A Look At Calle Ocho’s History Before It Became The Famed Center Of All Things Cuban

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – There will always be a Little Havana. Miami’s signature neighborhood. A historic refuge for Cuban exiles.

The colorful area provides the “Rhythm of Miami,” and yet it has a past well before it was known as Little Havana.

HistoryMiami professor and author Paul George says, “This was Saul’s Kosher Meat market when it opened in the late 1930s.”

Yes, a Jewish Deli in what is now Little Havana.

Dr. George points across busy SW 8th Street, saying, “This Building was built by a Lebanese developer in 1941.”

Upstairs was the Syrian and Lebanese Club a very busy meeting spot in the 1940s.

Walking through the history of Little Havana with Dr. Paul George, historian, author, is an eye opener. He has great recall of what the neighborhood looked like in the late 1940s and 50s. He should – he grew up, was raised in the neighborhood, still lives nearby and walks the area on a regular basis guiding history tours.

“The demographics are all different,” he said.

The neighborhood ethnic barometer, the 100-year-old Los Pinarenos Fruteria, was opened by a white Bahamian by the name of Pender.

Dr. George charts the chain of ownership, “You go from Pender, to two Jewish businessmen who bought it in the early 1940’s they operated for several decades until the Fernandez family fought it about 55 years ago, you go from Bahamian, Jewish to Cuban.”

There is the historic Ball and Chain, a 1930s entertainment establishment owned by Jewish business partners, which featured big name Black entertainers.

By the mid-1950s, Dr. George says, “The large Jewish community began leaving, moving out West.”

That movement paved the way for store fronts and housing opportunities for Cuban refugees who launched their impact which many say transformed Miami from a sleepy southern city to the Wall Street of Latin America.

Dr. George conducts regular tours of Calle Ocho and a number of other historical locations. Click here for more information.