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Miami's Original Cuban Consulate Coming Back to Life

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    Miami's Origianl Cuban Consulate Coming Back to Life

    Villa Paula sits on North Miami Avenue. (Published Monday, Jan. 25, 2016)

    The white, Neo Classical building looks imposing. It's a monument to a time of ornate architectural details, lush gardens and high ceilings. Called Villa Paula, it was built in 1926 on North Miami Avenue.

    "So many buildings have been lost, and we don't want to see this building also fall. There's a lot of history, it's a cultural landmark," said Dominick Tubito.

    The Cuban government built Villa Paula as its consulate in 1926 with Cuban labor, and all-Cuban materials.

    Forgotten for years, now it's being restored to its former glory.

    "I felt the atmosphere and the incredible architecture and I was just hoping that the building could stand, that some developer wouldn't knock it down, because so many great buildings have been lost in Miami," said Martin Siskind, one of the building's owners, describing the moment he first walked into Villa Paula. 

    Siskind bought it in 2003, and finally felt the time was right to renovate the building. So far, he's installed a new roof, air conditioning, and he's re-conditioning the original window shutters, doors, and Cuban tile. For Siskind, it's a labor of love, an appreciation of historical value.

    "As long as I'm alive, this building's gonna stand here," Siskind said. "I'm doing everything possible to make sure that when I'm gone it will stand as a historical monument."

    After being swept under the rug of history for so many decades, the question now becomes, what does the future hold for Villa Paula?

    "We want to get it out from under the rug," Tubito answered.

    For the time being, he and Siskind, who is an art dealer, are turning it into an art gallery and museum. Siskind has it stocked with Picassos, a Renoir sketch, a painting by Alexander Calder, and many pieces by Cuban artists. 

    Supposedly, a ghost is enjoying the building's renaissance. Paula Milord, the wife of the Cuban consul and namesake of the villa, is buried in the backyard. Twice a year, someone sneaks into the property and puts flowers on the grave.

    "They bring them, they leave them, and they're gone, and how they got there, we don't know," Siskind said. 

    Paula's ghost is said to do strange things. For example, the resident artist who works in the building recently broke his leg. One day an old, antique cane fell out of a tree in the back yard, right in front of him. How did the cane get into the tree? Why did it fall just then? The artist, Joe Chirichigno, thinks maybe Paula was trying to lend him a hand.

    Whether the building is haunted by a ghost is certainly debatable. There's no question, though, that anything connected with the brutally repressive Castro dictatorship is haunted by decades of scorn and fury in this community.

    The owners would love to see history come full circle here and the property once again be used as the Cuban consulate, but they know that’s not likely to happen. At least they're giving Villa Paula a new lease on life.

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