Opa-Locka, Florida

Opa-Locka, Florida

Opa-Locka is a unique blend of exotic fantasy and grim reality. Developed by aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss in 1926, the city was based on the Arabian Nights theme. Nowhere else in the Western Hemisphere will you see such a large collection of Moorish architecture.

Miami Dade County police helicopter departs on patrol over the city on March 27, 2017 from its home base Opa Locka Airport. File photo: Ivan Cholakov, Shutter Stock, licensed.

About The Community

Curtiss built more than a 100 buildings with an array of domes, elaborate minarets in brightly painted colors and outside staircases, between 1925-28, Florida’s land boom years. Twenty structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The streets have names like Sabur Lane, Sultan Avenue, Ali Baba Avenue, Ahmad Street and Sesame Street.


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Curtiss engaged in a patent fight with the Wright Brothers that lasted until the Wrights.
Glenn Curtiss, American aviation pioneer, flyer and designer of early aircraft, c. 1915. From 1909 until 1917, Curtiss engaged in a patent fight with the Wright Brothers that lasted until the Wrights. File photo: Everett Collection, Shutter Stock, licensed.

The name Opa-Locka is a contraction of the Native American’s name for the area, Opa-tisha-woka-locka, meaning a dry place in the swamp with trees. Today it is a mix of residential, commercial and industrial zones, with Opa-Locka Airport representing the single largest land use. The City Hall and Logan Building, formerly the Opa-Locka Hotel, have been renovated. The small downtown area has many small thrift shops and restaurants, though one area is dotted with junkyards.

Important Links

Opa-Locka is primarily an industrial community of 4.2 square miles in the north western area of Miami-Dade County. It has a population of approximately fifteen thousand, predominantly African-American, 69 percent, with 27 percent Latin American and the rest white. The residents have held an annual Arabian Nights Fantasy Festival since the inception of the city. The event takes place at the end of May in Sherbondy Park, just behind City Hall. Residents and visitors enjoy food, games, live performances and hip-hop musical acts.

Vicinity of Opa-Locka

Additional Details

Opa-Locka has three recreational parks, Sherbondy Park, Segal Park and Ingram Park. There are four elementary schools in the city. A financial squeeze prompted the city to close its only library in 2003. English is the predominant language but you can hear Spanish and Creole too. The Opa-Locka Airport was where Amelia Earhart launched her historic trip around the world. The Graf Zeppelin airship visited Opa-Locka airport on its voyage around the world.

Bombardier 300 is mid sized corporate jet capable of transcontinental nonstop flights.
Private jet Bombardier 300 taxing to the runway at Opa Locka Executive Airport on May 7 2012. Bombardier 300 is mid sized corporate jet capable of transcontinental nonstop flights. File photo: Eliyahu Yosef Parypa, Shutter Stock, licensed.

Opa-Locka has high unemployment, poverty and illiteracy rates since 1980 and it has gained a tawdry reputation for crime. Drug dealing and shootings were common, especially in the infamous Triangle area. In 2003, Opa-locka had the highest violent crime rate in the country for a community of its size.. The city made the headlines for local connections to the 9/11 terrorist attacks as the hijackers trained here in flight simulation. Major crimes, however, dropped by a third from 2002 to 2003 and Mayor Joseph Kelley has promised to turn around the city, focusing on crime prevention, cleaning the city, and financial stability.

 U.S. Coast Guard helicopter returns from patrol to its base in Miami, Florida on May 12, 2017. Opa Locka airport is host to a fleet of USCG helicopters. File photo: Ivan Cholakov, Shutter Stock, licensed.

Tallahassee took over Opa-Locka’s budget after the city declared a financial emergency. Despite limited resources, Opa-Locka has been the location for shoots by the TV and film industries. ‘Texas Justice’, ‘Bad Boyz II’ and ‘2 Fast and 2 Furious’ have had shoots in the city. Disney has also considered Opa-Locka as a good place to shoot a movie. Things seem to be on the upswing at last.

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