Miami Icons: The Freedom Tower Welcomed Cubans to America

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Photos by Karli Evans
San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. St. Louis has the Arch. Las Vegas has its retro welcome sign. It seems like every city has an iconic structure to represent itself to the rest of the world. Every city but Miami, that is. The Magic City is full of architectural gems, and maybe that's why no one building has come to define it. But that's left this town without a symbol of its own. In our Miami Icons series, we're aiming to fix that. Today, writer Rich Robinson argues that the Freedom Tower represents the best of Miami's history and culture.

The Freedom Tower in downtown Miami deserves to become the global symbol of our fair city. Its history mirrors that of Miami itself: built during the real estate bubble of the 1920s, offering help to Cuban refugees in the 1960s, and contributing to today's cultural renaissance. It sits in the center of downtown, along the main vein of Biscayne Boulevard, like Miami's own beating heart.

Sprouting up around the growing dearth of skyscrapers in Downtown, the building seems out of place, a reminder of how far Miami has come.

But to fully understand why the Freedom Tower is the perfect candidate to be the future icon of Miami, you have to look back into the past.

The early 1960s were dark years for Cuban-Americans and for Miami. Fidel Castro's rise to power was complete, and his grip on the beautiful island nation was total. President John F. Kennedy's administration failed dramatically to overthrow Castro in the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, and the world hinged on the brink of nuclear annihilation due to the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

With the reclamation of private property driving many Cubans into dire poverty, and political opponents of the Castro regime brutally silenced, Congress was compelled to act with the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act.

The law provided assistance to political refugees, especially to the flood of Cubans pouring into Miami. The government designated the old headquarters of the Miami Daily News and Metropolis newspaper as the place where newly arrived Cubans looked for help. In operation in that capacity for ten years, the building became known as the Freedom Tower.

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Built in 1925, the building is 17 stories tall, which made a major architectural statement in those days. It features striking elements that set it apart from other Miami buildings built in that era. If you've only seen the tower from Biscayne Boulevard, you might have missed details that the National Park Service describes: "oak main doors, a cast iron decorative transom, wrought iron balconies, Corinthian capitals on the columns, groined ceilings, and cast concrete cherubs."

The actual tower portion of the building was based on a famous structure in Spain, the Giralda tower of the Cathedral of Seville. The Giralda is actually an old minaret that was transformed into a church bell tower after Christians won back the territory from Muslim invaders. The Cathedral of Seville is also said to be the final resting place for Christopher Columbus.

Today, the Freedom Tower also stands for local arts and culture. It houses the gallery and headquarters of the headquarters of Miami-Dade College's Museum of Art + Design, as well as offices for the Miami International Film Festival, one of the biggest and most well-respected Latin film festivals in the world.

Miami deserves a symbol that respects its history and status as a place of new beginnings. The Freedom Tower is the perfect icon for the future of Miami - a city that embraces change, that has sheltered so many whose homes had been lost, and that continues to reach ever higher as it develops.

Previous Icons:
The Colony Hotel, Ocean Drive's Most Famous Art Deco Building

Send your story tips to Cultist at cultist@miaminewtimes.com.

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Location Info

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Freedom Tower

600 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL

Category: General


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27 comments
Sam Baum
Sam Baum

Joseph Mazon this building was also the home of the first newspaper in Miami and is currently a free museum and art gallery

Denise Marie
Denise Marie

If you are paid for your writing, be mighty sure of what (simple) words like "dearth" mean before you misuse them and completely undermine your efforts to write something of value. For shame.

Joseph Mazon
Joseph Mazon

Mmmmm, NO. A very bad idea to use this building as a symbol of Miami. While only a fool would deny the enormous contributions of Cuban Americans to the development of the City of Miami into what is practically the unofficial capital of Latin America and we all applaud the success of Cuban Americans in Miami, I believe that we need to look to the future , rather than the past for a symbol of Miami. And let us not forget the contributions of many, many other ethnicities and immigrants to this great city. Folks, its not in our NATURE as Miamians to place much stock in the past, we can barely be persuaded to support museums, let alone 'historic" buildings. So, let's remain true to our nature and keep on re-inventing ourselves, its one of the things that makes us who we are.

Valerio Nalon
Valerio Nalon

I know the history of this tower, a piece of memory of Miami

paul
paul

"Sprouting up around the growing dearth of skyscrapers in Downtown, the building seems out of place, a reminder of how far Miami has come."


Um, "dearth" means a LACK of something. The sentence above makes absolutely no sense, unless Downtown Miami is suddenly knocking down skyscrapers instead of adding them. Does New Times still employ copy editors? 

Heather Rogerson
Heather Rogerson

I would say No since I've lived here forever and have no clue what it is!

Ben Redman
Ben Redman

Yes it's the only beautiful building in our skyline

Marcelo Salup
Marcelo Salup

1. It should be. 2. I wish all Cubans would remember that tower when they are crying against deportation of a bunch of kids.

Russell Adams
Russell Adams

No!!! Hell No!!! In the 30's thru late 50's that newspaper building did not allow black people in there unless they were cleaning it in the evening time. It has to be a symbol of FREEDOM for all times and not when it appeared to help a few.

Dicky Bobby Perez
Dicky Bobby Perez

along with the Miami tower and the colony building in s beach

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