Miami Dade College gives iconic tower a facelift
By Marilyn Bowden
Renovations to downtown's Freedom Tower are bringing it up to the standards required of a National Historic Landmark and preparing it for its new role as a cultural and educational center.
The 255-foot tower's cupola and weathervane, which recent hurricanes had bent, were reinforced and reinstalled last year, said Juan Mendieta, a spokesperson for Miami Dade College, the tower's present owner.
In 2009, a 40-foot mural depicting an encounter between Juan Ponce de Leon and a Tequesta Indian chief superimposed on a map of the New World was also restored.
"Now renovations have moved to the weatherization phase," Mr. Mendieta said. "They've replaced most windows with code-compliant hurricane windows and are also working on the façade — patching up holes and preventing water damage."
The repairs, which will come to about half a million dollars, are funded by the Department of the Interior, the federal agency that designated tower a National Historic Landmark in October 2008, he said. They're slated for completion in May or June, just before hurricane season.
The tower, at 600 Biscayne Blvd., was completed in 1925 and first served as home of the Miami News. The paper eventually moved to a new building, and the tower stood empty a few years until it took on a pivotal new role in Miami's history.
"After the new Lyndon Johnson administration negotiated with Castro, what the Americans called the "Freedom Flights' began in December1965," historian Arva Moore Parks wrote in "Miami: The Magic City."
"They consisted of two flights a day, sponsored by the US government. Before they ended in 1973, the 3,048 flights brought more than 150,000 Cubans.
"The often traumatized newcomers lined up at the old Miami News Tower, renamed The Freedom Tower, to be processed."
For the next few decades, the property passed through several owners. In the late 1990s, Jorge Mas Canosa, founder of the Cuban American National Foundation, bought it and made it a memorial to the Cuban exodus.
Pedro Martin's Terra Group donated it in 2008 to Miami Dade College, whose Wolfson Campus abuts the property.
"We are very proud to serve as stewards of Miami's landmark building," Mr. Mendieta said.
"We are currently using it for major art exhibitions and major events. The college's 50th anniversary gala was held there. It has a large and magnificent gallery space, where we have exhibited works by artists such as Goya, Dali and DaVinci."
At the end of this month, he said, Madeleine Albright, President Clinton's secretary of state during his second term, will bring an exhibition of her famous collection of pins, called "Read My Pins," to Freedom Tower, where it will be on public view from Feb. 24-April 30.
"Moving forward," Mr. Mendieta said, "plans are to offer more educational events on the tower's history, both in honor of the free press and also in honor of immigration."
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