Located in Little Havana, just minutes from Brickell, sits the iconic Tower Theater.
Opening in 1926, the Tower Theater has a wonderful history of survival and tenacity and a beautiful future of innovation and cultural development. The theater still is in its original location although it has seen some difficult years when its foundations seemed to be on shifting sands like those of Miami’s beaches.
The current administration, Miami Dade College, has tried to preserve the theater’s feel from when it originaly was designed.
“We have installed a digital marquee but we have kept remodeling to a scope that preserves the original theater’s look,” said Nicholas Calzada, director of events programming at the theater. “We respect it.”
At the time of its creation, the Tower Theater was valued at $100,000 and seated 1,000. Its opening night hosted a full house, and just as it does now as often as it can, the theater screened a locally produced film, titled The Palm Beach Girl, starring Bebe Daniels.
Miami Dade College took over operations in 2002 and spent $3 million to renovate the landmark property. After being shuttered for 30 years, it reopened in 2010.
Now, the theater hosts trivia nights, panel discussions, and other social events in its two interiors. One space has a screen with 250 seats and the other has 104. In them, there is an intimacy that makes the great movies that it shows truly special occurrences without the clamor of large crowds.
Calzada mentions that the patrons trust their programming. The theater shows acclaimed documentaries like The Silence of Others as well as offbeat romantic romps like In the Aisles.
“Having two screens gives us the option of playing more than one movie at a time,” Calzada said with his usual upbeat candor and exuberance.
A student and experienced producer, he knows film. He said that he and the other members of the theater’s team have allowed a good local movie to run at a discount because they believed in the work.
The adherence to high standards always has been a part of how the theater conducts its affairs. From the beginning, it showed the best films and ensured that the theater was a family-friendly environment. Between the 1920s and ’50s, it hosted raffles and singalongs, famous performers would sing before the films played and there always were matinees for children.
Then, in response to the influx of Cubans fleeing to the area from Castro’s dictatorship, the theater switched its programming to revolve around films with Spanish subtitles. These movies were a window into their new home.
The problems began in the 1980s with an economic downturn. The theater was closed. Its tower deteriorated to the point that the 50-foot structure for which it was named was demolished. A restaurant occupies the spot now.
But after many years of struggle, Miami Dade College has turned it into a beautiful location for its patrons to enjoy the best in film. That is its goal as it is part of the group that hosts the Miami Film Festival every year. This festival brings the best in film to the area.
“MDC’s efforts to refurbish and program it with the world’s best cinema have made the theater the centerpiece in the renewal of Little Havana and Calle Ocho, attracting people from all over the region and tourists from across the globe,” said Eduardo Padron, president of MDC, in an email.