Downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale have museums. Why not Little Havana?
The colorful neighborhood will be the home of El Museo de Little Havana, which will highlight the history of the three-mile Miami neighborhood that has been a destination for generations of Cuban exiles and immigrant families from Central and South America.
Miami urban developer Barlington Group is working with the HistoryMiami Museum to build the 1,200-square-foot project at 1637 SW Eighth St., which is the current home of Futurama art gallery.
The museum, free to the public, is expected to open this winter and feature artifacts and photos from HistoryMiami to highlight the neighborhood’s cultural and political significance. Black-and-white images show people dining at Versailles Restaurant in the 1980s; classic cars rolling down Calle Ocho along the famous Tower Theater; and folks ordering coffee from a window counter.
Once a haven for farmers and a growing Jewish population, the district drew thousands of Cubans to the area in the 1950s, and the neighborhood eventually became known as Little Havana in the 1960s. They built homes and businesses, from funeral homes to restaurants, that still line the main drag on Southwest Eighth Street.
Paul George, resident historian at HistoryMiami, said the Cuban influx into the neighborhood “served as the lightning rod for Greater Miami’s emergence as an international city,” drawing millions of tourists to see the diversity of the district.
“Little Havana is now a major hot spot for locals and tourists from all over the country,” said Bill Fuller, managing partner of Barlington Group, in a release. The company’s tenants in the neighborhood include Azucar Ice Cream Co. and Ball and Chain bar.
In some ways, the neighborhood is already an outdoor museum. There’s Maximo Gomez Park, also known as “Domino Park,” where older Cubans play rounds of dominoes and chess daily. Lining Southwest Eighth Street is a walk of fame featuring famous Latin stars who are from Miami or have a connection to the area, such as singers Gloria Estefan and Enrique Iglesias. Tour buses regularly drop off tourists in the area to sample Cuban food and watch the tradition of cigar making. And tourists take selfies with giant figurines of roosters — often associated with Cuban culture — that decorate street corners and the entrances of businesses in Little Havana.
“The streets are bustling and drawing bigger crowds than ever before,” Fuller said. “Now is the perfect time to focus our energy on a museum showing the rich history and importance of Little Havana.”