Remember When… This landmark was Miami’s Ellis Island?

WHAT IT IS: The Freedom Tower in Downtown Miami.

THE HISTORY: The tower’s architecture was inspired by Spanish and Mediterranean architecture, like most of Coral Gables. It opened in 1925 as the headquarters of the now-defunct Miami News newspaper. Standing 17 stories high, it continues to stand out even as Biscayne Boulevard and Downtown Miami develop.

SHIFTING ROLES: The tower remained the headquarters for the Miami News until the paper relocated to a new building on the Miami River in 1957. It sat pretty much unused until the federal government stepped in in 1962.

THE GOVERNMENT’S ROLE: In 1962 the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, which provided additional funding and government programs for refugees, became official. It was meant to help people fleeing political or religious persecution and to provide “urgent need of assistance for the essentials of life.” The act opened the doors to a huge number of Cubans who fled to Miami during the Cuban Revolution and in its aftermath.

“ELLIS ISLAND OF THE SOUTH”: The government established the Cuban Assistance Center on the first four floors of the tower and changed the name from the Miami News Tower to The Freedom Tower. Cuban immigrants came to know the tower, where thousands received help transitioning into American life, as “El Refugio.” It’s remained a symbol of hope for decades and is basically the 305’s own Statue of Liberty.

THE TOWER TODAY: The tower is now a U.S. National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. But it’s not frozen in time. Miami-Dade College utilizes the space for programming and it’s served as an event space for the Miami International Film Festival. And the school’s newly renovated Museum of Art + Design is also housed in the iconic building.

Stay tuned for more semi-regular pieces of Miami history. Are there other overlooked or lesser-known Miami history tidbits you want us to share? Let us know in the comments.