Up next on historic places to discover in Florida is Freedom Tower, which is in Miami just like Cape Florida. It was the city’s first skyscraper and later became an icon of liberty. Welcome to Florida Time, a weekly column about Florida history.
Ohio Gov. James Cox ran for president as a Democrat in 1920. His running mate was then New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt. Gov. James Cox lost to Warren G. Harding. and then bought the Miami Metropolis, the city's first newspaper. He renamed it The Miami Daily News.
For his paper's headquarters, he hired famed architects Schultze and Weaver of New York. The 65,000-square-foot structure on Biscayne Boulevard was completed in 1925.
To celebrate its new building and the city's 29th anniversary, The Miami News published a commemorative 22-section, 504-page edition on July 26, 1925. It weighed 7½ pounds; at the time it was the fattest newspaper in world history.
The 17-story news tower inspired by the 15th century Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain, stood out on the skyline of fledgling Miami, visible to ships six miles at sea. In its opulent lobby, a chandelier encircled a globe, representing the newspaper's ties to the world through the telegraph. Illustrations on elevator doors showed symbols of newspapers and the pioneer days of printing.
But the News moved out in 1957 and the building stood dormant for five years.
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Enter Fidel Castro. After Castro took over Cuba in 1959, thousands fled for Florida. In July 1962, the federal government, facing overwhelming numbers of refugees, leased the four main floors of the empty building for what it called the Cuban Refugee Center. Later, it got a new name: Freedom Tower.
Over the next 12 years, 650,000 refugees passed through its doors. The U.S. Department of the Interior even dubbed the building the "Ellis Island of the South."
Castro stopped the Cuban airlift in April 1973 and the center shut down again the following year.
It was empty for another 14 years, even as other parts of downtown were rejuvenated in the booming 1980s. Critics dubbed the lonely edifice “The Dowager of the Boulevard.'' Rescue schemes came and went.
Read more Florida history: Here are Florida’s top 25 stories of all time
In 1976, Cuban refugees started a campaign to raise $2 million to buy the building for a cultural and trade center. Nothing came of it. Another group wanted to turn the building into a Trade Mart. The government worried about the safety of the building because homeless people were living in it and building fires.
But the tower had a chance at a new life. With great fanfare, a Saudi sheik who had paid $8.7 million for the building kicked off a renovation that would cost $12 million. The project stalled after only a few months of work. Later, the family of Cuban refugee leader Jorge Mas Canosa bought it. Canosa, who died in 1997, had hoped to make it a museum.
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It was sold again in 2004 to the Pedro Martin family, who then donated it to Miami-Dade Community College. The school, which already had a downtown campus just a few blocks away, expressed an interest in making it a school of the arts but couldn't meet the asking price.
The college established a Museum of Art and Design along with a 15,000 square foot space on the second floor, and moved the administrative offices of Miami International Film Festival and MDC Live Arts into the building. In 2014, it opened a Cuban Exile Experience & Cuban Diaspora Cultural Legacy Gallery.
If you go:
What: Freedom Tower
Where: 600 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33132
If you’re interested in visiting The Museum of Art and Design specifically, it is at Miami Dade College, which is located inside of the Freedom Tower:
When: 1 - 6 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; and 1 - 8 p.m. Thursdays
Cost: $12 general, $8 senior and military, $5 students and professors, children under 12 enter free. MDC students, faculty and staff enter free. Ticketed events vary in price.
Next week: Hamilton Disston
Last week: This famous novelist died broke in a Fort Pierce nursing home
From a reader: Eliot, thank you for the newsletter on Zora Neale Hurston. My mother fell in love with Zora back in the early fifties. Ted Pratt told my mother that Zora was working as a maid on Miami Beach and lecturing at the Miami Public Library. My mother bemoaned the fact that she missed the lecture and just missed meeting Zora. One of the happy additions to Zora stories came from a conversation with Beanie Backus. I asked him after Alice Walker’s article if Zora died unknown and destitute. Beanie said “Hell no. She joined us every Sunday and when she had any money she spent it.” I consider Beanie and Zora Florida’s very best. While Ft. Pierce might not seem to be the cultural capital of Florida, I can’t think of any two people I’d rather be with at a Sunday party than Zora and Beanie. - Maggie H., Miami
Eliot Kleinberg has been a staff writer for the past three decades at The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, and is the author of 10 books about Florida (www.ekfla.com). Florida Time is a product of GateHouse Media and publishes online in their 22 Florida markets including Jacksonville, Fort Walton Beach, Daytona Beach, Lakeland, Sarasota and West Palm Beach. Submit your questions, comments or memories to FloridaTime@Gatehousemedia.com. Include your full name and hometown. Sorry; no personal replies.