Is IBM’s Boca Raton’s Historical Significance Slipping Away?
It was sad to learn of the February 12th 2019 decision by the Boca City Council (CC) to allow the defacing of the original Marcel Breuer designed building at the former IBM Boca site. The building is an iconic and long recognized building of significant architectural value in Boca Raton. The 4-1 vote opens a can of worms and sets a precedence for other companies in the complex to follow suit and bolt their signs on the renowned structure. It is true that business signs are approved regularly, but something was different about this approval.
First of all, it is not the job of the City Council to approve signs. That is done by our city’s Community Appearance Board (CAB). When it was brought up for approval, the CAB turned down the request with a 1-6 vote. Numerous suggestions for alternative monument signs were proposed. Those suggestions accomplished the same signage goals but did not deface the building. It’s important to note that the applicant, Modernizing Medicine, has done many things to preserve the site. So, it seems odd that they dug in their heels on their approach to drill 40 or more holes into the nearly 50 year old custom concrete panels. And, it also makes one wonder why would the current owner, Crocker Enterprises, would allow this.
Legally, Modernizing Medicine has the right to appeal the CAB decision to the CIty Council as they did. That kind of thing doesn’t happen often. But that is what happened in this case. Mayor Singer said previous building mounted signs at the complex gave a precedent for this one. However, as confirmed by City Staff, all those were on extensions to the original building built after 1968 and were for the entire building. Also, those signs have all been removed. But this sign, on the original building, is to be mounted over one of many entrances and sets a new precedence that could indicate that it’s open season on the original IBM Boca building; The same building where the IBM PC was developed.
IBM History in Boca Raton
Thomas Watson Jr. came to Florida around 1960 looking for a location for a future manufacturing site. He discovered Boca with its beautiful beaches, parks, wonderful schools, and a great work force with unlimited growth capabilities. He wanted a place where IBM employees could raise their families and he decided Boca was that place. In today’s money he spent a fortune building the present IBM site. He hired one of the most famous architects in the world at that time, Marcel Breuer, who had designed the famous Whitney museum in New York among others.
In 1968 when the site was dedicated, Boca had a city council that was very astute knowing that IBM would bring 1000’s of engineers to the city along with many other businesses and their employees. Boca experienced an explosion of growth. What happened after 1968 was truly remarkable. IBM Boca grew to over 12,000 employees and with their families close to 25,000 residents.
World Class Technologies at the IBM Site
Why was the IBM site so significant? The creation of the PC changed the world. Many of us former IBMers find it ironic that the original business plan laid out by Larry Duffy and his team of “wild ducks” as they were fondly labeled, was based on selling a few thousand of the new IBM PC. We all know how that worked out. Sales far exceeded forecasts which made it very profitable. But IBM in Boca was also recognized in the computer world as having developed technologies that changed the world in other areas such as; Maritime Navigations Systems, Medical Devices, Robotics and too many more to name here. The IBM Manufacturing Technology Center which is now the Don Estridge school housed some of finest scientists and engineers in the world. This center was responsible for 1000’s of patents, contributions to the space program, Atomic Force Microscopes for cancer research, and Computer Tomography (CT) x-ray equipment. And this city council has allowed a sign attached to its walls and will surely result in many more. It is not necessary. Alternatives exist to provide the subject with appropriate signage and identification.
What it Meant to Work at the IBM Site
The IBM’ers that worked there felt we were part of a movement to make this world a better place to live. We were passionate about what we did. We shared IBM’s vision. Because of the family environment that existed, we revered the IBM site. Employees could have lunch with their family in the IBM massive lunch room and use the company recreation area. Today, there are 1000’s of retirees and their family members still living in the Boca area and will no doubt be shocked when they see signs going up on the IBM Building.
It’s interesting that Doug Mummaw, a well-known and respected architect and Mark Jacobsen CAB Chair, were the only individuals that talked about Marcel Breuer’s design of the IBM site. They did an excellent job in explaining its significance and historical value of this landmark building and the damage that would occur.
Where Were the IBMers During the Vote?
From what we know now, appeals of this nature come up quickly and are not widely known. No doubt many other IBMers and some architects would have been there in protest had they been aware of the proceedings. The CAB is a group of highly qualified, well respected, and talented volunteers. They were totally ignored along with Architect Doug Mummaw. Who can we trust to protect our historic legacies in the future when City Councilmembers will ignore an appointed panel of experts? Why have them at all when all you care about is interpreting City Code.
It seems the Modernizing Medicine leadership is not without responsibility here. Various creative alternatives superior to their design were proffered but their representative persisted in pursuing their approach of defacing the structure. I’m afraid this city council vote was an eye opener as to what the future will bring for Boca Raton. Kudos to Andrea O’Rourke for being the only council member to vote against allowing this travesty to move forward.