The Virtual Museum gives you the opportunity to make a digital museum visit. Our first venture into this new format is a visual exploration of the early days of Opa-Locka. The images tell the story of a community’s development during the land boom times of the 1920’s.
An Arabian Nights Themed Community
City of Opa-Locka History
The City of Opa-Locka was the vision of aviation pioneer, Glen Curtiss. Opa-locka is an urban community occupying 4.2 square miles in the North-Western area of Miami-Dade County, Florida. The city boundaries are as follows: on the North-NW 151st Street, on the South - N.W. 125th Street, on the East – NW 45th Avenue on the West. On May 14, 1926, Opa-locka was chartered as a town by twenty-eight registered voters.
The area was originally named by the Native Americans “Opa-tisha-wocka-locka” meaning “a big island covered with many trees and swamps” but the name was quickly shorten to Opa-locka. The City was developed based on the Arabian Nights theme which is evident by the large collection of Moorish architecture throughout the city and with street names like Sabur, Sultan, Ali Baba, Sharazad, Aladdin and Sesame. Mr. Curtiss and architect, Bernhardt Muller, built 105 buildings with an array of domes, minarets and outside staircases. By the time Mr. Curtiss completed his vision for Opa-locka he had built a self-contained city with a hotel, zoo park, golf course, archery club, swimming pool, airport, and train station.
The September 1926 hurricane badly damaged the City, destroying many of the structures, but the surviving Moorish style buildings continue to give Opa-locka its unique appearance. Opa-locka currently has twenty buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
(City of Opa-Locka)
Footnote - Did you notice. . . . .
Did you notice the young child? That was Jackie Ott, "The Water Tot", on the opening day of the Opa-Locka Pool.
Alexander Ott's (Jackie's father) Water Follies had run for two years at the Venetian Pool before settling in at the Biltmore in 1929 for what became a 13-year run at the height of the Depression. The show often drew crowds of 3,000 people on Sunday afternoons, and it was to follow the exploits of Alexander Ott's son, Jackie Ott, the Aqua Tot, that many of them came.
Jackie was the world's most beautiful child, winner of six baby beauty contests. "My mother would curl my hair and put lipstick and eyeliner on me, and I was hard to beat in those baby contests," he says. He became friends with headliners such as Olympic skater Sonja Henie, the Flying Wallendas and magician Harry Houdini. The great Houdini had himself shackled and locked inside a trunk, then lowered into the Biltmore pool, a watery grave from which he escaped by the narrowest of margins.
Jackie Ott later became friends with Johnny Weissmuller, who was a regular in Alexander Ott's show at the Biltmore pool long before he went to Hollywood and became Tarzan. Weissmuller supposedly never drank anything stronger than milk, but that didn't stop him from behaving strangely. "He was seen running up and down the halls of the hotel one night with no clothes on, chasing this girl," Ott says. "Johnny was like a big kid, always pulling fire alarms, having the time of his life."