Brighter Lights At Little Havana Art Cinema

The Miami Dade College Tower Theater’s new $250,000 light emitting diode (LED) marquee is designed to resemble the original signage in size and lighting. The new, digital marquee went up in December.

The previous, 20-year-old marquee suffered from many electrical problems, endangering employees. Among its drawbacks were that the signage had to be changed manually.Workers had to climb a ladder and change the words by hand one letter at a time.

“When it rained, I wouldn’t be able to change it. It was so dangerous that I had to complain,” said projectionist Hector Moreno, who has been working at the Tower Theater, located at 1508 S.W. 8 St. for more than six years.

History buffs concerned that the new marquee wouldn’t hold true to the original 1926 signage can rest assured that the change was approved by the Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board from the City of Miami and Miami City Commission.

“We did not do this overnight nor without careful thought,” said Juan Mendieta, director of communications at Miami Dade College. “The new marquee is a central part of the improvements, replacing a damaged marquee, which was not the original. The marquee recently replaced was installed in the ‘90s and had no historic value.”

The Tower Theater isn’t the only historical theater to change its sign from manual to LED. Famous theaters, such as the Apollo Theater in New York City and Miami’s Olympia Theater, have LED marquees.

The Tower Theater is located in the very center of  Little Havana, a historical place filled with unique restaurants and Cuban culture. In the early 1960s, when large numbers of Cuban refugees fled to Miami, the theater altered its programming to include English-language films with Spanish subtitles and eventually Spanish-language films. In 1984, the theater was closed to the public. In 2002, the College took over the theater’s operations. In 2011, USA Today newspaper declared the Tower Theater “one of the 10 great places to see a movie in splendor” of  all classic movie theaters in the United States. Next month, the theater will screen an art film from Cuba about a drag performer as well as Argentinian film about a middle class family that kidnaps the rich.

The venue recently underwent renovations that updated the flooring, seating, projection, air conditioning, signage, and roof as well as gave  a fresh coat of paint. Last year, the Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board from the City of Miami and Miami City Commission approved the $1.1 million renovation project.

For a schedule of events at the Tower Theater see:

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Lorena Umaña

Lorena Umaña ,19, is a mass mass communications/journalism major at Kendall Campus. Umaña, a 2014 graduate of Felix Varela Senior High School, will serve as a staff writer for The Reporter during the 2015-2016 school year. She aspires to work for National Geographic or become a book editor.