Reviving Miami's "Ellis Island"

March 01, 2001 |

Just as New York's Ellis Island marked the symbol of freedom for millions of immigrants from Europe, Miami's Freedom Tower did the same for hundreds of thousands of refugees from Cuba. The 16-story stucco tower is now being restored and adapted as a museum honoring the refugees.

Constructed in 1925 as offices for the Miami News & Metropolis, the city's first daily newspaper, the tower was taken over by the U.S. General Services Administration in 1962, where it served as the processing center for nearly 400,000 Cuban refugees until 1974. It was then sold to a commercial venture.

In late 1997, after several failed commercial efforts, Cuban-American businessman Jorge Mas Canosa purchased Freedom Tower for $4.1 million and vowed to preserve the structure. The project will be completed this fall.

The structural integrity of the building is one of the biggest concerns. Primitive concrete construction combined with region's saltwater air had caused the concrete columns, beams and soffits to delaminate, spall and crack.

To repair the components, the deteriorated concrete was removed to expose the reinforcing steel for cleaning and repair. Replacement concrete was then pumped into formwork and cured for 28 days.

Structural repairs now complete, renovation of the interior is under way. The first four floors will house the museum and the upper floors will be offices.

Capping off the project will be the restoration of the cupola and its beacon light-so Freedom Tower can once again keep watch over Miami Bay.

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