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Florida’s Opa-locka: A city inspired by the famous work of literature “One Thousand and One Nights“

David Goran

Located in Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States, the city of Opa-locka was the vision of the industrial designer and aviation pioneer Glen Curtiss, and was developed based on the Arabian Nights theme which is evident by the large collection of Moorish architecture throughout the city.

It is a city where the town hall is a sheik's palace, the Chamber of Commerce is a Turkish harem, and the train station is a mosque. By Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

It is a city where the town hall is a sheik’s palace, the Chamber of Commerce is a Turkish harem, and the train station is a mosque. By Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Founded in 1926, it has the largest collection of Moorish Revival architecture in the Western hemisphere. Mr. Curtiss and architect, Bernhardt Muller, built 105 buildings with an array of domes, minarets, and exterior staircases.

Built during the Florida Land Boom of the 1920s. By Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Built during the Florida Land Boom of the 1920s. By Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Veterans Of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary And Hurt Building. By Phillip Pessar Flickr CC BY 2.0

Veterans Of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary And Hurt Building. By Phillip Pessar/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

 

Harry Hurt Building. By Phillip Pessar Flickr CC BY 2.0

Harry Hurt Building. By Phillip Pessar/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The streets have names like Sabur Lane, Sultan Avenue, Ali Baba Avenue, Perviz Avenue, Sharazad, Aladdin, and Sesame Street. In addition to the unique buildings, Mr. Curtiss completed his vision for Opa-locka; he had built a self-contained city with a hotel, three parks, golf course, archery club, swimming pool, two lakes, a large general aviation airport, and a railroad station which is currently the tri-rail station.

Opa-locka Company Administration Building 1925-1928. Now the city hall. By Phillip Pessar Flickr CC BY 2.0

Opa-Locka Company Administration Building 1925-1928. Now the city hall. By Phillip Pessar/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

 

Administration Building. By Phillip Pessar Flickr CC BY 2.0

Administration Building. By Phillip Pessar/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

 

Plaza near city hall. By Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

Plaza near city hall. By Ebyabe/CC BY-SA 3.0

While the 1926 Miami hurricane badly damaged the city and brought the Florida land boom to a halt, several Moorish-style buildings survived. Twenty of the original Moorish Revival architecture buildings have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Opa-locka Thematic Resource Area.

Several of the Moorish buildings survived after the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. By Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Several of the Moorish buildings survived after the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. By Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

Part of the Opa-locka Thematic Resource Area. By Phillip Pessar Flickr CC BY 2.0

Part of the Opa-locka Thematic Resource Area. By Phillip Pessar/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Opa-Locka hit a low point in the ’80s and ’90s when the city, plagued by drug-related crimes, was dubbed the murder capital of the country. Metal barriers were erected in the Triangle, one of the city’s main boulevards, to both block traffic and ideally stem the tide of violence. In 2004 Opa-locka had the highest rate of violent crime of any city in the United States.

Seaboard Air Line Train Station. By Phillip Pessar Flickr CC BY 2.0

Seaboard Air Line Train Station. By Phillip Pessar/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

 

Seaboard Air Line Train Station. By Phillip Pessar Flickr CC BY 2.0 stavi uste ednas

Seaboard Air Line Train Station. By Phillip Pessar/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Opa-locka is currently in a state of advanced decay as the cash-strapped city faces financial collapse. Many of the Arabian-inspired buildings are falling apart. And while the city has been fighting to recover from urban decline and high crime rates for decades, many are betting that its anomalous architecture may be the key to its future success.