Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Same Building, Different Students

Nature hasn’t been kind to “temporary” buildings T-5 and T-6. Over the decades of neglect, weeds have poked through cracks in the parking lot asphalt, fuzzy vines have slithered up the building walls, and a thick layer of dirt has replaced the once manicured lawns.

And that’s the way the tenants of these T-Buildings like it today – solitary and unassuming. The graduate ceramics students in T-6, for example, say isolation drives a better work environment.

During World War II, the U.S. Army Air Corps loved the isolation too, but for a completely different reason: their backwater Boca Raton airfield played host to top-secret radar equipment testing. Their mission: use the brand new device to peek through cloud cover and pinpoint small targets overseas for bombing.

Cadets from the Army Air Corps Technical School of Radar fiddled with such crucial equipment in classrooms T-5 and T-6.

“[Our commanders] frequently warned us against telling people what we were doing. We were forbidden to even pick up our pencils to write [notes], or even write home to our parents about it. Otherwise, it was a court-martial offense,” says Robert Davey, a World War II veteran.

Davey is an 82-year-old former radar school cadet now residing in Pompano Beach. His six-week radar training course wasn’t inside T-5 or T-6, but that didn’t matter, he says. Since each H-shaped classroom was fashioned from the same blueprint, every infrastructure looked the same. This also lent ease to the 3,500 construction workers who built 800 T-Buildings inside of four months.

The interior décor was bare to nonexistent: freshly-cut, minty Dade pine comprised the walls and floorboards. Inside, eight classmates huddled around a U-shaped table as a radar school graduate (often only two years older than the cadets themselves) drew diagrams on a single blackboard. Then, each cadet took turns rejiggering a circuit board “set” – the radar’s guts, essentially – wiring as many as 28 tubes at a time.

“You were tested orally every week,” says Davey. “They gimmicked the [radar] set so it wasn’t operable, and we had to piece it back together.”

Each cadet also practiced airborne radar operations aboard B-17, B-24 and B-26 bombers, radar mechanics, high- and low-altitude bombing, radar navigation and attack and survival training, says Sally Ling, a local historian and member of the Boca Raton Army Air Field (BRAAF) preservation society. She’s also the author of Small Town, Big Secrets (History Press), a definitive account of radar experimentation on the air base.

Radar cadets who graduated were promoted to buck sergeant with corporal stripes and flew bombers overseas; the majority that didn’t were shipped to gunnery school and general infantry – the battlefield frontlines.

Today, the graduate students in T-6’s art studios don’t flunk that easily, and they don’t spend just six weeks there, either. In fact, some art majors typically spend years there sculpting clay. The U-shaped tables are gone, but in their place are clay-covered craftsman’s tables, ceramic pots, a printing press and even an FAU student organization devoted to ham radios.

T-5 and T-6’s current tenants might not be testing top-secret radar equipment, but what they are doing is just as interesting in these private nooks just north of the Boca campus.


The Man with the MemorabiliaHe’s clad in a forest-green Totenkopf SS military uniform, a Nazi swastika armband proudly displayed around his left elbow. A gold partisan combat badge dangles from his right breast pocket, while a German MP-40 submachine gun hangs limply at his side. His field hat just partially conceals a blank stare. It also partially conceals his Styrofoam ears, nose, mouth and chin.

Yes, the uniformed German soldier is actually a mannequin. He might not be, well, authentic, but the gear he’s sporting sure is. It belongs to Martin Cohen’s World War II and Holocaust memorabilia collection, a trove of rare artifacts he’s amassed over the last 65 years.

The 78-year-old’s excited because, within a few years, the T-5 “temporary” building could be retrofitted to shelter a spanking new museum filled with Cohen’s collectibles. His gas masks, rifles, uniforms, ceremonial daggers, samurai sword, helmets and war documents would finally have a new home. The reason?

“From our very first [T-Building] advisory committee hearing, we wanted to create a sort of linkage between the standing T-Buildings,” says Lynn Laurenti, a Boca Raton Army Air Field preservation society member. She’s talking about a proposed memorial walkway and a “historical trolley tour” leading from T-5 to T-6, T-10 and T-11. “T-5 is unoccupied right now, and has a courtyard enclosure behind it that makes it ideal for a museum.”

Since T-5 was once a radar classroom for Army Air Corp cadets in the 1940s, it seemed natural to Cohen that remnants of World War II should survive in the building. And, of course, anything was better than running private “museum” tours from a two-bedroom condo in his retirement community.

“I was lucky,” says Cohen. “An empty condo opened up right next to my house, so I relocated everything there. Now it’s tastefully laid out.”

But not tasteful enough. So, when Laurenti and University Architect Tom Donaudy pitched the T-5 idea to him five years ago, he bit.

“I have one of the finest small collections you ever could see,” says Cohen. “These relics should commemorate all the veterans who served during the war, but it needs a public venue.”

Cohen might need to wait a while, though. After historical architect Susan McClellan completes her phase study of each T-Building, the Boca Raton Historical Society and BRAAF plan to apply for state preservation grants next summer to renovate T-5’s interior.


Sculpting a campus HidewayFiliz O’Brien taps the foot pedal and the electric throwing wheel roars to life. The wooden disc whirls at a blinding pace, the lump of moistened gray clay wobbling with each revolution. Dripping wet hands fondle the clay around its base, gently pushing up and inward, until the lump turns cylindrical. The foot pedal is tapped to adjust velocity.

Eventually, it’ll become a tea kettle stem that O’Brien, a senior ceramics major, is sculpting for her Bachelor of Fine Arts show. She shares this art studio in “temporary” building T-6 with four non-degree-seeking adults, three graduate students and two undergrads – all of whom are Potters’ Guild members. But strangely enough, O’Brien says she’s never overcrowded.

“We have plenty of space for studio graduates, which is great because ceramics is a huge program,” says O’Brien. She’s right- six cavernous rooms are stocked wall-to-wall with shelves of fresh clay, greenware and glazed pottery; the clay’s powdery residue even covers tabletops and TVs.

“It’s our home. We come here for quiet,” says 88-year-old graduate art student Newton Oshinsky. “Instead of going to a nursing home, drooling from the mouth and watching TV, I come here and from start to finish I sculpt.”

This modest seclusion could change soon, as university officials are now targeting its sister building, T-5, for a “museum” installation sometime next year or in 2010. Officials have even hinted that T-6 tenants should relocate their facilities to T-10.

“Over there, there’s really no studio space for our large program,” says first-year grad art student Bethany Cohen. “I’ve seen the rooms. They’re one-quarter the size we have in this building. You can’t relocate all the hazardous chemicals and glazes and high-fire kilns to a building that isn’t safety-rated to accommodate them.”

And that’s the biggest danger about relocating the Potters’ Guild, reckons Evan Crowley: those three electric kilns sturdy enough to withstand baking temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit – about twice as hot as molten lava.

“They’re not exactly Easy-Bake Ovens,” adds Cohen.

Crowley, a 25-year-old graduate art student, says each electric kiln near T-10 would need a new concrete base to prevent fire hazards and a new awning for rain protection.

“If we had no electric kilns [near T-10], it would make life much more difficult for us,” says Crowley. “We’re talking staying-up-three-whole-nights-without-sleep-firing-your-clay difficult. At the bare minimum, we would need those kilns.”

University Architect Tom Donaudy, who’s spearheading the renovation, assures graduate students that should T-5 ever be retrofitted for a museum, they won’t be burdened.

“We’ll make sure [the T-5 renovation] doesn’t disrupt their coursework or prevent them from finishing their graduate work,” says Donaudy. “The facilities they’ll be moving into, I think, will actually be better than the ones they’re in now. No student in T-6 should have any complications about the move.”

O’Brien disagrees.

“We’re very lucky to have what we have here,” O’Brien says. “All of our space is being used right now. Why would we sacrifice it for something smaller?”

Not-so-Hot off the PressArthur Jaffe’s bookbinding class might not be a for-credit FAU course, but at least it had an entire building wing devoted to it.

But last year, a combination of roofing repairs and poor common sense forced the 87-year-old World War II veteran to relocate his classroom in the T-6 “temporary” building to a cramped nook on the Wimberly Library’s third floor.

After President Frank Brogan earmarked $300,000 to repair the roofs of T-6, T-10 and T-11, Jaffe never expected his class was in jeopardy. It was.

“Some idiot workers forgot to leave a tarp on [last April] while they were reroofing, so it rained inside, the roof caved in and it almost ruined a lot of our equipment,” says Jaffe.

That equipment included an old-fashioned printing press.

And this wasn’t the first time Jaffe’s extracurricular course had been threatened. Six years earlier, former FAU president Anthony Catanese planned to demolish every T-Building in sight. Catanese almost succeeded, but Jaffe’s efforts prevailed.

“My job was to convince the authorities on campus to preserve the T-Buildings. My argument was, ‘We teach handmade papermaking here; if you tear T-6 down, you’ll have to build a new [facility] for us,'” says Jaffe, a Boca Raton Army Air Force preservation society member.

Jaffe’s challenge, among other reasons, sparked interest from Boca Raton Historical Society archivist Susan Gillis and local author Sally Ling to form BRAAF. BRAAF also gained support from World War II veterans and historians nationwide. In 2004, Jaffe even coerced FAU to form its own T-Building Advisory Council.

Today, roofing repairs are complete, but Jaffe is complaining of leakages in his T-6 wing.

“It seems like repairs are far from finished. I sent a plan to [T-Building Planning Committee chair] Azita Dashtaki, but haven’t gotten a response yet,” adds Jaffe. “It’s not safe to have a class in that building yet.”

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