Opa-locka: The History of One of America's Most Unique Cities

Opa Locka's City Hall in Miami
Opa Locka's City Hall in Miami

By: Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields

Opa-locka is one of the most unique cities in America. Founded by internationally known aviator Glenn Curtiss in 1926, it has one of the largest if not the largest collection of Moorish Revival architecture in America and includes 20 buildings that are listed on the National Register.

Curtiss hired architect Bernhardt Muller to design the buildings and Clinton McKenzie to do the town plan. Although many of the original buildings have been altered, several outstanding structures have been recently restored. The city also has an adjacent area settled by Black World War II veterans called Bunche Park, named in honor of Ralph Bunche.

In January 1927, the opening of the Opa-locka train station made headlines when what was billed as “the grand Vizier of the Sheikdom of Opa-locka,” welcomed the inaugural run of the Seaboard Airline Railroad’s famous “Orange Blossom Special” from New York. It was reopened in June 2003 by the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation for office and retail uses. It also serves as a Tri-Rail station.

Today, Opa-locka is predominantly a Black municipality, with mainly Black political leadership and city administration. Each year, the city celebrates its roots with an Arabian Nights Festival at the Opa-locka City Hall. This incredible building is the “pinnacle” of architect Muller’s work. Completed in 1926, it appears as a mirage at the end of Opa-locka Boulevard. Restored to its former grandeur in 1987, the building housed city government and serves as the backdrop for the Arabian Nights Festival.

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