By Dianna Smith
BOCA RATON —When someone had a question about Boca Raton history, Donald Curl usually knew the answer.
Mr. Curl’s knowledge of the area was so vast that he recorded most of his knowledge in books that will live on forever. Mr. Curl, 75, died in December after a battle with lymphoma, leaving behind his work and a reputation of being the town’s prestigious local historian.
Those at the Boca Raton Historical Society plan to continue his passion for recording Boca Raton’s interesting past and keeping Mr. Curl’s memory alive.
“It’s really unusual to be such a small town and have a resident historian,” said Mary Csar, executive director of the Boca Raton Historical Society. “It made us seem bigger then we were and really set us apart. Boca is just a little over 100 years old and we know a lot about our history because of him.”
Mr. Curl was part of history himself.
He served as one of the original faculty members at Florida Atlantic University, where he specialized in Florida and architectural history and taught for 38 years. Since his arrival in Florida in the ’60s, he was involved with many historical organizations, including the Florida Historical Society, and years ago he edited and wrote for a quarterly newspaper published by the historical society about Boca Raton’s history.
He was fascinated with Addison Mizner, an architect who converted parts of South Florida into a Mediterranean paradise with his Spanish-style architecture in Boca Raton and Palm Beach.
His book Mizner’s Florida: American Resort Architecture received the Rembert Patrick Award from the Florida Historical Society for the best book in Florida history in 1984, and in 1996 he was given the American Association for State and Local History’s Award of Merit for his dedication to the state’s history.
Mr. Curl, known for his expertise on Addison Mizner architecture, gave the royalties he earned from some of his books to the historical society because he felt it was important to contribute to the organization dedicated to keeping history alive, said Susan Gillis, curator at the historical society.
Gillis said that Mr. Curl loved to hunt for history right here in Boca Raton.
“We tend not to look in our own backyard and he did. He realized there is history everywhere,” Gillis said.
His long-time partner, Fred Eckel, said Mr. Curl had always been drawn to history. He studied history at Ohio State University, where he received bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.
When he moved to Florida in 1964, he found that no one with a doctorate degree had really worked on Palm Beach history. So Mr. Curl dived right in. And his researching never stopped.
He published eight books, Eckel said, including a book on pioneer cooking, architectural history and a picture history book on FAU.
His most recent book published was The Boca Raton Resort and Club: Mizner’s Inn.
Mr. Curl and Eckel, who also is interested in architectural history, were working on a book together before he became ill three years ago.
Mr. Curl enjoyed traveling, especially to Europe, where he once taught during the summer in Florence and London. He had a good sense of humor, was patient and he didn’t like it when people called him “Doctor,” even though he had his doctorate degree. He just wanted people to call him “Don.” He liked wine, good food and enjoyed cooking.
And, of course, he loved to talk about history.
After retiring from FAU, he gave tours of the Boca Raton Resort and Club for the historical society and not a day went by when he wasn’t thinking about history and how important it is for all to be recorded.
“I said to Fred, ‘Thank goodness we have Don’s books,’” Csar said. “He said, ‘Now you all have to continue on.’ ”
“And we’re really trying,” she
Donald Curl’s books can be found at the Boca Raton Historical Society and at barnesandnoble.com and