Miami Dade College’s Freedom Tower
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.
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.
- Miami Dade College Cultural Affairs Department
- Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives
- 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.