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Opa-locka's Heritage Trail celebrates 97 years of rich historical architecture

Courtesy of Elvis Cruz
Alex Van Mecl Conducting a historic walking tour of Opa-Locka, Feb. 2024

The City of Opa-locka holds its first Middle Eastern North African Festival in its 97-year history on Saturday with an event that celebrates the "unique connection" between the city and the other side of the world.

The city will also unveil the Opa-locka Heritage Trail, which will showcase the Miami-Dade city's founding through a series of stories and photos. It is situated along a rectangular route running through the city's downtown business district.

READ MORE: Mold and raw sewage in Opa-Locka housing complex bring calls for change

The festival runs from noon to 5 p.m., according to organizers. Admission is free. The unveiling of the heritage trail starts at 11 a.m.

The city and the Opa-locka Preservation Association, working with the Ten North Group, organized the two events, the Mena Fest and opening of the museum.

MENA Fest

The city aims to honor the Moorish Revival architecture and motifs tied to the Middle East and North Africa region, with a reignited historic preservation program, and a look at never-before-seen images and untold stories on the outdoor heritage trail.

The city of Opa-locka was founded during the Florida Land Bloom of the 1920s by aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss. In 1926, he also helped develop the cities of Hialeah and Miami Springs.

Alex Van Mecl, vice chair of Opa-locka's Historic Environmental Preservation Board and historian with the Opa-locka Preservation Association, said South Florida played a role in Curtiss's plans for his second stage of life.

“He did in 1907 a world-renowned race on a motorbike that he constructed himself … and he was crowned the fastest man in the world on that day,” Mecl said. “And so when it came time for Glenn to kind of examine what the second part of his life was looking like … [he] came down to Florida properly in 1920 in true Glenn Curtiss form he didn't seem to have a settled mind.

He had grand development plans, establishing the Curtiss Flying School in Hialeah and a silent film studio among other places.

Alex Van Mecl conducting a historic walking tour of Opa-Locka, Feb. 2024
CasimirVeillard
/
Ten North Group
Alex Van Mecl conducting a historic walking tour of Opa-Locka, Feb. 2024

Curtiss had a penchant for business and expansion, but that doesn’t explain the architectural design of the buildings in Opa-locka. Mecl said it comes down to what was in style at the time.

He said “Orientalism” was popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries which witnessed a fascination with Egyptology and Eastern motifs. This period saw the unveiling of King Tut’s tomb for the first time.

“There was a film called 'The Thief of Baghdad' from 1924 from Douglas Fairbanks, which was produced in Hollywood,” Mecl said. “There was this grandioseness of the architecture. They were being playful with recreating these Far East environments that people in the United States didn't have access to.”

Mecl says the architecture should be called “exotic revival” because of the various cultures and identities represented in Opa-Locka’s buildings.

“We’re not truly just Moorish in connection: There's Persian, there's Egyptian, Tunisian, of course, Moroccan, which in and of itself is a composite country of different cultural influences,” he said. “ It's a beautiful thing, much like South Florida, much like Opa-locka’s demographics today.”

Alex Van Mecl conducting a historic tour of Opa-Locka
Alex Van Mecl
Alex Van Mecl conducting a historic tour of Opa-Locka

There are only about 50 of these buildings remaining in Opa-locka. The iconic ones still stand, such as The Seaboard Air Line Railroad depot, alongside some single-family homes.

Unfortunatley, said Mecl, most of these buildings met the chopping block, but not in the sense of being completely demolished.

“You could almost argue as much because what remains of them are simply the four walls … I do believe that the Arabic-inspired Moorish Orientalist designs went out of style, maybe even as early as the late 1940s,” he said.

Mecl hopes visitors and residents enjoy a glimpse into Opa-locka’s past and untold stories. The trail consists of 15 stations that document landmarks and tales that’ll show how important the city was and who contributed to it.

Site number nine is dedicated to the Black history of Opa-locka, including never-before-seen photographs of the Black men who had a part in building the city, according to Mecl.

“Incredibly important to me to be in pursuit of in the years to come is the relationship between a white town Opa-locka in the 1920s, which was the city proper, and then the east side, as it’s called, and that was Magnolia Park — which was historically Black,” he said.

Mecl says Magnolia Park was where Black veterans found housing in Bunch Park, Rainbow Park, and Eleanor Park. He said Opa-locka’s founding Black families also resided there.

The Opa-locka Heritage Trail is the first permanent museum installation in the city’s 97-year history.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) FEST
WHEN: Saturday, April 13, beginning at noon until 5 p.m. The ribbon-cutting for the Opa-locka Heritage Trail will begin at 11 a.m.

WHERE: 151 Perviz Avenue, Opa-locka, 33054.
COST: Admission is free.

Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Edition Producer. He also reports on general news out of South Florida.
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