Miami Icons: The Freedom Tower Welcomed Cubans to America
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.
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.
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