Little Havana Architecture

Historic building in Little Havana.
Historic building in Little Havana.

I love going for a walk in my neighborhood of East Little Havana, not only to greet those who also call the area home but also so I can admire some of the historic, architectural gems of this place.

The big front porches of the bungalows appeal to me, as do the curvy lines of our Mediterranean buildings, but I also appreciate the ways home places have been adapted: a little patio anchored by a domino table, handcrafted ceramic art adorning the home of a local artist, a special bed on the porch for a beloved cat.

Even a worn and neglected apartment building has soul when you see two viejos (old men) sitting on a balcony, smoking cigars and swapping stories.

Little Havana has a fascinating hodge-podge of architectural styles. Some historic buildings (including bungalows) date back to the 1920s. Little Havana has more bungalows than any other neighborhood in South Florida (close to 300!). Other buildings represent styles ranging from Mediterranean to frame vernacular, classical revival to Mission style. And still other buildings are, well, just weird: a patchwork of styles and colors and decor.

Why not go for a walk through the neighborhood and find your favorite buildings? Take a camera or a sketchpad if you’d like. During Viernes Culturales (our free festival on the last Friday of the month), learn more about local architecture on a free tour with local historian Dr. Paul George.

Take a stroll through Little Havana and you’ll discover a wide array of unique and beautiful historic homes and buildings, thanks to the efforts of historic preservationists. Little Havana has more bungalow-style homes than any other part of Miami, and a new historic district.

Little Havana Named a National Treasure

In 2017, thanks to the efforts of local historic preservationists, resident activists (including Corinna Moebius, the founder of LittleHavanaGuide.com) and urban planners, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Little Havana a national treasure!

Local activists helped bring national attention to the neighborhood through our fight against “up zoning.” The plan would have allowed a sometimes drastic increase in building heights in a residential portion of East Little Havana. We activists were worried that our historic neighborhood, rich in character, would be transformed with towering, “fortress-like” new development. We reached out to local stakeholders like the Dade Heritage Trust for help.

In the video below, Corinna Moebius and other residents speak out against the up zoning.

Riverview Historic District

In 2015, the City of Miami designated a portion of East Little Havana as a historic district. The district sits within SW 9th Avenue and SW 10th Avenue, and SW 3rd Street and SW 5th Street. Walk this area to see examples of Art Deco, Mediterranean and Mission-style architecture, with buildings ranging from the 1920s through the 1960s.

Guide to Little Havana’s Architectural Styles

If you are interested in Little Havana’s architecture, I recommend the mini-book “The Dr. Paul George Walking Tour of East Little Havana.” Unfortunately, some of the buildings it mentions have already been razed. The guide is available for sale online or the museum bookshop at HistoryMiami.

Dr. Paul George also leads free walking tours of Little Havana on the last Friday of every month, during our Viernes Culturales/Cultural Fridays festival. He shares a great deal of detail about Little Havana’s architectural heritage and its history prior to the arrival of Cubans and other Latino immigrants. Dr. Paul known as Miami’s “walking encyclopedia”!

Below is a list of some of the architectural styles you’ll find in Little Havana:

Oolitic Limestone

One of the most common type of masonry found in Little Havana is oolitic limestone. This marine limestone is indigenous to South Florida and has been used in buildings since the 1850s.

It is a porous stone often rich with fossils like mollusks and corals. The ooliths that form it are small and rounded grains that resemble fish eggs. They are formed as layer after layer of tiny calcium calcite grains (like sand grains or shell fragments) are deposited around tiny particles.

Oolitic limestone is used extensively in Little Havana for architectural styles such as bungalows, masonry vernacular, Mission and Mediterranean. You can easily can spot chimneys and porches made with the limestone, often gathered from the building site.

La Casa de Piedra in Little Havana
La Casa de Piedra

La Casa de Piedra

Corner of NW 22nd Ave. & 7th St.

Locals whisper that Fidel Castro stayed in the two-story “La Casa de Piedra,” or the Stone or Coral House, during one of his visits to Miami. In 1997, a local Spanish-language tabloid (Vista Semanal) interviewed a woman who said that she had rented a room in the building for her romantic trysts with the young revolutionary.

Bungalows / Arts & Crafts Style Homes

Bungalows, a popular architectural style from 1914 through 1930, are now fast vanishing in Miami, with the Dade Heritage Trust listing them on its “Most Endangered Historic Sites List.”

More bungalows are found in Little Havana and the adjoining Shenandoah neighborhoods than in any other part of Miami.

Modest, functional and comfortable, most bungalows were built from mail-order house plans. They often used local, natural materials, such as oolitic limestone gathered directly from the building site.

Little Havana bungalows are usually one story or one-and-one-half story wood frame houses with porch railing walls and prominent oolitic limestone chimneys. They are naturally energy efficient and self-cooling, with deep porches, large sash windows, dormer windows or louvered attic vents.

Most are covered with wood shingles or wood siding and have broadly pitched gable roofs with wide, overhanding eaves and an off-center, gabled front porch.

Unfortunately, numerous bungalows have been demolished in the neighborhood.

J. Jacob Hubbard House, a Belvedere bungalow now home to Citizens for a Better South Florida.
J. Jacob Hubbard House, a Belvedere bungalow now home to Citizens for a Better South Florida.

J. Jacob Hubbard House

138 NW 16th Ave.

This home, built circa 1921, is perhaps the best example of a Belvedere Bungalow in the City of Miami. Fortunately, it was saved from the bulldozer by Dade Heritage Trust (DHT), which used its Preservation Revolving Fund to purchase the building in August, 2003.

Located near the former site of the Orange Bowl, the J. Jacob Hubbard house was originally part of the Lawrence Estate Land Company Subdivision. This Arts and Crafts bungalow has been well preserved, so visitors can still see its wood shingles, oolitic limestone piers, intersecting gabled roof planes, wide overhanging eaves, decorative timbers, Prairie style casement windows, built in cabinetry and a second-story belvedere.

Thanks to the efforts of the DHT, the building now serves as headquarters for local eco-education nonprofit Citizens for a Better South Florida. Read more about the saving of the bungalow!

Frame Vernacular

These simple wood frame buildings focus on functionality and the use of available resources (like oolitic limestone) rather than any kind of ornamentation or fancy details. The buildings are usually rectangular, one or two stories and constructed on balloon frames. They often have one-story front porches and gabled or hipped roofs with overhanging eaves.

Although most were built with double-hung sash windows, this style is harder to find now because owners have usually replaced them with aluminum awning windows and jalousies.

We are lucky to have an entire historic district featuring this architectural style.

Historic frame vernacular buildings now part of Roam Miami.

South River Drive Historic District/Room Hotel Miami (formerly the Miami River Inn)

428, 438 SW 1st St.; 431, 433, 435, 437 SW 2nd St.; 104, 109, 118, 124 SW South River Dr.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, the South River Drive Historic District has Miami’s oldest surviving group of frame vernacular buildings. All were built between 1908 and the 1940s. They exemplify Miami’s architectural trends prior to 1915.

Six of the buildings were completed before 1915; four are apartment buildings built in the 1940s. It’s likely that these buildings served as rooming houses for the new residents and tourists during a population boom in Miami. Now they are owned by Room Miami, and still serve as places for visitors to stay, after all these years!

Art Deco & Late Streamline Moderne &  Architecture

Streamline Moderne building in Little Havana.

Between 604 SW 6th Street and 500 block of SW 8th Ave. are apartments that exhibit art deco styles, as well as late streamline modern architecture, built at the end of the 1950s.

Buildings constructed during the real estate boom of 1925 to 1926 typically have names.

Another famous Little Havana example of a building with Art Deco elements is the Tower Theater, on Calle Ocho (see our Entertainment section). Many more examples of Art Deco architecture can be found on Miami Beach, where you can take guided tours of the Art Deco District.

Masonry Vernacular

Manuel Artime Theater in East Little Havana.
Manuel Artime Theater in East Little Havana.

In Little Havana, you can find three types of South Floridas’s earliest masonry structures. These include buildings made from:

  1. Hollow clay tile. Hollow clay tile or terra cotta tile was popular in the county until the 1920s, when cement block became the material of choice (made with local materials).
  2. Cement block. Rusticated concrete blocks were already popular prior to 1920, as they looked like actual stone but were actually made with concrete poured into metal molds and hand-beaten to create a rough stone appearance. Some of these buildings were also made with oolitic limestone. Many older homes in Little Havana use this type of block; they are identifiable by their large scale and tall proportions (and gable and hip roofs) compared to more recent homes. These homes are similar to frame vernacular except they are made with concrete.
  3. Oolitic limestone. See above.

An example of masonry vernacular is:

Manuel Artime Theater

1987 W Flagler St.

Part of the Brigham Estate when it was built in 1916, this building this building was among the first local houses of worship to become a haven for Cuban exiles (Riverside Methodist Church). An addition to the church was designed in 1938 by the architectural firm Kiehnel and Elliot. Later it was remodeled with the help of renowned local architect Elizabeth Plater-Zybeck. Manuel Artime was the CIA’s choice to replace Castro.

Mediterranean Revival Architecture (1917-1930s)

Mediterranean revival architecture is inspired not by Spanish architecture but also by the architectural expressions from Italy, Moorish themes from southern Spain and North Africa, and France. These buildings are decorated around doorways, windows, balconies and cornices, and incorporate features such as stucco walls, red tile roofs, wood brackets and balconies, terra cotta ornaments, glazed ceramic tiles and wrought iron grilles and railings.

There are numerous examples of this architectural form throughout Little Havana. One of our “jewels” of this architectural form, however, is Miami Senior High.

Miami Senior High's restored auditorium.
Miami Senior High’s restored auditorium.

Miami Senior High

2450 SW 1st St.

When Miami Senior High unveiled its brand new campus on Valentine’s Day in 1928, the experience must have seemed magical. Imagine arriving at a school with its own towers, notched parapets, arched windows and four enclosed courtyards. This was no humdrum school building. It was more akin to a castle.

One of Miami’s most important early architects, Richard Kiehnel, designed the four-story building. It is an excellent example of Spanish Colonial revival architecture with a Moorish theme. It incorporates Gothic, French Romanesque, Byzantine and Southern Spanish elements.

After nearly half a decade, Miami High has returned to its former glory through a four-year, $50-million renovation and expansion project. Its historic gems have been revealed once again. In the 1960s, installation of air conditioning in the 1960s hid much of the building’s natural beauty. Workers snaked ductwork throughout the historic edifice, and make-do alterations and renovations also the building’s original beauty.

It is the first senior high to be constructed in Miami, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building has also been the setting for several feature films.

Famous alumni include Desi Arnez from I Love Lucy, actress Veronica Lake, Former Miami Mayor Robert Floyd, Florida Governor and Senator Bob Graham, and NFL players Atari Bigby, Eddie Brown, Andre Johnson and Jamaal Jackson.

Mission Architecture

The Seventh Day Adventist Church in East Little Havana

The mission style of architecture, popular in Miami from 1910 through the 1930s, is inspired by the early Spanish mission churches in California and is a common site throughout the Southwest U.S.

These buildings have flat or textured stucco exteriors, flat roofs with curved or flat parapets and secondary roofs of sloping, red Mission tiles. Cylindrical tiles (called scuppers) sticking out from the upper parts of the building let rain water drip from the flat roofs. Simple stucco molding or a single role of Mission tiles crown the parapets.

A number of Mission-style buildings and homes can be found in Little Havana compared to other parts of the Miami, including modern replicas of the style.

Inglesia Adventista de Septima Dia (Seventh Day Adventist Church)

862 SW 4th St.

This church in the heart of East Little Havana is an excellent example of mission architecture.

Neo-Classical/Classical Revival

The historic J.W. Warner House in Little Havana.
The historic J.W. Warner House in Little Havana.

Little Havana also boasts some fine examples of Neoclassical architecture, with its Greek and Roman influences. These elegant homes incorporate traditional classical elements like two-story porch columns as a way to evoke grandeur. The buildings are symetrical, with a door in the center and balanced windows.

J.W. Warner House

111 SW 5th Ave.

Built between 1908 and 1912 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, this two and a half story home was built by J.W. Warner, founder of South Florida’s first floral company (Miami Floral). His floral business operated from the first floor of the home.

Like the bungalow, it too adapts to Florida’s hot climate with wide porches and verandas. The architect, George Pfeiffer, incorporated massive Ionic columns, two-story portico and finely crafted Palladian windows and porte-cochère. A central staircase graces the home’s interior, along with finely detailed woodwork. The home was also designed to withstand hurricanes. The building now houses the Miami Hispanic Cultural Arts Center. See photos of the exterior and interior here.


Related Articles

Nuevas Ideas de Planeación Urbana Para La Pequeña Habana (1/28/17)

Miami’s Little Havana Declared a ‘National Treasure’ (CNN, 1/27/17)

Miami Considers Historic District in Little Havana (The Miami Herald, 2/3/15)

Don’t Destroy the Character of the Little Havana Area (Op/Ed, The Miami Herald, 3/22/15)

National Preservation Group: Miami’s Little Havana Endangered (6/23/15)

Historic Preservationists Score Protection in Little Havana (4/18/15)

Inversionistas Apoyan Cambios en La Pequeña Habana (1/19/15)

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