Pensacola, Florida
Monday November 24th 2014

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It Happened Here 10/18/12

One Square, Many Circles
by Jessica Forbes

It is amazing how much history can be found in one square block in Pensacola, even in one square block of park space. Located at 17th Avenue and East Belmont Street, Miraflores Park contains one building, one statue, a playground, and a smattering of pine trees. Though it is easy to miss when driving through East Hill, Miraflores Park, once known as Havana Square, has ties to multiple chapters in Pensacola’s past.

Like most American cities built before automobiles and suburban sprawl, Pensacola’s older neighborhoods were laid out on a grid pattern. Certain squares were reserved as public green spaces, many of which are still around and part of the city’s network of public parks.

In the early 1900s, older squares such as Plaza Ferdinand, Seville Square, and Lee Square had fallen into disrepair. A small group of concerned citizens banded together in 1907 and formed a society dedicated to the upkeep of the existing parks. In 1910, the city officially formed a parks department, which grew as residential neighborhoods expanded in East Hill and East Pensacola Heights in the 1920s.

Pensacola’s park names, along with its street names, reference the city’s multi-national past. Miraflores Park’s original name, Havana Square, nods to the city’s colonial ties to Spain and its empire in the Western Hemisphere, in which Havana, Cuba was an essential hub for trade and administration.

As a focal point in a newer residential area, during the Great Depression Havana Square became the site of a New Deal project in East Hill. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed a brick building in the park in 1934 for the local Boy Scouts of America, which utilized the building for several decades. At the same time, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the precursor to the Works Progress Administration (WPA), constructed the nearby 17th Avenue Railway Trestle, now known as Graffiti Bridge.

The city renamed Havana Square in June 1965 as part of Pensacola’s participation in the federal People-to-People program. President Dwight Eisenhower devised the program in 1956 to promote international understanding and friendship through cultural exchange.  The first traveling delegations began in the early 1960s. As part of Pensacola’s Fiesta of Five Flags celebration in 1965, a delegation from Pensacola’s sister city, Miraflores, Peru visited Pensacola to attend the renaming ceremony for Havana Square.

The Peruvian delegation gifted Pensacola with a bronze bust of Peruvian author Ricardo Palma, which was installed in the park as part of the ceremony. Two years later, the bust went missing but was discovered in a ditch one year after that by a city employee while mowing the roadside. The thieves were never identified, but the bust was unharmed, and was reinstalled on its pedestal in the southeast corner of the park, where it stands today.

The park itself was rebranded in the 1960s, but the Boy Scout Cottage had fallen into disrepair. In an effort to preserve the building and its use as a community-gathering place, the Bream Fisherman Association (BFA) financed the restoration of the building, which the City of Pensacola owns, in the 1970s. The BFA has used and maintained the building for over four decades, holding membership meetings and countless fish fries.

Formed in the 1960s, the BFA works to promote appreciation, awareness, and conservation of the region’s waterways and fisheries. The group began conducting its volunteer-based water quality monitoring program before the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Other community groups, namely the Fly Fishers of Northwest Florida and the Pensacola Speckled Trout Club, also use the building.

Like the citizens’ parks group of the 1900s, the Boy Scouts, CCC, FERA, and People-to-People program, the BFA continues the traditions focused on community and stewardship that are associated with Miraflores Park. The 2.5-acre site is in many ways a model park, and the various organizations that have worked and met there to represent the best of what a community can be.

For more information on the BFA, find them on Facebook by searching for “Bream Fishermen Association.”

Jessica is a Pensacola resident with a Master’s degree in Public History. When she’s not digging up history facts, you can find her doing production support at a local architecture firm.