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Clarence Henry Geist

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Clarence Henry Geist

Clarence Henry Geist (1866-1938), former owner of the Boca Raton Club, was raised on an Indiana farm. At 19 he left home to seek success. Geist was a railroad conductor for the Rock Island Railroad when he met financier Charles G. Dawes, who would win the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize and serve as U.S. vice president under Calvin Coolidge. Geist joined Dawes in Chicago in buying up public utilities. In 1930 Geist was thought to be the largest individual holder of public utility stock in the nation.

Geist was an investor in Mizner Development Corporation, which Addison Mizner formed to develop land in Boca Raton. When it entered bankruptcy in 1927, Geist purchased its assets and debt with an anonymous bid of $71,500. Included were the lavish new Cloister Inn, fifty houses, and 15,000 acres of land. The mortgages and other debt increased Geist’s net cost for the property to about $7 million. He spent another million to enlarge and transform the 100-room Cloister Inn into the private, 450-room Boca Raton Club, which opened in 1930.

Geist financed a modern water treatment plant for Boca Raton. He paid for an elegant railroad depot and for dredging of the Boca Raton Inlet so club members could bring their yachts. He prepared a speech that he never delivered to the citizens of Boca Raton, urging them to “get rid of the mosquito! You are not going to make any money in this community except through people coming here in the winter,” he wrote. “Get their money while they are here and you won’t have to do a lot of work throughout the hot weather of the summer.”

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