The Freedom Tower is a seventeen-story Renaissance style building with Spanish Baroque embellishments. Constructed in 1925, it served as the headquarters of the Miami News & Metropolis newspaper for over twenty-five years. In 1962, it was acquired by the United States government and used as a processing center for Cuban immigrants. During this period, the Freedom Tower acquired the moniker “Ellis Island of the South” and became an iconic representation of the aid offered to Cubans fleeing the dictatorship of Fidel Castro. After the government ceased using the building in 1974, it languished before being restored in 1987. Today, the Freedom Tower serves as the site of Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design.
Backstory and Context
The Freedom Tower is located in the heart of Miami, Florida. The seventeen-story building was inspired based on the design of the Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain. The Freedom Tower is blocky, with a three-story concrete base giving rise to a central steel-reinforced tower. Both the base and the tower are plastered with pink stucco. The stucco remains visible in many places but is offset by a generous coat of yellow paint. A two-story cupola caps the Tower. Windows are placed regularly throughout the structure and reflect a strong sense of symmetry. Due to the Spanish influence on the Tower’s design, the entrance and top of the structure display an abundance of detailing. However, most of the structure is relatively plain, with simple flat surfaces and the dichromatic pallet of pink and yellow used. The overall style of the structure resembles Renaissance building, though the artistic flourishes are clearly Spanish Baroque in nature.
In 1924, James M. Cox, owner of the Miami Daily News and Metropolis, approached the New York architectural firm of Schultze and Weaver. Schultze and Weaver had already established themselves as architects famous for creating Grand Central Station and Biltmore hotels across the country, in addition to many other projects. George A. Fuller was awarded the contract for construction and John B. Orr supervised the architectural details. The building cost $2 million – over $30 million adjusted for inflation. Construction began in winter of 1924 and was completed by Summer of 1925. Cox also commissioned a large tapestry for the building. The textile depicts Ponce de Leon and the Tequesta chief meeting before maps of the new and old worlds. Additionally, the tapestry includes a poem created by poet laureate Edwin Markham, famous for writing the Lincoln Memorial address.
To commemorate their new place of operations, the Miami Daily News printed the largest newspaper ever printed up to that point in 1925. It included 504 pages and weighed seven and a half pounds. The newspaper continued to operate from the Freedom Tower until 1957, when the Miami Daily News and Metropolis Company moved to a different building. The Tower sat empty for about five years before the United States Government took over the management of the building and turned it into a refugee center for Cuban immigrants fleeing Cuba. During the dictatorship of Fidel Castro, Cubans wanting to flee chose Miami due to its close proximity to Cuba. Many Cubans hoped that one day they would be able to return to Cuba. During this time, President John F Kennedy and his administration put together the Migration and Refugee Act of 1962. This act authorized the assistance to the many Cubans coming into the United States escaping Fidel Castro's dictatorship. This earned the Freedom Tower the moniker, “Ellis Island of the South.”
Under Castro's dictatorship, Cubans faced imprisonment, violence, fear, and even death. Leaving everything behind, a mass exodus of Cubans entered the United States when President John F. Kennedy enabled the Migration and Refugee Act of 1962. By the end of 1960, approximately 40,000 Cuban immigrants had fled to the United States. From 1965 to 1973, thousands more Cubans poured into the United States. Many Cubans began to come in what was called Freedom Flights. These flights would bring Cuban immigrants from Cuba to the U.S for a fair price. These flights brought over 175,000 more Cuban immigrants to the U.S. The Freedom tower served as a turning point for many Cuban refugees. Refugees began to slowly rebuild their lives from scratch. The Freedom Tower assisted immigrants in doing so by providing the tools and resources necessary. The U.S government spent about $957 million on food programs, medical clinics and financial relief programs for Cuban immigrants. In 1974, the U.S government began phasing out the Cuban Assistance Program before ending it later that year.
For many years, the Freedom Tower sat abandoned and was allowed to decay. Vandals destroyed large amounts of the architectural details. In 1987, a restoration project restored the building to its former glory. During this project, the remains of the tapestry commissioned by Cox were rediscovered. Unfortunately, the tapestry was beyond conservation efforts, so a new replica mural was created by a group known as the Miami Artisans. The Freedom Tower changed hands several more times over the next two decades. Today, the Freedom Tower is owned by Miami Dade College. They acquired the structure in 2005, when Pedro Martin, an immigrant himself, bought and donated the Tower. The building is now host to Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design. There is discussion about creating a Cuban American Historical Museum in building in the near future. As a symbol of hope and freedom, the Freedom Tower remains a national monument of the many Cuban immigrants who immigrated to the United States.
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