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Aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss built the planned community of Opa-locka in 1926. The effort was inspired by the movie One Thousand and One Nights.

The area was originally named by the Native Americans “Opa-tisha-wocka-locka” meaning “a big island covered with many  trees and swamps” but the name was quickly shorten to Opa-locka.  The City was developed based on the Arabian Nights theme which is evident by the large collection of Moorish architecture throughout the city and with street names like Sabur, Sultan, Ali Baba, Sharazad, Aladdin and Sesame.  Mr. Curtiss and architect, Bernhardt Muller, built 105 buildings with an array of domes, minarets and outside staircases. By the time Mr. Curtiss completed his vision for Opa-locka he had built a self-contained city with a hotel, zoo park, golf course, archery club, swimming pool, airport, and train station.

The September 1926 hurricane badly damaged the City, destroying many of the structures, but the surviving Moorish style buildings continue to give Opa-locka its unique appearance. Opa-locka currently has twenty buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The U.S. Navy opened a base at the Opa-locka Airport shortly after the hurricane which allowed the City to thrive after the hurricane but the base closed in the 1950s. The City experienced a decline, and was  labeled a "struggling community" in South Florida. Despite the challenges, the City has regained the spirit it was founded with in 1926. Under the direction of Mayor Joseph Kelly, city officials have vowed to turn the city around by focusing on crime prevention, cleaning up the city and maintaining financial stability. This drive has generated an increased sense of community, pride among Opa-locka residents and a major drop in crime. In keeping with that vow and to advance community pride, the city became the first community in the United States to commemorate the first African-American President of the United States by renaming a mile-long section of Perviz Avenue from Oriental Boulevard to Ali-Baba Avenue, Barack Obama Avenue on February 17, 2009.

In addition to the unique buildings, Opa-locka has a large general aviation airport, three parks, two lakes and a railroad station which is currently the tri-rail station. The City is comprised of a mixture of residential, commercial and industrial zones. Despite its limited resources, the City was the backdrop for the making of movies such as Texas Justice, Bad Boyz II and 2 Fast 2 Furious.