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Opa-locka: Revival of a City Etched in Moorish Revival Architecture

Walking around Opa-locka, it might start to feel like you've wandered into a theme park that has been neglected some maintenance. While the Miami area may be known for its Art Deco, Opa-locka has something unique for not only Miami but the world at large. Developed in the 1920s by Glenn Curtiss during a time of fascination with revivalism and the "Orient," this small 4-square-mile incorporated city boasts the most Moorish Revival in the Western Hemisphere.

Moorish Revival architecture is characterized by horseshoe arches, onion-shaped domes, and intricate and often geometric decorative patterns.

Glenn Curtiss was famous for his contributions to motorsports and most notably aviation. Now inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1964, Curtiss left a legacy of aviation in Opa-locka that still exists today. The city has a large commercial airport, used by celebrities that quickly get ushered to Miami after landing. Unfortunately, the closure of the Naval Air Station in the 1950’s following the untimely death of Curtiss in the 1930's set in motion a steady decline that eventually peaked in high violent crime rates the 1980s and '90s (like many communities were experiencing in the US at the time). The city earned a moniker that plagues its image: murder capital of America.

There are many churches in Opa-Locka

Metal barricades constructed in an attempt to control the drug-fuelled terror still block in neighborhoods. Many Opa-Locka residents find access to basic amenities difficult and live in poverty, residing in the Arabian Nights houses Curtiss dreamed up almost 100 years ago.

A metal barricade still blocks many neighborhood access points

What amenities do exist, such as food stores, are far and few in between

In June 2016 the state of Florida took control of the city's finances and held city officials for corruption investigations. One elected official has committed suicide since the investigations began.

Despite these setbacks, Opa-locka has been developing and statistics report an overall downward trend in crime. The revival is in part due to the interest in historically preserving its Moorish Revival architecture (20 buildings are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places), but the community and its leaders have worked hard to improve the built environment. The Opa-Locka Community Development Corporation has created a community center, community garden, and park accessible to residents. A new charter school focused on art education for gifted students is developing across the street from the community center. Opportunities for change enable an optimism for Opa-locka that has likely not been seen since its fantastical foundation dreamed up by Curtiss.

Opa-Locka Community Development Corporation

New location of the charter school can be seen from the outside section of the community center

Opa-locka's history unfolds like a tale worthy of its enchanted theme. From its sanguine beginning, to the rising action that led to the climax of crime, Opa-locka has been on a rollercoaster ride since its inception. It looks as if it is about to start its ascent to a better day, its dénouement, and transform the theme park into a place where real people can live, work and play.