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Reprinted from the San Carlos
The San Carlos Institute is one of Key West's most beautiful and historically important landmarks. It was founded in 1871 by Cuban exiles who came to Key West to organize the campaign for Cuba's independence from Spain. The exiles longed to preserve their language and traditions and established the San Carlos Institute as an organization dedicated to the promotion of Cuban cultural values and democratic ideals. Educator Juan Maria Keyes and Cuban community leader Jose Dolores Poyo were the principle proponents of the Institute. The San Carlos was named after Cuba's Seminario San Carlos, noted for its academic excellence, and in honor of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, father of Cuba's independence. As cradle of Cuba's independence, the San Carlos is considered a patriotic "shrine" by the Cuban people. The first San Carlos building was a small wooden structure on Anne Street. The Institute moved to a larger building on Fleming Street in 1874 but was burned to the ground in the great fire of 1886 that destroyed much of Key West. Under the leadership of civic leader Martin Herrera, the Cuban community purchased a lot fronting Duval Street and rebuilt its beloved San Carlos right in the heart of Key West. It was here that Jose MartÃ, Cuba's legendary poet and patriot, united the exile community and fondly called the San Carlos "La Casa Cuba".
San Carlos' president Dr. Jose Renedo and directors Jose Fernandez and Ramon Perdomo led the efforts to rebuild the institute after the old structure was demolished by the hurricane of 1919. The present building was completed in 1924 and incorporates many elements of Cuban architecture. It was designed by Francisco Centurion, one of Cuba's most prominent architects.
The San Carlos was one of America's first bilingual and integrated schools. For more than a century, children of all races attended school at the San Carlos Institute where classes were taught in English and Spanish. Among the persons who taught at the San Carlos Institute stand such legendary figures as Alejandro Menendez, Jose Abreau, Avelina Rios, Consuelo Mendoza Pineda, Esperansa Varela and Benuildes Ramon Sanchez. The latter served as teacher and principal of the Institute for over twenty-five years.
The school was forced to close in the mid 1970's due to the building's deteriorating condition. Vagrants broke into the building and lived on the premises. Valuable books, paintings and other historical material were lost or damaged during those years. When part of the San Carlos' facade collapsed in 1981, injuring a passing tourist, some called for the building's demolition. Others sought to convert the San Carlos into a commercial theatre.
In 1985 Cuban residents of Key West and Miami brought the imminent threat facing the San Carlos Institute to the attention of Florida's Hispanic Affairs Commission, a volunteer citizens' group headed by Rafael Penalver, a Miami attorney. Saving the San Carlos became Penalver's personal crusade. He led a historic mission as a Cuban heritage center. The restoration was a six year "labor of love" by Penalver and the other members of the restoration board who envisioned the restored San Carlos Institute as a shrine to Cuban heritage. The project cost over $4 million, raised from historic preservation grants from the State of Florida and thousands of private donations. The money was used exclusively for construction costs. Not a penny was used for salaries, administrative costs or travel expenses. Jorge and Margarita Khuly were the restoration's architects. The restored San Carlos Institute is a multi-purpose facility that serves as museum, library, school, art gallery, theatre and conference center. The San Carlos Institute reopened on January 3, 1992, exactly 100 years to the day the Jose MartÃ first visited the Institute.
The San Carlos Institute is a place of pilgrimage for the Cuban people. Over 5,000 persons attended the reopening ceremonies and thousands more have visited the Institute since. They come to Key West from all over the world to visit the San Carlos and learn more about their Cuban heritage. Indeed, the restored San Carlos Institute is a showcase of Cuban history and architecture that enshrines the ideals and aspirations of the Cuban people.
The San Carlos is open daily except Mondays. Guided tours and film presentations are offered hourly in English and Spanish.
The San Carlos Institute is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization maintained exclusively by private contributions. All donations are tax deductible. Please join in this historic effort. Support the San Carlos Institute. For additional information, please call (305) 294-3887.
Florida Keys Media Group Applauds the Fifth Annual Cuban American Heritage Festival
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