Freedom Tower, Tower of Hope

Miami Dade College

Miami Dade College’s Freedom Tower

Today the Freedom Tower houses the best of Miami's Arts and Culture.
Freedom Tower is home of the premier cultural programs at Miami Dade College: Miami Book Fair, Miami Film Festival, MDC Live Arts, the Museum of Art and Design, and the Cuban Diaspora Cultural Legacy Gallery, and opening in 2018, The Kislak Gallery of Exploration and Discovery.

The Miami Daily News Tower opened on July 26, 1926. The building, designed by Schultze & Weaver was inspired by the Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain.

Construction of the building that would become the Freedom Tower began on June 11, 1924. Former Ohio governor James M. Cox purchased the Miami Daily News and Metropolis (Miami News) in 1923 during a thriving economic period in Florida and commissioned the construction of the building for use as the newspaper’s headquarters and printing facility.

The Miami News utilized the building until its 1957 move to a new facility.

Shortly after Fidel Castro’s Revolution took over Cuba in 1959, his regime made significant policy changes nationalizing large tracts of agricultural land, seizing private businesses to be ran by the Cuban government and aligning himself with the Soviet version of Communism.

Fear of imprisonment, violence, or worse, resulted in a mass exodus of the Cuban people.

Because of the large waves of Cuban refugees in such a short period of time, the U.S. government needed to provide assistance to ensure that the exiles could successfully resettle and start new lives in the U.S.

As more and more Cuban exiles arrived in Florida, several assistance centers opened in Miami and other cities.

Enacted during President John F. Kennedy’s administration, the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 authorized assistance to the large number of Cubans seeking political asylum.

On July 1, 1962 the U.S. government began the lease of the first 4 floors of the Miami News Tower for the Cuban Assistance Center.

The Center, called by Cubans "El Refugio" and eventually known as Freedom Tower, offered health care, housing, finances, and education services.

The Cuban Assistance program provided in-processing services, basic medical and dental care, records on relatives already in the U.S., and relief aid for those starting a new life with nothing.

Refugees were given identification cards and received goods like cloths and food. Federal funds were also distributed for financial assistance.

Miami Dade College's Freedom Tower is considered the “Ellis Island of the South” for its role from 1962 through 1974 as the Cuban Assistance Center, offering nationally sanctioned relief to the Cuban refugees who sought political asylum from the regime of Fidel Castro.

For thousands of Cuban refugees, the Freedom Tower was a turning point in their lives. Here they began the slow process of rebuilding their lives.

The employees at the Cuban Assistance Center were often Cuban themselves and understood their struggles and fears of resettling in a new country with and unknown language.

By 1974 the U.S. began phasing out the program and closed operations at the Freedom Tower.

More than 640,000 Cuban refugees came to the U.S. between 1959 and 1974. The Federal Government spent $957 million dollars on the Cuban Refugee Program.

After the U.S. government closed operations at the Freedom Tower in 1974, the building sat abandoned. Vagrants and vandalism destroyed much of the architectural embellishments.

The Freedom Tower languished abandoned for more than a decade as the expensive renovation costs keep investors away.

The building was bought and sold many times in the coming years.

Community activists came together to protect the building from been overthrown by developers and to have it declared a historic site.

Legal battles ensue over the future of the Freedom Tower.

To many, the building has national historic value as it illustrates the important story of the Cuban exodus to the United States and resettlement during the Cold War.

In the eighties, various developers tried to build a commercial property around the iconic facility.

One project, led by developer Ron Fine, promised to preserve the original tower and build behind it a 69 story office and hotel complex.

Ownership of the Tower transfers hands a few times more.

In the late 80s, the building is bought by Zaminco International, a Saudi Arabian consortium with plans for a luxury office building and banquet hall.

The first major renovation of the iconic tower begins under the ownership of the Saudi Arabian conglomerate.

The building was acquired in 1997 by Jorge Mas Canosa, the founder and leader of the powerful Cuban American National Foundation.

Although Jorge Mas Canosa passed away only two months after purchasing Freedom Tower, his family continued his plans for restoration and later sold it in 2001 to another Cuban family, the Pedro Martin family.

A symbol of hope to hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles, the Freedom Tower honored singer and Cuban music legend Celia Cruz after her death on July 16, 2003.

Tens of thousands of mourners lined the streets of Miami to enter the Tower and pay their respects to the salsa legend.

Freedom Tower was donated to Miami Dade College in November of 2005.

The building earns the much-deserved designation as a National Historic Landmark in 2008.

In 2012 Miami Dade College established the MDC Museum of Art and Design, a 15,000 square foot exhibition space on the second floor of the Freedom Tower.

That same year, 2012, MDC relocates administrative offices of Miami Book Fair, Miami Film Festival, and MDC Live Arts to Freedom Tower to form a fully operational cultural center in Downtown Miami.

The New World Mural adorning the walls of the Freedom Tower`s mezzanine level was painted by The Miami Artisans in 1987.
The mural is a recreation of an original tapestry from the 1920’s that had decayed over the course of the century.

Miami Dade College's Freedom Tower's magnificent façade is illuminated nightly, sometimes to honor and celebrate causes that represents the democratic values the institution stands on.

In this image Freedom Tower stands in red, white and blue, the colors of the French flag to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015.

MDC’s President Eduardo Padrón, second from right, with the Miami Dolphins mascot “TD” and former players Larry Little, MDC alumnus Nat Moore and Joe Rose illuminate MDC’s National Historic landmark Freedom Tower in Dolphins team colors - aqua and orange – to help kick-off the 2013 season.

2017- Miami Dade College's Freedom Tower is illuminated in support of LGBT pride and in memory of the victims killed at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando during the worst mass shooting in U.S. history on June 12, 2016.

MDC's Freedom Tower stands today as one of the most impressive landmarks on the Miami skyline, is the first downtown building visitors see as they sail into the port.

Miami Dade College's Freedom Tower is the single most important physical manifestation of the Cuban exodus experience and it stands tall as a symbol of hope and freedom, and the firm belief that democracy should be available to all who fight against tyranny and oppression.

Though it operated as an immigration processing center for only 12 years, Freedom Tower became an icon representing the faith that democracy brought to troubles lives, the generosity of the American people and a hopeful beginning that assured thousands a new life in a new land.

Miami Dade College’s Freedom Tower is testament of the College’s commitment to preserve historic buildings and landmarks, its impact as the community’s cultural forerunner and its tradition as the region’s greatest catalyst of the richest and most diverse cultural programming.

Miami Dade College's Freedom Tower
Credits: Story

- Miami Dade College Cultural Affairs Department
- Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives

Additional Sources:
- U.S. Department of the Interior
- City of Miami’s History Preservation archives
- National Park Services

Special thanks to:
Dr. Paul S. George. Professor, History,
Miami Dade College Department of Social Sciences.
Resident Historian, HistoryMiami.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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