Deemed as a symbol of the Cuban people immigrating to the USA in the 60s and 70s, the Freedom Tower in Miami is one of the most recognizable historic symbols in this area. It is situated right across the street from the American Airlines Arena, the home of the Miami Heat, near the coast of Biscayne Bay. Its incredible design is still one of the most significant historic landmarks in Miami and is an important part of the Miami skyline.
Establishing and the First Use of the Miami Freedom Tower
The tower was designed by George A. Fuller and the architectural company Schultze & Weaver. It is designed and built in a Renaissance-style with intricate top. The architect found inspiration from the Giralda Bell Tower, a part of the Seville Cathedral in Seville, Spain.
The whole structure reaches 17 stories high. The main building has six stories and the tower has 11 stories, which was an amazing feat of engineering and architecture back in 1925. The building offers a little over 82,000 square feet of usable space and features some amazing details. The main doors are heavy oak with wrought iron balcony railings and other beautiful embellishments. The Spanish-Italian-Moor influences are evident, with cherubs, Corinthian pillars, and domed cupola. Throughout the years, this building was known as the Miami Daily News Tower and was later renamed as the Freedom Tower.
Initially, the building was commissioned by James M. Cox, who became the owner of the Miami Daily News and Metropolis (now Miami News). The construction began in 1923, and the building opened in 1925, serving as the headquarters and printing line for the Miami News. It served this function up to 1957 when it was abandoned and left unused.
Consecutive Use and Renaming The Tower
It was a little later, in 1962 when the USA saw an influx of Cuban refugees that were fleeing the Castro regime. The building was leased by the US Government and was used as a processing center for the vast majority of Cuban immigrants that fled the Castro regime in Cuba.
Since Castro came to power in Cuba and started enforcing the communist regime, many Cuban people felt threatened and left the country. Many of the upper and middle-class Cubans thought that Castro’s reign will soon fall, and they left without any possessions, thinking they will soon get back home. But this did not happen as planned, and it was close to 650,000 Cuban residents that left Cuba for the USA by the 1970s.
The people boarded the so-called “Freedom Flights” that flew twice a day from Havana to Miami. This was not the only way Cubans came to the USA, as many came by boat or even homemade rafts. The proximity of Miami to Cuba is what has led the Cuban people to come to the USA through this route. But this posed a serious problem for the US Immigration Services that were inundated with a large number of immigrants. Their normal offices could not accommodate the large number of people that needed to be processed and evidenced.
“El Refugio” for Cuban People
Thus, in 1962, the General Service Administration, part of the US Immigration Services, leased several floors of the Miami News Tower to accommodate the Cuban Assistance Center. The Cuban Center offered everything the Cuban refugees needed to get initially settled in the USA. There were processing services where people were evidenced and could also learn about any relatives living in the USA. There were basic medical and dental services checking the health condition of the people.
The Cuban Center also provided relief aid in the form of food, medical examinations, and even financial assistance. The people were interviewed here and their skills were noted, as well as their needs. Each person was given an identification card.
The Miami News Tower soon became a symbol for many Cuban people, who after losing everything to a brutal regime, found new life in the USA. What the Ellis Island represented for European refugees, the Miami News Tower represented for the 650K+ Cubans that came to the USA from 1962 to 1974, when the Cuban Assistance Program and Center closed down.
Since many Cubans found their freedom here, and the Cuban Assistance Center was the first welcoming step in their journey, the tower was renamed as the Freedom Tower. The Freedom Tower was sold to various owners throughout the years and was left to decay for a long time. It was in 1997 when the building was bought by Jorge Mas Canosa, the founder of the Cuban-American National Foundation.
The Canosa family saw that the building was restored to its formal glory and sold it to the Pedro Martin family. This powerful Cuban-American family finished the restoration and donated the building to the Miami Dade College. This college is the largest higher education institution that caters to the Hispanic-American community, and it is quite poetic for the Freedom Tower to be used by the Miami Dade College. In 2008 the Tower was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
The Future of the Freedom Tower
Today, the building is a part of the Wolfson Campus as a part of the Miami Dade College. It houses the gallery and several exhibition spaces, and it also houses the MDC Museum of Art + Design, as well as the Miami International Film Festival and the MCD Live Arts.
The Freedom Tower has slowly transitioned into a fully-operational cultural center in Downtown Miami, and in 2014 it welcomed the opening of the Cuban Exile Experience & Cuban Diaspora Cultural Legacy Gallery. It will continue to stand the test of time and bear witness to the suffering of a people and symbolize their way into freedom.