Eight decades ago, while he was seeding a vision that would eventually grow into Opa-locka, developer Glenn Curtiss imagined "the most perfect city that planning and engineering could achieve, and the most beautiful that the art of man could conceive." That dream was deferred by the hurricane of 1926 and the Depression, but even so, Opa-locka today boasts a dreamlike quality: It's surreal.
The city is a place of ornate pseudo-Arabian architecture (designed in the Twenties by Bernhardt Muller), well-kept middle-class houses, and crime-infested back streets (police recently resorted to using an armored military-type vehicle to make drug busts in the middle of a Monday afternoon). It's a place of great tradition and lightning change (Opa-locka had three different city managers during one week this month). It's a place, in other words, to celebrate.
The present festivities, a three-day affair called the Arabian Nights Festival, begin Friday and include a variety of events full of contrasts befitting the strange burg. The live entertainment, for example, ranges from easygoing oldies by the Chi-Lites and the Intruders to the gospel power of the Mighty Clouds of Joy and the traditional Beale Street blues of Bobby "Blue" Bland. Plus reggae, salsa, calypso, hip-hop, and dance acts.
As anomalistic as its subject matter, a historical trolley tour revealing details about the town's famous minaret- and dome-graced buildings (inspired not by Moorish architecture but by the fantasy of One Thousand and One Tales from the Arabian Nights) will have a police escort. "Why not?" chuckles Jack Blakely, who will guide the tours. He says the city suffers only from a "perception of a crime problem." He's more interested in talking about the 30 or so historical sites, the outlandish architecture, and the airport (home to a blimp during World War II). All will be covered by his tours, slated for 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. Sunday.
Variety means abundance, and Opa-locka's festival is brimming with attractions. Along with the music and history, there'll be a parade, orations, student competitions, a youth talent show, role-model awards, a cook-off, carnival rides, a golf tournament, and an appearance by the Miami Heat Extreme Team. And of course, food. Vendors will offer a bounty of munchies, including barbecue, crabs, fritters, and chicken wings.
The best and brightest of Opa-locka also will be on hand, an important fact to Donner Valle, a Carol City High student who won the poster design competition with his complex pastel and colored-pencil work. "It's like a party or parade," he says of the rendering, "but it's about history and tradition." Much like the revelry itself.
-- Greg Baker
The 73rd Annual Arabian Nights Festival begins at 6:00 p.m. Friday, April 30, and runs through Sunday, May 2, at the north side of Opa-locka City Hall at Sherbondy Park, NW 27th Avenue and 135th Street. Admission is free. Call 305-754-4619.