The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Museum renovation to provide livelier reckoning of city’s past

In the proposed ‘Boca Raton in World War II’ room, a one-fifth scale B-17 bomber protrudes from the ceiling. Boca Raton Army Air Field served as the Air Corps’ top-secret radar training facility during the war. Rendering provided

By Stephen Moore

To say the Boca Raton Historical Museum is preparing for a major face-lift would be a monumental understatement. What is now four rooms and a hallway in historic Old Town Hall will soon be flooded with interactive and educational exhibits designed to attract adults, children, educators, history buffs and Boca Raton residents old and new.

“We are transforming this building into a permanent, interactive, state-of-the art exhibit for families,” said Mary Csar, executive director of the Boca Raton Historical Society and Museum.

The title of the renovation project is History Alive!

“I think history will truly come alive for a lot of people,” Csar said. “They don’t identify with what has happened here. Boca has an amazing history — not very long, but amazing.”

Csar has been working on this modernization since the beginning of 2018 and seems to have all the pieces to this puzzle ready to go.

Most recently, a $650,000 grant from the city was secured on May 14. The money will be used to upgrade the electrical systems, the plumbing and air conditioning in the building, erected in 1927.

“We don’t have enough outlets for all these things,” Csar said, “and we want to redo the plumbing, it’s 90 years old. The city is putting on a new roof this year, so there are some good things happening.”

Creative Arts Unlimited was hired. The Pinellas Park design firm specializes in modernizing museums and “transforms ideas into inspiring destinations,” the company’s website says.

“The change is going to be significant, and the people of Boca are going to be surprised and pleased,” CEO Chuck Stanmore said.

Boca Raton architect Derek Vander Ploeg has been drawing designs for the project and working closely with Creative Arts Unlimited.

“I have been involved with the Historical Society for a long time,” Vander Ploeg said. “The biggest challenge we will have is to not disturb the original building and incorporate all the exhibits.”

“Derek has been with us for a long time,” Csar said. “I just started asking questions and he just started helping us. He has been great.”

A fundraising program to pay for the exhibits and cover other costs has been started. To donate, go to www.bocahistory.org/join-support.

“We are paying for the exhibits,” Csar said, “so we have money to raise. But it is hard to raise money before you get started, and now we are getting started.”

The changes in the museum will include an interactive timeline of Boca Raton’s history; a collection of IBM personal computers; a “Boca Raton in World War II” room complete with a B-17 bomber (one-fifth scale) protruding through the room’s ceiling; an educational center for children and adults; an Addison Mizner room that will showcase Mizner Industries memorabilia and architectural drawings, and a Council Chamber displaying changing exhibits and serving as a lecture hall, and a research library complete with workstations.

“What this redesigning will do is expand the age range of people who come here,” said museum volunteer Steve Bellanca.

“It’s called History Alive! because all the exhibits are interactive,” Csar said. “You will immerse yourselves into the exhibits. The main thing is the timeline from before 1900 to 2005 — in decades. We are going to have monitors and ways that you can learn more in each decade. The rooms will hold exhibits that we are highlighting. It’s going to be really great.”

The city owns the property, at 71 N. Federal Highway, and leases it to the Historical Society for $1 a year.

Csar estimates the building improvements should take about six months. After the building is ready, the exhibits will be delivered, installed and tested.

“We don’t really have an end date until we get all the permits approved,” said Stanmore, whose firm was the star of the History Channel’s 10-episode series Museum Men in 2014-15. “We are building the exhibits now.”

Csar said the project could end up costing $2 million. “That’s a lot of money,” she said. “This is a lot of change for us. It is going to be really nice for the community to absorb information, not just look at.”

For Stanmore, whose firm has been revamping museums for more than 20 years, the objective is to create a more intangible response from museum patrons.

“We want to accomplish the wow factor,” he said. “We want people who have been there before to say wow, this is cool. We don’t want them just walking around. You want to engage people, so when they leave they know more about Boca Raton.” 

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