He found the Buick languishing in a Midwestern barn eight years ago and planned to convert it into a hot rod. However, with the city’s 90th anniversary a year away, the idea was hatched to restore it as a vintage patrol car for community outreach. With some police discretionary funds, donations and materials from citizens and area businesses, especially work space at Florida Collision Center, the project began.
    Fellow officers and 14 students in the city’s Youth Violence Prevention Program, some skeptical at first, went to work. A few months later, the kids, down to five boys and one girl, had a modernized classic, even airbags. But it wasn’t easy.
    “Buicks have a lot of chrome,” Rodriguez said. “It took a lot of work to clean it up. Plus, we added a big flasher on the roof and a genuine highway patrol spotlight on the side.”
    But for reasons unknown, the car never made its debut, banished all these years to the police garage … until mid-May, when the department finally decided to display it.  
    “It’s a beauty,” said Rodriguez, who noted that Buicks, while not common as squad cars, were used. In fact, the California Highway Patrol bought 270 specially built two-door sedans with lightweight bodies, high-horsepower engines and oversize brakes to contend with drag racers.
    The TV show Highway Patrol rented some of the Buicks from the CHP to use in the filming, which would include numerous takes of Oscar-winner Broderick Crawford as Dan Matthews standing by his Buick, microphone in hand and replying in his coarse staccato “10-4,” cop-shop radio code for “understood.”
    Rodriguez learned from his father, a mechanic, first in Cuba where a few old Buicks still cruise the roadways. In 1980, the family with 4-year-old Wilmer arrived in Miami during the Mariel boatlift.
    Wilmer’s work isn’t limited to automobiles. Earlier this year, he and Boynton Beach project manager Kevin Ramsey built a special wheelchair for a 10-year-old Coral Springs girl with multiple developmental defects. The chair was a miniature replica of the 2010 Camaro owned by the girl’s late father.
    Rodriguez no doubt is looking ahead, maybe to future restorations. Retirement is less than a year away, but the codes 10-4 and 10-7 — “Assignment complete and out of service” —  probably won’t apply.
    Seems like only yesterday. On Nov. 22, 2002, The Strokes, then one of the hottest bands in the land, played the first concert in the new De Hoernle Amphitheater at Boca’s Mizner Park.
    Subsequent acts included Kenny G, Judy Collins, Ringo Starr, the Allman Brothers, ­
Yo-Yo­ Ma, authors Edward Albee and Doris Kearns Goodwin, orchestras and ballets, at a pace that remained steady even after the city of Boca Raton assumed operation in 2010.
    But the amphitheater’s days may be numbered. City Council workshops and planning meetings are being held that will lead to the adoption of a “campus master plan” later this summer. Those sessions have included discussions about the future of all city-owned property, amphitheater included.
    A decade ago, developers and city government envisioned building a large indoor theater just east of the amphitheater. Today, however, that space provides overflow parking for amphitheater events because the Mizner Park garages can’t handle shoppers, diners and performance patrons.
    Retailers complain that shoppers stay away on concert nights. Residents in the Mizner Park apartments don’t like the noise.
    While the original plan has not been scrapped, increased downtown development may force the performing arts in a different direction …  a short drive to the northwest, to city-owned land near the new library on Spanish River Boulevard.    
    “The campus master plan encompasses City Hall, the Police Department, the library, tennis center, the sports fields — all the city property in the downtown area,” city communications manager Chrissy Gibson said. “Council members have brought up that they’d like to see a cultural arts center and would like to see it on the campus.”
    Some groups, Gibson said, would like to see all city government and cultural arts concentrated on one campus. Others want input on choosing a successor should the amphitheater move.
    AEG, an international entertainment juggernaut that has produced shows at Mizner, wants to be part of any discussion “about building a newer, bigger, better, great facility out on Spanish River,” Gibson said.
    “The council has not asked for any proposals, but people are starting to hear about it. For concert promoters, downtown presents so many challenges. They would like to be in Boca, for sure, but the downtown area may not fit their needs.”
    Gibson stressed that the master plan is still in development. A consultant hired by the City Council is expected to present his evaluations and recommendations in July. Then, she said, “the council will decide what it wants to do.
    “People have an interest in Boca and in culture and that’s great.”
    More than 3,200 degrees were awarded to students from more than 50 nations at six Florida Atlantic University commencement ceremonies in early May, including 101 who were 50 or older. Notable among the graduates was Ndjuma Joseph, 28, from Port St. Lucie. She hopes to use her degree in music to teach. The road to her degree was not easy. Not only is she the music school’s first blind graduate, but with hip dysplasia she requires a wheelchair.
   Nevertheless, she plans to teach music.

     Though no Sandlers picked up degrees this year, hedge fund manager Harvey and wife Phyllis have again made their presence known around campus, this time with a $7 million gift. The money will establish two new centers within the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work — the Robin Rubin Mindfulness and Wellness Center and the Substance Misuse, Mental Health and Research Center — and provide renovations to the College for Design and Social Inquiry.
    Additionally, the student athlete lounge within the Schmidt Family Complex for Academic and Athletic Excellence will be named for the Sandlers, who contributed $250,000 in honor of their good friends Dick and Barbara Schmidt.
    The Sandlers’ relationship with FAU began more than a decade ago when daughters Robin Rubin and Amy Ross earned degrees in social work. Both graduated with honors — Robin stayed on as a professor in social science — and have been active in the community ever since.
    The entire Sandler family believes in putting their money where their life is. Their foundation has helped more than 100 organizations, including the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, the Alzheimer’s Foundation, Camp Excel for Underprivileged and Troubled Children and the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
    “It feels so good to give back,” said Harvey Sandler. “It’s important to make investments in your community and take pride in where you live.”
    The philosophy department was saddened by the deaths of two esteemed members.
 Dr. Lester Embree, 79, a Marine veteran and one of FAU’s “eminent scholars,” who was internationally known for his work in phenomenology, died in January.
    Five weeks later, Tom Baxley, who chaired the department for 10 years before retiring in 2003, died from prostate cancer. Baxley first made headlines as a basketball player. Though only 5-foot-10, the hotshot guard scored 57 points in one game for North Miami High School and led his team to a state championship in 1960. Two years later, he led the University of Florida in scoring and as a senior was named team captain. In later years, he took up handball and for more than 10 years was Florida singles and doubles champion.
    He was also quite the handyman. As his family noted in his obituary, “There was not anything he couldn’t fix.”
    With all things Trump dominating headlines lately, one of the biggest sporting events in the world is attracting scant coverage locally. That may change, however, since one of the participants in the 35th America’s Cup, the world’s oldest sailing competition, has local ties.
    Bermuda is the latest stop for Matt Cassidy, where as a bowman for USA Oracle BMW, he hopes to help Team USA win a third consecutive cup. Cassidy, 39, who now calls Chicago home, was born in Michigan. The state isn’t known for mild winters, so during Cassidy’s formative years the family would head south to a slightly warmer Delray Beach. The best of both worlds: highly competitive summer sailing on Lake Michigan, school and surfing during winters in Delray. After graduating from Pope John Paul High School (now St. John Paul), he headed to the College of Charleston in South Carolina.
    While earning his degree, he became a “decent” competitive sailor and after graduation was offered a coaching job in San Diego. One thing led to another as he moved from small boats and small competitions to bigger boats and now to the biggest competition on water.
    The series has evolved from the initial 100-foot schooner, to elegant but hardly speedy 70-foot sloops to today’s high-tech, 50-foot catamarans that can reach 50 miles an hour and cost hundreds of millions.
     As a veteran of keelboats, the cats present new challenges to Cassidy. “There’s a learning curve,” he told Traverse magazine. “It’s such fast pace, the racecourses are so small, the maneuvers happen so quickly, there’s little room for error. . . . Maneuvers happen in a specific sequence, and when you’re a few seconds late, that snowballs and you’re playing catch-up for the duration of the race.”
    To aid in the fight against childhood cancer through the P4 Foundation and the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation, Richard Staller organized an ice cream social at Ben & Jerry’s. Celebrity scoopers included Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein, Delivery Dudes founder Jayson Koss and, since Staller happens to be the team dentist, Lane Kiffin, celebrated football coach at Florida Atlantic University. Kiffin, fresh from his first spring practice, scooped, drizzled, sprinkled and even took a turn at the register. But in the end, he confessed, “I was not very good at it, that’s for sure. I was a true freshman.”

    While his former TV wife Molly — Melissa McCarthy in Sean Spicer drag — navigated New York’s 58th Street aboard a motorized podium on May 13 during a taping of Saturday Night Live, Billy Gardell chased lunch with Key lime pie at — where else? — The Old Key Lime House in Lantana.
    Gardell next headed south for his second show at the Improv next to Seminole Hard Rock and, though unconfirmed, likely then headed north to visit family. A Winter Park High grad, he cut his comic teeth in Central Florida and recently teamed with his brother to open a pizza joint in Orlando. Unfortunately for the Gardells, they had to close it last November after only a year. No action when the snowbirds left, Gardell said.
   Dancers have been named for this year’s Boca’s Ballroom Battle (6 to 10 p.m. Aug. 18) and they are already practicing with the pros at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Royal Palm Place. They are: Jim Dunn, vice president and general manager of JM Lexus; Teresa “Terry” Fedele, registered nurse, retired hospital executive and community volunteer; Lisa Kornstein Kaufman, founder and creative director at Scout & Molly’s; Derek Morrell, proprietor of Ouzo Bay; Heather Shaw, vice president and general manager at Saks Fifth Avenue; Logan Skees, director of business development at Trainerspace; Elizabeth Murdoch Titcomb, president of EMT Creative; and John Tolbert, president of the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
Tickets are $185. Proceeds benefit the George Snow Scholarship Fund.
   For more information about the event at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, call 347-6799 or visit
    Palm Beach’s newest celebrity resident, fashion maven Tommy Hilfiger, can claim a bargain. The oceanfront estate of deceased Londoners Lord Anthony and Lady Evelyn Jacobs had been listed for nearly $43 million. Hilfiger got it for $34 million.
Designed by Jeff Smith in the style of island pioneer Addison Mizner, the house boasted more than 13,000 square feet in an E-shape. In 1998, it cost $4.15 million.
    The Jacobses kept homes in Palm Beach for 35 years. In 1999 at Palm Beach Country Club, Anthony met Bernard Madoff, who made an investment proposal. Satisfied with his investigation of Madoff, Jacobs invested “tens of millions.” He estimated he recouped about 70 percent of his stake before his death in 2014. When Lady Evelyn died seven months later, the family put the estate on the market.
    Subculture Coffee is back. Booted from his 123 E. Atlantic Ave. home in March for leasing upstairs space to a third party, Rodney Mayo is moving his java joint across the street and a block west to 20 W. Atlantic.
    That’s the former location of Nature’s Way Cafe, but it’s only temporary. If Delray Beach OKs Hudson Holdings’ proposed development just south of Atlantic Avenue, Mayo expects to take over one of the restored historic houses.
Summer’s near and the time is right for some special live music at Boston’s on the Beach, where Eliot Lewis makes a special appearance June 8 with veteran local favorite Billy Livesay. Lewis made his mark in the ’80s as musician and producer with Average White Band. He currently backs Hall & Oates, who play Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena the night before. The music starts at 8:30 p.m., ends at midnight and no cover charge.

Thom Smith is a freelance writer who can be reached at

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