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Lack of protection threatens Miami's Little Havana's architectural legacy, preservationist say

Citing pressures from developers to upzone, the National Trust deems the neighborhood at risk of losing its historic character

COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL TRUST FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION/STEVEN BROOKE STUDIOS
COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL TRUST FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION/STEVEN BROOKE STUDIOS

MIAMI – The National Trust for Historic Preservation included Miami's Little Havana neighborhood to it's list of 11 most-endangered historic places in the nation.

The list also included the Grand Canyon and a former gay nightclub in West Hollywood. In Little Havana, The National Trust's recommendation was that Miami officials establish new zoning policies to protect the historic character of specific buildings.

The National Trust has urged city of Miami officials to protect the scattered "iconic American architectural typologies, such as the bungalow, the walk-up apartment, and the courtyard apartment."

Among the most beloved historic icons in Little Havana are  "La Casa de Piedra," 856 SW 2nd St., made out of oolitic limestone, the Manuel Airtime theater, 1987 W. Flagler St., built in 1916, and The Tower Theater, 1508 SW 8th St.

WATCH VIDEO: Activists look to preserve history in Little Havana

THE LIST

The other ten landmarks and iconic attractions that The National Trust included in the list were the Grand Canyon and Oak Flat in Arizona, the A.G. Gaston Motel in Alabama, the Carrollton Courthouse in New Orleans, the Chautauqua Amphitheater in New York, the East Point Historic Civic-Block in Georgia, The Fort Worth Stockyards, Old U.S. Mint in San Francisco, South Street Seaport in New York and The Factory in California.

The National Trust described the historic district as a "walkable, series of neighborhoods that has long been home to generations of Cuban Americans."

It was the refuge of many running from Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. They turned the neighborhood of lower-middle-class Southern whites and Russian and Eastern European Jewish refugees into an area of Cuban nostalgia.

Affordable rents later attracted a wave of Central Americans, who brought their "Carnitas" and "Gallopinto" to Eighth Street, also known as "Calle Ocho." Miami's Latin American diversity turns the historic street into a colorful festival once a year.

SLIDE SHOW: Flashback of 2015 Calle Ocho festival

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Historian Paul George's tour of Little Havana with History Miami includes a visit to a former synagogue that white Supremacists attempted to bomb, and a visit to St. Peter & Paul Parish

Co-author of "A History of Little Havana" and tour guide Corinna J. Moebius said on her website that she includes introductions to neighborhood characters in the neighborhood who may include "local poets, artists, Bay of Pigs vets, authors, musicians, Santeras/os, filmmakers, dancers and small business owners."

SOCIAL MEDIA: View photographer Steven Brooke's pics of Little Havana architecture

Politicians vying for the Cuba-American vote have traditionally made stops for Cuban coffee at the iconic Versailles Restaurant, where Cuban exiles often express their hatred toward the Castro brothers. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have been the topic of avid conversation there for months.

According to The National Trust, the two main threats to the character of the neighborhood are Miami officials' practice of upzoning, the change of classification of a property from one of lower use to one of higher use.

Since the neighborhood is close to downtown Miami and the Brickell financial district—"upzoning represents a critical threat to the historic scale and character of Little Havana," The National Trust experts said.

Most recently, a group of University of Miami students and faculty surveyed Little Havana to inventory properties with a historic architectural value in the neighborhood.

The University of Miami architectural students listed 439 historic properties within 25 square blocks of territory. Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado was there to encourage them.

Follow Local10.com reporter Andrea Torres @MiamiCrime

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